Critics’ Picks

Alan Phelan, Our Kind, 2016, video, black and white, sound, 30 minutes.

Alan Phelan, Our Kind, 2016, video, black and white, sound, 30 minutes.


Alan Phelan

Hugh Lane Gallery
Charlemont House Parnell Square North
March 10–October 2, 2016

As Ireland marks the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising—the failed revolution that, nevertheless, defined the independent Republic—arts programming throughout the state is exploring that event’s various legacies. One of the most thought-provoking and intelligent exhibitions to come out of this is from Alan Phelan. In a small installation and separate thirty-minute video, the artist imagines an alternate future for one of the revolution’s antiheroes, Roger Casement, who was knighted for his work on human-rights abuses in the Congo Free State and Peru, yet imprisoned for bringing German weaponry to Ireland during World War I. Public sympathy for Casement evaporated when his so-called Black Diaries, detailing his homosexual relationships and fantasies, were leaked during his trial. Not too much later, he was put to death.

Phelan’s black-and-white video Our Kind, 2016, sees Casement exiled instead of executed, living in Norway on the fringes with his former servant and lover, Adler Christensen. Our Kind’s dialogue has been appropriated from another film, Michael Haneke’s Wer war Edgar Allan? (Who Was Edgar Allan?, 1984), a paranoid thriller about a German art student driven to madness by a stranger who follows his every move. This transposition underlines how history is just another form of devious storytelling, always slanted and endlessly suspect.

Excerpts from Casement’s diaries appear on the gallery walls in phantomlike ribbons of text, haunting the space. A central vitrine displays a pack of cards and a pair of neatly folded pajamas. Casement brought a pair of boys from the Putumayo region of Peru to London in 1910—it’s said that one was “won” during a game of bridge, and the other was swapped for a set of nightclothes. Heroes are messier than we’d like to believe, alas.