I Went to the Woods: The Artist as Wanderer
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
–Henry David Thoreau
I Went to the Woods: The artist as wanderer looks at how artists have experienced and portrayed their surroundings in the course of walks, journeys and ramblings. Featuring works by Irish and international artists, the exhibition explores the idea of the drifter, nomad, and traveller, capturing their external environment through the careful observation of their surroundings and the collection of materials, objects and images. In this way, the artists in I Went to the Woods epitomise a sense of individualism and idealism, deliberately turning away from the complications and comforts of modern life. In following Thoreau’s dictum “to live deliberately,” they demonstrate a desire to understand and communicate their own position in the world, on their own terms.
The methods required to survive and adapt to unfamiliar environments are captured in several artworks. Anna Bak’s survivalist shelter constructed of sandbags and tarpaulin and her series of flag-like textile works capture the isolation and solitude that accompany the individual’s withdrawal from modern society. In Helen Mirra’s Hourly directional field recordings, rubbings of oil stick on raw linen record the artist’s walks over the course of a single day. Walker and Walker’s Northern Star is a dimly glowing light embedded in the Northern wall of The Glucksman, while, in another work, the artists align a row of photographic reproductions of Caspar David Friedrich’s landscape paintings to create an unwavering horizon line.
The artist’s walk often results in the foraging, collection and selection of materials as a means of documenting a particular experience. Richard Long is a major figure in conceptual and land art, using mediums of walking, time and distance as the subjects of his work. The materials which he finds are arranged in configurations such as circles and lines, which are “timeless, universal, understandable and easy to make.” herman de vries was originally trained as a botanist and his collages of natural elements reflect a long interest in chance, change, and the environment. Juha Pekka Matias Laakonnen’s sculptural objects are also crafted directly from natural materials—bird bones, moose feces, and spring water—collected by the artist during his forays into the wilderness. These delicate objects and their suggestions of travel, nature and solitude, reveal a distinctly poetic sensibility.
Walking also offers an opportunity to contemplate the immediate environment, to see one’s surroundings anew. Brendan Earley’s sculptures present handmade books and aluminium-cast fragments of modern detritus displayed on large blocks of wood, while his pairings of drawings and walking sticks have been etched with snippets of song lyrics remembered from the artist’s walks in the countryside. Fiona Kelly’s practice stems from her research into abandoned spaces and the careful observation of subtle changes in these environments, with her images meticulously portraying and preserving sites of deterioration. For Ria Pacquée, travel and wandering are essential components of her work, as she collects and arranges images and objects according to their formal affinities. Her installation comprises a survey of spherical objects that the artist has found, the culmination of journeys over several years and across continents.
I Went to the Woods: The artist as wanderer is supported by University College Cork, The Arts Council Ireland, Danish Arts Foundation, Embassy of Denmark Ireland, Flemish Agency for Art and Heritage, and private philanthropy through Cork University Foundation. An exhibition catalogue with essays by the curators accompanies I Went to the Woods. This can be read on this website via the PDF accessible above.