installation, painting, socially engaged events
Solastalgia refers to existential distress caused by environmental change, particularly in a place with historical or cultural value to the individual.
The term was coined by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2005:
I define solastalgia as the pain or distress caused by the ongoing loss of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one's home and territory. It is the existential and lived experience of negative environmental change, manifest as an attack on one's sense of place.
Glenn Albrecht, Earth Emotions, p38
This series of work began in 2017, and features ongoing works that all relate to environmental loss and grief..
waking the land, 2023, artist-led social events, installation, textile, varied events and dimensions
An ungrievable life is one that cannot be mourned because it has never lived, that is, it has never counted as a life at all.
collaborative artistic research
From June to September 2023, the collective ^ investigated loss of place and community, drawing from myth, ecology, place, and more-than-human elements of Benbo Mountain near Manorhamilton, Leitrim. Benbo is an important landmark for the local area and community, and we see it as a 'grievable' place, a place with unique personality that we would grieve if it was lost. The artistic research led to workshops, events, documentation and new artworks in progress.
The artist collective ^ created a series of artist-led events in August 2023. The events are part of the project Waking the Land, and took place from 5pm-8pm every Thursday in August 2023 at ^, Main Street, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim. Each was hosted by a different artist or group, influenced by a different aspect of artistic research from Benbo mountain.
Waking the Land events were social, artist-led spaces for conversation. Light refreshments were served, with no alcohol. Each week was unique as the hosts drew from their particular professional practice. The themed events were:
- August 3rd: Fauna: the hare, hosted by Cróna Gallagher and Anna Mulvihill
- August 10th: Flora: the mandala, hosted by Finola McFadden
- August 17th: Home: the community, hosted by Sonya Swarte
- August 24th: Place: the land, hosted by Donal O'Kelly & James Gilmartin
- August 31st: Gold: the minerals, hosted by Soraya Ricalde & Fiona Mulholland
On the sixth Thursday, 7th September 2023, the collective ^ presented artistic research, works in progress, and unveiled a banner of Benbo mountain that will later be activated in an event in 2024.
Waking the Land was supported by the Irish Hospice Foundation's compassionate culture network, and was a partnership with the Glens Centre Manorhamilton. More documentation and reflections were documented at the Irish Hospice Foundation's website here.
Research included animated gifs and procedural artworks
Banner launch event. Photographs by Cían Flynn
^ member Tara Baoth Mooney sang a lament at the launch
Research timelapses were presented with the technological hardware visible
my echo, my shadow, and me, 2022, side-glow fibre-optic cables, black duck tape, plywood, oil and acrylic on wood and canvas, arduino, LEDs, triptich of sculptural artworks, individually 60x60x40cm
A triptych of sculptural artworks created in response to myth, ecology and more-than-human research into the Poulaphuca Reservoir. The pieces feature obscured paintings of bridges and sculptural imitations of tree stumps that were removed from the valley at Poulaphuca before it was flooded to create a reservoir for hydroelectric power in the 1930s. The links between electricity, myth, network technologies and the lake’s ecology are woven together in the water-filled pieces. These works were made as part of Púca in the Machine, a collaborative research project that I coordinated with two other artists about history, mythology and ecology at the Poulaphuca Reservoir, Wicklow.
Supported by Wicklow Arts Office Strategic Project Awards and partnered with Blessington Library, the work later toured to Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady, Co. Derry, Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Co. Wicklow and ^, Manorhamilton.
Photograph by Louis Haugh taken at the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray
photo by Louis Haugh from installation at Mermaid Arts Centre
press image of work-in-progress
photo by Louis Haugh at Mermaid Arts Centre
in áit, 2020, painting, social event, video, painting installation 480x157cm (individually 96x157cm)
As these able apes get better at controlling their world, they produce some unintended side effects,including strange new chemicals, some of which are poisonous to the rest of life...But, to love nature and to hate humanity is illogical. Humanity is part of the whole.
in áit was an event and a series of three paintings made on-site at the edge of the 2km restricted area of exercise allowed during lockdown restrictions when the COVID-19 pandemic first came to Ireland in April 2020. The large format canvases were brought to the lakeside in the Lockstown/Poulaphuca area where I lived in east Ireland.
Human beings reshape the landscapes around us. At times we invent borders, invisible lines that delineate ownership. But even when we do not, we can create the aesthetic of landscapes - planting forests, gouging minerals out of mountains, or tending gardens.
The paintings were responsive to the idea of place, and the human role on the environment. The paintings are intentionally made in portrait format to "restrict" the view, and to imitate the way that people are represented in painting historically. They feature a human-made landscape - the forest is plantation. The lake is Poulaphuca, or the Blessington Lakes, and was flooded in the 1930s and 1940s to provide water for a hydroelectric power station, which currently provides the majority of drinking water and electrical power to Dublin city.
Poulaphuca translates to the "cave of the púca", a mythical character that played tricks on people across the country. The púca was said to live in the river that ran into the valley before it was flooded. After people were forced to evacuate, the púca, arguably, gained free rein of the whole area, all the way to Dublin and perhaps beyond. This project formed the seed for the later project 'Púca in the Machine'.
To conclude the series of artworks, I chose to stage an outdoor intervention on June 25th 2020, as an offer of festival to the local community who had been in isolation under COVID-19 restrictions since April 2020. The works were placed on farmer Mike Farringdon's gate in Lockstown. Only those living in the local area were invited to a roadside exhibition, with food made from local food foraged, prepared and served by my partner Amy Bunce.
