Since April this year, in my role as the Kerry Visual Artist in Residence with Kerry County Council, I have been engaging with groups and individuals specifically interested in the intersection between art, biodiversity and climate change. The 40-day residency was split between community engagement and my own studio practice. I am very grateful to Kerry Arts Office, Creative Ireland Kerry Programme and the Arts Council for this opportunity.
Despite having to facilitate all the community and school workshops online, due to Covid 19 restrictions, the response was phenomenal and there over 1200 participants in workshops. The online Drawing With Natureworkshops for adults were hosted here at our organic, ecosocial farm, The Barna Way near Ballybunion. I placed cameras in the woods and polytunnels so that people could have some level of immersive experience despite the physical distance. The workshops were about connecting with nature and drawing together. I also facilitated a number of nature journaling workshops for schools as part of Biodiversity Weekand Cruinniú na Nóg. We explored how different contemporary artists use nature journals as part of their practice and shared tips in how to create nature journals.
Together with artist/teacher Lillie O Sullivan and the students from the Presentation Secondary School Tralee, we developed a beautiful project called Soul Trees. The students had the opportunity to go out into nature, to connect with and draw trees. This was a was a particularly challenging year for students. Creativity had such an important role to play, in addressing the anxiety caused by Covid but also the wider eco-anxiety experienced by students in relation to biodiversity loss, climate change and the fires in Killarney National Park.
Students from the Presentation school drawing as part of the ‘Soul Trees’ project, photo by Dominic Walsh 2021
According to Lillie O Sullivan “Art is abundantly powerful to restore, to regenerate and to protect…We have a strong biodiversity ethos in the school and the students have always cared about minding their planet and about minding our amazing mature trees but this time, in this project, it was very clear that the trees were minding us”. Many of the students said they didn’t know the names of the trees before the project started. One student called Sayemah, succinctly summarised the importance of being able to name the nature that is around us: “If we don’t know their names, when they disappear, we don’t realise they’re gone.”
The residency gave me the opportunity to have time to draw and connect with, the 10,000 native trees we planted on our land last year. It also provided me with the space to engage with events such as MOYA, BAF(Ballybunion Arts Festival), Dance Limerick and the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas. The latter is a magical festival in Carlow and was the first opportunity to gather with artists, writers and musicians in over a year. I was speaking at an event called “The Future is in the Fields” about my work and book, The Local Food Project.
What was heartening at Borris, was the urgency everyone expressed about the climate crisis and the need for action. President Michael D.Higgins in his opening address called for an ‘all of society’ response to the fact that ‘our planet is on fire’. Writer Michael Harding said “The planet is wounded. There is a visceral cry from mother earth”.
What role therefore can creativity play in the climate crisis? This week I am delighted to take part in a webinar hosted by Kerry Biospere called “Art in defence of nature” with Dr Anita Mc Keown (Artist, Curator and Educator) and Kate Kennelly, Arts Officer. As Eleanor Turner (Biosphere Officer) explains “The idea is to highlight how art is used to foster connection with nature for individuals and communities”. The webinar will explore “how art can be a mechanism for engaging with complex or difficult topics in an accessible way, opening up opportunities in capturing local knowledge and inspiring local action”.
“Art in Defense of Nature” takes place online from 7-8.30pm this Thursday the 16th of September. Free to attend, but registration required: email@example.com
This Living Land event for Culture Night at The Barna Way, photo by Lisa Fingleton
I am also really looking forward to hosting an event called This Living Land this Friday evening 17th Sept for Culture Night as the final showcase of the residency. This is a live immersive experience in nature, exploring themes relating to art, farming, food, climate change and biodiversity here at The Barna Way. This outdoor experience for adults, includes a farm and forest walk, creative and musical interactions and surprise interventions in nature. It takes place during the 30 Day Local Food Challenge, an ongoing socially engaged art project that encourages people to think global and eat local for the month of September.
This Living Land is now fully booked and a waiting list is in operation: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to thank everyone who engaged in the workshops over the last few months and Kerry Arts Office, Creative Ireland Kerry Programme and the Arts Council for supporting the Visual Artist in Residence Programme.