Irish singer/songwriter Cathy Davey walks through the familiar pattern of clearfell forestry in a video that accompanies her album, A New Forest, 2016.
“If you don’t lose your heart in the forest,
I shouldn’t think you have a heart at all!
every seed is a galaxy …”
Cathy Davey, lyrics from New Forest , 2016
“The most radical thing you can do is to stay at home.”
Gary Snyder, Buddhist environmental philosopher and poet
If I had to pick a theme track for the Hollywood forest project, and perhaps for new conversations of thriving, permanent forestry, I would choose, in a heartbeat, Irish singer-songwriter Cathy Davey’s extraordinary title song for her 2016 New Forest album above.
Cathy’s new work, celebrating the many lives and mystery in forests echoes some of my reading for the Hollywood project by neuro-linguist researcher George Lakoff. Lakoff (2010) argues that art has a powerful role in times of social change and is a much-needed response to direct people away from the dominant,ecocidal industrial ‘growth-at-all-costs’ story . Lakoff explains it is a neurological impossibility to change our behaviour by facts alone. He believes, looking at the success of earlier social change movements, that the environmental movement has failed to engage our emotions and our hearts which disable us from changing our ways. He urges that we need facts AND emotion to fuel action.
So what would it mean to be emotionally intimate with a forest over years and know its ‘galaxies’ of life rather than to see it as a clear-fell crop destined only for economic return? Farmer-philosopher and critic Glenn Albrecht has long written of how policies of sustainability and sustainable development goals fail to engage. He has written that the key challenge of our unprecedented time* is our urgent need to move from the horrors-of-our-own-making in the Anthropocene, to what he calls the Symbiocene – where the symbiosis and mutualism of all life is acknowledged and supported . He talks that we need memes of mutualism to spread through society, so that a new politics for all life, a sumbiocracy, can develop. As I view my creative blogging practice is developing a meme for new forestry, I am equally encouraged by others’ creative responses, as in Cathy’s work.
I was also very fortunate to briefly speak with Cathy a few years ago at the local Borris Festival of Ideas and Imagination. I had to, as she mentioned that she was working on a new album about forests. And, that she wanted to write it in a forest!! 🙂 During her informal session at this festival, her conversation and song accompanied simply by acoustic guitar revealed a deep feeling for the degradation of the natural world. Sensing that she needed to get involved more deeply, and through a lot of heartbreaking work, she has championed a sensitive horse rescue project via social media for distressed inner city Dublin horses, see My Lovely Horse Rescue. I have also been impressed by Cathy’s simple clarity in a recent radio interview of how she chooses not to speak of the learned destructive ‘patterns’ of behaviour she sees around her. Instead, she speaks of ‘figuring it out through song, like a child’, of wanting to create an alternate, abstract world. In another track, The Pattern, below, I am reminded of Ireland’s ancient spiritual ‘pattern’ devotion days to patron saints (such sites and their perhaps earlier iterations as pagan nature-celebrating sites has been on my mind recently as myself and a friend undertook the first Carlow Camino walk to holy sites in our county). I wonder what might happen if we remember the natural world with such patterns of devotion?
To me, Cathy’s new works invite us to experience, embody sensitivity and sensuousness with those we share Earth with, through the poetry of her song and videos. Jonathan Bate wrote an early ecocritical book The Song of the Earth (2001) and wondered, following a line of thinking from philosopher Heidegger’s essay ‘What Are Poets For?‘ (Heidegger also wrote in a forest), that poems have the potential to ‘make us care for things.’ Bate concluded poetry’s power lies in creating alternate worlds, as Cathy recognises. Bate describes this ‘eco-poiesis’, that some eco-poetry can speak new ways to relate to Earth as being able to ‘override dualism and idealism; it grounds us; it enables us to dwell.’ [p. 262] Bates book about ecopoetry was one I often referred to when I began my PhD studies on experimental ecocinema as books on ecocriticism of film are very recent. However, over time, my research work developed into a larger framework , which I hope will enable more understanding for others to do similar work. Therefore, I was startled and heartened recently when curator Cliodhna Shaffrey picked up my early thinking about place in regards to the Hollywood project. Cliodhna (2016) writes about my work for the 9 Stones Artists publication (to accompany the Blackstairs 9 Stones Artists Exhibition at Visual Carlow: July to 16 Oct) that the
central dimension of [my] work sees [me] grounded in place – in the transformation of a monoculture forest (on the land on which [I] live) to a mixed plantation that can thrive. I think of the philosopher Heidegger and his writings, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, ‘to build is already to dwell’ he writes and he emphasises a remaining of staying in place, the acts of protection and care. While [my] work is motivated by anger with the global environmental crisis and desire to confront unsustainable land use and the challenge of climate change, it is through [my] ‘actions’ in place, over long and committed timespans that [I] can achieve [my] 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.
So yay to forests and to Cathy, and to curators who are sensing the value of place-making for today’s eco-social challenges! And yay to eco-philosophers and forest-dwelling writers, educators, musicians, Green-thinking politicians and foresters, who are conveying complexity and creativity in re-thinking how we live with the Earth.
Cathy Davey launches, and will play her entire new album New Forest, at the 2016 Irish Electric Picnic on Friday 2 Sept 2016 at midnight in the Hazel Wood! How I wish I had gotten tickets earlier in the year as they have been sold out for months! I can only imagine the whole album played live in the wood will be super special.
So do let me know if you have enjoyed Cathy’s music-video work. How do you think, know about your place – do we spend enough time to build understanding, intimacy with our often wounded, degraded local environments. Can’t we, even if we have come from elsewhere, develop our own indigeneity to places over time? And creativity, surely, is an important path through the woods to follow.
- “The struggle of embracing our moment—is the struggle that we live in the most destructive moment in 65 million years!” Brian Swimme, Professor of Integral Studies and evolutionary philosopher, The New Story, 2006 speaking of how Western industrial society is effecting the 6th Great Extinction event.
Albrecht, Glenn (2015) ‘Exiting The Anthropocene and Entering The Symbiocene’. [online]
Bate, Jonathan (2001) The Song of The Earth. London: Picador. [paperback edition]
Lakoff, George (2010) ‘Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment’. Environmental Communication. [online] pp. 70-81.