I held three workshops in July 2022 to develop content for the murals. I opened each workshop with a meditation by Joanna Macy (whose work has been deeply influential on my own thinking) to ground us in the space* and focus our attentions. In the morning each participant chose sixteen words from a collection of feelings and emotions I had put together through my research. We looked into ourselves to see if we could find colours and textures that described these states in a visual manner. Each person generated their own palette of colours and feelings that was unique to them.
In the afternoon, we used our personal colour palettes to re-populate in the empty graph and data visualization drawings I had prepared from my research. This process was about how we could use the colours to describe an emotional journey through climate crisis. Every participant thought about how we might honour the pain we feel about ecological degradation, but also go forth with feelings of possibility and respect for the planet to implement change. During the workshops we also listened to a soundtrack I compiled with songs relating to ecology and climate, from Ursula Le Guin to Samsa, which is available for everyone to access.
During the workshop we worked with the same paint that I was using to make the murals in the courtyard. I used only about seven litres of paint for all the workshops and murals, being as economical as I could with my materials. As my paint had a petrochemical base (acrylic), and I was unable to find a more ecological paint for the production, I felt it was important to be mindful with our materials and as sparing as possible.
Once participants had completed their colour palettes and paintings, we put all the responses up on the walls of my studio at IMMA and took a moment to look at it together before going our separate ways. My job then began to interpret their works into a scheme for the courtyard. I included the work of every participant, through their colours as well as their designs. I individually hand-mixed every colour to match it exactly to those made during the workshops, in order to be able to give value to all the different emotions and colour responses we were able to access during the sessions.
All photographs of the Kind Words Can Never Die workshops are by Louis Hough
Karen Aguiar, Hanora Bagnell, James Bridle, Zephyr Bridle, Emmett Cathcart, Paola Catizone, Ciara Denham, Grainne Doyle, Trish Duffe, Thomas Duffy, Carmel Ennis, Rachel Fallon, Cathy Fitzgerald, Annie Fletcher, Monica Flynn, Elizabeth Fuller, Paula Galvin, Éidín Griffin, Marese Hickey, Josee Hodgkinson, Terry Hodgkinson, Alexandra Hoppe, Janice Hough, Mary Hoy, Barbara Keary, Christina Kennedy, Owen Kennedy, Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Emilia Krysztofiak, Deirdre Lane, Roxana Manouchehri, Máire O’Higgins, Béibhinn O’Higgins, Sadhbh O’Higgins, Ellie O’Sullivan, Laragh Pittman, Sarah Quinn, Evy Richards, Rosa Roach Arthur, Ruth-Anne Ryan, India Ryan, Jennifer Rylands, Leda Scully, Emma Sheridan, Rachel Sheridan, Maria Vincentelli, Peter Willis and Monika Ziel.
This simple spoken Gaia meditation composed by John Seed and Joanna Macy, guides us into precise and close identification with the elements and with the evolving life-forms of Earth.
What are you? What am I? Intersecting cycles of water, earth, air and fire – that’s what I am, that’s what you are.
WATER – blood, lymph, mucus, sweat, tears, inner oceans tugged by the moon, tides within and tides without. Streaming fluids floating our cells, washing and nourishing through endless riverways of gut and vein and capillary. Moisture pouring in through and out of you, of me, in the vast poem of the hydrological cycle. You are that. I am that.
EARTH – matter made from rock and soil. It too is pulled by the moon as the magma circulates through the planet heart and roots suck molecules into biology. Earth pours through us, replacing each cell in the body every seven years. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we ingest, incorporate and excrete the earth, are made from earth. I am that. You are that.
AIR – the gaseous realm, the atmosphere, the planet’s membrane. The inhale and the exhale. Breathing out carbon dioxide to the trees and breathing in their fresh exudations. Oxygen kissing each cell awake, molecules moving in constant metabolism, interpenetrating. That dance of the air cycle, breathing the universe in and out again, is what you are, is what I am.
FIRE – fire from our sun that fuels all life, drawing up plants and raising the waters to the sky to fall again replenishing. The inner furnace of your metabolism burns with the fire that first sent matter/energy flaring out through space and time. This is the same fire as the lightening that flashed into the primordial soup, catalyzing the birth of organic life.
You were there I was there, for each cell of our bodies is descended in an unbroken chain from that event through the desire of atom for molecule, of molecule for cell, of cell for organism. In that sprawling of forms, death was born, born simultaneously with sex, before we divided from the plant realm. So in our sexuality we can feel ancient stirrings that connect us with plant as well as animal life. We come from them, an unbroken chain – through fish learning to walk the land, scales turning to wings, through migrations in the ages of life.
We have been but recently in human form. If Earth’s whole history were compressed in 24 hours beginning at midnight, organic life would begin only at 5pm … mammals emerge at 11.30pm … and from amongst them at only seconds to midnight, our species.
In our long planetary journey we have taken far more ancient forms than these we now wear. Some of these forms we remember in our mother’s womb, take on vestigial tails and gills, grow fins that turn to hands. Countless times in that journey we died to old forms, let go of old ways, allowing new ones to emerge. But nothing is ever lost. Though forms pass, all returns. Each worn-out cell consumed, recycled … through mosses, leeches, birds of prey…
Think to your next death. Give your flesh and bones back to the cycle. Surrender. Love the plump worms you will become. Launder your weary being through the fountain of life.
Beholding you I behold as well all the different creatures that compose you – the mitochondria in the cells, the intestinal bacteria, the life teeming on the surface of the skin. The great symbiosis that is you. The incredible coordination and cooperation of countless beings. You are that, too, just as your body is part of a much larger symbiosis, living in wider reciprocities. Be conscious of that give-and-take when you move among trees. Breathe your carbon dioxide to a leaf and sense it breathing fresh oxygen back to you.
Remember again and again the old cycles of partnership. Draw on them in this time of trouble. By your very nature and the journey you have made, there is in you the deep knowing of belonging. Draw on it now in this time of fear. You have earth-bred wisdom of your interexistence with all that is. Take courage and power in it now, that we may help each other awaken in this time of peril.