The paintings and a video of the exhibition was screened at the Luan Gallery, Athlone, Ireland in October 2020 as part of the touring exhibition Over Nature.
The works were exhibited on Mike Farringdon's gate
the repeated refrains of nature, 2019, 6-screen video and interactive motion-based mixed media installation, 183 x 187 x 80cm
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter
Life works with life to further life. That is now the philosophical and scientific basis for how we can think about everything else. We must abandon the ‘environment’ which does nothing but perpetuate our separation.
The interactive digital artwork The Repeated Refrains of Nature was first exhibited in the Auk Room, Zoological Museum, Trinity College Dublin, from June 26th to August 31st 2019. The artwork explores the role of people and technology in bird depopulation.
In 1962, scientist Rachel Carson published her magnum opus, Silent Spring. In this book, she documents over ten years of research on the effects of pesticides on soil and animal life in the USA and Europe. The book focuses on the decline of bird life in areas where pesticides were widely used. Through this research, Carson began the early conversation on ecology, and preceded the idea of the ‘Anthropocene’, now a common term in journals and newspapers. The term refers to the era when human beings began to change the environment as much as geology had previously done, primarily through large-scale industry.
From the year 2000, the decline in bird populations has been tracked by scientists across the globe, particularly in Europe where ecological measurement is long established. The declines occur in both sea and land birds. These declines are equated to different factors: the loss of food-stuffs (insects, fish, meadows), changes in temperature and climate, and loss of areas of habitat. Most of the detrimental effects on bird populations have been found to have human causes, from the continued use of pesticides, to over-fishing, to single-crop farming.
The Repeated Refrains of Nature is an artwork created in 2019 that takes its name from a quote by Rachel Carson. It is an interactive digital artwork that uses six video monitors to show videos of common garden birds feeding, presented much like a security control room multi-monitor setup. When a person enters the room, the birds fly off screen, leaving empty feeders.
The artwork invites visitors to consider their role on bird depopulation, exhibited among the extinct and endangered birds on show at the Trinity College Dublin Zoological Museum. Placed as it is, among other bird and animal species, the audience are asked to consider what a world without birds would be like.
As the installation is controlled by motion, by remaining motionless the birds may reappear, hinting that slowing down and reducing action can perhaps have a positive effect.
Project supported by Trinity College Dublin Visual and Performing Arts Fund, and later exhibited at St. Luke's Crypt, Cork, the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny and the Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon.
full sequence showing a visitor creating the motion effect
At the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny
beyond the black stump, 2017, painting, performance, community event, 920 x 300cm
A live painting performance piece asking audience and artist to create a 'place' on the wall of Charlestown Arts Centre that will later be removed, emulating how people together both create, and can later destroy community.
Curated by Louise Spokes, the project was based on an open call responding to the 1968 book No One Shouted Stop by journalist John Healy, which documents the loss of community in the rural Irish town of Charlestown in County Mayo in the 1960s.
The community and attendees came together to work on the piece.
The artwork was erased afterward.
things I read or saw that helped create this project
- glenn albrecht Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World (2019) book
- glenn albrecht Solastalgia. A New Concept in Health and Identity, PAN: Philosophy Activism Nature 3 (2005): 41 paper
- judith butler the force of nonviolence (2020) book
- rachel carson silent spring (1965) book
- alex coles (ed.) site specificity: the ethnographic turn (2000) book
- jm coetzee life and times of michael k (1983) book [LIT]
- vinciane despret living as a bird (2021) book
- nadine gordimer the pickup (2001) book [LIT]
- günter grass of all that ends (2017) book
- john healy death of an irish town (1968) book
- michel houellebecq atomised (1998) book [LIT]
- lewis hyde common as air (2010) book
- kathleen jamie surfacing (2019) book
- han kang human acts (2017) book [LIT]
- naomi klein this changes everything (2014) book
- rosalind e krauss under blue cup (2011) book
- halldor laxness independent people (1934) book [LIT]
- max liboiron pollution is colonialism (2021) book
- cormac mccarthy the crossing (1994) book [LIT]
- mike mccormack solar bones (2016) book [LIT]
- m. scott momaday house made of dawn (1968) book [LIT]
- guy de maupassant ball of fat (1880) book [LIT]
- kerri ní dochartaigh thin places (2021) book
- nan shepherd the living mountain (1977) book
- saskia sassen expulsions (2014) book
- olga tokarczuk drive your plow over the bones of the dead (2008) book [LIT]
- francisco varela, evan thompson, eleanor rosch the embodied mind (1991) book
- ngũgĩ wa thiongʼo a grain of wheat (1967) book [LIT]
- simeone weil the need for roots (1948/2003) book
colleagues who worked on this project with me
- the others in the collective ^ (tara, james, laura) on waking the land
- niamh and alannah, the two artists who were part of púca in the machine leg 1
- the beautiful lockstown community in wicklow, who we miss every day (even though we are also happy in leitrim!)
- valeria ceregini, who believed in the work and gave it other life
people or organisations who helped fund the work
- Wicklow Arts Office Strategic Projects Award for my echo, my shadow and me
- Wicklow Arts Office Strategic Projects Award for my echo, my shadow and me
- Trinity College Dublin for The Repeated Refrains of Nature
- Charlestown Arts Centre for Beyond the Black Stump