CHILDREN build sandcastles. Hillwalkers leave rock cairns to aid fellow walkers or to stand testament to their passing. The religious or the superstitious tie rags to trees at holy sites. It seems, then, that a human desire to make a mark on the landscape is innate and ancient.
Hazel McCague of the Lay of the Land project agrees. “To pick up some rocks and build something, or to get your hands dirty, or even to jump into the sea or to walk in your bare feet,” she says, “somehow these things reinforce our connection with the land.”
Textile and sculpture artist McCague and her frequent collaborator Kari Cahill, as The Lay of the Land, are the duo behind ‘TOMBOLO – A site-responsive art project’. For the month of September, eight artists have been in Brow Head, on West Cork’s Mizen peninsula.
The eight, comprised of McCague and Cahill alongside Emily Robyn Archer, Sophie Gough, Rosie O’Reilly, Felix Power, Theo Shields and Anna Wylie, are making site-specific pieces of land art in response to Brow Head’s windswept glory and fascinating history. For two weekends at the end of the month, visitors are invited to the headland to roam the living gallery the artists have created.
“The whole idea is about trying to reconnect people to the land through art, and about making art more accessible,” McCague says. “It’s very strong in our ethos to be respectful and considerate of the land and there’s a very strong ecological drive to the project.”
A successful €8,000 crowd-funding project pays testament to the public support for the project. “Last year, so many locals came up that had never really been in Brow Head,” McCague says. “Us having that event gave them the opportunity to come up and explore.” The project is further funded by the Arts Council and Cork County Council.
Brow Head, nestled between the tourist hotspots of Crookhaven and Mizen Head, is often overlooked, McCague believes. She and Cahill found the site when they decided to go for a walk during Fastnet Film Festival in nearby Schull, where Cahill lives.
“We thought it would be nice to do something here, and we just started knocking on doors,” McCague says. One of the doors they knocked on was that of John and Jackie Walsh, who own the TOMBOLO land: “They’re so amazing, and very supportive. They’re very happy to have people come and explore the headland. That’s the lovely thing about this part of the world: the people are so open-minded.”
It’s also a part of the world renowned for its rugged grandeur. The risk of the artworks either being overshadowed by the scenery or else marring it is dealt with by the sensitivity of the artists’ approach. “How can you compete with the beauty of the headland when you’re creating art?” McCague says. “You can’t, and we’re not trying to outdo the landscape. We’re just trying to respond to it, and complement it.”
This year, the exhibition itself, which can include a daily tour with one of the artists and local historian Jim O’Meara, who will tell the story of the headland, including Marconi’s telegraphic station, the military signal tower constructed during British rule and the history of copper mining in the area, will be supplemented by camping and a mobile sauna at nearby Galley Cove.
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