A Mouth Without Teeth

Anne Tallentire and Fort Dunree

Declan Sheehan

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  i.  In Spring of 2015 I made an initial research visit with artist Anne Tallentire to Fort Dunree, located in the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal. Tallentire has long had a fascination for Fort Dunree and an instinct to develop a project for the site, since friend and artist Locky Morris from nearby Derry introduced her to Fort Dunree some years ago.

  ii.  Since the peace process and the most recent economic crash, having access to a decommissioned military site in Northern Ireland and the Republic has become increasingly pedestrian, in both senses of the word. Many journeys will pass by unnoticed ‘For Sale’ signs outside decommissioned Garda or RUC stations or decommissioned army barracks, camps and outposts. However Fort Dunree allows access to not only a decommissioned military site with a long history, but also access to what is effectively a disintegrating military camp.


Fig 1. Anne Tallentire, From In and With  (2013)

iii.  The function of Fort Dunree has for many years been a strange amalgam - almost as if it is constantly held within a sense of existential threat, insecure about its status or utility. Military historian Terry Gander has included Fort Dunree and its status as a decommissioned and disintegrating military camp in his survey of military sites as follows - 'A fort without guns is like a mouth without teeth' is an apt description of many of the fortifications remaining in the United Kingdom.

  iv.  Such linguistic devices as simile or metaphor or symbols can make leaps across discipline and tone that are at once both absurd and useful. Metaphor functions by being empirically and logically patently absurd - but it has a function, the play of language and image makes the demand that you suspend your disbelief. The production and reception of metaphor demands that words and the thoughts and images that a metaphor prompts have a double function, they do two things at once – on this note, its interesting that a core project for Anne Tallentire since 2002 has been her shared curatorial, commissioning and education project Double Agents, which is centred on the principle of dialogue – that the processes of exchange, negotiation and conversation are generative actions - and that it is in these actions that new positions can be formed.

  v.  The generative actions of participation, at its most productive and most creative, demand that participants suspend their disbelief, that they keep an open mind to whatever new positions may be formed as they - as Double Agents described their first project - skirt around the borders and limits of conversation, the slippages, co-incidences that occur in the pursuit of a common ground through language.


Seth/Tallentire, Dispersal, performance/installation, Orchard Gallery, Derry, (2000)

  vi.  In a 2005 discussion with Anne Tallentire published in Dialogues: Women Artists from Ireland the critic Katy Deepwell noted that a lot of Tallentire’s work seems to concern possible misrepresentation of something through its representation, something which should be self-evident but clearly is not.  I wonder how this connects with the idea of making artwork within a decommissioned military site, within a disintegrating military site, a site within which the original functioning and specific identity of the site has been declared redundant. The status of being declared redundant can be characterized not as a declaration of a lack of usefulness for a specific purpose, but rather characterized as a condition containing an excessof usefulness for a specific purpose.Fort Dunree was decommissioned, its purpose was redundant, superfluous, and exceeding what is necessary or normal, characterized by or containing an excess.

vii.  I wonder where does this excess go? Is this excess visible within the process of disintegration at Fort Dunree?

viii.  On the fifth of May 1938, in the House of Commons, Winston Churchillidentified Fort Dunree as one of the sentinel towers of the western approaches. That oversaturated metaphor is indicative of the histories of Fort Dunree, from the site Dun Fhraoigh which in Irish means, “Fort of the Heather” to the Napoleonic period fort built by the Royal Navy, to its role as a treaty port, one of the three Irish ports which remained under British sovereignty after Irish independence until 3 October 1938.

  ix.  From The Times, 4 October 1938: FORTS HANDED OVER TO EIRE - Britain's last forts in Eire, those on the gale-swept Lough Swilly at Dunree and Leenan, were surrendered to the Eire Defence Forces yesterday. The ceremony at Dunree was witnessed by only a dozen spectators. The Union Jack was hauled down by two Royal Artillery N.C.O.s and the Eire green, white, and orange flag was run up by two N.C.O.s of the Coastal Artillery Defence Force. The ceremony was brought forward from October 26, the date originally fixed under the Anglo-Irish Pact, on account of the international situation. When the British troops left last evening en route for Shoeburyness, their new headquarters, they were given a cordial send off. By a coincidence Sergeant O'Flynn, of the Royal Artillery, who hauled down the Union Jack, and Sergeant McLaughlin, of the Eire force, who hoisted the tricolour, are brothers-in-law.

  x.  The guns at Fort Dunree were decommissioned after WWII, Fort Dunree was first opened to the public in 1986 when one onsite building was made into a military museum. The tin and concrete barrack blocks scattered around the headland onsite have, since that date, been left to the aforementioned process of managed decline / gradual disintegration.

  xi.  Other than Company (2004), a work featuring film shot at the sea's edge on the Suffolk coast, and part of the early work The Gap of Two Birds (1989) which featured a Super-8 film of the artist in a rocky terrain with mountains in the distance, Anne Tallentire’s works would be mostly associated with the urban as a site, working with themes such as the patterns of urban working behaviour (Drift, 2002-2013), the ephemera and disjecta of urban environments (Dispersal 2000), the material fabric, structures and forms of the physical urban environment as a palimpsest of power relations (From, in and with, 2013).


Anne Tallentire, The Gap of Two Birds,(still) Super 8 film transferred to video, 7 minutes (no sound) 1989

xii.  What does that specific act of totalized and formal military reconnoitre, encampment, occupation, habitation and communal negotiation of a site, and the attendant matter or substance generated onsite, do to a site such as Fort Dunree? Semi-derelict physical structures, visible traces of occupation, markers of quasi-anonymous and quasi-specific dates and individuals, mounted acts of decommissioned military engineering, infrastructures of transport and infrastructures of subsistence – all still activate the site.

xiii.  That military occupation was interruptive, the military activated the Dunree site, engaged with it, created mechanisms and processes onsite to read the landscape and respond to it within military tactics and strategies – under a paradigm, a palimpsest of power relations internal and external to the habitants of the site.

xiv.  Anne Tallentire’s site-specific projects negotiate a delicate path between being interruptive, making a critical intervention in a site, and being assimilative, identifying certain thematics of power onsite but being quietly embedded, existing at the liminal point of demanding specific attention and being just one more embedded detail of the onsite topography and inventory.

xv.  There is a convergence of values at work in Fort Dunree which is difficult to define and fix within stable proportions - the “national histories" and the “natural histories”, the past dedicated intervention onsite and the present managed decline onsite - the actuality of the location as specific physical site and its social conditions and institutional frame.


Anne Tallentire, Company, (still) single channel video with sound, 8 minutes 25 seconds, 2004

xvi.  In such a strangely balanced site, it is difficult to make precise indexical relationships between specific elements of disjecta or scenographies that are currently visible onsite and the discursive formations of military strategy and national interests that were historically engaged onsite.

xvii.  There is a dialogue at Fort Dunree between the discursive formations of the landscape or the picturesque, and the discursive formations of institutional or historic power relations.

xviii.  In terms of art practice, of how an artist can respond to a specific site which can function almost as a studio, a location within which an artist will interrogate and construct meanings, Fort Dunree would seem to demands from any artist a nomadic narrative across the multiple discursive formations of landscape, picturesque, institutional power, natural history, national history and more. It will be mesmerizing to watch this process in action.