First exhibition at Ebrington since Turner Prize is inspired by WWI Nissen hut

Part of Armagh artist Anne Tallentire's artwork Shelter, on Ebrington Parade Ground in Derry
Dominic Kearney


Shelter, by Anne Tallantire

Nerve Visual Gallery, Building Eighty81 and Parade Ground, Ebrington

THE first art exhibition since the Turner Prize show in 2013 to be held at Building Eighty81, at Ebrington, Derry, has just opened.

Shelter is a work by the Co Armagh-born artist, Anne Tallentire, and is part of the 14-18 Now centenary art commissions, inspired by the First World War. The idea for the exhibition arose out of conversations between Tallentire and Declan Sheehan, one of the show's curators, and takes its particular inspiration from the Nissen Hut.

The Nissen Hut was designed in early 1916 by Major Peter Nissen, an inventor and officer in the Royal Engineers. Nissen's task was to produce quarters for the tens of thousands of soldiers in France for whom tented accommodation was totally inadequate. His solution to the problem had to be low-cost, use basic materials, be quick to erect, and be transportable.

The Nissen Hut was prefabricated and could be packed on to the back of a regulation army wagon, to be unloaded and built by six men in around four hours. Equally important, it could be taken down with ease and moved to a new location when the need arose. Production of the hut began in August 1916, with over 100,000 made by the end of the war.

Shelter sees Anne Tallentire use the Nissen Hut as a stepping-off point for an examination of temporariness, transition, and need. Working from her own designs, based on the 1916 original, with materials bought from a local builders' merchant, she has produced her own hut.

Each day, for seven days until this Saturday, the materials required for one section of her hut are being moved from Gallery Two and laid out on the parade ground, before being moved in the evening into Gallery One, to create sculptures, efficiently stacked, taking up the smallest amount of space.

By the final day, everything necessary for the construction of the hut will be laid out ready for viewing from July 12-31, with each sculpture accompanied by its own video of the process.

The exhibition shows a complete hut in flatpack form, ready for transit to anywhere there is the need for temporary accommodation. That temporary state is crucial to an understanding of the piece and is a regular theme in much of Tallentire's work.

She is fascinated by the relationship between the placed and the displaced, and also by the totting up of those things that are absolutely necessary to a contented life. Her work here – in its final state – is actually in a state of being incomplete, in that it is not, and never will be assembled. It is on the way somewhere, and always will be. Any location is purely temporary.

“When each sculpture is in place, you can see spread out what it amounts to, and what people need. Each one represents one of seven notional spaces: kitchen; dormitory; mess; sickroom; classroom; store room; bathroom. These are basic needs of life,” Tallentire says.

“And there is nothing about the assembly or the materials which requires specialist knowledge.”

Even if ever fully constructed, the building, and the essential human requirements it represents, is always ready to go at a few hours notice.

Shelter is the first of a number of shows planned by the Nerve Centre under the title of Nerve Visual.

“The Nerve Centre has taken on a short-term lease of the Gallery spaces for a series of exhibitions,” says David Lewis, director of communications and digital content. “We're really excited to be bringing the spaces back to life.”


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