River Culture was was the outcome of a six-day collaborative research and production project between Deirdre O’Mahony and the South Tipperary Rural Arts Group (STRAG).
This resulted in an installation and short film designed to animate a discussion about the social, cultural and ecological importance of the basin of the River Suir. The project was conceived as a conceptual structure that would serve as a locus for discussion between visiting groups, local artists and volunteer groups during a weekend festival, Inspiring Rural Creativity. A number of key actions emerged from an initial meeting. The event would have a focus on the hunting and fishing culture of the river Suir and incorporate food; an installation using video projection of filmed interviews and a temporary pop-up museum. The South Tipperary Museum curator, Marie McMahon, offered access to the museum collection which includes a Suir cot (fishing boat) and hunting and fishing related tools and the group agreed to source hunting and fishing related objects for the temporary museum.
Deirdre O'Mahony, Stag, Photographic digital print 2013. (Copyright the artist).
Potential sites were examined and the group settled on a community centre in Burncourt. This had a large hall, a kitchen, a building at the back that resembled a boatshed and a surrounding paved area suitable for cooking and serving food outdoors. The plan was ambituous and the group’s commitment was central to its delivery. They organised meetings with some of those who hunt and fish in the region including Mark Rylands who is involved in local angling clubs. Mark introduced me to two individuals, Peter Butler and John Lawlor both of whom have extensive knowledge of the river its uses and history.
On my next visit I began to record interviews with them and they reiterated concerns, encountered in other landscapes, of a persistent disregard by State departments of tacit, place-based knowledge. Repeatedly one hears cases of scientists ignoring evidence presented by local knowers of clear cases of state or semi-state practices having a detrimental effect on local ecosystems. Peter Butler gave a clear account of his eighty plus year’s experience and observation of the river and its health:
He (the minister) was talking about the water and such … he should go into the Caoillte stores and see what they are using on the trees there. I mean that’s from experience, from looking at the streams and looking at the fish that were in them and they’re gone, they’re just gone, and it wasn’t I done away with them.
Projected film in Burncourt Community Centre Shed. Photograph by John Crowley
During the festival the interview with Peter was projected in the shed on an unpainted, stained wall.
The STRAG group organised a collection of old fishing and hunting tools and equipment and together with the museum loans these were installed in the hall. The barbeque and smoker were set up outside the shed and proved a popular attraction on the day even though the smoker did not work quite as intended.
The Pop-up Museum at Burncourt Community Centre June 26 - 28th 2013. Photographs by John Crowley
Retrospectively the project achieved what was intended attracting and engaging a local audience. It was interesting working to such a very tight timeline as my usual practice is to work over time allowing space for relationships to grow and ideas to unfold collaboratively. Clearly this was not possible in this instance, nonetheless the material and process produced a space where place-based knowledge became visible, not as “heritage” but as an active and urgent part of everyday life in the region.
To see an excerpt of the River Culture film and installation please click here.
Particular thanks to the STRAG group, Sally O'Leary, Conor O'Leary of Artlands, South Tipperary Arts Office, Marie Mc Mahon and the staff at the South Tipperary County Museum. Without the assistance of Mark Rylands, John Lawlor and Peter Butler the film would not have been possible.
RIVER CULTURE was a part of the 'Inspiring Rural Creativity' project that was part of the Arts Council’s EU Presidency programme for Culture Connects. It is also supported by South Tipperary County Council through the INTERREG funded Green & Blue Futures Initiative and The Gathering 2013.