The Breathing Factory by Mark Curran

A collection looking at the working environment of the multinational corporation Hewlett-Packard (HP), located on the former site of a meatpacking factory in Celbridge, County Kildare.

Belfast Exposed Photography will be hosting The Breathing Factory, a new body of work by Mark Curran from April 7- May 19, 2006. The collection looks at the working environment of the multinational corporation Hewlett-Packard (HP), located on the former site of a meatpacking factory in Celbridge, County Kildare.

The site is 2 million square feet in size with almost 2,500 workers. It is HPs only inkjet manufacturing plant in Europe and one of the only global sites. HP is the largest Information and Communication Technology employer in Ireland and is one of a number of American high tech companies (Microsoft, Intel) whose low-corporation-tax presence in Ireland contributed to the Celtic Tiger boom of the 1990s.

In his catalogue essay for The Breathing Factory, Sean ORiain describes how Mark Currans photographs give us unusual insight into what are surprisingly obscure workplaces the modern manufacturing plants that circle Dublin city, the icons within the new cathedrals of high tech industrial parks. The Breathing Factory allows us to see beyond the smooth images of corporate working life that emanate from centralized branding systems, into a world governed by the market. A world where working hours and working conditions must become flexible. Not only at the factory level. The new breathing rhythm must also make headway at the social level: the time rhythm in society, the labour market, the educational system and the remaining institutions of the welfare state. (Hartz, 1996)

The Project
Mark Curran spent 9 months negotiating access to the Hewlett-Packard Technology Campus. The project began in April 2003 and was produced over a 20 month period. Each site visit was pre-scheduled and cleared by security. The photographer was accompanied on site at all times and all images were vetted. Curran has made this policing process visible in the work, as a comment on the way that global capital investment is a highly managed and protected process.

The Breathing Factory has been developed as a cross-disciplinary project involving the application of ethnographic practices and techniques. Curran conducted interviews with a range of staff including the Director of Government and Public Affairs, a Logistics Coordinator, a Production Supervisor, a Clean Room Supervisor and a Health and Safety Inspector, among others. Transcribed excerpts from these interviews have been incorporated into the final installation and publication. Curran has also produced a series of photographs and digital video work surveying this new and transient landscape.

ORiain describes how in Currans photographs, we are presented with a worker in a uniform, a controlled body in a bland space but how local and global relationships combine gender, ethnicity, family, sport, national loyalties, friendships, religion and even personalities peek through the neutral expressions, plastic, and grey-blue and white of Currans portraits. He identifies how workers in cubicles create personal spaces and how the standardization of the physical plant only highlights the human and social diversity.

The Installation
Interview excerpts, large-format photographic portraits and interior shots are presented amidst the ambient low hiss of an audio-visual projection. The photographs are presented unframed and unmounted, in a suspended and fragile state. Curran creates an installation that echoes the homogenous and globally proliferated spaces of new, post-industrial labour practices. The Belfast Exposed gallery, itself the site of a former, Victorian shirt factory becomes a house of ghosts, surveying a future prospect.

The Book
The Breathing Factory is published by Edition Braus and Belfast Exposed Photography. It is a hardback edition with 180 pages and 69 colour photographs. Essays have been commissioned by Sean Riain, Chair of the Sociology Department, National University of Ireland, Maynooth and author of The Politics of High Tech Growth: Developmental States in the Global Economy (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and Martin McCabe, lecturer and Programme Chair of the BA Photography, School of Media and researcher within the centre for Transcultural Research and Media Practice in the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Artist's Biography
Mark Curran originally from Ireland, now lives in Berlin. He has a Masters of Philosophy (Mphil) through the Centre for Transcultural Research and Media Practice, Dublin Institute of Technology where he is currently a Visiting Lecturer in Photography. He lived in Canada for eight years where he received a BA(Hons) in Sociology and subsequently worked as a social worker. Curran was the recipient of the first development bursary from the Gallery of Photography, Dublin where the award-winning Southern Cross was presented as an exhibition and publication in 2002. This work has been widely published and exhibited internationally. The Breathing Factory was recently presented at the Galleria Nouva Icona, Venice (in cooperation with the Gallery of Photography) and at Dazibao-Centre de Photographies Actuelles, Montreal. Following this exhibition at Belfast Exposed Photography, The Breathing Factory will be shown at the Gallery of Photography, Dublin and van der grinten galerie, Cologne, who also represent his work.

The Breathing Factory has been produced in collaboration with the Gallery of Photography in Dublin and the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny. It has been generously supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland - Lottery Fund, Belfast City Council, Laganside, Community Relations Council and Esmee Fairburn Foundation.