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SOFEIR conference.

April 3, 2018


Last week I attended the SOFEIR conference in Dijon, hosted by the University of Burgundy as an invited artist. It was my first attendance at an academic conference, its theme was “From Irish Land to Irish Soil: Materiality and Metaphors” approaching it from the context of  literature, fine art and the broader culture. The variety of papers and approaches was very engaging, it was interesting to hear echoes of my own approach to landscape coming through the discussions of work by writers, poets and performance artists.


Some highlights include the paper on the works of fellow Ulsterman, the poet Derek Mahon, “Remember Life on Earth” by Maryvonne Boisseau and Marion Naugrette-Fournier. This highlighted the poets relationship with the landscape and growing ecological concerns and tied in the work of marine biologist Rachel Carson. Needless to say I’m currently reading both! Eamon Maher’s passionate discussion of the two Irish writers John McGahern and Dermot Healy discussed the importance of place, of connectivity to the land, its associated histories and lived memories as environment within which to tell stories of human relationships and struggle. The ideas of New Materialists referenced through the works of Dorothy Cross, Nigel Rolfe and the dance group Junk Ensemble was discussed by Lisa Fitzgerald. Here it was the physical interaction with the landscape through film, performance or dance where the landscape became a medium in itself to explore narratives of human experience. A special highlight was Dorothy Cashman bringing to life rural Ireland from the accounts book of a Franciscan friary in 1798. Using the accounts to paint a picture of the interactions of the friars within the rural community Dorothy described vividly the vibrant relationships within that setting.


Dorothy Cashman presenting at SOFEIR

For my own talk it was actually very useful to have to do an overview of my practice, how it began and how it has progressed, in addition to trying to frame it in a way that might interest a room full of academics! Looking through and analysing my practice and how it has progressed showed an almost spiralling progression, returning to the same core themes, with refinement, with layers of investigation and evolution. From foundation studies and encountering the work of Andy Goldsworthy, being handed the book “Derek Jarman’s Garden”  by an astute tutor and looking at the forms created by weavers like Lizzy Farey and Joe Hogan grounded my interest in exploring and recording the landscape through materials and objects. This sculptural sensibility set within an object based discipline of silversmithing pushes against each other, the tension between the two to express large ideas in small contained forms  driving the work.



Working visually you don’t always have the words to articulate what are exploring/expressing within your practice so reading The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd with its introduction by Robert MacFarlane as I travel over pinpointed a few ideas that I had been holding. The idea that being in a place is bodily knowledge, a physical sensation which shapes us, not just the conscious intellectual knowledge. The papers in the conference added further to this perspective on my work. It is about, not just the landscape, but the experience of being within it, of being  part of it not separate. The walking, the collecting and even the swimming is about immersion, of feeling fully connected as part of the ecosystem relating to the tides, the seasons and the swoop of seagull equally. This is what I explore through the richness of materiality planted within the forms of domestic objects of silversmithing to reference the daily experience of being human. All in all the conference gave me a deeper appreciation of my practice, something I think I’ll write about in another blog post [this was threatening to get very wordy!], as well as the opportunity to meet some wonderful, warm and interesting people. New steps ahead…



8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2018 11:37 am

    This is an excellent précis of the conference. Stuart’s talk about the genesis of his work and the accompanying illustrations were a highlight for all of us in Dijon. It gave us a real insight into the artistic practice.

    • April 3, 2018 1:47 pm

      Thanks Eamon! You’re too kind!

      • April 3, 2018 2:00 pm

        I merely speak the truth, Stuart. Your talk was inspirational and it would be wonderful if the conference organisers decided to publish it and some of the other papers, as the theme is a very interesting one.

      • April 3, 2018 2:02 pm

        Yes it would be great if the papers where published – very interesting conference- especially the paper you gave!

  2. April 3, 2018 12:51 pm

    Sounds like an interesting conference. I will be following up on some of your unfamiliar references. There seem to be lots of points of connection with ideas I am exploring. Looking forward to further blogs on the subject. Are the conference papers being published?

  3. Bill Mulligan permalink
    September 7, 2018 11:36 pm

    I enjoyed Stuart’s talk and his work really made me think and his presentation made me rethink. It was a great conference but most papers were quite abstracted from the real environment people made and lived in.

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