Michele Horrigan Back
Nature Obscured by Factory / Factory Obscured by Fog

Multi-channel video and photography installation

Nature Obscured by Factory / Factory Obscured by Fog represents social and environmental impacts of the Aughinish alumina refinery on the Shannon river estuary.

Aughinish Alumina began production at its west of Ireland location in 1983, and produces 1.8 million tonnes of alumina yearly, making it the largest industrial complex of its kind in Europe. Built by Canadian conglomerate Alcan, the site is currently owned by Rusal, a Russian consortium. Red rock bauxite imported from Guinea is chemically altered to become white powder alumina onsite, before being exported to smelters worldwide to become aluminium.

In this installation, extracts from newspapers and media reports originating from the late 1990s are displayed on a video monitor to narrate a debate in the surrounding area around deformed agricultural livestock, local health, toxic deposits and harmful caustic emissions. These issues officially remain unresolved, yet inevitably are attributed to the refinery’s activities. However, Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to defend the refinery’s record, who are a major employer in the region, and renew its license.

Documentation of a promotional film hastily recorded at the reception area of the refinery before the intervention of a security officer additionally features. Another video projection shows wildlife surviving in the wetlands around the complex’s perimeter, where horses graze, birds greet the dawn and some remaining ducks swim on the water with the hum of electric power generators and industrial chimneys billowing fumes in the background. A photograph presents a view directed towards the refinery with a heavy morning fog clouding any sign of industrialisation. This hazily atmospheric view points to the juxtaposition of nature and industry present, a reality also reflected in the artwork’s title.

Controversy persists to this day. Local farmer groups continue to agitate for clearer regulation, without any substantial acknowledgement or success. An expansive storage area for red bauxite residue mud continues to exponentially grow onsite. On a recent visit, accompanied by Coastwatch Ireland’s Karin Dubsky, I learnt Rusal are not required by Ireland’s EPA to survey the health of any marine wildlife in the vicinity of the complex, and that legal requirements of making public real time monitoring of emissions are currently not complied with.