Visual Artists' News Sheet – 2020 January February

Page 14


Visual Artists' News Sheet | January – February 2020

Regional Focus

36 Views of Croghan Hill

Golf Courses as Wind Farms

Veronica Nicholson Visual Artist

Micheál O’Connell aka Mocksim Systems Interference Artist

IN 1984 I bought a camera and have been taking photographs ever since. I’ve never gotten tired of it and I’m as enthusiastic about it now as I was 35 years ago – it keeps me sane! My practice over those years has taken various routes, including still life, interventions in the landscape and more straightforward landscape photography, but my real interest is in photographing people in the documentary tradition. I have exhibited my photographic work extensively, both nationally and internationally, in places like Gothenburg, Sweden; Victoria, Australia; Phoenix, Arizona; and Paris, France. I have also been teaching photography for over 20 years, including being Head of Photography in the Burren College of Art, Ballyvaughan for two years. I was also one of the founders and directors of The Courthouse Gallery & Studios, Ennistymon. I moved to Offaly in 2010 to live on the farm where my mother grew up near Rhode, whilst completing a MFA in Art in the Digital World at the National College of Art & Design, Dublin. I had spent all my childhood summers on the farm but I didn’t really know Offaly that well, so the first thing I did was to walk the length of the Grand Canal – albeit in stages. A year later I was traveling down the Canal on a boat for a documentary film called A Grand Experience (2012), which was commissioned by Offaly County Council and screened on RTÉ. The film followed three artists: a writer, a songwriter and a visual artist (myself ) as we journeyed the length of the Grand Canal from Shannon Harbour to Edenderry, telling the history of the people who worked on the Canal, and our responses to the journey. I created a series of photographic collaborations with the other artists involving writing with light and stop-motion animation, with a soundtrack of the people we met along the way. The exhibition of the artist’s responses were shown in Offaly, Dublin and Enniskillen. Three years later, in 2015, I was awarded another commission from Offaly County Council to do a book of photographs that aimed to create a visual account of life in Offaly today, so I was on the road again traveling all around the county for a year. It was a dream project, as I had permission to immerse myself in the life of

the county, and pursue my love of documentary photography. The book, titled Observing Offaly (2016), has been exceptionally well received and a series of twenty photographs from the book were exhibited in Offaly and Laois. While I was traveling and making photographs for Observing Offaly, I began to notice that I could see Croghan Hill from nearly every place in the county. It’s actually a very small hill, but because the surrounding countryside is so flat, it can be seen for miles around. This experience brought to mind Hokusai’s famous series of woodblock prints, ‘36 Views of Mount Fuji’ (c.1830–32). Inspired by this, I decided to make my own photographic series, titled ‘36 Views of Croghan Hill’. These were exhibited in The Atrium at Offaly County Council (1–31 May 2019) as part of the PhotoIreland Festival 2019, before being exhibited in Edenderry Library (4–31 July 2019). Overall, I have had wonderful opportunities living in County Offaly, and I feel very grateful for them. In terms of exhibition opportunities in Offaly, I have had great support from the Arts Office in Offaly County Council. I live in the east of the county and so my experiences have been mostly with The Atrium at Áras an Chontae in Tullamore and the libraries in Edenderry and Tullamore. The Atrium is a good dedicated space for visual art but it is closed on the weekends. The libraries can also be restrictive in terms of access. The news of the creation of a new arts centre in Tullamore, with a dedicated gallery space, is very welcome. There are also plans for an arts centre in Edenderry. The provision of shared studio spaces is an issue within the county. I was unable to find a one in Offaly but was lucky enough to find a studio in Athlone, County Westmeath, in Shambles Art Studios. However, this space proved to be just too far away so I had to give it up which was a pity as I do miss sharing a space with other artists and the interaction that comes with that. I’m currently travelling in Asia for a few months in India and Nepal, which may result in a new body of work ‘36 Views of the Himalayas’!

Veronica Nicholson, photograph from the series ‘36 Views of Corghan Hill’; courtesy of the artist

Mocksim, TurboGolfing (video still), 2019; courtesy of the artist

MY PARENTS MOVED to Clara in the late 1990s and, at that point, I was living in Britain. I grew up in Cork and maintain close links with friends and family there. This summer, for instance, was taken up with a two-month residency at the West Cork Arts Centre: Uillinn. My father, who has since died, was enchanted by Clara and the surrounding area, impressed by its Quaker benevolent-industrialist history and drawn to the charms of the unusual flatlands and biodiverse bogs nearby. My mother and he quickly integrated into the local community, which included many interesting characters: prominent politicians, sports people and even an astronaut. I have adopted my parents’ fondness for the area, though all my knowledge is based on visiting for periods of days or occasionally weeks. This experience of passing-through is not to be trivialised, however. From an artistic standpoint, it can be advantageous to be a stranger in a place. Also, presumably Clara’s position – and that of Offaly generally – as a node of sorts, with canal, road and rail links extending east and west, is one of its important defining features. I previously produced a series of street photography books in the wake of having had an exhibition selected for Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d’Arles 2011. One of those publications did contain imagery captured in and around Tullamore. However, most of my artistic activity relates to technological systems, meaning not only the much-discussed computational network but also the heavier machineries and overarching supply chains. Unquestionably, platforms such as Amazon, eBay, Uber, Deliveroo, map apps and other tools have caused dramatic changes for existing industrial and agricultural processes, for transport and travel, and within the leisure and cultural sectors. My practice typically involves intervention, what might be called ethical hacking, appropriation, a ‘tactical media’ and low-tech approach to readily available platforms, including Google applications like Street View and so forth. Technological change is no less a factor in rural areas than urban ones and, during my residency in West Cork, I began wondering about the increasing presence across Ireland of monu-

mental wind turbines. Simultaneously, triggered by media excitement about Clara’s Shane Lowry winning The Open Championship in July, I became interested in the thought-experiment that golf courses could be converted into wind farms. I have produced several works connected with this theme and am continuing with linked initiatives. Toy and model wind turbines were ordered with a view to incorporating these into experiments I might carry out. In fact, the ordering and delivery system itself led to the production of one book comprising a collection of the ‘point of delivery’ signatures, completed when couriers eventually arrive. I have also created a short looping film, which combines motifs related to wind-farms and golf, with a soundtrack composed of recordings of actual turbines in motion. More recent activity has included making submissions on TripAdvisor of golf courses, with mock-up images showing wind farms installed, and a proposal that the game of golf be adapted to include one turbine at each hole. One of these is, at the time of writing, available for Castle Barna Golf Club in Offaly. It seems appropriate to be conducting such inquiries (if you can call them that) in the Irish midlands, given the way new forms of energy production are replacing, as the County Offaly Arts Strategy document puts it, “traditional usage of peat extraction as the main source of combustible energy, which had assured employment opportunities for generations of Offaly people”. Certain responses to environmental crisis, ironically, include strategies that rapidly industrialise the rural landscape. Wind turbines are lauded by some, opposed by others; accusations of NIMBY-ism are made on one side, whereas activists suspect corruption and ‘greenwash’. A fundamental role of artists has always been to observe things ‘warts and all’ and present awkward truths back to the world. In my case the observation arises out of adopting clownish and comedic strategies, which are hopefully not read as cynical, nor trivialising serious contemporary matters.