Ogham Stones

forest and stone reminders: the sculpture of eileen macdonagh

 Eileen MacDonagh with her Ogham Stones 2012

Eileen MacDonagh with her Ogham Stones 2012, VISUAL Carlow

This post comes to you from An Arts and Ecology Notebook

‘ 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 sculptor’s, Eileen MacDonagh, to document her work process by film and photographs for her retrospective exhibition LITHOsphere. The exhibition opens today and continues until May 7 2012 and I’ve been editing madly for the 1/2h film I created for the show (I’ll post some of the links to film clips below).

Eileen is a great friend to my husband and I; Martin over recent years has taken up stone sculpture and he could have no better teacher or friend for that matter. Martin is a geologist so there are often lots of discussions on stones, grinding equipment and lots of excitement about the sculpture process in general. Its an odd contrast to my own practice but I want to mention aspects of Eileen’s work that touch me deeply too.

I really admire the attention to working with physical materials in Eileen’s stone 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 (my own included although I try to ground my work in a long term work with my forest outside my door). 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. Her ‘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 our forests and relate to our forests tells us much about the state of our so called civlisation. Eileen’s forest came together with her incredible enthusiasm to bring people to the project too; forests are not just trees but a complex web of relationships and Eileen’s forest also grew from a complex web of relations of people in the local area.

Eileen’s new Ogham Stones are reminders too. 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.

I am only referring to some of the works in this large exhibition; along with the 8 m forest in which you can walk through, there are over 50 tonnes of stoneworks on display. LITHOsphere opens today and continues for 3 months at VISUAL, the centre for contemporary art in Carlow. 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.

installation of Cathedral by Eileen MacDonagh, 2012

A shot I took in the gloaming when Cathedral was being installed; installation by Eileen MacDonagh, 2012

Here are the links to my film clips that I created for Eileen’s work: there is a long slideshow about her two decades of sculpute work (this is a slow silent piece for the gallery as there will be activity sheets for visiting children about the stone works), a film about her new Stone Circle and clips on the community work behind the development, creation and installation of Cathedral.

installation of Cathedral by Cathy Fitzgerald 2012

Cathedral installed: Eileen and Martin running through the trees: a still from the Lithosphere film

An Arts & Ecology Notebook, by Cathy Fitzgerald, whose work exists as ongoing research and is continually inspired to create short films, photographic documentation, and writings. While she interacts with foresters, scientists, and communities, she aims to create a sense of a personal possibility, responsibility and engagement in her local environment that also connects to global environmental concerns.
Go to An Arts and Ecology Notebook