Sites of Tension – Sites of Collaboration: Art & Ecology Seminar – Portlaoise

A Seminar exploring engagement with land use, ecology and arts practice.

in partnership with Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise.

The seminar coincides with a solo exhibition of work by the artist Monica de Bath PLOT/CEAPACH (24 Oct – 27 Nov, 2016), curated by Denise Reddy.

The day will involve presentations from artists with interdisciplinary approaches to working around the issue of local and global land use and ecology. Speakers include: Artist Monica De Bath (PLOT / CEAPACH) and Dr Catherine Farrell (Ecologist, Bord na Móna), Artist /Academic Deirdre O’Mahony (SPUD, X-PO) and Artist Gareth Kennedy (Post Colony). Chaired by: Paddy Woodworth (Author of recent book on ecological restoration and former arts editor of Irish Times)


10.00                   Coffee & Registration
10.30                   Gallery Walk & Talk – Monica de Bath artist’s talk with ecologist Dr Fiona Mac Gowan

Foyer Space Talks

11.10                   Monica de Bath artist presentation
11.20                  Catherine Farrell Bord na Móna
11.50                  Deirdre O’Mahony – presentation and short film
12.20                  Chris Uys – Community perspective Abbeyleix Bog Project Ltd
12.50                  Paddy Woodworth leads the panel discussion

13. 10                 Lunch provided by Dunamaise Arts Centre Café

14.10                  Gareth Kennedy artist, presentation and film
14.40                  Dr. Mark Mc Corry, Bord na Móna
15.00                  Lisa Fingleton artist case study and short film

15.30                  How do art practices today engage with ecologists’ practices, with communities, and with semi-state companies? How should they do so?  Having listened to a few case studies, can we     begin to imagine and map future paths to engagement?

16.00                  Presentations of key points from two group mind-maps
16.30                  Round up and Tea
17.00                  Wine Reception Muireann Ní Chonaill Oifigeach Ealaíon
18.00                 Ends


PLOT/CEAPACH has its origins in an artists’ residency at a peat excavation site at Bord na Móna, Ballydermot Works, Kildare. Conversations and interactions with staff led to an ongoing, evolving arts practice, which investigates tensions between making a living and ecological land use. The exhibition includes a range of work from the PLOT/CEAPACH series, exploring the changing nature of land use, bio-fuels, restoration and renewable energy projects on the Bog of Allen and Atlantic Bog in Ireland. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of workshops facilitated by de Bath and this seminar, Sites of Tension/ Sites of Collaboration.


Monica de Bath lives and works between the Bog of Allen and the Gaeltacht, Ireland. A Fine Arts graduate of the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, she has an M.A. in Visual Arts Practices from Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire. Her ongoing project PLOT / CEAPACH operates within sites of ecological tension. PLOT has been presented to:  Nordic Irish Studies Network,Tromso Norway; ‘Molkfabryk Arts Space’ Fryslan, Netherlands, Collective Contemporary Art, Dublin; Solo Shows; Ground Up Artists Collective. The current phase in the PLOT series investigates diverse engagements between ecology and arts practice related to land use. She has received awards from the Arts Council of Ireland, Kildare County Council, Laois County Council, and from Molkfabryk Arts Space’ Netherlands.


PLOT / CEAPACH frames a series of work that explores peoples’ relationship with land, with sea, with each other and with the urgent need to make a living at critical and contested sites. Such sites include the Bog of Allen, the Atlantic Blanket Bog, and coastal areas in the West of Ireland. Painting acts as a meditative space where traces of diverse views are pulled together; it can establish a position from which to look at things differently. Echoing the ‘contrapuntal thinking’ of Edward Said, PLOT attempts to reveal the many distinct voices around each Site of Tension.

Since 2006 de Bath has had a temporary studio within Ballydermot Works, an industrial peat excavation site on the Bog of Allen – by 2009 she had got access to a plot of partial cutaway where thirty blueberry bushes were planted and still grow amongst the bracken. This site action brought her into contact with Dr. Catherine Farrell, who at the time was developing Bord na Móna’s first Biodiversity Action Plan. PLOT then moved west to explore acts of land rehabilitation. Here, the return of a miniscule plant to a vast area of cutaway was the lens through which she thought / painted and conversed with a fragile space in the west of Ireland. PLOT now moves between the seaweed on the west coast and the piles of woodchip and palm oil kernal back on the bog of Allen.

Dr Catherine Farrell is an ecologist who has worked on a variety of nature related projects over a twenty-year career. Her initial interest in ecological restoration has remained central to her work particularly in her role as ecologist with Bord na Móna (2001-present). It has grown in that time from fundamental aspects such as survey and practical restoration to include aspects of climate change and carbon measurement, species conservation and working with a broad range of interest groups, not least members of the art community. A native of Westmeath, she has worked all over Ireland and tries to bring an International perspective to local, regional and national projects, keeping firmly grounded in whatever habitat lies beneath her feet…even if that is a bog! She works to raise awareness of the role of natural capital accounting for businesses in Ireland and is striving to bring these concepts to the fore of the business community at home and abroad.


