The Irish, County Cork–based artist Fiona Kelly addresses themes of ecology and society. Her research into wilderness, matter, and geology considers the human exploration of landscape—understood as both a relationship with the natural world and an extractivist approach to natural resources. Kelly explores basic (in the primordial sense) structures, often makeshift or otherwise transient, that represent nature in a state of flux, and builds allegories for the historical and political conditions of land use.
Kelly observes the rapid metamorphosis of landscape, both urban and rural, as a way of conveying the “idea of a world’s debris,” as she puts it, in allusion to the theorist Michel de Certeau. Key to this approach is another reference: the notion of “solastalgia,” advanced by the theorist Glenn Albrecht, which describes existential distress caused by climate change, a sense of “homesickness one experiences . . . when one is still at home.”
Kelly’s prints and sculptures depict various sites or take the form of specific natural elements. She produces her works with discarded materials—by-products of the built environment—that she forages and transforms, from demolition waste to crushed glass, bitumen, and dust.
A Temporary Iteration
Fiona Kelly depicts landscape through a variety of means and mediums, but always comes back to its very foundations—earth itself and geological stratigraphy. In this project, she engages with the esker, a distinctly Irish landform. The project evolved through an artist residency at GannonEco, a plant located in a disused industrial quarry along the Esker Riada that repurposes matter and by-products of industrial manufacturing.
An esker (or eiscir) is a low-lying ridge composed of sand, gravel, and boulders deposited during the Midlandian Ice Age. The Esker Riada is the key example in Ireland, connecting east and west and separating north from south. Its name indicates its geographical and social significance, as eiscir means “divide” and riada means “road” in Irish. For centuries, eskers have established lines of communication and served as prime agricultural areas. Today they are a valued source of urban construction material, especially sand and gravel. This large-scale exploitation of natural resources is evident from the many industrial quarries along the Esker Riada.
A Temporary Iteration combines sculpture, moving image, and sound. Nineteen 3D pieces replicate the shape of a scalenohedron, a crystal formed from calcite. The properties of calcite make it one of the most widely used of all minerals; it is employed as urban construction material, abrasive, agricultural soil treatment, pigment, pharmaceutical component, and more. It is the principal constituent of the Esker Riada.
The objects lie on the floor and on top of each other, arranged to simulate a terrain. Their various planes operate as projection screens, momentarily holding footage of dynamic landmasses; organic matter such as earth, grass, and flowers; a re-wilded quarry; and pseudo-mountains of raw and unprocessed waste at GannonEco. Complementing this are ambient sounds recorded inside waste storage warehouses; sounds of falling glass and matter from debris piles at GannonEco; and ambient sounds and birdsongs collected along the Esker Riada.
Kelly’s imagined topography shows the esker’s ruination from extractivist activity and its current status—somewhere between a utopian return to nature and the realities of extractive land use. More broadly, the work points to the Irish landscape as an over-tapped natural resource, full of political and environmental disturbances and highly emblematic of Ireland’s historical and contemporary geological and social conditions.
Curated by Miguel Amado, director of SIRUS.
Produced by SIRIUS.
Artist supported by the Arts Council through a Project Award 2021.