Art.Earth artist of the month Cathy Fitzgerald and The Hollywood Forest Story: an ongoing eco-social art practice for permanent forestry in Ireland and elsewhere

9 Stones artist Cathy Fitzgerald, was selected as artist of the month for May by the international art.earth network. Here’s what Cathy wrote in response to her selection.


Ahead of the international summit on cultural responses to  ‘Evolving the Forest taking place in Dartington Hall, near Totnes, Devon, England this June, Cathy was asked by Mark Leahy, of the Directors of the international ecoart network art.earth, to respond to some questions and discuss her work as featured art.earth artist of the month.

Reposted article from art.earth below:

The Hollywood Forest Story: an ongoing eco-social art practice for permanent forestry in Ireland and elsewhere

Hollywood, ‘the little wood that could’ is a small 2-acre Close-to-Nature continuous cover forest growing under the Blackstairs Mountains, in South County Carlow, Ireland. Photo: Martin Lyttle

by Cathy Fitzgerald, 1st May 2019

My ongoing eco-social art practice The Hollywood Forest Story (begun in 2008) explores how a move toward ecological forestry will be a critical response to the ecological emergency. My practice draws insights from the art and ecology field and my involvement in forestry circles since I came to Ireland from New Zealand in the late 90s. This was also around the time I started my undergraduate studies in contemporary art practice at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin after previously working in research science.

Ireland has a sad forest history. Impoverished by colonization, only 1% of its native forests remained in 1900. Continuing rural hardship in Ireland saw justifiable enthusiasm in the 1950s for afforestation with monoculture plantations of the fast-growing North American conifers.

When I first came to Ireland, I worked with Jan Alexander, founder of Crann (the Irish word for ‘tree’), her nonprofit organisation. Crann drew public support for growing environmental awareness that monoculture clearfell forestry limits biodiversity, and negatively affects water quality and soil fertility. Crann successfully lobbied the Irish government to introduce incentives for significant native tree planting that have significant ecological and natural heritage value. I highlighted community planting of native trees in County Leitrim in a celebratory exhibition, The Local Project Revisited in 2006.

Today broadleaf trees continue to be planted but only as as a minimum percentage of national afforestation. Critically, Ireland lacks broadleaf timber volume and mills to cater for diverse tree species, despite their greater ecological and social amenity value. Overall, Ireland’s forestry remains, as in many part of the world, ecologically limited.

Eco-social artist Cathy Fitzgerald with Crann founder, Jan Alexander in 2005.

Jan Alexander and foresters, such as Paddy Purser, realised that establishing mixed species, mixed aged forests in perpetuity would be critical for a sustainable and life-enhancing forest industry. Interested in alternative continuous cover forestry as practised in Europe through the Pro Silva (Latin ‘for forests’) organisation, and with support from The Continuous Cover Forestry Group (CCFG), the UK Pro Silva group, they and others established Pro Silva Ireland in 2000. EU and UK Pro Silva forest experts then shared practical knowledge with pioneering Irish landowners, foresters and forestry students about how to transform Ireland’s monoculture tree plantations into naturally regenerating permanent forests. I later became part of these discussions as from 2000 I found myself living in a small plantation conifer woodland.

These forestry discussions were the background to my art college days. Not surprisingly, I found myself drawn to the pioneering eco-social art practices of Helen and Newton Harrison. I was fascinated by how they facilitated open participatory dialogues in their creative ecological practices. They welcomed artistic, scientific, political, and local knowledge to form inclusive practices to envision improved wellbeing for diverse communities and bioregions. Their practice of collaborative works and conversation fueled communities with new ideas of how to sustain natural environments, and importantly, expanded ideas of art, and education in general, toward what constitutes an ecological education. The Harrisons’ Serpentine Lattice (1992-3), that presents a restorative bioregional vision through participatory practices to ameliorate devastated US Pacific coastal forests, was particularly inspirational for me.

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Similarly, my slow art ways of working across disciplines whilst living within a forest gave me opportunities to develop a fulfilling eco-social art practice. My work developed ecological depth as I realised that I had expert forestry contacts to help me and my husband transform the woodland and that I knew forest policymakers when I had become involved with my local Green Party.  I also had the Harrisons’ work to guide me and their recent book The Time of the Force Majeure: After 45 Years Counterforce is on the Horizon (Harrisons, 2016), detailing their practices over many decades, is the book I wish I had when I first started. It is the critical text for any artist or art educator seeking to understand what an eco-social art practice may involve.

As transforming a conifer plantation will take several decades I found I had ample time, amongst other work, to develop my eco-social art practice chiefly through blogging about it at The Hollywood Forest Story. My Hollywood Forest Story became the basis of my art practice doctoral research. I came to understand that eco-social art practices, those that are embedded in a particular community over years, foster relevant ecoliteracy for practitioners and their audiences. Eco-social art practitioners and their audiences become ecoliterate – they quickly understand the connections of what sustains their environments and their lives (an illustrated, interactive online book gives details of my research).

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Increasing ecoliteracy from eco-social art practices inevitably fosters our agency for change. We can see this in the new ideas and policies to safeguard environments that often arose from the Harrisons’ work. I found this happening unexpectedly in my work too, when on the basis of my eco-social art practice, I successfully argued that continuous cover forestry be the key point of the Green Party of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s forest policy in 2012. My practice also actioned me to promote the late Earth-lawyer Polly Higgins’ work on developing  a law against the crime of ecocide to the Irish Green Party.

