Together we rise

Ciara Chan traverses the terrain which comprises the EARTH RISING sustainability festival at IMMA

Scientists have long debated the origins of life but one thing is clear: life exists in cycles. We belong to the land as much as it belongs to us. How poetic: the same energy that courses through us once flowed through the world around us. This energy flow creates a sense of community. For better or worse, we are all a part of this world. As such, we all have a responsibility to the world that provides for us. They don’t call her Mother Nature for nothing. Whether you have a good relationship with your mother or not, none of us can ignore rising temperatures, record-breaking storms and disastrous wildfires. People’s lives are at stake and we can’t leave our original provider high and dry, quite literally. 

Before you flip the page in favour of an article that won’t make you feel guilty and stressed, hear me out. I’m not going to petition you to go vegan, never buy a plastic bottle again or move to a small woodland cabin and live off the land (#backtonaturegirlie). It’s simply not feasible. However, we can aim to live within our means. Alienating dairy and meat farmers isn’t the answer. Instead, we should strive to come together as a community to develop creative solutions. When I spoke with IMMA Director Annie Fletcher, she acknowledged the importance of engaging in discussion: “these issues are provocative and you think: ‘Oh, […] we should try and deal with it next year’”. Last year’s EARTH RISING festival was plant-based which subsequently caused tensions with dairy and meat farmers. This year’s Field Kitchen “thinks about the politics of food,” recognising the importance of coming up with sustainable solutions while also supporting dairy and meat farmers “because it’s such a big part of what Irish society runs on economically”. The eco-friendly festival centres around these discussions, simultaneously considering the needs of the environment while also supporting the community. How can we, as a community, come together? How can we work together to come up with sustainable solutions amidst this climate crisis?

Given today’s increasingly complex society, people are more and more desperate for simple solutions. Has anyone else stopped watching the news because it’s sure to cause feelings of despair and hopelessness? Fletcher cites the EARTH RISING festival as a way to combat that anguish “because the only way really […], as human beings, to […]stop feeling that despair and isolation, is to create community”. There is no simple solution to climate change except to support each other in this unprecedented and precarious time. “Creativity and making is a real way of releasing yourself from anxiety,” says Fletcher. The artistic “embodied experience” of the EARTH RISING festival helps us recalibrate ourselves as “artists and creatives are people who help us process” those feelings of hopelessness. While acknowledging the importance of assembling as a community, Fletcher also admits she is amazed by the energy contributors brought to the festival. Last year, 9,000 people attended a three day festival. This year, Fletcher hopes to see around 20,000 people over four days. 

When asked about her motivation for getting involved in climate advocacy, Fletcher confesses she saw it as a natural transition from accepting the position of IMMA’s Director. While admitting museums are “not particularly sustainable structures”, she sees this shortcoming as all the more reason to contribute. She sees IMMA as a possible pioneer since “a museum can voice what the public wants and needs and thinks about.” Fletcher talks about her love for the site and how well it works for hosting EARTH RISING saying: “One of the greatest things about this site is it’s a historical building. I think that’s perfect for us. It’s full of legacy but it’s so sustainable to use it and reuse it and rethink it and that’s why I absolutely love the site […]. We just have this contemporary lens on an incredible site of both heritage and history and, you know, why build something new when you can reuse and rework something so extraordinary as this and fill it with life?” It’s poetic isn’t it? In a world where we are constantly talking about reusing and recycling as essential for a sustainable future, that a museum — built for one purpose — can be used for so many others. Throughout the museum’s history, this adaptive process has remained a constant. So has the sense of community. For instance, the arches in the courtyard were “built for conviviality, for people to be together” or initially, for soldiers to take refuge from the rain. Given this legacy of conviviality, who came out to display their brilliance? 

Nature Doesn’t Do Binaries, Only Spectrums 

Amelia Caulfied’s installation, Nature Doesn’t Do Binaries, Only Spectrums acknowledged the complexities of confronting the climate crisis. Stepping into Studio 10 on Thursday, September 21, the opening day of the Festival, I found myself confronted with thought-provoking activity and difficult discussion I was not altogether prepared for. Surrounded by banners and chalk boards in a white room with foldable tables that gave me vivid flashbacks to summer camp, Caulfied asked the viewer to take responsibility. By engaging with one idea from each of the three banners labelled “themes”, “intentions”, and “actions”, viewers had to consider potential solutions. Doodle on paper, engage with fellow participants, or simply sit in silence and contemplate: Nature Doesn’t Do Binaries, Only Spectrums took into consideration the limitations of black and white solutions. Evidently, our world requires policymakers to consider various perspectives when formulating their solutions. Once done with their doodle, contributors were asked to stick their paper up on the wall, creating a collage of drawings; a community of ideas. 

