Proposal for a Ludic Island
‘No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’
Sherkin Island lies south-west of Co. Cork, Ireland, alongside other islands of the Roaringwater Bay. Sherkin once had a population of around 1,000, which started to decline during the Great Irish Famine in the mid-19th century. Now the number of full time residents living on the island is just 92.
My aim is to show the fragility and resilience of island life, in particular with reference to the dwindling population numbers on Sherkin Island. I also want to look at the idea of the individual as being an island of sorts, an isolated unit, surviving and fighting against the elements.
I will look at tumbleweeds as being floating, unstable islands- strong and resilient, yet fragile. The intention is to create 92 globe like structures, using only the brambles that grow along the roadsides on Sherkin. These rough, tangled, prickly stems are from the blackberry bush (Rubus fruticosus), which grow wild on the island. Their thorns will act as anchors, and will be the only thing holding the structures together. The sphere-like structures will be about a meter in diameter on average. These 92 ‘tumbleweeds’ are representative of the 92 inhabitants currently living on Sherkin Island.
The material chosen reflects our own essence- prickly, awalkard, sometimes nasty, at times delicious, protective, non-conforming individuals. The event will be playful however the subject is serious. This is our silent march against the recent cutbacks of the BA in Visual Art course run on the island. These cutbacks could lead to the closure of the course on the island, which would have detrimental knock on effects for the economic growth, sustainability and the population numbers on Sherkin.
A letter will be sent out to everyone living on Sherkin island, inviting them to participate in the construction of the ‘tumbleweeds’, creating a direct relationship between the islanders and the work. The activity will aim also to nurture relationships and communication between neighbours, much like traditional events such as blackberry picking. A letter will also be sent out to all members of Cork County Council, asking them to join us, to take time out from their busy schedules, to have some fun and reconnect with forgotten aspects of community life.
My intention is to finally ask the participants to place these 92 structures at Cow Strand on Sherkin. There, the makers will watch as their structures roam about freely, moving slowly in the wind. Some will connect with each other and perhaps create larger groupings. Many will wander alone, discovering other parts of the strand or island. A few will be caught in the waves and brought out to sea, while others will fall apart.
This ephemeral, site specific and performative installation will be documented through the use of photography, video and textual snippets of conversation. An exhibition will take place in the West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen, showcasing part of the tumbleweed installation. Also, 92 limited edition A4 prints of the event on Sherkin will be sold, all proceeds from this show will go towards promoting the course, improving workshop facilities and funding this years part of Cork County Councils promised investment in the course.
The Mycorrhizal Highway
There is a network spanning the forest underground, fungi connecting one plant to another plant.
The mycorrhiza connects to the outer roots of trees, the tree sends down its carbon, which goes through its root system and through into the connecting fungi via an interface between the root cortical cells and the fungi cells. This is where the exchange goes on.
This mycorrhiza can spread out in a branch like system reaching meters beyond the tree root system. It will then connect to another plant- sharing carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and water according to which plant needs it. The ‘mother trees’ of the forest, what we think of as the large, old trees, will have an enormous network associated with it, including trees of other species. When a ‘mother tree’ dies its nutrients are released back in the same way, almost like an inheritance for the forest.
The earth from below and above
There is something about the forest which reminds me of human communities- trees standing in groups, co-existence, pathways of communication, birth, death and regrowth. I found some of the images of mycelium absolutely magical. Their communication and trading systems similar to our own.
These long exposure photographs reveal the wonderful world of fireflies. The photographer based in Okayama, Tsuneaki Hiramitsu, has taken pictures of fireflies for years, often leaving the city to dark, wooded areas where they live. The process to capture the yellow dots involves long exposure photographs of 8 seconds and then superimposing them on the forest images to create the dreamlike scenes. The visual instantly reminded me of what I was trying to achieve in my idea of this secret underground mycorrhizal network.
The Mycorrhizal Highway
I wanted the emphasis to be on the floor drawing, rather than the sculptural trees. I also felt the viewer should be able to enter and experience the space. By creating an under-lit raised floor I felt the sensation of a magical, communicating underground mycorrhizal network could be realised.
A borderless society
In the forest there are no borders, even plants of different species relay on one another. One of the ideas I toyed around with was separating one tree from the forest network, surrounding it with a large metal barrier, contorted and stunted roots which were unable to give or receive water or nutrients from other plants. Underneath this tree I placed a red flashing light, acting like a warning sign or a cry for help.
Trees in our cities grow like this every day and most people think that this is perfectly fine…they survive.
However studies have shown that group plantings of trees in cities do much more than survive. They grow into healthier specimens, much more resilient to drought and disease.
Humans too can live in isolation, our society feels it is normal. We can ‘survive’.