Stuffed badgers and other artistic pursuits
A new exhibition puts nature and development cheek by jowl, with disconcerting results, writes GEMMA TIPTON
WE VIEW green spaces differently from the standpoint of cities. Rural retreat, or just the idea of the countryside, seems vital: parks, playing fields, walled gardens, even family pets are a connection to an increasingly separate condition of being. Yet it is difficult for us to experience any such thing as unmediated nature – animals and plants are domesticated. Walls create boundaries. The paths and roads that bring us to this or that isolated spot come between us and the pure presence of a wilder environment. These ideas are at the heart of Fieldworks, currently on view at Marlay Park, Rathfarnham.
Photographers Dara McGrath and Michael Durand spent seven weeks exploring the rural hinterlands of a county marked by contrasts, where mountain paths reveal views of city lights, and roads are bounded on one side by housing estates and the other by field-patchworked hillsides.
McGrath’s photographs, sited outside in the walled garden of Marlay Park, don’t aim to show the hidden beauty of Glencullen and Tibradden. Instead, they reveal the pathways, roads, tracks and other structures we create to navigate the countryside. Desire lines, the paths worn by countless pairs of feet following the same course, widen into gritted routes, and are consolidated into the unarguable mass of tarmac, as instinctive choice becomes an inevitable and permanent dictator of direction.
The recently restored walled garden of Marlay Park dates from the Regency period, when there was a fashion for recreating nature and sculpting vistas. McGrath’s photos pleasantly encourage the visitor to transgress that rule of all formal gardens – keep off the grass – as you step closer to view. The images range from the familiar (playing fields, a golf green), to the unexpected (a mountain-bike ramp). Mountain Ranger on Patrol, Tibradden presents a strange sense of a layering of place and time, as a figure strides away from the camera into a misty vanishing point of rugged emptiness.
Inside the former orangery, Michael Durand’s series of images play tricks on the visitor. Wild animals are caught on camera. There is a badger on a hillside, a hedgehog on a golf course, an otter staring out of a coppice, a squirrel in a graveyard and a particularly evil looking rabbit gazing over the city lights of Dublin. All are taken as dusk turns to night, against darkening skies, but there is a conundrum – how did Durand get the animals to sit so still? The animals are, in fact, long dead. They are taxidermied specimens, borrowed by Durand from local residents, and temporarily repatriated to their former habitats. This layering of the real, the artificial, the seemingly-natural, and the obviously re-created, together with the idea of extreme measures in taming nature, is a subtly suitable metaphor for whoever wanted a little country in the city. Durand’s images have the additionally satisfying quality of being, quite simply, stunning.
Fieldworks is at the walled garden and orangery, Marlay Park, Dublin until November 4th, dlrcoco.ie/arts/fieldworks.htm