What is happening now is in large part a result of the biological unsophistication of past generations. Even a generation ago no one knew that to fill large areas with a single species of tree was to invite disaster.
Rachel Carson ‘Why no birds sing’ in Silent Spring (1962)
In recent weeks, I was struggling to find a title for the review video I have made for my participation in the 9 Stones Artists ten-year celebratory exhibition, The Possibilities of Place, now on display at Visual Carlow until Sunday 16 October 2016.
I was wondering how to sum up my ongoing, now eight year-old project. As I have recently being recording the increasing diversity of the dawn chorus at Hollywood, it struck me that overall, my work is a modest attempt to respond to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) concerns.
Over 50 years ago, Carson, a gifted author and scientist, wrote Silent Spring to raise awareness about the devastating effects that indiscriminate use of insecticides were having on birds and the web of life. Her book engagingly translated biological evidence to a general public and is often cited as the text that most influenced the rise of environmentalism. Relevant to my work, the importance of Silent Spring and her other works lies in how they significantly question the Western paradigm of scientific progress (McKie, 2012) that fuels industrial land practices. While powerful agri-chemical companies denounced her work, she presented what the unintended consequences of industrial agricultural practices prioritised for profit create: silent springs, poisoned habitats and growing social costs. Today, the costs of industrial agricultural are increasing and still largely ignored. Sadly, it is just as clear as it was to Carson decades ago, that we must advance integrated, life-enhancing land and ocean practices with the utmost urgency if humans and many other species are to survive and thrive .
Here is the video I created below. Followers from the start of the project will recognise much of the material but I have emphasised different points. In all, it is a lived, new story of forestry, filled with comments, colour and the chatter of birds. Somehow, embracing in turn, many art and non-art forms in my eco-social art practice makes it easier to convey how we might relate to forests differently. As Carson argues, it is crucial to cultivate (or if we are lucky enough, maintain) a “sense of wonder” of the natural world if we are to relate to it and each other responsibly. She stresses, if “facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”
The 9 Stones Artists group have also been very fortunate to have the Carlow Arts Office support a catalogue for our 10-year celebration of creating exhibitions in South Carlow. I was delighted to welcome curator and director of Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Cliodhna Shaffrey, to Hollywood last November, as she undertook to write an essay for the catalogue, about all the 9 Stones Artists’ practices. Below is her response to my project.
The catalogue will be available at the launch of the exhibition this Saturday 9 July at 3pm. As the 9 Stones Artists, we have worked as a loose-knit yet supportive community over the last decade. It is timely to appreciate and reflect on the diverse ways in which all our art practices have developed valuable new insights of what it is to inhabit this place, in south county Carlow. Looking forward to your comments and perhaps seeing you at the exhibition.
From The Possibilities of Place essay by Cliodhna Shaffrey, 2016.
At some level, Cathy Fitzgerald’s work takes a different direction to the other 9 stones artists . This is not so much to do with the fact that her work is embedded in research – research is integral to all of the 9 Stones’ Artists. It has, however, more to do with the fact that she is engaged in an expanded form of art-making that shifts her practice as a primary maker of objects or things to a position that embraces several interdisciplinary roles – artist, activist, thinker, writer, scientist, environmentalist, forester. Her practice is informed by philosophy (namely Felix Guattari’s ecosophy[i]), scientific theory, experimental knowledge and slow art. Her forms include experimental film-making and writing. She writes a blog, for example, and sees it as an important tool in connectivity to an audience and fellow peers throughout the world – for fundamental to her practice is an ambition to impact change. But the central dimension of her work sees her grounded in place – in the transformation of a monoculture forest (on the land in which she lives) to a mixed plantation that can thrive. I think of the philosopher Heidegger and his writings, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, ‘to build is to already dwell’ he writes and he emphasises a remaining or staying in place, the acts of protection and care.
While Cathy’s practice is motivated by an anger with the global environmental crisis and desire to confront unsustainable land use and the challenge of climate change, it is through her ‘actions’ in place, over long and committed timespans that she can achieve her artistic outcomes. In the meantime, the forest, called Hollywood, is a continual inspiration for learning and doing – how to push forms of making, give voice to the forest, present an alternative documentary approach, informed by the interdisciplinary sources and methods. If, at a material or formal level, her work diverges from the others in 9 stones, the phenomenological underpinnings and the profound sense of engagement between the artist and place, is fully in tune with what 9 Stone Artists are about.
[i] The Three Ecologies is one of the final works published by Felix Guattari (1930-1992), a French philosopher and psychoanalyst. ‘The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided that it brings about an authentic political, social and cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both material and immaterial assets’ (pp. 28). Guattari claims that the shared nature of the environment that we live in, and our collective impacts on it such as anthropogenic climate change, reveal the commons on which we are ultimately dependent, and thus the ecosophical position he advocates is one of global resistance to what he describes as ‘Integrated Wold Capitalism. Ref. Media Ecologies and Digital Activism