Memory Map

INTRODUCTION

‘Memory Map’ is my third project based on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  #3 reflects on ‘love and belongingness‘ – friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

Maslow believed that we can all reach our full potential, known as self-actualistion, once we have satisfied a number of basic needs such as food, shelter, safety and a sense of belonging. As can often be the case, I came upon Maslow’s theory in a round about way. Ideas I had been thinking about were put into words as I listened to a programme on Maslow. His thinking around ‘safety needs’ gave me a departure point for ‘This I can Carry’, while, ‘Food – Newfoundland‘, investigates Maslow’s ‘biological and physiological need’ for food, which we all possess.

‘Memory Map’ looks at belonging, being part of a community.

On the first Friday of July 2018, the first get-together of ‘Memory Map’ was held in Rathanna Community Hall, County Carlow.  This was followed by eight more gatherings, each on the first Friday of the month.

‘Memory Map’ is an art-based project bringing together those who wished to share their observations about the area and the changes that have occurred here over the past 20/30 years. The aim was to encourage a direct social interaction and to get-together, face to face, to discuss, contemplate and look towards the future for a small rural community in Ireland.

‘Memory Map’ was run by the Rathanna Community Group Committee and the artist Annabel König.  The project was grant aided by Create – Artist in the Community (the Arts Council of Ireland) and Creative Ireland.

Below are the topics that were addressed in the get-togethers over the past nine months.

July 2018           ‘Rathanna: this neck of the woods – people and place’

August                ‘Rathanna Hall – the community centre’

September         ‘Whitford’s Thrashing  – 30 years’

October               ‘Food security – the food we eat’

November         ‘Heritage – a legacy of habitation’

December          ‘What is a woman’s place in farming today’

January 2019    ‘It’s the little things that matter – sustainability and biodiversity’

February            ‘Are small farms worth saving for future generations’

March                 ‘What is a community and how do we go forward in the age of digital’

 

More to follow…..

July 22ed

Today I uploaded the pdf’s of the ‘Memory Map’ book to the printers for the proof. Thank you everyone who helped me with this, this was a big project.

cover mm for wordpress

EXCERPTS from ‘Memory Map’ book.

Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in — become part of the action. Ursula K. Le Guin.

It is July and the weather is hot, it’s been hot for weeks now, we could officially say that there is a visible climate change happening. There was thunder and lightening and then we had the strong storm called Ali which came with precipitation but the heat of the next few days took all that away. The earth is so dry the water can’t be absorbed, it just flows away, evaporating as it does. Each day we wake to pure blue skies; one could get tired of them. My garden, and I am a committed gardener, is suffering like the farmland that surrounds me. I water only sparingly, the vegetables and some of my most precious flowering plants. The water needs to be conserved for the animals and us humans; who knows when this community will have rain again.

Rathanna is a small village in rural County Carlow. The official population of Rathanna itself is only seven souls but of course, like any rural area, the surrounding lands contain the families and individuals who also consider themselves part of this community.

hello everyone

October and the MET office’s summery is ‘cool and dry; below average rainfall’. It is cool and dry, we all suddenly miss the heat of the sun and pure blue skies but wouldn’t be put off by a bit of moisture. We wonder how long our well will hold out, there is rationing going on elsewhere. The sweetcorn didn’t manage to make any ears and it will be marble sized potatoes for dinners; it makes you appreciate what food really means and how we really can’t waste any of it.

One of my strongest memories of us, as a family, coming to live in Rathanna, many years ago, was the welcome of the community. We are so definitely blow-ins, yet the people allowed us to belong. A local farmer suggested we might like to plant a drill of potatoes in his field. Several members of the community were taking part and it is the harvesting of these spuds that I remember so well. Everyone arrived on the given time and the work began. Furrow after furrow we all helped each other get their potatoes into bags. Come break time, the women of the house arrived with tea and scones and it was, for me, like stepping into John McGaharn’s ‘May they face the rising sun’ novel. I had no idea this was the tradition and so I had come empty handed. I did leave with food though, home grown, collectively gathered and a memory so strong it possibly is one of the corner stones of this project.

b:w haybales

‘Local is important as a medium to help understand the linkage of past, present and future. The local gives meaning to the past’. (1)

November and the days are short; darkness comes early and the daylight hours are dull and wet. We need the rain to build up the water reservoirs, who knows what next summer will bring. My garden has been mostly put to bed for the winter with the sprouts and Jerusalem Artichokes the only plants still keen to provide. I spoke with a local farmer recently and he told me that he has opted to reduce his herd size. He is trying to be sensible. He does not have enough fodder for the amount of stock he currently has. He is concerned that he might not be able to provide enough grass and water for his current cattle numbers next summer unless he reduces the amount of cows he has, not at least if it is going to be a dry summer like the one just past.

