Askeaton Contemporary Arts

THE EXPANDED FIELD

Co-curated by Lismore Castle Arts and Askeaton Contemporary Arts, The Expanded Field was an exhibition, nationwide public programme and series of artist residencies in 2017 and 2018, collectively exploring the multifaceted nature of the Irish landscape. Aiming to find new methodologies and reflections on the urgent issues it faces today, artists Stuart Whipps, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Olivia Plender, The Domestic Godless, Superfolk and Filip Van Dingenen all developed new artworks. Using Askeaton in Limerick and Lismore in Waterford as initial bases, The Expanded Field artists established many contexts to dwell and work within. Their journeys branched out to uninhabited islands, schoolrooms and quarries, with keen research interests and inquisitive stances finding unexpected and rarely explored terrains - everywhere has a story to tell and secrets to divulge.

The Domestic Godless are Cork-based artists Stephen Brandes, Irene Murphy and Mick O’Shea, known for their irreverent attitude to the food and drinks industry. They launched their new Spirit of Munster Collection, a series of alcoholic drinks derived from extensive ramblings around the province. Many unusual ingredients feature in the six variations available. Their home brew Surf’n’Turf recalls the taste of beef and lobster dishes popular in the region during the 1980s, while a fungus in the shape of a monkey’s head, found growing on vandalised sycamore stumps of suburban Cork City has been distilled in another tipple entitled Ceann Muncaí.

The Center for Land Use Interpretation, founded in 1994, is a nonprofit research and cultural organization interested in exploring and understanding contemporary landscape issues in the USA, through exhibitions, publications, online resources, tours, and public programs. Based in Los Angeles, the CLUI is interested in understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the surface of the earth, finding new meanings in the intentional and incidental forms that we individually and collectively create. CLUI programme manager Aurora Tang toured Ireland in 2018, and documented locations such as the M7’s Barrack Obama Plaza, and Lough Boora Sculpture Park in Offaly. Tang’s visit to the Copper Coast, the abandoned extractive industries of the Waterford now a designated UNESCO site, has informed a new work for The Expanded Field, which prompts a comparison between varied sites of mineral extraction on different sides of the globe. Described by CLUI as a landscan, the video shows an elongated aerial flyover in Utah, where solid rock is transformed by mining operations into billions of dollars worth of copper, gold, and silver every year. At one end is the Bingham Pit, a site that its owner, Rio Tinto, claims is the largest man-made excavation on earth. At the other end is the smelter, with a smokestack as tall as the Empire State Building. Between them are processing plants, conveyors, and pipelines carrying the concentrated slurry.

The Algae Summit, an international conference convened by Belgian artist Filip Van Dingenen occurred on uninhabited Coney Island on the Shannon River Estuary. The area, an acknowledged centre of seaweed cultivation from at least medieval times, saw decline and depopulation in the 1950s with the introduction of chemical fertilisers to replace the use of seaweed. Van Dingenen’s gathering of artists, ecologists, policy makers and local inhabitants speaks of this history and the still-unresolved nature of harvesting rights, now subject to aggressive corporate multinational overture.

Asked about his first project in Ireland, Birmingham artist Stuart Whipps says “It’s about stones. It’s also about birds, and about plants, and what it means for these things to shift from one place to another or what it means when we shift our perspective or our way of looking at them.” Various shapes from ‘Miscelanea Structura Curiosa’ a surreal and sometimes grotesque 18th century book on garden design by Birr’s Samuel Chearnley have been remade in stone by Whipps, juxtaposed with an image of corporate-style planting of non-native plants at the Rusal Aughinish bauxite refinery, Ireland’s largest industrial site. In addition, a new film follows the cutting and grinding of limestone to a fragile one millionth-of-a-metre thin section, with resident African Sand Martens nesting in the residual dust created by the process of quarrying the stone.

Superfolk are a Mayo-based design team led by Gearoid Muldowney and Jo Anne Butler. In a new display entitled Trade Roots, their research into the possible future directions of design culture in Ireland are presented in a variety of objects that can be handled and touched by exhibition visitors.  In encountering tactile materials from around the world such as Portuguese cork and Canadian cedar stool, boiled Italian leather and Connemara marble, Superfolk point to a dissolution of borders and nation states. Trade Roots acts as a place of potential, of radicalisation of the everyday through a heightened awareness of materials, of their sourcing, manipulation and exchange as an open, communal activity.

Stockholm-based British artist Olivia Plender is known as an investigator of the social structures that bind together and enforce communities. An artwork, appearing as an instructional school poster, was realised in collaboration with children in Askeaton and Lismore. In asking groups of five to eight year olds to imagine alternative versions of their respective towns, a world upside down emerges, akin to speculative fictions developed by Utopian socialists in the 19th century such as William Morris’ News From Nowhere or Charles Fourier’s visions for a new order free from inequality.  Plender’s workshops evokes how children hold their own surreal perspective, one extremely sensitive to social and power dynamics. In their thoughts, no one dies but difficulties arise about how to feed an ever increasing population; gravity and the difficulty of ploughing upside down are discussed; and conversations abound about whether gender still exists.

Many organisations hosted artists by facilitating a variety of artistic research, production and discursive events. In particular we thank McKeon Stone, Laois; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah; Birr Castle, Offaly; Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Dublin; aemi, Dublin; Askeaton Civic Trust, Limerick; Askeaton National School and Lismore Mochuda National School; The LAB, Dublin; ARC (Art and Research Collaboration programme) IADT, Dun Laoghaire; Lattitudes, Barcelona; Groundwork, Cornwall; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Waldburger Wouters, Brussels; Maureen Paley, London.