Rediscover Fashion

Moving over to the workshop tent, I continued to engage with art. At the Rediscovery Centre’s table, Rediscover Fashion, festival-goers were encouraged to sit down and try their hand at the Japanese repair technique sashiko in a communal project of sewing a banner out of recycled jeans. The stand targeted a young audience, asking them to rethink fashion. Why throw away an old pair of jeans when you can repair and reimagine them into something new and improved? Whether artistically challenged or a natural at sewing, the basic stitching of sashiko made it an easy activity to get involved in. Rediscover Fashion combined sustainable uses of material with community.

After sewing a line in the banner, I already felt like I was engaging in something bigger than myself. I may not meet everyone who contributed to the construction of the banner, which will take place throughout the festival, but I have still dipped my toe in the water and taken part in a bigger community. In the way that a community of festival goers will come together to repair jeans and create something new, our larger community, which encompasses everyone who considers this world home, must come together to address and repair our environment. 

Timber #loveinthepark 

A collaboration between Eiden Griffen, Micharl Collins, Siobhan Quinlan, Abigail Joffe, and Mary Burke. Enough said. Just kidding, but their sense of community and cooperation is beautiful in itself. Walking up to the stand, I was met with friendly faces, arts and crafts, and … a QR code? Scanning the code brought me to an online quiz, which evaluated my love match in nature: a species that, based on my relationship preferences, I drew a connection to. From there, I was asked to write a love letter to my love match (apparently mine is a curlew) which I then glued to silver cardboard and hung on a string in front of the stall with the other notes that blew in the wind. Between the forest built out of arts and crafts surrounding the stand and the friendly faces there to greet you, it was the perfect way to fall back in love with our environment and appreciate all that it does for us along with the beauty it creates. 

Feast Upon the Earth

Greeted by the smell of incense and the sound of calming music, Tom and Pam Butler’s pilot programme started me off at the beginning of time. Their “time-scape”, marked by canvases that travelled across the walls of the studio, walked me through from the time where nothing else existed except energy all the way to the present. As I read through the canvases, the music sped up and the space between each message closed up. The installation intended to shock the viewer with the intense reality of our energy uses and the question of “who owns the Earth?” Once sufficiently rattled, spectators were provided a place to process the ferocity: a “wall of thoughts and feelings” on which they were encouraged to write something. 

Fibreshed Ireland: Woven From Our Soil

Upon a second visit to the workshop tent, I stopped by Fibreshed Ireland’s stand, Woven From Our Soil. Their message of soil to soil emphases the importance of using sustainable resources, from the land, that can be composted and reused within our lifetime as opposed to taking millions of years to break down like so many of the synthetic fibres that circulate through the fashion industry. The problem is, natural fibres are more expensive and the soil to soil process is not profitable in today’s economy. The solution is to change what we find valuable, favouring quality over quantity. The issues that Fibreshed are tackling are indicative of the larger issues created by a global economy that champions profit over the reality of what human beings require to flourish. 

Dr. Vandana Shiva: Earth Rising, Women Rising

As I made my way out of the festival, I stopped at the People’s Pavilion where Dr. Vandana Shiva’s talk, Earth Rising, Women Rising, was being projected via Zoom. With passion, she declared that all humans are part of the same ecosystem — despite facing the tragedy of possible extinction, we must take care of the world to care for ourselves and for future generations. She spoke on the importance of seeing ourselves as connected to the Earth. In viewing ourselves as separate from the world around us, we limit the possibilities of what we can achieve. She linked the notion of a patriarchal society with the capitalist institutions that are leading to our downfall as a species. She warned of the dangers of narrowly defining terms such as success and modernity while also emphasising the beauty in complexity. Complexity allows us to appreciate the world around us: consider the Irish language, which has 32 different terms for “field”. Complex relationships, Shiva explained, challenge epistemological hierarchies. There is freedom in interconnected life, freedom that no monetary value can claim.

How can we create an economy of love and passion? How do we tackle these real life issues that loom on the horizon, keeping us up at night as they haunt our dreams? What do we do when those dreams, those events that seem to belong to a horrible sci-fi novel actually surround us in day-to-day life? Well I can tell you for sure that none of us can face it alone. The EARTH RISING festival creates an environment in which you are asked to face tough realities with a hopeful lens. You see hardships ahead and yet you also see a community embracing you, welcoming you, lifting you up as you all rise together in order to create a more sustainable future. Art and conviviality may just be the solutions we need to save our planet. How else can you effectively convey a roller coaster of contradictory emotions: feelings of despair that leave you hopeful and determined?