BY Declan Long in Fan Letter | 18 DEC 18
Featured in
Issue 200

Garrett Phelan’s Bespoke Sanctuary for Bird-Watchers

‘Its beautiful brutalism suits getting older: an ascetic retreat to watch small things come and go’

BY Declan Long in Fan Letter | 18 DEC 18

The Hide Project, Dublin. © Garrett Phelan; photograph: Shane McCarthy

Out beyond the scrappy edges of north Dublin, near a serene stretch of estuary wetland and the neat grassy mound of a reclaimed landfill site, you’ll find Garrett Phelan’s The Hide Project. Built in 2016 as a lookout for birdwatchers, Phelan’s work is both a sculpture and a shelter: a sturdy hut constructed from heavy-duty concrete, but layered with board-marked beams so that it might, at first, resemble a simple timber shack. Phelan himself is a birdwatching nut. His drawings – spiky, punky, Raymond Pettibon-esque cartoons – are frequently inspired by ornithology. More generally, his work delights in the immersive pleasures of amateur enthusiasms, buzzing on the subcultural energy of DIY commitments (fanzines, ham radio). The Hide Project – intended to be around for generations to come – is a monument to such offbeat passions. (The word ‘amateur’, of course, derives from amare, the Latin word for ‘love’). Inside, the structure is a bespoke sanctuary for birders: a dark bunker, intricately decorated with Phelan’s cryptic drawings, looking out towards the changing light and the unhurried natural drama of the marshy landscape. It feels like those secluded spots where big things happen when we’re young — first smokes, first drinks, first kisses. But its beautiful brutalism suits getting older, too: an ascetic retreat to watch small things come and go. 

Declan Long is programme director of the MA course Art in the Contemporary World at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin, Ireland.