My theme for my final show is my sadness (and anger) about Ash dieback, and is an attempt to be a tribute to the Ash tree before it is gone, affording me an opportunity to study its whole beauty and its fine detail. ‘ Kate Oram 2020

Early this year Irish artist Kate Oram wrote to me. We haven’t met but she wrote to say how she was delighted to find myself and artist Sarah Flynn have looked at the demise of the Ash tree in Ireland. I felt that way too, when I met Sarah– it so encouraging finding others who think this issue is worth reflecting on, worth commemorating on, even if in the looking one is brought up sharp against how alienated our culture has become in living well with the wider community of life.

Public debates in Ireland about forestry are presently heated. Industrial forestry has brought wealth to investors, created some rural employment and developed a store of important material for building. But this model has mounting ecosocial costs when armies of monoculture conifers limit wildlife and grow up darkly alongside peoples’ dwellings. The Ash dieback that is fatally affecting Ireland’s 2nd most common tree is another cost for continuing this colonial plantation model. Putting economics ahead of ecosocial values encouraged importing Ash saplings, that were infected with the disease, from abroad rather than supporting local nurseries with local varieties.

However, because the connected calamities of climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, soil and water degradation are becoming harder to ignore –things will have to change–our and other species’ futures are threatened if we don’t. And part of that change will be a courageous willingness to admit and see what we have lost and destroyed and envision something better. Cultural work like Kate’s can help us re-tune to life: gratitude, love and care for the living world–must become more important than the balance sheet.

During 2020, Kate continued working towards her MA in Fine Art through Creative Practice at IT Sligo. However, because of COVID-19, her MA exhibition during the summer was not open to the public and sadly, was viewed for only 45 minute by the assessors. 

I haven’t yet seen all of Kate’s work in her final MA installation. However, what has moved me the most from her MA exhibition was her collaborative first-time efforts to make an extremely moving short video work on the situation, on the outdated, careless mindset, that has fatally affected Ireland’s most common native tree.

I think so many more people should see this work. Congratulations and well done Kate! Very best wishes for your dissertation too.

ASHen – video work by Kate Oram (2020, 2:15 min)

‘My work is a tribute to the ash tree and an observation of the visual and emotive effect of its demise caused by ash dieback, a fungal disease (Chalara fraxinea). It explores the idea of the memory of things that have ceased to be or will cease to be. […] Witnessing this ecocide has galvanised me to highlight the issue through my artistic practice. This new way of working suggests that my ensuing practice will be situated in the area of art activism.’ Kate Oram, MA exhibition statement, 2020.

You can contact Kate at her website here

Update 2021: I the above post as I too have been saddened by the demise of the great Irish Ash tree. I now teach a unique ONLINE course – the Haumea Essential Ecoliteracy 7-week course – to help creatives and art professionals across the world understand the ecology emergency and what it means for the creative sector- see more here: please note, course places fill quickly, but I do maintain a waitlist. Thank you!

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