Coming to the Burren felt like coming home. How is it that a place I’d never stepped foot in before could bring back all the old feelings of magic, genuinity, and belonging that had long since been covered up by the “tissue paper facade” of the world, as a dear old friend once put it? Here in the Burren, encouraged by Mary Hawkes-Green on our very first day to tune out the hum and drum of the world and slow down, I have been able to tear down some of these paradigms that have made me feel trapped for so long—the rushing hands of time, the need to appear a certain way to others, the need for my art to appear a certain way to others, the list goes on—and rediscover Art. Not just art in its most visually expressive forms, but a myriad of art forms that have healed my soul and set me on a course to share the magic of the Burren with others. These include the art of pondering. The art of walking. The art of mindfulness. The art of reading. The art of meditation. The art of baking! The art of journaling. The art of wandering. The art of gratitude. The art of giving. The art of feeling, truly feeling, and so forth. These are art forms that have been largely missing from my “home” life as of late, and I’ve come to realize that if I have any hope of advocating for change in this chaotic world, that change needs to start within me!
These changes, and my artistic practice here in the Burren, were catalyzed by moments when I tried to “be still” and listen to what the Burren was trying to tell me. I tried to take the advice of Billy Joel, an artist who has greatly influenced my life, to “slow down, you crazy child! … Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?” And truly, the fire alarms here have all been false alarms. There is no rush, no hurry, there is only time and plenty of it. As I took some of this time to simply observe the natural world, I was astounded by the colors I saw, both figuratively and literally. The brilliant hues of life all seemed to blur together in my hectic schedule back home into one big, muddy mess, but here in these moments of stillness I was met with a brilliant spectrum of life and discovery that seemed to only go deeper the longer I looked. I quickly gleaned a particular fascination with orchids and set out to find as many species of them as I could. This necessitated slowing down as I meandered through the karst landscape, something that does not come naturally to me in the slightest! I was rewarded greatly though, finding not just orchids but many other small treasures that I would have missed entirely if I continued walking at my usual brisk pace. To remember these orchids and retain the spirit of slowing down, I painted small, detailed pictures of six of the species we found to symbolize the intricate beauties that you will miss if you don’t take the time to look for them. To this end, I also set out to find as many 4-leaf clovers as I could, leading to my new favorite form of meditation--clover finding! I learned how to use GIS so that I could map out all the 4-leaf clovers I have found around the world in an effort to show gratitude for them.
Through my pondering and wandering I also gained a particular interest in environmental typography. This is a new definition of “environmental typography” that I had never considered prior to coming here, but I soon realized that type truly is part of the landscape of the burren. There are beautiful words and names carved into stones all around campus and the surrounding area. Through research I discovered these were carved by hand, without a stencil, and there is no digital form of these typefaces to preserve them. I thus embarked on a quest to gather as many “type specimens” as I could so that my typography students in the Fall can help me create a typeface inspired by these unique glyphs. This is a way that I passionately feel we can honor and preserve the rich culture and beauty of this area. I engaged in what Gareth Kennedy would call “experimental archeology” (with a digital twist) and tried to recreate some ancient methods of typography used by Irish stone carvers and Anna Atkins, the British botanist / illustrator that produced the world’s first photography book with cyanotypes. During these explorations I started to see type everywhere. I studied the stone walls, learned from Eamon Doyle that they can be up to 5000-6000 years old, and started to wonder what they would say if they could speak. After all, they have seen so much! This inspired me to create a digital stone wall typeface that can be used to create unique stone walls with your keyboard. This doesn’t have any practical value, really, but is a fun, interactive way to get people to stop and think about how the landscape is trying to communicate with them. The process of creating this font was very reflectionary for me as I created cyanotype negatives from real rocks around the Burren and digitized them, sorted them, and stacked them in a way that was visually balanced and contributed to a cohesive whole. After reading the Cloudspotter’s Manifesto by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, I wondered what wondrous poetry the clouds were writing in the sky for all to see. This sparked another digital typeface project, where I digitized watercolor marks to create cloud formations based on the letters someone typed. As with the stone wall typeface, my font “Cumulo Display” is simply meant to help people slow down and consider what they can learn from their environment and is not meant to impose humanistic behaviors on abiotic factors in the slightest. It is simply a form of reflection!
Spending this time reflecting on the environment has made me think really deeply about what the Burren has been trying to tell me during my time here. I have considered some of the cycles we have studied during our lectures and applied them to my own life, with the hopes of bringing the magic of the burren home with me and leading by example in creating a better world. One of these exercises included mapping out the trophic cascades in my life and pinpointing which “ecosystem engineers” might seem small but actually make a large difference in my wellness. If I do not do these things (such as take a sunday nap, ha!) everything seems to fall apart! I feel like my time in the Burren has helped me “rewild” my life in miraculous ways and I want to continue to advocate for other people to experience these changes for themselves. I hope to use writing primarily with the aid of other art forms I learned or re-learned here in my Burren to initiate this change, one purposefully slow step at a time.