Heritage is one of those words that only really starts to be of any importance when you get to a certain age, at least that is the way it was for me. In my experience, young people don’t consider it relevant in their lives but then, suddenly, you realise it is all around you and it does not have to mean the local ruin or the folktales passed down through communities; it can actually be the community itself.

‘The Heritage Act 1995 defines the national heritage of Ireland as including monuments, archaeological objects, heritage objects, architectural heritage, flora, fauna, wildlife habitats, landscapes, seascapes, wrecks, geology, heritage gardens and parks and inland waterways’. 

‘Landscapes are included because the landscape of Ireland, since the arrival of people in the Mesolithic and especially since the Neolithic farming revolution, has been totally altered by people and is now a cultural artifact’. (2)

mt L sunglow

It is December and I am looking forward to the shortest day of the year as then we turn a corner and the days get longer again. There have been more storms and it is cold. The snow and ice make things harder for the farmers who have already had a difficult year behind them. The beef prices are down and for diary it is worse. Meanwhile in the garden I have put every shovel load of home made compost and mulch on my vegetable beds. I am trying to increase the moisture retaining capacity of the soil so that, should we have another summer like this year, the plants might be able to cope. I don’t know if it will work, but it is worth a try. Soil depreciation is a big problem all over the world due to over grazing and increased demands on crop yield. I don’t use artificial fertilisers, I am lucky that I have a farmer who supplies me with animal manure.

Suzanna Crompton (specialised sheep farmer and writer) and Lorna Sixsmith (farmer and writer) are both part of the South East Women in Farming organisation. They came to be part of our conversation and to share their experiences.

Every man and woman at the get-together this evening is, in one-way or another, connected to the land and farming. They either grew up on a farm, married into a farm or have a neighbour who owns a farm. I ask everyone (men included as they might see the women’s place a little differently), how they are connected to the land and farming and I listen as the replies come back. Some relate with a sigh of slight exhaustion, others with the sense of regret and relief that this part of their life had been handed down but mostly it is with a voice full of passion and pride.

Mary Heffernan sideboard

‘We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect’. Aldo Leopold.

January comes with cold, dry days. The air has that freshness to it that makes you inhale deeply. I walk the fields and hear frost crack under my boots as I look at birds searching for food. Farmers are busy with ewes and early lambs and I think of them tucked safely in barns and sheds, sheep nursing their young. A new year and with it new thoughts on how our seasons will be. The garden sleeps but there are Christmas roses (hellebore), snowdrops and even some daffodils – way too early. I consider how to talk about our next topic for ‘Memory Map’ – the environment. I have read widely on the subject with books from the library and articles on the Internet. I try to stay optimistic and focus on my own endeavours on lessening my imprint on the world.

The environment, biodiversity, climate change and ecology are hot topics at the moment and so they should be, but it can all be a bit overwhelming. Thinking about this subject, and thinking about my research, I reflect on opinions of people who do not accept that we need to act in order to save ourselves. It makes me anxious, while at the same time I also have hope for our world and where it is heading. Everyone from school children to pensioners are aware that we need to sit up and listen to what the scientists are saying and change our ways. But, it’s not always that easy, is it? We have become accustomed to our comfortable lifestyles, the food that we now consume and waste, the trips we take. I am not advocating that we give up all of these, maybe just moderate or ask ourselves; ‘do I really need this’?

string

February and I have planted my garlic. An old gardening saying for garlic is ‘in on the longest, out on the shortest’ (day of the year). Every year I refer more and more to the older gardening books that I have. Wise tales with snippets of knowledge written when gardening produce of was greater importance to a family than it is now. The weather is cold, the North Polar winds pass over the county and although there is snow, the MET office reports that it is dryer than the normal. I listen to farmers as they tell me about their farming year yet for me, the best indication is by looking at my own plot. The soil is dry, it’s like it just never caught up with the lack of rain last year.

