Oatfield: Temperance

Artist Name(s) Abigail O'Brien
Artwork title Oatfield: Temperance
Context/Background The Oatfield Sweet factory has made an enduring economic, social and cultural contribution to Letterkenny over its 80 years of existence. In 2007 Terre Duffy, Public Art Manager, Donegal County Council and John M. Cunningham, Assistant Director of the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, met Harold Jacob, Manager, Oatfield Sweet factory, to propose developing a project. The opportunity for this project was made possible by the Per Cent for Art monies arising from the National Road Authority's recent construction of the N56 Mountain Top to Illistrin Road Realignment Project, with additional funds from Zed Candy, the owners of Oatfield Sweet Factory.

With the intention to develop a project that would engage with something intrinsically connected with Letterkenny, the Public Art Office proposed that the special (and indeed iconic) status that the Oatfield Sweet Factory has in Letterkenny and its surrounds had excellent potential to serve as the central theme of a project. This coupled also with the factory celebrating its 80th anniversary and its recent acquisition by Zed Gum. 

Oatfield - Temperance is the final strand of the resulting project: 
Oatfield - The Sweet Stuff - which has been presented collaboratively across Donegal County Council Cultural Services; Public Art Office; Regional Cultural Centre; and the County Museum. 

The project has been made up of three strands:
Oatfield a Short But Sweet History, a museum exhibition celebrating 80 years of The Oatfield Sweet Factory. The Sweet Fantastic was an exhibition of work by the Redmoon Theater, Chicago, USA, and local children celebrating the magical world of sweets and the exhibition Oatfield - Temperance and accompanying publication, from the Oatfield Factory Photographic Residency, was a commission awarded to the internationally renowned Irish photographer Abigail O'Brien. 


Abigail O'Brien's residency ran in the Oatfield Sweet Factory from October to December 2007. The remarkable resulting photographs are a unique and striking ‘behind the scenes’ insight into the work that goes on inside Oatfield Sweet Factory. This project resulted in an incredible amount of excitement, goodwill within Oatfield Factory at a corporate level, amongst the individual employees, current and past. For the local community, the work of Oatfield has been recognised and celebrated.  and its place within the heart of the community has been enhanced.

The Sweet Revelations of Abigail O’Brien 
(extract from catalogue essay by Dr. David Galloway).

‘The remarkable series of photographs that Abigail O’Brien produced at the Oatfield Sweet Factory at Letterkenny in County Donegal can be read on many levels. The most prosaic interpretation would focus on the documentary nature of these works, which record the equipment and materials and processes involved in the making of traditional candies, but which also introduce us to the men and women who perform the necessary alchemy of sweet making. Mixing and kneading and pouring and extruding and pressing and tempering and slicing and wrapping, flow together into a sort of candy-choreography. Even outsiders can perceive the concentration, but also the rhythmic sureness and ease with which individual gestures are carried out. What transpires here is a kind of laying on of hands, and the workers, like the dwarfs in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, have an air of witchcraft about them. But we do not just see employees going about the practiced routines of work. We see them in repose as well – as in Breaktime or in Time Out, which conveys a sense of fundamental separation and weariness that seem to place the viewer in the role of voyeur. The men and women depicted here might be actors glimpsed backstage after a performance, their masks dropped.

In summarising this sequence under the title Temperance, O’Brien suggests the search for balance and harmony, for a middle ground. Aristotle saw temperance as the summit between two chasms – the chasms of intemperance and insensibility. The artist explores these extremes in the rituals and processes of the factory floor, but also reminds us as viewers that our hunger may be bigger than our stomachs. Hence, a state of balanced moderation may be possible only after swinging into extremes (Good Girl 1 and Good Girl 2) or trespassing into excess (Fools Gold). It is for this reason that O’Brien’s work vacillates between the peaks of movement and rest, of luxury and emptiness. One can also see this symbolised in the delicious, baroque folds of a sugar-mass collapsing into smooth flat forms.’


Catalogue available from Regional Cultural Centre Letterkenny or Donegal County Council Public Art Office:
Hardback, 215 x 279mm (H x W), 112pp
with 79 full colour plates
Website: http://donegalpublicart.ie/dpa_oatfield.html
Download review of RHA exhibition here


Abigail O'Brien has won many awards for her work and her work is represented in both private and public collections, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, the European Central Bank, Frankfurt, Goldman Sachs, London, the Caldic Collection, Rotterdam and the Volpinum Collection, Vienna. She has shown extensively, including Haus Der Kunst, Munich, the Gemeentemuseum, Holland, and Centro National des Artes, Mexico. Born in 1957, she received a first class honours BA Fine Art Painting in 1995 and an MA Fine Art Painting in 1998, from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. Abigail O'Brien lives and works in Ireland.

Commission Type Local Authority
Commissioner Name Donegal County Council Public Art Programme & The Regional Cultural Centre
Commissioning process Open Submission
Project commission dates September 30, 2007 - December 1, 2007
Public Presentation dates November 14, 2009 - January 16, 2010
Artform Visual Arts
Funded By Donegal County Council,Other
Percent for art Yes
Budget Range 10000 - 30000 euro
Project commission start date 30/09/2007
Project commission end date 01/12/2007
Location Oatfield Sweet Factory
County Donegal
Town Letterkenny
Website www.donegalpublicart.ie/44-publicart.htm
Content contributor(s) Declan Sheehan
Relationship to project Public Art Assistant, Donegal County Council
Associated professionals / Specialists involved

Other artists commissioned within the overall Oatfield project were the Redmoon Company, Chicago



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