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DAN SHIPSIDES - The Penguin & Guillemot


Penguin on Newcastle beach - North Binnian video detail

The Penguin & Guillemot
Video installation / video

This performance / video / installation involves the creation of a new climbing route over a section of the interior walls and ceiling of the Melbourne International Biennial building in Australia. This new route is called The Guillemot.

The route uses the existing features of the building - ventilation shafts, pipes, door frames, crane mechanisms etc. and also installed climbing holds on bare sections of the wall.

Installation view

A flatscreen monitor installed in-situ along the central section of the route shows footage of the artist climbing The Guillemot. A sound track of Van Morrisons Almost Independence Day and a graffitied wall with UVF in blue paint (amended to spell LOVE), accompanies the installed video screen along the route.

The actual work exists as part installation and part journey. The art object is not present but exists through the few tell tale signs of climbing holds, the video screen showing the climb through that actual space and word of mouth.

The actual space was altered as little as possible, the walls were not painted, the dust not dusted and the electrical debris and signage not removed - unlike much the space around in the building which have been transformed into exhibition spaces.

video detail

It began with a case of mistaken identity:

Penguin on Newcastle Beach is a climbing route in the Mourne Mountains - Northern Ireland, which gets it’s name from a climber associated with the first ascent.

According to local climbing mythology, gossip and piss-take this climber is infamous for spotting a penguin on Newcastle beach - one of the beaches you can see from the top of the Mourne Mountains. He telephoned his amazing news to the RSPB, who flocked out to see this trans-global miracle, only to have his find identified as a damaged Black Guillemot (hopping about with a broken wing), a species endemic to this area of the northern hemisphere. The climbing route became named the Penguin on Newcastle Beach after this folly.

The territory of the Mourne Mountains is a contested site for claims of cultural identity - the mountains being a passionate source of identity for both Irish Nationalist and British Loyalists (the signs of such claims are staked as graffiti, banners, painted kerbstones and flags in towns and villages of the Mournes and even on the landscape itself).

The idea of a species which naturally belong to a specific area twistedly resonates with socio-political notions of land and mythologies of belonging.

Penguins only inhabit the Southern hemisphere (the Blue Penguin breeds around the coast by Melbourne) - Guillemots only inhabit the Northern hemisphere - the Black Guillemot breeds around the coast of the Mourne Mountains.

The sense of place within this episode becomes for me fascinatingly warped on various levels and the arbitrariness and notion of naming a section of rock Penguin on Newcastle Beach - or as more commonly referred to by climbers The Penguin - leads to a twisted sense of place.

The installation provocatively sets out to develop a discourse about the nature of the cultural event and object and by doing so through the reconstruction of place it establishes its own sense of space by adding to and re-contextualising existing structures.


Shown at:

Beta. Solo exhibition. GtGallery. Belfast. 2004
The Short Span Solo exhibition. Millennium Court gallery. Portadown. N. Ireland. 2004
Signs of Life Melbourne International Biennial, Australia. 1999 Curated by Juliana Engberg.
Ardous intent. (The Hanging) Tulca 2008. Group show (collab. with Neal Beggs and Tibaut Espiau). Galway Arts Centre.