media: installation, painting, digital media
concepts: technology, belief, place
Technologies have been lost throughout history for many different reasons. Conquered nations,
massive accidents, religious or political succour, or just transience have lost many great ideas
from the world.
This project looks at some of these ideas, researching power, belief, propaganda and technology.
edwin abbott flatland (1884)
svetlana alexievich voices from chernobyl (1997)
elias canetti crowds and power (1960)
michel foucault madness and civilisation (1961)
h. kester grant conversation pieces (2004)
katja kwastek aesthetics of interaction in digital art (2013)
miwon kwon one place after another (2002)
clarice lispector hour of the star (1977)
lev manovich the language of new media (2001)
michael marder and anaïs tondeur the chernobyl herbarium (2016)
robert macfarlane landmarks (2015)
georges perec the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise (1968)
jacques rancière the emancipated spectator (2008)
susan sonntag against interpretation (1966)
anna lowenhaupt tsing the mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins (2015)
margaret visser the geometry of love (2000)
When you walk into a forest – great or small – you enter it in one state and emerge from it calmer. You have that cathedral feeling and you’re never the same again. You come out of there and you know something big has happened to you.
-Diana Beresford Kroeger, Forest as Sacred Cathedral
The word "communicate" is problematic from the outset. It implies that a message sent from one source is received at the end point in the same way that it was intended. We know that this is usually not the case.
The concept of communication has recently been applied regularly and liberally to trees, as new discoveries have been made about the interconnectedness of trees (see my project The Wood Wide Web for more on this idea. To further add to the ambiguity of a term like communication, we are living in an age of transfer of digital messaging that is unprecedented. In 2020, we celebrate thirty years since Tim Berners Lee, while working at CERN in Switzerland, developed what became known as the World Wide Web - the interconnected systems we use daily to access the internet.
This installation has been built to query the idea of communication. Using research about the World Wide Web, and about connectivity in fungi and green plants, it represents our role as humans entering a forest. It explores different modes of communication than those familiar to us: speech, written, gesture. In this work, the forms of communication that the trees respond to are proximity, loudness and underfoot-vibration (root-connection). Each is an attempt to take the human out of the central role, and to consider communication from the point of view of a tree.
This installation was built for the exhibition as tree, which I curated and organised. It was designed as the fifth and final work in the series Antikythera, Etc, and as a transition to the new project, The Wood Wide Web.
We change through our collaborationsboth within and across species. The important stuff for life on earth happens in those transformations, not in the decision trees of self-contained individuals. Rather than seeing only the expansion and conquest strategies of relentless individuals, we must look for histories that develop through contamination.
-Anna Lowehaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, p29
The installation is built from compost, woodchip, acrylic, found plastic and a video. At the 30th
anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, it imagines a future where capitalists roam the underground looking
for the last valuable resource - plastic. As one of the most ubiquitous and useful media in the world, plastic
has been overused as a by-product of petroleum, and micro-fibres have become so common that they are found in
water, soil and the air around the globe. Built as a portal into the underground, the art installation
considers the pervasiveness of plastic with the self-perpetuating individualism of a capitalist society.
Reappropriation is an artwork created in 2019-2020 by visual artist Shane Finan for installation at the
Regional Cultural Centre,
Letterkenny, Co. Donegal as part of the Over Nature touring exhibition curated by
It consists of a video projection of the underground world after Capitalism, where scavengers travel through
passageways in search of plastic. The portal is created through a mound of earth that lies on the
Plastic is a material of ongoing obsession. In the 20th Century, plastic was developed as a by-product of
crude oil, and used as a multipurpose material, capable of being hard as glass or malleable as grass. It is one
of the most important inventions of the post-indutrial era. It is also one of the most overused,
environmentally damaging materials.
Part of the contemporary obsession with plastic relates to the obsession with a germ-free environment.
Objects wrapped in plastic sell better, we are told. It has become a symbol of capitalism since the
entrepreneurship of Brownie Wise when she saw the potential of tupperware, to the use of fear as a marketing
tool by major supermarkets in the 21st Century.
Reappropriation was made to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, heralding the end
of the capitalist/communist dichotomy of the second half of the 20th Century. It imagines a near future where
capitalists, still obsessed with plastic as a nostalgic object of value, crawl through underground caverns,
bypassing borders with their collections of plastic waste.
Made for and supported by the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny.
Countless problems are being engendered by the expansion of technical equipment...
the delegation of knowledge, which not only modifies radically the modes of transmission of this
knowledge but seems to threaten these forms with nothing less than sheer disappearance.
-Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time I: The Fault of Epimetheus, p86
...once a landscape goes undescribed and therefore unregarded, it becomes vulnerable to
unwise or improper action
-Robert MacFarlane, Landmarks, p27
What industry calls innovation, in other words, looks more like the final suicidal throes of addiction...
Yes, some very advanced technology is making this possible, but it’s not innovation, it’s madness.
-Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, p144
Technology is transient, made obsolete through newer developments, political intervention, lost ideas.
Similarly, language changes over time as words are discarded, altered or invented. The use of technology
affects language, and currently is having an effect on the terminology of landscape and nature.
Using a transposed recreation of JMW Turner’s painting ‘Rye, Sussex’ (1794-7) with a digital
touchscreen containing terminology from Sussex, faigh ar ais as an fharraige invited the audience
to participate in altering, shifting or changing their visual landscape.
Unlike other artworks in this series, the work was built without visiting or speaking to people in
Rye, instead learning from available sources on internet, journals, artworks and articles to create
an outsider’s view of Rye. Imagery from Google Images is displayed with dictionary definitions of
place terminology; Video from various locations show a diverse and interconnected landscape. Through
this, visitors are asked to become part of controlling their own landscape through use of technology.
The terminology associated with landscapes is how people understand the world around them. The specificity or
generality of terms dictates what will be noticed or understood in a landscape.
Technological advancement, regardless of what is referred to as technology, has an influence on social and
individual understanding of the world. Technologies can also be used to change a landscape. The current trend toward
digital technologies is causing an increase in energy consumption, in a period often regarded as the Anthropocene,
an epoch where human beings are said to have the primary influence on their environment.
With contemporary digital media, we are now engaged in devices that draw our attention. We look for ways to control our lives,
or to make personal gains, but when we scratch away at the surface obsessively we are left disappointed. It was recorded that
visitors engaged most with the touchscreens, but were underwhelmed by the progress toward no end.
Rye sits in an area of land that was once surrounded by sea. In the 13th Century storms shifted
the landscape in the area, shifting large banks of land and moving the coast away from the town.
The nearby (Old) Winchelsea was destroyed in February 1287 by large storms and heavy flooding.
The link between the movement of coast and the power of the sea to divide, add and remove from the island
landscape is historical and contemporary. Current extremes in global warming predict an increase in beach
movement and erosion in Ireland and the UK through increased extreme weather conditions. And
behind these extreme weather conditions is a continued technological push for new and more
extreme machinery (for example, for mining or weapons).
This mixed media installation, exhibited at Rye
Creative Centre from March 3-17 2018. It was created to respond to Rye, and to contemporary
trends in technology and language.
Taking influence from writing on language, technology and society, this artwork was exhibited as a single exhibition.
faigh ar ais as an fharraige uses the Irish language (Gaeilge) incorrectly. It is a mistranslation
of the phrase 'return back from the sea' taken from Google Translate (May 2017). The title, as the work,
uses terminology and technology as part of its overall criticism.
Supported by Culture Ireland as part of GB18: Promoting Irish Arts in Britain
Looking up at trees becomes looking up in general. The forest is a preparation for the feeling of being
in a church, the standing before God among pillars and columns.
-Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power
Methods of belief are tied to structures and to places. Power is similarly tied to structures, and the interplay
between power and belief is something that continues to dominate social behvious.
Above us we have the structure of belief and power from times gone by. It was recorded that few visitors
Following the enlightenment, political and belief structures in Europe began to move toward what were perceived as
egalitarian ideals, however the predominance of an unshakable male power has persevered through this time. The more people
come together to object, the more this landscape changes. It was recorded that people used a built space as an area
for conversation, in the historical model of the public sphere.
In Greek, apo-, has the spatial sense “away, off, apart”. In modern scientific coinages in English and other languages,
apo-, marks things that are detached, separate, or derivative In early Christian religious usage, an apo denotes the
opposite movement of a nod (an upward thrust of the head).
This mixed media installation, exhibited at The Duncairn Centre for
Culture and Arts was created in response to Belfast City, and to the art space itself.
The centre, an art centre built inside a former church, served as inspiration for a work that was built around the
idea of structures. Inside the church, inside the art centre, a ciborium was built. This structure, representing a
historical form of religious centre, was created as a four-legged wooden centre with a small altar. The work is presented
as a triptych of media.
Taking influence from writing on power, religion, crowds and society, this work is designed in three parts, outlined in the
This work was created during a residency at Digital Arts Studios
Belfast between October 2016 and January 2017.
