As the newly appointed 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, ecology and climate change. The response has been so phenomenal that I have spent all my time so far organising and facilitating creative workshops on line.
For the last few weeks I have been hosting Drawing With Nature workshops online for adults. One workshop organised in conjunction with the MOYA Festival Ballybunion had over 100 participants from around the country, all drawing nature together. The workshops are about connecting with nature and grounding ourselves, so we start with a short meditation. Then people are encouraged to really look and observe nature by using a variety of warm up techniques. We then draw in silence for a while and there is an opportunity to share at the end. The feedback and level of public engagement has been fantastic. The workshops extends a broader invitation to observe the abundant biodiversity and weather patterns around us, as we move into summer.
For Kerry Biodiversity Week, which was last week, over 500 students took part in one workshop online called ‘Creating Your Nature Journal’. We explored how different contemporary artists use nature journals as part of their practice and shared tips in how to create nature journals. The children shared their fantastic drawings of badgers, foxes and other creatures with whom we share space.
This level of response is a real testament to the public interest in our planet and what we can do to protect it. What is the role of the artist in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss? I believe in the power of art and the imagination to spark public engagement around the big issues of climate change, but also localised issues such as the devastating fires in Killarney National Park. Art helps us heal, but also enables us to visualise new futures and ways of being. In the past, artists painted often very idealised landscapes. Now we are being called to re-explore our relationship with nature and how we represent her.
As an artist I have always been passionate about a socially engaged practice that engages the wider community in issues that change the world for the better. With the support of Kerry Arts Office I published a book about the power of eating local food called ‘The Local Food Project’. With my partner, Rena Blake, we run an eco-social arts project and organic farm called The Barna Way. Last year we planted 10,000 native trees on our land (with the support of Greenbelt and Supervalu) and look forward to sharing the space again with others through artist retreats and creative experiences for the community.
I am always asking what is art and what is our role as artists? I feel we need to support artists to move beyond the notion of art being a commodity in a capitalist system. We need to support artists to challenge the status quo, or as Joanna Macy says: ‘challenge the model ‘business as usual’. We know that this model is destroying our ecosystems and does not serve the generations who come after us.
If you are interested in art and ecology I would highly recommend the Haumea eco-literacy course by Dr. Cathy Fitzgerald (www.haumea.ie). As Cathy says “We need to urgently foster an enormous paradigm shift to a life-sustaining and just culture. To do this, we need to learn to live well with the Earth and all its inhabitants”. Also, check out the amazing work of artist Lucienne Rickard called ‘Extinction Studies’, where she spent months drawing intricate images of extinct animals and then rubbed them out.
Over the coming 2 years we will see the outcome of the brand new Creative Ireland Climate Fund where artists and communities will be responding creatively to climate change. Change has come and we are invited to embrace it and move forward with, rather than against nature.
The Kerry Visual Artist in Residence is supported by Kerry Arts Office, Creative Ireland and the Arts Office. To get more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Drawing with Nature: Connecting Art and Ecology -Guest Colummist: with ‘Environment Watch’, The Kerryman, 2nd June 2021, p102
IMAGE: Lisa Fingleton drawing in Killarney National Park after the Fire (Photo: Rena Blake 2021)