Yearly Archives: 2009

Theresa Nanigan: Two souls in one breast

Cathy Fitzgerald of reviews Theresa Nanigan’s touring exhibition:

A couple of weeks ago, after travelling a couple of hours to an all day meeting, and facing another couple of hours driving home, I was reminded that there was an exhibition next door of work by an artist whose work I’ve known about for some time.  The Mermaid Arts Centre, in Bray, Co. Dublin was about to close, so it was quiet and the most delicious time of all to spend time with artworks. Although I heard the artist talk about how she had approached this commission (a talk shared on the south east Irish Art resource programme ) I was still taken aback by the strength and clarity of the work; its  many layers of investigation — some of which I have grappled with myself.

I was soon stopped short by a beautifully presented but unsettling photographic image of a man sitting in the foreground of a clear-felled hillside (isn’t the best art, the most unsettling?). Interested in permanent ecological and economically sustainable forestry in my own work, I felt this one image sucessfully captures all the sublime horror of the battlefield that is clear-felling.

As I knew that the artist, US-born Theresa Nanigian, wasn’t coming from my own forest/ecological concerns, I asked her about this particular piece. She felt that this piece could be read as a metaphor for the break-down in religious belief in this country of Ireland, as the figure in the foreground was in black and holding a small book (I hadn’t noticed these details at first). This is clearly a way, and perhaps the way, most Irish audiences would read this work. But when I questioned Theresa about the location of the scene and found out the title and background of the work, I felt another thrill – the title of the work  is Crone Forest 2009 and she had been referred to this area by a Coillte forester as part of her year long project on what you might refer to as an in-depth, visual commentary on a study of “place”.

So here was a contemporary photographic image, clearly echoing the visual strategies of landscape artists working in the 18th century, portraying nature as “sublime” (where “nature” was painted as an all powerful force in the greater part of an image, “man”  figuring as a dwarfed element in the foreground, overwhelmed in his relationship to what in the 18thC he saw as the uncontrollable forces of nature) but also inadvertently drawing attention to what I feel is the major point of what I feel people don’t generally understand about forests in Ireland. There is something really lacking and scary when we cannot really “see” our own environment, and that we call a clear-fell site a forest! Yet it is not commented upon by either most foresters (and I am not making attack against the semi-state Irish forestry organisation Coillte) or most people in the surrounding community (as reflected in the other major part of Theresa’s project, where she interviewed local people about living in this area). What people generally know about forestry in Ireland is so very poor; what we have in the main is monoculture tree plantation crops. Yet, this lack of understanding is perhaps not surprising in a land that was deforested so long ago and that lacks a wider understanding of true sustainability in general. Today most people lack a real basic understanding of the important sustaining elements of forests in regards to biodiversity, waterways, climate and the resources that real forests have and do provide.

Amongst the other images, I also liked an image of the young girl walking “blind” in a large forest but perhaps the other most striking work is Barley Field 2009, an image of a man reminiscent of Caspar David Frederich’s figure in The Wanderer. Except in this instance, we see a typical Irish property developer figure, ear to his mobile phone caught up no doubt in Ireland’s all too recent story of “‘progress”.

There is a second major part to Theresa’s project. She spent a long time in this rural part of Ireland, close to a city, and interviewed the local community about what it was like to live there. Known in her previous work for capturing the endless streams of information that we are bombarded by in contemporary life, Theresa presented these voices by re-inventing 18thC style silhouettes of those interviewed, with text of their comments underneath. How potent to use this personal, but intriguingly anonymous means of presenting viewpoints in this visually saturated age.

The parts seemed to stress the extent of which modern communities are disconnected from the natural environment that surrounds and supports them. Ultimately, the study and understanding of “ecology!”, as its very root, is the study of “home/place” and this artist’s study offers a considered and compelling visual study of the ecology of modern Ireland.

The exhibition, supported by Wicklow Co Council  travels to the West Cork Arts Centre for July 12 – July 18 2009.

See more of Theresa’s work at

Cathy Fitzgerald worked in agricultural science research for ten years in New Zealand before obtaining an MA in Fine Art (New Media) in Ireland. Her online Art& Ecology notebook documents a “Slow Art” local project taking place in her small two-acre spruce plantation in Ireland — a small community action in response to climate change. It’s an ongoing conversation between herself, sustainable foresters, her local community and beyond, detailing an example of how to turn a small monoculture spruce plantation into an ecologically& economically sustainable real forest.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology

The Great Fen Project

I write this as we set off for a meeting in Peterborough which is, wonderfully, interested in the connection between the arts and environmental issues. I had a brilliant taster with respect to the Fens in an extraordinary concert at King’s College, Cambridge in their stunning chapel. This was in support of the Great Fen Project – “the most important conservation project in the UK for 100 years” – With Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, the music soaring upwards as the dusk light spread through the building, it seemed anything is possible!

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Apparently, nobody buys art in North Carolina

Or a lot of other states on the Eastern seaboard.

