Alan Counihan Visual Artist

The work of Alan Counihan


Published on June 28, 2009

Alan Counihan and Gypsy Ray developed an exhibition, “Townland” for inclusion in the Visual Art Programme of Kilkenny Arts Festival 2009. The exhibition was part of a new collaborative strand of work ,“Townlands”, which  set out to explore a very specific place, the townlands in the old civil parish of Rathcoole, Co Kilkenny, Ireland in all their resonant complexities.
The focus is primarily on the “vernacular” history of the townland fields, the names and stories by which they are still specifically remembered. However ’Townlands” is not an exercise in, nor celebration of, cultural nostalgia. Its explorations of vernacular traditions and customs are accompanied by an examination of, reflection on and juxtaposition with, the contemporary practices by which they have been supplanted.
The overall goal of “Townlands” is to re-present local place to local people, among others, by means of a creative distillation, re-envisioning and expression of its folklore. history and contemporary landscape. This re-presentation, through exhibition- and possible publication,- will be in a vibrant and contemporary language, the past of a place viewed through the eye of its presence.
The landscape in which we live is a construct, a product of culture, its surfaces shaped by processes of power, ownership and use. In recent times the Irish rural landscape has changed dramatically as a result of EU directives, changed farming practices and poor planning laws. As Schama has written, our experience of place is fundamentally altered when “measurement, not memory, is the absolute arbiter of value”. Previous symbiotic relationships between people, landscape, and the wider community as expressed in architecture and social custom such as the “meitheal” have disappeared. Does this same disappearance reflect a widespread dissociation from the natural world, from the historical secrets of local landscapes, of the inner life from the outer world, the individual from the communal? How is that dissociation expressed and what might its cultural consequences be?
These are the questions which “Townlands” seeks to further explore. As artists living within these local landscapes, and as members of their communities, we wish to engage with these issues and to contribute to an enrichment of the experience of place. Within a generation a large percentage of field names and their associated lore will be lost. For us, as artists whose practice has been consistently based on the exploration or celebration of place and community it is an invaluable resource to be engaged with now.

The Shelter of the Past

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