This exhibition looks at the 10 year struggle between two cultures in the West of Ireland. On one side, a small community defends the safety of its people and rights of its farmers and fishermen, On the other the consortium of Shell Oil, the Norwegian state company Statoil and Marathon, plan to bring to market the valuable gas deposit of the Corrib gas field, off the North-West coast of Ireland. To achieve this, a production pipeline is being laid to carry the high pressure gas inland, to a processing plant in Mayo, exiting the Atlantic Ocean and reaching the Irish Coast at Glengad and Rossport.

The artist Séamus Nolan researches the positions – community, corporate and judicial – which frame the debate in this highly contentious situation, and which were stated formally during a recent public hearing in Belmullet. In this hearing, restaged and filmed in Mayo by Nolan, the various voices of the local community are heard, as are re-enactments of the role of An Bord Pleanála Inspector (Mr Martin Nolan) and the statement of Shell lawyer (Senior Counsel, Mr Esmond Keane). While community leaders – teachers, farmers and retired citizens, argue against the operation, citing risks to the safety of the people in the community as well as ideological objections, the Shell lawyer argues that there is very little appropriate risk, and outlines the steps taken by the conglomerate to address the community’s concerns.

Boiling behind the backdrop of the argument are ideas of nationhood and identity – invoked by those who claim historical rights to working the land and seas, and contested by those who make the case for the benefits to the Irish economy and future energies infrastructure. Glimpsed between the lines are the actions and involvement of the Irish state and the use of the Gardaí in policing the area to defend the developers and maintain the production schedule.

In previous works, Nolan has sought to explore the socially determined frontiers of the art world by contesting the foundations on which judicial decisions are made. With Corrib Gas Project Arts Centre, the artist implicates a non-aligned centre for art and culture in the debate, challenging through this action the autonomy and political independence that is a founding principle of most artistic organisations.

Read the full Irish Times interview with Seamus Nolan here.

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