When I first began to work as an ecologist, my academic approach was strong. It had to be – I needed to present the case for restoration and rehabilitation in a clear and scientific way that the business community could understand and relate to. And more importantly agree to! Perhaps because I also have a lifetime love of music and writing, and a genuine respect for all things arty, I have been more than happy to work with artists like Monica de Bath.

The artist brings a completely different perspective to the work of the ecologist. And that perspective is vastly different again to the business or the academic scientific one! Though the artist usually has some grasp of the forces that rule ecological systems, more often their strength is in recognising the social and abstract layers that are very much part of the human understanding and human interface with nature. When I work with an artist, I am challenged to step back and remove my own preconceptions, my own bias, my own hard scientific shackles as it were. That openness has enriched my own work experience, expanding my own understanding and appreciation of more subtle details, and hopefully, in turn I can impart that to others.  There are always conflicts for ecologists – should this water be held back by a dam? Should this species be favoured over another in terms of habitat and economic resources? Does this walkway align with the hopes and dreams of the local community? Does this project fit with the national strategy for nature and planning? Are the resources for the work accounted for in the company’s business plan? The list goes on and on…but one must act, and one must do so in a way that is sensitive to all those factors and more, in the hope of embracing some of the range of perspectives, not least those of local communities.

For me, nature is the greatest artist of all, and I am humbled to partake in honest, sincere efforts to restore lands that have been used by humans for a purpose – such as peat cutting – to a more natural state, at best to its former trajectory. I am grateful for conflicts, because these conflicts – when embraced and welcomed, and teased through – only make for a more encompassing outcome. Working with the artist, helps us get there.


Deirdre O’Mahony’s research and art practice is grounded in collaborative engagements with different publics and communities. Her PhD, New Ecologies Between Rural Life and Visual Culture in the West of Ireland: History, Context, Position, and Art Practice revived a defunct rural post-office as a public space, “X-PO”, to reflect the complexity of dimensions: social, psychological, economic and natural – affecting place and landscape in the west of Ireland. Animated by a process of collaborative exhibition-making and the co-creation of artworks, X-PO made visible some of the invisible histories, unconscious projections and expectations underlying place-based attachments. Subsequent research has reflected on the contemporary relevance of tacit, place-based knowledge, most recently The Village Plot at the Irish Museum of Modern Art for Grizedale Arts. A new film, The Persistent Return received an Arts Council Project award and she is developing a new rural project for Grass Lands for Aarhus Capital of Culture 2017. She has been awarded numerous national and international gallery and museum exhibitions, Arts Council of Ireland awards and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation international fellowship.  Dr. O’Mahony is a lecturer at the Centre for Creative Arts and Media, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

Abstract – Going Underground:  Networks, Histories and Knowledges – the SPUD Project.

Within my art practice and writing I put forward the idea of a ‘slow’, situated, trans-disciplinary, art practice as a necessary corollary to spectacle based culture; an unfolding process of reflective expression that seeks to acknowledge the complexity of projections and expectations, conscious and unconscious, affecting place, space and landscape.  For over a decade my practice-led research has been focused on the west of Ireland, initially as part of a practice based PhD and more recently as an extended investigation into ways of publicly re-presenting and reflecting different epistemological understandings of place, in order to create new knowledge on the complex interrelationship between human, natural, cultural and social ecologies.

SPUD is a public art project that emerged through artistic research and collaborative processes to produce space for a public discourse on food production and climate change. Three issues are reflexively considered through the lens of SPUD: Unconscious attitudes towards rurality, the land, identity and otherness in Ireland; the relevance and use-value of tacit agricultural knowledge to food production today and the potato’s importance to global food security in the face of climate change.  By making use of the potato to map controversies around these threads, SPUD points to the complex history and legacy of the potato both in Ireland and within the economic and political dynamics of global food production today. This cartographic process is particularly relevant given the history of the Famine in Ireland. I will outline the development of the project, beginning with a local archive of research into potato cultivation in a specific, local context in County Clare and subsequent projects that developed through a network of connections with different publics, artists, agencies and institutions.


Gareth Kennedy’s art practice explores the social agency of the handcrafted in the 21st century and generates ‘communities of interest’ around the production and performance of new material cultures. He has produced and exhibited work nationally and internationally. His practice to date includes public artwork, educational projects, exhibitions, residencies and collaborations. He is a lecturer in Sculpture and Expanded Practices at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin.


Artist Gareth Kennedy will present his project Post Colony (2014), which explores the natural, industrial and colonial histories of Killarney National Park in Co. Kerry.  In the Summer of 2014, master woodwright Eoin Donnelly initiated seven participants in green woodworking processes to produce charcoal burners one-legged stools. The invasive species Rhododendron ponticum, which is a serious problem in the national park and beyond, was used as a freely available raw material. The stools served as a focal point for exploring early industrial handcraft, which would have been used during the exploitation of Killarney woodlands from the Plantation of Munster in 1582 on. This process culminated in the group holding an overnight Charcoal burn to reduce the troublesome plant to charcoal – the core fuel of early industrialisation.  Post Colony will be presented in terms of it being an ambitious and fully immersive project funded by an Arts Council Project Award, and unfeasible without the support of the management and staff of Killarney National Park and The National Parks and Wildlife Service, as well as the commitment of diverse participants.

