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Artists ‘must move beyond the ego to the eco’ in responding to the climate crisis

Game Changers: Lisa Fingleton is using her art to get to the heart of the debate over land use and farming

Lisa Fingleton believes there’s a role for everyone in climate action. “As artists we are being asked to move beyond the ego to the eco,” she wrote recently. “We are being asked to respond to the climate crisis and work in collaboration with nature.” For Fingleton, that means using art to get into the heart of our debate over land use and farming.

As part of a Creative Ireland climate action project, Fingleton has been working with 10 farmers on the Dingle Peninsula as their “embedded artist”, reimagining an environmentally-friendly farming model with fact-finding trips, interviews, short films, drawings and plenty of imagination.

There are multiple issues that need to be addressed, and the Corca Dhuibhne Inbhuanaithe project aimed to be both practical and inspiring. Fingleton and the farmers took trips to see projects such as an anaerobic digestion system, where farm waste is turned into energy. They visited organic farms and an agri-tourism farm. “From a creative point of view it was about taking issues and trying to transform them into a vision,” Fingleton says. As a film-maker, writer and farmer grower in Ballybunion “all my work is about the land”, she says. She has been the power behind the 30-day local food challenge, held every September, where she aims to eat food produced in her locality. Just 1 per cent of Irish farms grow vegetables, the lowest proportion in Europe.

She found that a lot of the project was about listening. “It’s quite complicated because every farm is different and there’s no one-size-fits-all,” she says. What the project has allowed her to do is to hear the voices of the farmers, many of whom are discovering more about their farms by looking at their biodiversity, and hopefully get those voices to a wider audience of both farmers and consumers. At last year’s National Ploughing Championships, with the help of artists from Waterford Walls, she turned farmers’ ideas and feedback into a 33-metre drawing. The art was transported to the Irish Museum of Modern Art for the Earth Rising festival. “The marks from the rain and the soil were embedded in the wall, creating a truly organic and time specific art work,” she wrote.


Last month, 10 short films, Voices from the Field, one from each of the farms involved in the project, were shown in the Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhór in Dunquin. “The screening was amazing ... a full house despite the snow and remoteness,” Fingleton says. It has also been shown in the Visual in Carlow.

The hope is for a creative and hopeful picture of future farming that could spread from the peninsula to the rest of the island to inspire other farmers. We all have a responsibility to take action to support biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but those who own the land and farm the resources have the opportunity to do things at scale.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests