Lay of the Land Project (Interview)

Lay of the Land Project is a site responsive art project and visual arts organisation created by Kari Cahill and Hazel McCague in Ireland. I met Kari in Dublin Flea market, and at that point I have been following Lay of the Land Project for the past few months, and I was excited to hear what they have in store for the coming year. Few weeks later we organised an interview, and I am excited to share the story of the project and upcoming workshops and artist residencies of Lay of the Land Project (LOTL).

You can follow the upcoming projects on their Instagram page or sign up to their newsletter. They have upcoming weaving workshop on Sunday, March 18, in Dublin, Ireland, and artist residency series CALAFORT from March 21 to March 25, Donegal, Ireland. There are many ways how you can support the continuation of this art project, get in touch with Kari and Hazel or simply head over here.

Kari + Hazel on the TOMBOLO headland. Photo by Eadaoin Mc Carthy.

My Good Planet: Hi Kari and Hazel, could you please tell us a little about yourselves, your background and how you came to the idea of Lay of the Land Project?

Lay of the Land Project: We both come from art backgrounds having studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, and in recent years had been working on many large scale installations for events and festivals. This work gave us a really strong skill set – practical skills for building large scale pieces, as well as a really good insight into how to produce events. We had worked together loads of times over the years, and while on builds we would often chat about the possibilities of working more directly with the landscape. This is where the first notions of Lay of the Land started. Initially, we wanted to simply build a collaborative sculpture on the coast in West Cork. We were motivated by a desire to fully immerse our artistic creative process in the natural landscapes of wild Ireland. But our idea grew legs, and this led to the formation of Lay of the Land (LOTL), which is now a visual arts organization that has given us and other emerging artists the opportunity to reconnect with the Irish landscape and work collaboratively to produce art that directly responds to it. At its core LOTL wants to challenge artists and audiences, by both making art more accessible and integrated into the lives, communities and landscapes around us, and by forcing artists to create artworks of a quality and depth demanded by the magnitude of our surroundings.

MGP:  Please tell us a bit more about Lay of the Land Project and art that focuses and responds to the landscape around it.

LOTL: We produce powerful, imaginative and considered projects that encourage artists and their practice to engage with the landscape surrounding them while forging deeper connections with local community and the history and heritage of that landscape.

Our projects include exhibitions, residencies, dialogue, short-term projects and workshops in an ever-growing number of remote locations throughout Ireland. Geography, locality, topography, aesthetics, community and history feature strongly.  The art is drawn from the local and national history of the surrounding landscape, from the relationship between the land masses and ocean, and by integrating knowledge from the surrounding communities.

We support emerging artists whose practices focus on the landscape, and where themes of environment, community, heritage and collaboration are intrinsic to and reflected in their work.

For all of our projects, the artists work outside of the studio in a manner and on a scale that the landscape dictates. Coupled with the immersive and collaborative aspect of the process this provides a greater openness and freeness of experimentation, which ultimately produces unparalleled, innovative and informed sculptural works of art.  The reaction between the artists and the land directly informs the way in which the audience experiences the works. The sheer scale, beauty and magnetic draw of this island has enabled the creation of innovative and illuminating exhibitions that encourage open and relaxed discussion between artists and audience. We believe that the interconnection of art nature and people can be transformative, and TOMBOLO has been a testament to that.

Tombolo temporary Workshop inside the Cow Shed overlooking Galley Cove. Photo by Eadaoin Mc Carthy.

MGP:  So far there has been TOMBOLO 2016 and TOMBOLO 2017. Could you please tell us a bit more about these projects and the landscape that you chose and why? Will there be TOMBOLO 2018?

LOTL: TOMBOLO began in 2016, and this was the ‘legs’ that I mentioned earlier. In two months our idea of making a sculpture together in West Cork turned into a site responsive visual arts event, and we were joined by four female emerging artists in a two-week residency, developing and creating a series of sculptural installations on the remote location of Brow Head. We spent two weeks outside exploring, planning, and building 13 pieces of art. The pieces all drew directly from the landscape, with one sculpture made from old tractor tyres for instance. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the community – Margie Jean Lewis recorded local Sean Nós singer Peggy which she layered with sounds from the quartz covered headland. The weather here in September can be pretty temperamental, and so we experienced all kinds of seasons. Strong winds battered the peninsula but we pushed through, lugging large farming materials across the headland. The residency culminated in a three-day exhibition in which over 250 members of the public journeyed to the tip of the peninsula to experience the site and the works of art that responded to it.