One could ask; ‘why should we be concerned with the fate of small farms’. Small farms are a cost to the state in the form of subsidies (through the EU), they are often financially unviable, physically and mentally challenging for the farmer and frequently on the brink unless someone from the family works, ‘off farm’ for an extra income.

The answer is identity: the physiological wellbeing for both the farmer and a population. Irish people have a strong affiliation to land, landscape and the exported image of the ‘Green Isle’. Small farms maintain rural wellbeing, they help to allow small villages such as Rathanna to stay populated, and they provide a unique biodiversity and are an ecological haven amidst a fast changing more and more polluted world. The Irish domestic landscape also presents a tourist destination that is marketed worldwide.

Kevin and Sam

March in the garden is slow. It’s too cold. I am late in planting seeds as I feel they just won’t germinate. I am hoping that by late planting, the seeds will catch up and still give me produce in the summer. In my poly-tunnel everything is ready and waiting and I will have to wait too. March is planting time for farmers too, but they are holding off and so I take my lead from them. My neighbour’s cows are calving outside in the field. They have been out all winter, it was not too cold and it certainly was not too wet. I may wear my wellies, but that’s just for the wet dew, I have not been in a muddy field for quite a while; there aren’t any.

This month’s get-together is the final gathering, at least it’s the last in the art/heritage/culture/community project; ‘Memory Map’. It seems somehow fitting that this month’s topic: ‘What is a community and how do we go forward in the age of digital?’ comes as a summary of all the conversations we have had over the past nine months; a discussion about a small, rural, community which finds it self in the digital age.

Conversing about how a community works, why it works and how it can work into the future is not a new thing. The ancient Greeks started that dialogue. Leap forward to the Industrial Revolution and we learned how communities can change dramatically; from country to city, hand made to mass produced. Today we have the ‘digital world’, which alters again how we function as a community.

sheepday showcase 16 sept 2018

Artist’s statement

‘Broadly speaking, there are two types of map: the grid and the story’.    Robert McFarlane. ‘The Wild Places’. P141, para 2.

My family and I have been living in the Rathanna area close to 18 years. As a family, we are not locals, we are ‘blow-in’s but we were lucky enough to find a place to live in a small, rural village where there is a community that understands and exercises inclusivity.

As I write this we are in the middle of harvest time. The farmers all around me are busy getting in the winter fodder and the crops for sale. The animals in the fields have raised their young and stand content with lush grazing all around them. In my garden the plants, slow to start as it was a cold and dry first five months, have now taken on the task of producing fruit, vegetables and flowers; my own harvesting is in progress. The trees are lush and vivid in their green foliage and when I make time, I sit and look at their magnificence. The garden scents with the perfume of varied flowers and yet there is a quiet; it is a lack of insect activities. The soil underneath all this lusciousness, is dry, too dry for Ireland, I am witnessing climate change.

‘Memory Map’ is a project that came about through talking with members of my community, ideas formed while thinking about the environment and as a third work reflecting on Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Need’; that of ‘love and belonging’.

Once a month, for nine months, I recorded the conversations in the get-togethers I organised, set up to encourage the local community to come together in person. Each month we discussed a different topic that related directly to this area and the changes in which this village finds itself. ‘Memory Map’ has developed from the initial idea of offering inclusiveness for those who had a sense of loneliness and isolation into documenting the heritage, culture and social history of a rural community. The work has consolidated into a book of reference for Rathanna’s community.

This is not a nostalgic project; it is an observational project. I wanted to catch the stories and discuss topics and ideas for the future, told by actual, physically present people in a social setting where neighbours had the opportunity to connect and converse in person.

Through the conversations with neighbours I became aware that there was a lack of archiving of rural life over the past 20/30 years. We seem to record information less in a physical sense now. Most photographs are on phones and never get printed, snippets of information are passed on via text messages, and in emails often in abbreviated phrases.

Rathanna is a very vibrant community, there is much that goes on here. Still, there was a need for people to come together to converse, share a cup of tea and find out how others in the community were doing while being in the same room as each other. ‘Memory Map’ it seemed, made people realise what was in their local community and what could be done to conserve, protect or consolidate interests and encouraged a bond of human interaction.

Jin's fixed hand

If you wish to obtain a copy of ‘Memory Map’, please contact me at: annabelalkonig@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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