Going back to the future as Lynch explores the DeLorean

VISUAL ARTS: THE TITLE OF Sean Lynch’s show at Kevin Kavanagh, DeLorean: Progress Report , is nicely ironic, given that the …

VISUAL ARTS:THE TITLE OF Sean Lynch's show at Kevin Kavanagh, DeLorean: Progress Report, is nicely ironic, given that the one factor notably absent in the whole DeLorean debacle was progress and there certainly can't be any now. Rather the progress report relates to Lynch's own DeLorean project, now well under way as we can see from the exhibition, with much done and much more to do.

John De Lorean died in 2005. He is forever remembered in Ireland for the sports car (nominally the DMC12 but more popularly called simply the DeLorean) he devised and the factory he set up to build it, with much official support, in Dunmurry, close to Belfast. DeLorean was a talented engineer and a flamboyant, high profile executive in the American automotive industry. His innovative sports car, styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro, attracted enormous support from government (something like £100 million), with components from several leading European car manufacturers.

Even before it began production in 1981 though, the company was in financial trouble, which soon translated into receivership. When DeLorean was arrested on drug smuggling charges in a sting operation by US authorities in the autumn of 1982 (he was later found not guilty on the basis of entrapment), the British government pulled the plug on the ailing operation. Thousands of cars, with their distinctive gull-wing doors, were produced, and one of them featured prominently in the film Back to the Future. Some enthusiasts still maintain working models. But apart from that the DeLorean and its manufacturing plant have been consigned to history.

Much of what’s on view in the gallery takes the form of photographic documentation, together with a reconstruction of several of the car’s body panels, all of which is typical of Lynch’s work overall. He was born in Kerry in 1978. His path through third level education took him first to Limerick School of Art, where he studied sculpture. Then he completed an art history MA at the University of Limerick. After that he went to the Stadelschule in Frankfurt, where the 2005 Turner Prize winner, Simon Starling, is a professor of fine arts. While Lynch’s work doesn’t resemble Starling’s elaborately conceptualised projects, it is clearly sympathetic to the approach, and particularly the way of thinking, that they embody.


By the time Lynch went to Frankfurt, he already had a clear idea of what he wanted to do. His earlier works had emerged from a sculptural background, and on the face of it he could well have settled into being a sculptor making structural interventions in the architectural environment, as he did, very well, on several occasions.

But he’s certainly part-historian, interested in the wider context of cultural activity, in the way its meanings are inextricably enmeshed with political, economic, social and moral considerations.

He has already been a remarkably productive artist, but one whose work is hard to categorise. One way to describe him is as a cultural historian or, more, archaeologist, in that he is drawn to cultural events and phenomena that are forgotten, peripheral or adjudged not quite worthy of serious consideration. Things that must be painstakingly researched and brought into the light. To say historian and archaeologist refers to an aspect of what he does but not quite the whole thing – though he could at some stage soon publish a substantial book of pieces that would be a fascinating document of Irish cultural history.

DeLorean: Progress Reportfeatures several groups of photographs which together chronicle certain details of the physical production of the sports car and the dismantling and disposal of the physical aspects of the process. We see the former location of the Belfast plant, now devoted to another, car-related enterprise, and what was the Läpple Factory in Carlow, which wound up in 2007. Prior to that it fabricated car body parts, including stainless steel panels for the DeLorean.

When it all fell apart in 1982, Läpple had to dispose of completed panels and the tooling presses used to shape them. Enter a number of scrap yards, including Haulbowline Industries in Passage West, Co Cork (still active, Lynch tells us, exporting non-ferrous metals and animal feed), and the Hammond Lane Metal Company in Dublin.

It relocated in the later 1990s, but there’s a photograph of its former location at Rogerson’s Quay, now owned, as Lynch points out, by U2, who had their own ambitious plan for the site in the form of the landmark tower.

Finally there’s the Galway Metal Company in Oranmore. From these locations body panels and the more formidable tooling presses were exported, probably to the UK and Spain or Portugal, to be recycled. In 1984, though, an erstwhile car ferry on the Severn, re-employed as a fishing vessel in the west of Ireland, was used to carry 12 tooling presses from Haulbowline Industries to off the Galway coast. There, in Kilkieran Bay, the heavy panels were lowered to the sea bed, where they served as anchors, holding fish cages in place on the surface. The farm is not currently active.

Did Lynch track down the derelict cages and find the panels on the seabed beneath? Of course he did. Three remain visible above the soft mud. As his photographs reveal, the panels have become thriving habitats for a variety of plant and animal life. Lobsters and crabs regard the incursion of the photographic flash with understandable caution. Meanwhile, at Lynch’s instigation, Neil McKenzie in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, has made a wooden mould in the shape of the DeLorean and is hammering out a complete set of body panels by hand.

You can check out his progress so far in the gallery. What Lynch does is to recount a specific historical episode in several media and on several levels. The DeLorean story reflects and interacts with economic and cultural history in myriad ways. One can learn a great deal in following the artist’s progress from stage to stage but, apart from the many insights and much information obtained along the way the project amounts, in the end, to something else, to much more than the sum of its parts. And that’s at the core of Lynch’s endeavours.

DeLorean: Progress ReportKevin Kavanagh, Chancery Lane, Dublin Until Jan 30

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne is visual arts critic and contributor to The Irish Times