My practice is primarily concerned with landscape studies and an investigation of the competing sets of values placed upon resources of the land. My contribution to the Troubling Ireland campaign focuses on the complex hybrid landscapes of human interaction at the interface of technology and land, the production of energy.

In a bleak Ireland on the brink of bankruptcy recovering from the psychological ravages of the Civil War the vision of one young engineer, Thomas McLaughlin then an employee of Siemens Schuckert in Berlin, to harness the power of the Shannon River and electrify the country through a national grid led to one of the largest engineering projects of its type in the world at that time. The government pledged £5.2 million pounds to the project, a politically controversial sum that constituted one fifth of the new state’s entire budget for 1925. The Shannon Scheme was developed in conjunction with Siemens Schuckert and the contract for the entire project awarded to them.

Considered a major economic and political success for the Irish Free State government the Shannon Scheme at Ardnacrusha, Co Claire became a benchmark of technological progress and a cultural icon of the emerging new state.

The state was keen to cultivate the image of the Shannon Scheme an icon of nation building and modernity embarking on an extensive promotion of the site through the press, news footage of the construction phases, guided tours of the site and postcards. In 1926 the artist Sean Keating started on a self initiated project to document the scheme through drawings and paintings produced on site. The Shannon scheme and the iconic cultural symbols that were generated during its construction expressed huge optimism for the liberating potential of technology.(1)

A 1928 ESB advertisement poster for guided tours of the scheme proclaims:

ENERGY! 90,000 horse power
of energy will be available from the Shannon Electrical Power Station next year for Irish Industry and Irish homes.
The American workman is the most prosperous on earth, because he has, three horse-power, the equivalent of thirty human slaves, helping him to produce.
No wonder he can toil less and be paid more than the workman of other lands. He is not a toiler, he is a director of machinery.
Wages and prosperity are determined by output, and the use of electric driven machinery is the key to maximum of production with the minimum effort. It is the secret of successful industrial organization.
The Shannon is being harnessed to enable the Irish Industrialist and the Irish worker to use that key.
Shannon electricity will lift the heavy work of industry from human shoulders to the iron shoulders of machines.

Contemporary debates on how Ireland might meet its future energy requirements implicate us all as consumers of energy.

What are the implications for the extraction of natural resources from the land and how do we as users of energy navigate the complexities of information in contemporary engineering technologies?

Can the country gain by looking back to a moment where the Irish government invested a fifth of the national budget to an innovative engineering project that bolstered the confidence of the nation and generated energy from the flow of water?

(1) Andy Bielenberg ‘Sean Keating, the Shannon Scheme and the Art of State-Building’ p. 124–125 in Andy Bielenberg (Ed.) The Shannon Scheme and the Electrification of the Irish Free State’ Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2002.

Archive image of Ardnacrusha Hydro Power plant, ‘front of Power House, Tailrace side’ (1929) Courtesy of ESB Archives.

Anna Macleod is a visual artist based in Ireland. In her work she employs a variety of methods, strategies and processes to mediate complex ideas associated with contemporary and historical cultural readings of land use and resources. A further aspect of her practice is in the initiation, development and involvement in artist led projects and symposia in Poland, Spain, Australia, Iceland, Latvia and Ireland creating spaces for interaction, dialogue and interdisciplinary participation. She has worked as an artist member on boards of Artist led organisations such as Temple Bar Gallery and Studio, Dublin, Leitrim Sculpture Center, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim and advocacy committes for artists’ rights.

In 2005 Anna Macleod curated the Irish edition of the the art event ‘Sense in Place’ Site-ations Int. Europe 2005–6.

Anna Macleod lectures in the Fine Art department at the Dublin Institute of Technology and completed an MA in Visual Art Practices through the Institute of Design, Art & Technology, IADT. 2009.