The exhibition was a huge success, and we were compelled to see how the project would develop in 2017. Last September we produced TOMBOLO 2017. This involved eight new artists, a larger production team, bigger audience, longer running time, and together we produced 17 artworks. We were all incredibly proud of TOMBOLO, and the work that was created while on site. It is also important for us to mention the absolutely incredible crew of volunteers, friends, family and locals that make the project happen.

From an audience, perspective TOMBOLO is an invitation to explore the landscape. We have created visual representations of our experience and through the exhibition trail we bring the audience through our creative process. Running alongside the exhibition we also have workshops, food stalls, coffee, chats, and some small music performances in our Cow Shed, and most visitors take a dip into the Atlantic at Galley cove after a session in Bosca Beatha, the mobile sauna that sets up for the entire project. We are establishing TOMBOLO as an annual art event and are continuing to develop strategies to further integrate, and enhance the experience of the surrounding communities as well as opening it up to an international audience.

MGP: As part of the Lay of the Land Project you also organise various workshops, where people from all walks of life can come and join and create something with their hands. What are the next upcoming events and workshops that people can attend? Where is the best place where they can keep up to date with upcoming projects and workshops?

LOTL: Yeah, we have so many ideas for the future of Lay of the Land, and now the possibilities seem endless. This year we will be running TOMBOLO 18, which will run at the end of September again. We also have weave workshops, which up to now have been at the Fumbally Stables, which is an incredible space if anyone doesn’t know about it. The workshops are a great way for us to open up the arts to a wider community, many of which do not come from an art background. We have also just launched our new residency series CALAFORT which will take place on the 21-25th of March in An Port Donegal.

CALAFORT: An Port, is remotely situated to the north-west of the Gaeltacht region of Glencolmcille and lies where the wild Northwest Coast of Ireland meets the Atlantic Ocean. Overlooking Port there is an old stone cottage where the artists in residence will live and work.

The location will provide the artists with a powerful backdrop for their development. The days will involve long walks exploring the landscape; engaging with it and each other will encourage the artists to gain a greater understanding of where their practice lies. Group discussions will centre around an overarching question of “What is the current cultural landscape of Ireland”? There will be an emphasis on documentation, skill swapping sessions and time alone for each resident to explore the direction their work is taking. Without the constraints of producing something final, residents will be free to create without expectations. CALAFORT is open to artists, makers, and creatives from all backgrounds.

The best place to find out what we’re up to is through our Instagram page. We also update our website regularly and have been known to send out sporadic newsletters.

Audience/visitors at TOMBOLO 17 exploring the tip of Brow Head Peninsula. The most Southerly tip of the Irish Mainland. Photo by Eadaoin Mc Carthy.

MGP: How people can get involved with Lay of the Land Project and support what you are doing?

LOTL: Shoot us an email! Send us some money! Lend us your tools, your vans, and donate food and fuel! Haha!

No but really, we are always delighted to hear from anyone who wants to get involved – we may not have immediate work, but when projects roll around we’re always glad to have people willing to support us with their time, energy, and expertise. We honestly couldn’t do it without the hard work and dedication of the incredible crew who work with us. We are also incredibly lucky here in Ireland that there is a thriving creative support network spanning the length and breadth of the country.

There’s a worry with all artistic endeavours, that they become financially unsustainable. We face a constant uphill battle to fund our projects. Lay of the Land’s success depends on individuals and organisations dedicated to unique and progressive artistic endeavours. TOMBOLO is enabled by crowd sourced funding, local businesses, and supporters of the arts throughout Ireland. One thing that we always say to anyone looking to start something, is that if you don’t ask you can’t be told ‘yes’, and each of our projects is proof of the generosity people are willing to give you when they believe in what you do!

Baiba Šustere

Baiba Šustere is a staff writer and wellness expert for My Good Planet. Specialising in mindfulness, health and wellbeing, Baiba's work has inspired and touched many of our readers over the course of her time with us. Her time studying to become a Yoga teacher in India gave her a unique perspective on life; one which she generously shares with us regularly.

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