Christine Mackey: Fortifying Beds
Christine Mackey employs diverse disciplines, subject matter and tactics in devising works that can generate different kinds of knowledge of place - their hidden histories and ecological formations. Using diverse graphic sources and quasi-scientific methods, her work explores the interactive potential of art as a research and pedagogical tool; its capacity for social and environmental change and as a way of organizing diverse knowledge systems for a ‘social’ model of practice coupled with diverse publics.
About Fortifying Beds
Fortify – alludes to the history of ‘fortification’ i.e. military forts and to ‘fortify (i.e. tonic) would allude to the properties of herbs to heal and strengthen the body – ‘bed’ relates to both a place of resting and a place for growing plants.
Dictionary definition: to make strong: as
a : to strengthen and secure (as a town) by forts or batteries
b : to give physical strength, courage, or endurance to <fortified by a hearty meal>
c : to add mental or moral strength to : encourage <fortified by prayer>
d : to add material to for strengthening or enriching <fortified milk>
The initial approach for this residency programme began as a series of research walks following the numerous pathways and trails man-made and ‘natural’ at Fort Dunree. These landscape lines or fissures proved to be important biodiversity spots teeming with wild plants and herbs.
Embarking on a series of collections of these plants led to an indebth reading of the healing properties specific to each plant. This discipline – ‘ethno botany’ explores the complex relationships between cultures and (uses of) plants focusing primarily on how plants are used, managed and perceived across human societies.
The first written account of ethno botany in Ireland (to the best of my knowledge) was by Michael Francis Moloney in 1919. He wrote about the evolution of medicine in Ireland in relation to the medicinal quality of land, and marine wildflowers beginning with the Pre-Christian or Druidic period.
Fundamental questions that arises from this inquiry is the debate between scientific reasoning and indigenous knowledge and the cultural variances in how plants are used, who has the right to use and own them and where these plants are ‘permitted’ to grow.
This approach considers the progression of my work in recent times, specifically around land use and community gardening, locational practice and the politics of seeds and food.
I am interested in ethno botany within the context of Fort Dunree because of the historical complexity of this manmade environment built as a site of fortification now physically dormant in terms of its original use, but overrun with botanical diversification. So this place carries not only a geo-morphology of political occupation but it also encompasses a new kind of occupation (one that conflates borders) the bio-morphology of flora and fauna. With this background in mind, I will re-develop one of the physical sites as a living herbarium. Rather then bringing in materials to construct this re-medial space, I will use found materials – from bricks to wood from metal to seeds (that I have begun collecting this September).
The garden will not be designed with a particular aesthetic in mind but will instead be dictated by the specific ‘healing’ properties for each plant. The initial layout for this space will also be based on a number of target practice boards that have been photographed. Utilizing the layout of these boards - the traces of the gun-shots will be used as markers for each of the plant beds.
During this time, I also discovered the work of botanist Henry Chister Hart (1847-1908) b. Dublin but lived most of his working life in Donegal - appointed High Sheriff in Donegal 1895. He was an amateur botanist and published The Flora of County Donegal in 1898. Working from his original imprint, I will utilize both Hart and Moloney’s publications to write a counter narrative of the site in relation to the plants. This work will be additional to the garden and will be developed as a number of permanent ‘sign boards’ displayed in the garden.
This Phase 2 will develop, with the provision of additional support in spring 2014, an outdoor garden space that will act as a unique ‘plein-air’ artist’s studio or ‘studio without walls’ to be facilitated by Artlink, which will initially illustrate the artist’s Phase 1 findings as a source of learning and information about the healing and strenghtening properties of the local naturally occurring resources, and be a stimulating environment within which over the coming years ecologically aware artists and activists will be commissioned by Artlink to develop further projects onsite.
The legacy of this project is to leave a space intact that has the potential to be developed in new and creative ways for the community of Dunree. It will be a garden both for contemplation and creative education as opposed to a site of agitation and destruction (without sounding too reductionist!).
Link to The Potting Shed - phase 2 of this project
Artist BiographyChristine Mackey recently graduated with a practice-based PhD from the University of Ulster, Belfast in 2012 supported by a Vice Chancellor Research Scholarship (2007-10).
Past awards include The Arts Council of Ireland; Leitrim County Council; Culture Ireland; Open EV + A Limerick (2003); and the A.I.B Emerging Award (short-listed 2004).
She has participated on a number of national and international residency programmes including Cambridge Sustainable, UK (2013); Sideways, Belgium (2012); RIAA, Argentina (2009); Drawing Spaces, Lisbon, Portugal (2009); e-MobilArt: European Mobile Lab for Interactive Media Artists (2008-9); TRADE with lead artist Alfredo Jaar, Leitrim/Roscommon Co.Co. (2008) and IMMA (2004).
Recent solo exhibitions include Labour on … Draoicht Arts Centre (2013); SEED MATTER Limerick City Gallery of Art (2013); Living Fields The Leitrim Sculpture Centre (2012) and Seed Matter and Other Stories The Butler Gallery (2011). She has devised a range of public art commissions as publication including SEED MATTER (2013); A Year in the Field (2012) Fingal County Council; RIVERworks (2008) Sligo Councty Council; and TIDINGS from here to there (2006) Dublin City Council. She is currently developing new work for group exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin this coming autumn.