Each piece of the work functions independently, showing three contrasting power structures. The painting and sculpture
represent an old form of power - religious power, topped by a painting depicting construction as an ideal of worship.
The central piece is a projection that changes depending on how many people are engaging with the work. This representation
of post-enlightenment power retains the lurking and overwhelming image of white male power throughout.
The third piece uses interactive touchscreens to represent "new power" through our own engagement with digital media.
On April 26, 1986 at 01:23 (EET), one of the largest and most devastating nuclear accidents in history took place in
Chernobyl, northern Kiev Oblast, Ukraine (Socol 2015). The disaster involved an explosion and fire in an operating nuclear
power plant that released dangerous radioactive gas into the air in the surrounding areas. The resulting gasses created
nuclear fallout in the area, which spread to surrounding countries and had knock-on effects throughout Europe. The ultimate
cause is still debated, partly due to an inconsistency with data released from the area following the event, but it is
reasonably argued that design flaws and human error led to the scale of the disaster (Kortov & Ustyantsev 2013).
On April 26, 2016, thirty years had passed since the disaster.
There are two competing views on the etymology that are both curiously linked to the nuclear disaster. The first is the
supposed direct meaning in Ukrainian, that chornyi translates as ‘black’ and byllia as ‘grass’. This is thought to relate to
the dark grass that is common in the area, however it can also be seen as a potential metaphor for the idea of decay and loss
of plant-life that happened in the fallout of the nuclear disaster.
The second etymological link allows for debate in coincidence and prophesy: The city’s name is suggested to come from
the word ‘wormwood’ (Chornobyl in Ukrainian). Wormwood is a common plant in the area, but is also the name of the star from
the New Testament that is said to herald the end of the world (Revelations 8:10-12). This apocalyptical theory predicts a
type of corrosive rain falling from the sky after the star Wormwood explodes. An explosive disaster coupled with acidic rain
and poisoned lakes is bizarrely concurrent with the nuclear fallout witnessed at Chernobyl in 1986.
The idea of ‘place’ as an everyday concept can be explored at a deeper level to question how we understand our habitat
and our locality, and what separates one locality from another (Cresswell 2013). Borders and boundaries that appear on
maps are often invisible when exploring the physical world, however people create differences between neighbouring places
by observing different socially accepted practices. For example, it would be unusual to throw a Frisbee in a library, but
is perfectly acceptable in a park, despite the fact that these are both public places. This type of social understanding
of place is central in the development of cultural difference and social independence: national and local boundaries can
influence how people behave and react to their current circumstances.
Place is often seen as a plane of experience. People move through and learn about places through interacting with them
in different ways. Michel de Certeau wrote about this extensively in describing the experience of an urban landscape as
something that is developed by walking through and sensing the environment (1984). Creating mental maps of areas, sights,
sounds and smells are all integral to this development of a sense of place. Leaving one place and entering another can also
been seen as an experience; boundaries dictate the allowed behaviours inside one place or another.
On April 25th, 2016 at 22:23 GMT a responsive visual artwork was launched that commemorates the event of Chernobyl using
the thematic concepts outlined in this document.
The work features light that is triggered by pressure-sensors, activating ‘power sources’ through interaction from
viewers. The layout of the sensors matched the shape of the biohazard symbol. The layout of the lights formed the shape of
the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl power plant days after the reactor fire. The idea was to create an impression of an
exclusion zone, but one that could not be properly interacted with unless people stood on all sides (a minimum of three people).
Otherwise there were constant ‘gaps’ in this zone. The piece becomes an ‘inclusion zone’, inviting people to move closer and become
a part of the work, rather than remaining outside and forbidden to enter.
The concept of a single place as significant in terms of containment, and the link to the star Wormwood, also brings
in considerations of the planet earth as a form of containment. Following the Chernobyl disaster, the Eastern Bloc
dissolved and relations between the east and west in Europe became less strained. The idea of a border through the centre
of a continent was in the first instance preposterous, but it was perpetuated through media and government at the time,
and was finally used to economically steamroll the Eastern Bloc states following the collapse of the wall.
This work finally looks the future, following the end of the world, and challenges us to consider rebuilding into
something better than that which existed before, without borders or distinctions between land, because we are as Carl
Sagan stated, living on a ‘pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known’, and the only border worth considering is larger
than any minute, playful one that we artificially create on earth.
Full text as published in Interartive #84
Promotion video in lead-up to exhibition:
This work drew people to a street corner in an unassuming part of Dublin city, chosen for its name.