Paddy Woodworth (Bray, Ireland, 1951) is an author, journalist, lecturer, editor and specialist tour guide. He is best known for his two books on the Basque Country, Dirty War, Clean Hands: ETA, the GAL, and Spanish Democracy, (Yale UP 2003) and The Basque Country: A Cultural History (Oxford UP 2008); and for his most recent book, Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Strategy, a worldwide assessment of ecological restoration as a conservation strategy.  He is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the School of Languages and Literatures, University College Dublin, and a Research Associate at Missouri Botanical Garden.  He was on staff at The Irish Times, as arts editor and then as a foreign desk editor, from 1988-2002, and has written on Basque and Spanish affairs for that paper and other media since 1979. He now contributes regularly to the Environment Page at the paper.  He also has strong links with the arts in Ireland, having managed both the Project Arts Centre under Jim Sheridan (1977-78) and Field Day Theatre Company for Brian Friel and Stephen Rea (1980).  He has written for the International Herald Tribune, Vanity Fair, The Scientist, The Sunday Times, Ecological Restoration, The World Policy Journal, The International Journal of Iberian Studies, and Studies in 20th and 21st


Case Study Presenters

Mark McCorry PhD MCIEEM has been working as an ecologist within Bord na Móna for 7 years.  His main role is planning and implementing rehabilitation of Bord na Móna’s cutaway bogs as well as delivering the objectives and actions of the Bord na Móna Biodiversity Action Plan 2016-2021.  Prior to joining Bord na Móna he worked as a consultant ecologist providing services such as baseline ecological survey and ecological assessment to a range of clients including government agencies, local authorities and developers.  The midlands landscape has undergone a significant transformation since Bord na Móna began operating.  The challenge for Bord na Móna is to balance commercial development, with biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the needs of local communities residing in these landscapes, to enhance all of the different values of these lands.

Lisa Fingleton is an award winning multimedia artist whose practice incorporates drawings, collaborative projects, film, documentary and immersive installations. Much of her work is rooted in the autobiographical and deals with socio political and environmental concerns. The artist lives and works on a small farm and has spent many years cultivating deep-rooted connections between art and farming. She revels in the random, dynamic intersection between humans and nature and is unafraid to challenge perceived natural orders.  Fingleton recently completed an MA in documentary film at Goldsmiths College, London and previously graduated from the Fine Art Department at NCAD. In May last year the Irish Film Institute hosted a special retrospective screening of her work entitled “The Power of The Personal Story”. Her latest body of work and solo show ‘Holding True Ground’ involves working with local farmers in a collaborative way through film and drawing around issues of food, sustainability and land use.  In September last year the artist undertook a 30-day local food challenge where she ate only food grown and produced on the island of Ireland. Living without sugar and other botanically outrageous imports, proved to be a bigger challenge that she thought. Lisa will share her experience and some of her insights from the project as well as screening her film ‘The Good Wife’.

Chris Uys is a native of Namibia.  His career of 35 years involves public relations/corporate communications, marketing, general management, as well as business support and development. He has work experience in the educational, FMCG manufacturing, environmental services and community sectors. For the last 18 years Chris has been living and working in Ireland.  His educational background is in Communications. Chris trained and qualified as a mediator in 2012 and a certified member of the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland since.  He has been actively involved in community based projects and social entrepreneurship all his working life. Chris has been involved with the Abbeyleix Bog Project since 2000. In 2015 he was nominated to the Board of Irish Rural Link representing the Community Wetlands Forum.  Chris will argue that conflict is inevitable, given the diversity in nature and amongst humans. How we resolve conflict with or about nature depends on whether we are egocentric or eco-centric in relation to the common good.

Dr Fiona Mac Gowan is a professional botanist and ecologist living locally in Co. Laois. Bogs are her first ecological love having carried out her Ph.D. research on the Atlantic blanket bogs of Connemara. Now she gets her ‘bog-fix’ through working with the local community Abbeyleix Bog Project. As well as ecological survey work and report writing, the best part of her job is working with local communities all through the Midlands discovering and highlighting the beautiful biodiversity that surrounds them. She was delighted to be asked to work with Monica de Bath on this project as it brought together bogs and art – a lifelong interest for Fiona coming from a family of 4 working artists!

Please register using the registration form provided.

PLOT/CEAPACH has its origins in an artists’ residency at a peat excavation site at Bord na Móna Ballydermot Works, Kildare. Conversations and
interactions with staff led to an ongoing, evolving arts practice which investigates tensions between making a living and ecological land use. The
exhibition includes a range of work from the PLOT/CEAPACH series, exploring the changing nature of land use, biofuels, restoration and renewable energy
projects on the Bog of Allen and Atlantic Bog in Ireland. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of workshops facilitated by de Bath and a seminar, Sites of Tension/ Sites of Collaboration, exploring engagement with land use, ecology and arts practice.


  • November 19, 2016
    10:00 am - 4:30 pm



Venue Website:

Dunamaise Arts Centre, Church Street, Portlaoise, CA, Co. Laois, Ireland