At the end of last year, I was invited to share my Hollywood Forest Story
eco-social art practice at Maynooth University (MU), Co. Kildare. I was one of four creative practitioners (with Pauline O’Connell, Monica de Bath, and Seiodin O’Sullivan) sharing our work for the inaugural Earth Writings Exhibition and Symposia: Bogs, Forests, Fields, Gardens (18-29 November, 2019), curated and organised by Prof. Karen Till (Geography, MU), Dr. Nessa Cronin (Moore Institute NUIG) and Prof. Gerry Kearns (Geography, MU).

Maynooth University Library, Co. Kildare, Ireland

While it is wonderful to be asked to share my work, I always struggle to exhibit my work in a conventional gallery sense. To my mind, eco-social art practices are a relatively new model of creativity. They belong to an emergent ecological paradigm where working collectively will be the norm, where co-authored creativity will advance multiple strands of many ways of knowing; experiential, artistic, theoretical, scientific, traditional, to explore how we may live well with others and within the wider Earth community. Somehow, and perhaps because of how I observe forest and other ecologies thrive as an interconnected multiverses of mutuality, I’m never completely happy with the idea of ‘solo’ shows or short-term artistic ‘residencies’. Those ideas appear emblematic of a culture that moves too fast and which is alienated from the interdependencies we have with nonhuman others. We forget it takes years to deeply know the places that support us.

Time-wise too, my practice is difficult to present as it now spans over a decade since we first started thinning to transform Hollywood from a monoculture plantation into a permanent forest. There have been any number of new ideas, forestry practices, forest policy work, ongoing photography, and important conversations with leading foresters, ecologists, other landowners, artists, art educators, landscape architects, that all form The Hollywood Forest Story. For a chronological practice that tracks the slow transformation of a forest, my blog has been my answer to collate, curate and share these many ‘chapters’ of The Hollywood Forest Story.

As I wrote above, these dilemma about presenting eco-social art practices are not new to me. I had to think about this issue for my PhD by creative practice some years ago. In my PhD, I used my eco-social art practice as evidence to argue that the theory-method framework I had developed to better explain expanded practices like mine, was valid. It wasn’t feasible to present my blog in my exam as it extends in posts over many years. Instead, I came up with the idea of a creating a summary video-text iBook (available to download from iTunes). Video, photos and writings from my blog became the material for chapters for my iBook, which I successfully used to argue my research in my PhD examination.

For the Earth Writings exhibition, I decided to do something more simple. We were exhibiting in the foyer of the busy library of Maynooth University so I was told a video piece with sound wouldn’t work. So, I created the summary slide-show video (below) and as I wrote it, it became a reflection of Hollywood Forest’s first decade.

I also did show one video I had made years ago, at the exhibition. My ‘Transformation‘ (2010) video (below) contains no dialogue and witnesses the early changes in Hollywood forest – back then I was excited to see thousand of small Ash seedings appear (that now have unfortunately succumbed to Ash dieback disease). I was grateful to Karen Till too, who also organised an iPad to share my PhD iBook too.

A publication of the exhibition, supported by Creative Ireland Kildare will be published in the coming months.

The Earth Writings event was also an invitation to be interviewed by Dr. Nessa Cronin, who has supported my work in recent years. The Earth Writings interviews between academics, creative people and activists who are working with different aspects of Irish rural and urban environments, will form the basis of a new series of short academic texts to be published by Cork University Press. I will share more details of this project in the coming months. Its exciting to be involved in this developing critical cultural response to the ecological emergency, from an Irish perspective.

Here is my interview with Nessa on the day of the exhibition. It is always such a delight to converse with Nessa, we are both passionate about how the cultural sector has a lot to add to the national discourse of the ecological emergency. I felt very honoured to share my work – thank you so much Nessa for making the interview so enjoyable.

EarthWritings.ie: Dr. Nessa Cronin interviews eco-social artist Dr. Cathy Fitzgerald

My sincere thanks to Nessa, Karen, Gerry and Lucina Russell for Creative Ireland Kildare. The Earth Writings programme is generously supported by the Irish Research Council New Foundations STEAM Scheme, Creative Ireland, Kildare County Council Arts Service, Maynooth University Department of Geography, Maynooth University Library, and the Space&Place and Ómós Áite Research Collaboratives.

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