‘THE QUARRY This is where it all begins. I love going there to see the stone in its most natural state. Quarries are my cathedrals, even when its raining I always come home uplifted.’ Eileen MacDonagh, 2012
Over the last year or so I have been very privileged to have been invited by one of Ireland’s leading sculptors, Eileen MacDonagh, to document her work process with film and photographs for her retrospective exhibition LITHOsphere. The exhibition opened February 5, 2012, and continues for three months until May 7, 2012, at Ireland’s largest space for contemporary art, VISUAL.
I really admire Eileen’s attention to working with physical materials in her art practice; it echoes an earlier time when art was more deeply connected to the material world. In contemporary art, there has been a move, and I would say a dangerous loss of connection to the fabric of material life—much contemporary work has moved to virtual digital methods and often ignores our dependence and influence on the litho and biospheres. And then there are elements in Eileen’s work that serve to trigger profound reminders too; particularly in her astounding 8m forest of her new breathtaking installation Cathedral and her new Ogham Stones.
Eileen’s ‘cathedral’ forest towers above one; these papier mache forms reminiscent of highly remarkable and endangered baobab trees, many species of which are on the island of Madagascar. In recent weeks I’ve seen disturbing reports that we are losing our large trees all over the world. Centuries of relatively rapid forest loss over all continents and further degradation of forested areas by industrial forestry methods, ever encroaching intensive agriculture, changes in climate, and competition from other invasive species are having profound and irreversible effects. I know not everyone will be thinking about ecological loss when viewing Eileen’s work but I can’t help relate how forests have always been the ‘shadow of civilization’; how we treat and relate to our forests tells us much about the state of our so called civilisation. Interestingly, the cathedral project highlights another important aspect of forests: forests are not just trees but a complex web of relationships and Eileen’s forest similarly grew from a complex web of community interactions of people working together in the local area (see the Vision of Persistence clip below which shows many of the local volunteers involved).
Eileen’s new Ogham Stones are reminders, too, of our past relationships to the land. In ancient Ireland, stone pillars around the country were marked with carved, indented lines on the edges to describe the species of trees in the surrounding and then much forested regions of Ireland. In the stone cleave markings in Eileen’s work process, I see references here to trees, too. (In my previous article about forests and Joseph Beuys, I commented on Beuys ‘marking’ his community tree planting with stone pillars too).
I am only referring to some of the works in this large exhibition; along with the 8m forest which you can walk through, there are over 50 tonnes of stoneworks on display.
Please also see the VISUAL site for talks by Eileen over the coming months. I know the first talk will be a talk around all the pieces in the gallery and the work that went into making them.
Here are a couple of clips that I created that document Eileen’s work. They also show the wonderful community work behind the development, creation and installation of Cathedral.
[pro-player width='400' height='225' type='video' image='http://dev.ecoartnotebook.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Screen-shot-2012-02-05-at-09.53.341.png']http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gjo0rwHSVpc[/pro-player]
[pro-player width='400' height='225' type='video' image='http://dev.ecoartnotebook.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Screen-shot-2012-02-05-at-09.51.511.png']http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5WMM1ECS28[/pro-player]
Cathedral installed: clip from the Lithosphere film by Cathy Fitzgerald
Note: This article previously appeared on www.ecoartnotebook.com
Cathy Fitzgerald is a rural-based experimental filmmaker / visual artist with a background in research biology. Born in New Zealand she has lived in Ireland for 16 years. She is presently a Visual Culture PhD Scholar at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD), Dublin, Ireland. She is looking at experimental film (practice and theory) and ecology in this age of biospheric crisis. Her research work can be seen at www.ecoartflm.com