Here’s the map of where the art fair yacht SeaFair (The “MegaYacht Venue”!) is going to stop this year:

It very well might be “America’s most versatile and cost-effective art fair venue,” but it sure doesn’t sound like a party.

Read all the goodness at

Go to Eco Art Blog

Richard Long’s childish acts

What I’m reading right now….

This is from a great essay on Richard Long by Richard MacFarlane in the Summer 2009 issue of Tate, Etc.:

To my mind, his work is best understood as a set of persistently childish acts: the outcomes of a brilliantly unadulterated being-in-the-world. The word kindergarten was coined in 1840 by the German educationalist Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852). Kindergarten, literally “a children’s garden”: a school or space for early learning. Froebel (less remembered now than Maria Montessori or Rudolf Steiner, for he didn’t lend his name to his method) wanted to create an environment in which children could be childish in the best sense of that word. Banished from his kindergartens was the Gradgrindian sense of the infant as a vessel to be filled with facts. Instead, he fostered an ideal of the child as micronaut – an explorer of the world’s textures, laws and frontiers, who should be left to make his or her own discoveries through unstructured play. Froebel wanted children to “reach out and take the world by the hand, and palpate its natural materials and laws”, as Marina Warner observes in a fine essay on play, “to discover gravity and grace, pliancy and rigidity, to sense harmonies and experience limits”. 

Read the entire piece at

Go to Eco Art Blog

Amy Balkin: my 20 minutes reading the IPCC report

I went to Manchester to visit Futuresonic yesterday and joined in Amy Balkin’s artwork Reading the IPCC’s Fourt Assessment on Climate Change outside the Centre for the Urban Built Environment.

Afterwards I spoke to Amy Balkin about her work there:


Amy Balkin | Futuresonic 2009 from RSA Arts & Ecology on Vimeo.

With two more days to go you may still find free slots if you check out Amy Balkin’s website.

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Art, Community and Environment: Educational Perspectives (Readings in Art and Design Education): Glen Coutts, Timo Jokela

Art, Community and Environment investigates wide-ranging issues raised by the interaction between art practice, community participation, and the environment, both natural and urban. This volume brings together a distinguished group of contributors from the United States, Australia, and Europe to examine topics such as urban art, community participation, local empowerment, and the problem of ownership. Featuring rich illustrations and informative case studies from around the world, Art, Community and Environment addresses the growing interest in this fascinating discipline. 


Stuff gets Real.

The now-classic video Story of Stuff, a basic breakdown of our modern industrial-consumer system, recently came under fire on the now-classic Fox News Channel. Both Mike Maniates, who is on the Story of Stuff advisory board, and Christopher Horner, author of  The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming, took questions from reporter Jane Skinner for a segment called “Happening Now.”

Horner defined the video as “terrorizing children,” (not surprising, since he’s drawn thin parallels between the German head of the Green Party and Hilter) while Maniates defended it as a valid examination of our culture. Some 7,000 schools and churches have ordered copies of Story of Stuff, and though you can barely catch them through all the Fox-newsy shouting, Skinner attempts to make some valid points about conversation and context. Not spouting dogma, as it were.

Dang straight, skulls and crossbones are scary. So are most flame retardants. So is much of modern resource management. So, to many, is Fox News. Whether Story of Stuff is an effective cultural impetus to move us toward a more gorgeous green utopia or not, it’s definitely bringing the conversation into the public sphere. That’s nothing short of awesome.

Go to the Green Museum

George Monbiot, Franny Armstrong, The Age of Stupid at RSA May 22

As part of the national launch of The Age of Stupid we’re having a special screening here at the RSA on May 22. Afterwards George Monbiot, director Franny Armstrong and Dr Richard Betts of the Climate Impacts research unit at the Met Office will be joining a discussion that will be broadcast via the web to other cinemas around the country. The event is free but you must book. See RSA Arts & Ecology for more details.

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The Contingency Plan: Bush Theatre

Later today I’ll be putting up our own review of Steve Waters’ new double-bill of plays about climate change The Contingency Plan, but in the meantime take theatre critic and environmental blogger’s Robert Butler of the Ashden Directory’s word forf it. These plays, he says, are “terrific”.

If there’s one line I had to choose from The Contingency Plan, Steve Waters’s terrific new double-bill of plays about climate change, now on at the Bush Theatre in London, it’s the moment when Will Paxton (Geoffrey Streatfeild), a young glaciologist, explains the concept of displacement to the new Tory minister for climate change. Having spelled out that ice is ‘basically parked water’, Will warily predicts that the enormous West Antarctic Ice Sheet may well melt (much like the smaller Larsen B ice shelf).

‘But this is thousands of miles from us,’ chuckles the smooth Old Etonian minister (David Bark-Jones), whose schoolfriend, David Cameron, has become prime minister. Will replies with patience, ‘If you pour water in the bath, it doesn’t stay under the tap.’

Read Robert Butler’s review of The Contingency Plan at The Economist’s Intelligent Life.

Read the Ashden Directory blog on The Contingency Plan.


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