Alan Phelan, in the forgotten roots of color

Some inventions transfigure everyday life to the point of triumphantly crossing the ages, while others vanish into limbo. Such as the “Joly Screen”, which a Parisian exhibition revives, as part of the Photo Saint-Germain festival; which celebrates its ten years in the sanitary turmoil, through a good twenty meetings – Flore at the Academy of Fine Arts, Massao Mascaro and Jonathan Llense at the Crous gallery, Guy Le Querrec at the bookstore des Alpes …

Direction, therefore, the Irish Cultural Center, which honors two compatriots. The first, John Joly, died in 1933, was a physicist and professor of geology. Ardent seeker (cf his some 250 publications signed in scientific journals), he will be interested in particular in the applications of radium, in the theory of tension-cohesion and (in his spare time?) will develop in 1894 the first color photography process on a single plate made up of red, green and blue lines associated with a black and white film.


Alas, we will remember the autochrome, an industrial technique patented nine years later by the Lumière brothers, but not the “Joly Screen”, quickly swallowed up – the traces of the find having, moreover, turned magenta over the decades. fairly uniform.

This is where another Swiss Army Knife comes into play: the no less Dublinois Alan Phelan, a plastic artist capable, between sculptures, films and performances, of working with both papier-mâché and smells, in a global questioning approach. “The relationship between history, sexuality and politics”. Vast design, we agree, which leads him to embroider around Sherlock Holmes or Roger Casement (an Irish writer and revolutionary), as well as to borrow from Jean Genet the title of the present exhibition, “Echoes always more deaf”, found in his unfinished 1954 poem.

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Resemeler (or ferryman) at heart, Phelan then imagines “Visual history” that the invention did not have time to have, through fifteen backlit photos, all in the same (small) format, which represent floral motifs (bouquets in vases, wreath of greenery) or the artist him – even, although unrecognizable since, here from the back dressed in a sweater with geometric patterns, there from the front but the face hidden behind a large plant leaf just pierced with two holes at eye level. Even more convoluted, each work title mentions the personalities and events to which it refers, without, to be frank, the report being obvious. So Constance Spry (1), 1938, when the broadcasting of war of the Worlds “begets “Superman” ; or from Hans Memling, 1490, when the prophetic extinction occurred.

Moving wave

In addition to the photos, a fifteen-minute experimental video completes the expedition, on a drum’n bass score designed by local musicians (Elaine Hoey, JRDN…). Green, red and blue vertical bands, more or less wide and animated, streak the screen, superimposed on the filmed images where we can distinguish the sky, a city, the antlers, graves, or John Joly played by an actor, as well. only strafed words («Piled», «Sore», «Addiction»…), this time leading the subject towards the moving wave of kinetic art including, by the very fact, the “Joly Screen” would suggest a lineage as distant as it is subliminal, if not apocryphal.

(1) British author and florist.

Gilles Renault

Alan phelan

Echoes ever more deaf

Irish Cultural Center, 75005, free admission, until February 28.

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