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There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day . . . . or for many years or stretching cycles of years

–Walt Whitman

This work is a series of public interventions exploring the relationship between the communities of Galway and their Trees during a month long residency on the west coast of Ireland in May of 2018.

This human/tree relationship is foundational to Irish culture in language and mythology and so, before arrival, I fully expected to find communities and municipalities aligned with an eco sensibility that reflected this rich history. What I found instead was a landscape that was almost entirely devoid of trees. Less than 1% of Ireland is forested with native woodland. What shocked me most though was the repeated mutilation of urban trees ostensibly to maintain the integrity of concrete, and boundary walls. Sometimes this mutilation occurred for no reason or, the removal of the tree was done in such a ridiculous manner that the problems caused by the tree weren’t solved anyway. In almost every case the neighbourhood residents I spoke to expressed dismay or grief over the loss of the tree. The walls that required the sacrifice of the tree maintained the division of people and did nothing more than conceal the covert dumping of rubbish.

If this relationship between the Irish and their trees went as deep as I believed, then these acts appeared to me like a kind of self harm, a culture in crisis. Mind you, this wounding, this disassociation from nature, is seen on a global scale, but the loss here seemed deeper to me.

 

Deisiú is the Irish word for repair.

Several sites were selected around Galway and a healing action was applied. Copper leaf was affixed to the wound site of the tree forming a bandage. This act formed a healing on several levels; materially, copper protects the wound site and as it breaks down, it naturally enriches the soil surrounding the tree making growing conditions better for the surrounding vegetation and trees. Metaphysically, copper is linked to Venus, love, beauty, warmth and harmonious relationships. Socially, this action prompted a new awareness of the community of trees in local neighborhoods. It prompted conversations with residents about their relationship to trees, nature, spirits, language, history, oppression, their neighbourhood, their government, and most of all, communication with each other. This intervention prompted all kinds of amazing conversations and provided a container to discuss feelings of despair or anxiety as a consequence of denying basic ecological instincts.

At a site in Rahoon, an 8 year old boy came out and helped me with the oak stump ‘because it was more fun than playing his video game’. For over 2 hours we chatted and worked applying the copper, which he was really quite good at. During that time, other neighbours came out and discussed the tree. A 75 year old retiree who took it upon himself to look after the garden surrounds even though it was council property, a woman from Nigeria who discussed how she missed the trees of her country, a 17 year old girl fascinated and hopeful that ‘artist’ can actually be an occupation. Everyone remembered the oak and how large it was, how old it must’ve been. Nobody was consulted about its removal. Everyone assumed it was because it was ‘interfering with the wall’.