“Deireadh Fomhair” is the title for this body of work, the Irish name for the month of October but literally translating as ‘the end of Autumn’. We have always taken the cycle of the seasons for granted in Ireland but with climate change, things have become more uncertain. When this Autumn ends, can we be sure that Spring will follow Winter?
Eoin Mac Lochlainn, 2018
We are living in unprecedented, perilous times. The projected timeframes for environmental catastrophe from scientists in recent months are terrifying and overwhelming. Drawing from over 6000 peer-reviewed climate papers, scientists’ are now giving global society a seemingly impossible short 12-year time-frame to radically decarbonise global society before catastrophic climate breakdown will be irreversible (IPCC, Oct 2018). Intersecting this information is growing awareness of other scientists’ work, who have long tracked wildlife collapse at a rate (estimated at 100-1000 species a day) not seen since the last planetary extinction period millions of years ago. But, this time around, its not an asteroid affecting the living fabric of the Earth but the way we live; our consumer throw-away culture is incompatible with a living planet. Plastic pollution, fossil fuel use, mining, deforestation, intensive monoculture agriculture and forestry, soil degradation and damaged wetlands, warming oceans, fishery collapse, polluted rivers and air, all relate to industrial society’s still largely unquestioned extractive practices which do not factor eco-social costs in the balance sheets. The enormity of how we might turn our consumer culture, and in particular, limit powerful corporate and political entities from their growth-at-all cost economic trajectories, seems difficult to imagine. Presently, political will for radical change commensurate to the gravity of the situation appears absent in Ireland, and in many other parts of the world.
I’ve long been aware of these gloomy statistics. My science research background means I find it hard to ignore these realities and I appreciate the tremendous efforts and warnings to the world that the science community has given us. I still remember vividly returning from the 2009 Copenhagen UN Climate Summit shocked from recent science reports for predicted vast numbers of climate-related refugees (which sadly has come to pass in recent years and which is also projected to dramatically increase). Already we can see this is increasing geo-political tensions in Europe. I also became appalled about what climate breakdown, species loss, degraded lands after intensive agriculture and warming, souring oceans would mean for life as we currently know it, in regards to food security and for wildlife that have taken aeons of years to evolve. I felt like I was looking into an abyss.
I came from Copenhagen back feeling both overwhelmed but also motivated as I had attended the Culture |Futures summit. International cultural policy makers and practitioners at the summit presented research, still not widely discussed in Ireland even now, that the cultural sector has a critical role to engage wider society towards more just and restorative practices to rehabilitate and protect environments. It was the start of a more intense focus in my work, to somehow contribute greater understanding of how art could serve in these times. It motivated me to examine what I could do best where I live and with the skills and interests I have or could develop further.
I was also heartened by art and sustainability programmes that I saw developing, like Julie’s Bicycle in England (see below), and later Creative Carbon Scotland, that have significant staff, training and resources from their respective Arts Councils, equipping their creative communities with knowledge and expertise from scientists, to respond to these new realities. The policy, supports and resources in these programmes relate to international cultural policy research that confirms that cultural practices, including the arts can translate, and localise dry scientific facts to communities, in ways that are engaging, relevant and meaningful for them (Fitzgerald, 2017). It has saddened me that Ireland has not responded in kind but I recognise that ecoliteracy in our goverment institutions and across wider society is poor. Despite this, it is heartening that some creative people here are educating themselves and working very hard towards these ends despite little sector recognition or support.
I was therefore very moved to find that an old friend from art college (we went through a BA in Painting together at NCAD), and now an award-winning painter, Eoin Mac Lochlainn, had made considerable changes to his creative practice in response to eco-social concerns, both in his way of working and the what he is representing in his work.
Eoin has changed from using oils and from his blog he writes about the frustration and sometimes hard-to-control magic of water-colour painting. However, Eoin’s eye for colour and courage to work loosely in layered washes conveys images of Ireland that we can easily recognise. Importantly, he sees his creating connected to larger eco-social issues, he writes “And by the way, if you’re concerned about Climate change (and you should be), watercolour painting has much less of an impact on the environment than those sticky, messy, nasty oil paints!”
And then even more moving for me, was the attention Eoin was paying to Irish trees and forests in his watercolours and his fabulous hanging mulberry-tree paper forest-like installation. Eoin writes:
Of course, trees are vital for life on this planet. They absorb carbon dioxide, they give us oxygen, they give shade and they cool the air, they prevent soil erosion and help to prevent flooding. Over their lifetime, they offer shelter and food to whole communities of birds, insects, lichens and fungi. As they grow older, their hollow trunks provide cover for species such as bats, owls, woodpeckers and squirrels. Even when they eventually collapse, they give nutrients back to the soil and they feed all sorts of crucial creepy crawlies as well. Now I’m no expert but that sounds to me like good reasons to celebrate them.
And I’d say that this was my main motivation with ‘Deireadh Fómhair‘, the body of work that I’ve been developing over the past year.
Eoin’s paintings translate trees and forests’ beauty and persistence. They also reflect on the politics of forestry in Ireland and fire events that are increasing due to climate change. In one work we can see a lone dying oak, a remnant of much great Oak forests perhaps?, in others we can see the heartbreak of forests burning and darkened scorched lands; longer drier periods are substantially increasing forest fire risk in Ireland too.
Eoin also recreates images of dark, silent tree plantations that we know limit wildlife in Ireland and elsewhere. Countering these images, he paints glowing mixed species autumnal forests that we all wish we could step into, as places of sanctuary and healing. I love the title of the exhibition too: are we noticing how our seasons are changing and so fast? Behind the beauty of this autumn, the record-breaking summer and snowy winter of 2018, lie much deeper changes that are calling for us all to respond. Eoin’s work is a personal response, speaking of Irish trees, forests and wild areas; if you know Ireland, you can relate to the trees and forests Eoin depicts. Creative work can remind us of what we must value in our places, and cement our compassion and actions for a better world we know is possible. Thank you so much Eoin for this work and your efforts to create more mindfully.
Postscript: Mary Alice Arthur, a leading international story teller I met at the Findhorn New Story summit in 2014 (which was a global summit about how we might move to a more ecological age), shared this metaphor of why artists, musicians, theatre practitioners, dancers, poets, and writers have a critical role in society. To her, artists have immense social power when they collectively ‘light the beacon fires, to alert us all of dangers’. Eoin’s questioning about the ‘end of Autumn?’ in his body of paintings is remarkable in that it is quietly glowing with integrity for values we must all embrace.
Furthermore, such work is part of a critical conversation that needs to be further supported in Ireland. We are now in the midst of a time that will require the most creative, restorative efforts if we and others species are to survive and thrive. Perhaps some change is on the way too, as I see in The Irish Times week that climate change (and it should include biodiversity loss as a connected and equal concern) is to be prioritised across all Irish Government departments. This will include important considerations for the art sector too, hopefully sooner rather than later given that all our futures are at stake.
Eoin’s show is currently on at the Olivier Cornet Gallery, 3 Great Denmark St, Dublin 1, Tues -Fri 11am – 6pm, and Sat and Sun 12-5pm.
Undate: The exhibition has been extended until the 2nd of December, 2018.
You can also follow contact Eoin and see weekly blogposts about his practice, work and interests at Scéalta Ealaíne