My forestry friends often smile at the small scale of Hollywood forest but they intuit that the story of Hollywood Forest, the ‘little wood that could’ adds a more public vision to how forestry must change. And just a few months ago, something important happened in Irish forestry. On the back of the work of Pro Silva Ireland, the Irish Department of Agriculture announced the first pilot scheme to financially assist landowners to move toward continuous cover forestry. Pro Silva Ireland’s guidebook on how to transform a plantation into a forest has gone into its second printing and Pro Silva Ireland’s first two training days last month were oversubscribed.

Children of Pro Silva Ireland members Anna and Brian Browne enjoying a visit to Hollywood forest in 2010. Photo: Cathy Fitzgerald

Looking back, it has taken much hard work and many conversations over some decades to develop the beginnings of sustainable vision for Ireland’s forests. Continuous cover forestry is to be welcomed but given how fast the planetary ecological emergency is unfolding, and the short decade deadline climate scientists have announced to change our ways, such integrative forestry practices must be mainstreamed with the utmost urgency. Forestry education will have to recognize the endgame plantation forestry promotes and reinvent itself rapidly.  And dialogical creative practices must be recognized for their significant role to reinvent education more broadly, to help communities imagine how living well with forests, lands, rivers, oceans is essential for a sustainable, just and beautiful world.

Cathy Fitzgerald PhD    


Cathy’s PhD thesis ‘Living Well with Forests to articulate eco-social art practice’ (2018) and her interactive ebook on the development of her ongoing Hollywood Forest Story can be read here

Follow The Hollywood Forest Story at https://hollywoodforest.com/ – comments always welcome! Cathy is also the first Irish signatory to the global #culturedeclaresemergency movement

9 Stones artist Cathy Fitzgerald joins UCD Art in Science and The Lab Gallery talk on sustainability

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9 Stones artist Cathy Fitzgerald is joining a panel this Wed 11 March 2015, 6-7.3o  pm to discuss how the arts can contribute to conversations about sustainability. She’ll be talking about her ongoing eco art project that is transforming a conifer plantation into a permanent, life-sustaining forest.

Places are limited, more details here

Update 28 April 2015: a video of Cathy’s talk is available here

Live at Hollywood during the 1st Blackstairs Rural Film Festival 2014

Gathering under the trees at Hollywood, South Carlow, Ireland, during the 1st Rural Blackstairs Film festival. 9 Stones artist Cathy Fitzgerald holds a space for conversation about why transforming conifer plantations is such a rich and valuable means to relate and act more sustainably to our environments. Photo: Gwen Wilkinson.
Gathering under the trees at Hollywood, South Carlow, Ireland, during the 1st Rural Blackstairs Film festival. 9 Stones artist Cathy Fitzgerald holds a space for conversation about why transforming conifer plantations is such a rich and valuable means to relate and act more sustainably to our environments. Photo: Gwen Wilkinson.

brochure-cover-Rural-film-festival-2014-Blackstairs-449x10249 Stones Artist Cathy Fitzgerald is an artist currently completing her PhD on eco art practice at NCAD. She shared a developing audiovisual film book in a short walk around Hollywood – the smallest Close-to-Nature continuous cover forest in Ireland on Sat 8 November during the 1st Blackstairs Rural Film Festival.

Hollywood is tiny! It is a 2 acre, 35 year old conifer plantation being transformed into a permanent forest using a new-to-Ireland forestry approach. This artful eco project has many insights, and not only for forestry. Visitors learned how ‘the little wood that could’ has contributed to short films, national forest policy, forest science and an awareness about ecocide, whilst becoming an increasingly resilient home for all those who live within it.
See more info here

Cathy Fitzgerald’s ‘The black space (resilience) of the Ash night’ selected for 2013 UCD Science Expression film festival

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9 Stones artist Cathy Fitzgerald’s new experimental film ‘The black space (resilience) of the Ash night’ (2013) was recently selected for the 2013 UCD Science Expression film festival. The film was shown with others in a mobile pop-up cinema to celebrate and reflect on the natural world. It was held at the Botanic Gardens, Dublin.

 

Notes on the film: Continue reading

Video works at upcoming 9 Stones Artists exhibtion for Eigse

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Nine Stones Artists member Cathy Fitzgerald will be exhibiting some experimental film works with the The Nine Stones Artists , at Deighton Hall, Carlow, for Eigse 2012, 9-17 th June.

Since Cathy’s works to date are mostly 1-2 minute clips and are a video diary of an ongoing, slow art & ecology forest transformation project (she is transforming her conifer plantation to a permanent forest), she will make a film-reel of different short works for Eigse 2012,  with some new clips such as ‘the neighbours’ sketch above. It will show her interest in moving from conventions of overly narrated nature documentary to exploring cinematic perspectives that attempt to more sensitively attend, give more prominence to the universe of communities that make up her small forest, on which others and herself depend.  Her recent writings about ecocide and the anthropocene (the age of man) has made her aware that we must urgently extend our perceptions to encompass the more-than-human world, and  ‘yield to our neighbours, even to our animal (and plant) neighbours, the same right as ourselves to inhabit’ this land, if we are all to survive and thrive.

Cathy is currently working on a long term artistic project entitled: ‘The ecocidal eye: beyond the anthropocentric (human centered) gaze to a relational gaze in cinema’, see more at  the ecocinema enquiry

All 9 stones artists will be exhibiting together in Carlow during the Eigse Festival in Deighton Hall, opening 6pm  9 June, full details here

Thanks to Eigse, Carlow Co Council Arts Office and thanks to O’Shea’s of Borris

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