Mizen foyer environmental design and sculptures: The Ewe Art Centre, Goleen.
The challenge was to use the wonderful light of The Mizen, which wraps itself around you, and the magical setting, which is hard to beat. It’s a humbling venue, for nothing you create can equal the spectacular setting. But with a diverse palette and visual tricks we aim to create surprises and present a new perspective on Nature. We were trying to capture the force, energy and atmosphere of the Mizen environment, to enable it to visually flow into the building in the form of sculptures with water, rocks, texture and changeable light. The aim was to create space and balance for each sculpture, so they are interlinked, but at the same time separate. The vaulted ceiling of the room and the angular dimensions presented its own challenges. The idea was to use the height and dimensions to keep the whole area free flowing and not clutter the floor space. The vistas in the room had to work from various angles, with visitors moving through several doors. Our purpose was to create an exciting room, where the background changes as you walk around, with the light reflected in the holographic water wall, and also changing with the seasons. We were trying to avoid glare from the south facing windows, and to reflect light from the sea onto the bleached, timber ceiling, thereby creating more manageable light from above. As visitors enter the foyer, the eye is drawn to the back wall. That is also the sculpture, we started working on in early spring 2000.
“Water On Rock.” Holographic water wall and mosaic tiles on concrete waves.
Essentially this sculpture is about the movement and energy of water on rocks, and the cycle of water from sky to sea. The circle can represent the sun or the lighthouse lens. For us it’s the moon with its influence on the tides, and how they in turn affect our experience of the sea. It’s a stylized interpretation, and we chose mosaic, as it seemed to best express the fracturing of coastal waters, as they meet land. There was also a challenge in combining such varied materials, the modern holographic wall with the ancient art of mosaic and the natural rocks. The reflective background was to play with the light, to suggest something “beyond”, and to refract light in a similar way to a lighthouse lens – creating rainbows. The Mizen enjoys spectacular rainbow arcs due to the sea light and moisture leaden air. A holographic water wall had never been done before. The holographic film was a nightmare to work with, so we had to find a way to enclose it in a sealed, double glass unit. All year round the light will play visual tricks with this surface, and it holds surprises too. At midday on Midsummer’s day, the vertical angle of the sun from the window above hits the centre of the circle and blazes red. When water runs over the glass, it throws the applied clouds into relief, and makes them appear 3-dimensional. This is due to the water being reflected at the back of the holographic surface and pushing the clouds forward. Some even see a hidden face. The waves we made on the spot from sand-cast, reinforced concrete. The mosaic tiles were selected individually from larger tiles, which we smashed up and sorted to get the right colours and surface texture, from matt to shiny. The idea is to draw the eye towards the background gradually. The mosaic work took two months to complete, working piece by piece like the ultimate jigsaw.
“Elemental Stratum.” Sky to Seabed mural. This is a mixed media mural depicting a segment of life on the tip of The Mizen peninsula, from the sky to the bottom of the sea, like a textbook geological stratum. It has all been executed in clay, crushed local rocks and shells. There is however one real shell. Can you find it? The “elements” can mean the components of The Mizen, or the “elements” can mean the weather. How many elements can you see? What does the Morse code or the semaphore say? Some of the sky level elements are: clouds, sea gulls, feathers, mist.
Some land elements: Morse code and semaphore, lens, reinforced metal, lichens, thrift and fern, seeping rust and of course the human element, coping with the elements. Some sea elements: coiled Tube worms, Sand star, sea urchins, Great Scallop, seaweed, lobster, Beadlet Anemone. A seabed cable to convey messages from the lighthouse to the coast. Despite the many varied colours in the mural they have all come from locally derived oxides and natural pigments. We ground and sifted several samples of stone and shells. Our young daughters, Kloe and Eliza, were useful helpers at this stage. The sand came from Barleycove Beach, crushed cockles from Cockle Beach and crushed mussels from Mussel Beach, which give the sky section its misty blue colour. The green colour at the land level of the sculpture comes from crushing green sandstone, which has a green coloured mineral called chlorite. That also gave the sea level its green tinges in the glaze. All the rocks on the Mizen peninsula belong to the Old Red Sandstone, which is made up of alternating layers of purple, green and sometimes grey rock. These layers can be slate, silt stone or sandstone. They throw up an array of colours and oxides. The layers are what geologists call beds. They are hardened remains of those sediments, which were originally deposited as horizontal strata in ancient rivers or ancient lakes. The glittering on the rocks at the bottom of the mural comes from quartz. The red colours are from purple Siltstone, which contains hematite, an iron oxide. This also “rusted” the ceramic bolts.
“Time on our Hands”. Resin and cast hands & arms, with alumina finish.
Between the twists and turns of the weather the lighthouse keepers’ hours were long. It was a life of solitude, away from their family or village. They had many hours to fill and to contemplate. Some have spoken of a constant wonder at the natural beauty and changing light, which they saw, as the days passed from dawn to sunset – ever changing with the seasons. No wonder that some of them were moved to paint, what they observed outside. Others turned the driftwood, string or flotsam, that was washed their way on the tides, into something creative - giving it a new life.
“Time on our Hands” illustrates just five of the numerous lighthouse keepers’ pastimes. Some of the “hobbies” had a practical bent, like cooking, bread making and general baking. For food it wasn’t always easy to get fresh supplies, so gardening was practical as well as time filling. But gardening was quite difficult. The thin, coastal soil and harsh, salty winds made growing impossible for all but the most tough, quick growing plants. As illustrated the thin soil could be improved by the addition of seaweed. But root crops were still impossible. A small garden was however managed for some years at the Mizen Head Signal Station. Model boats called Cirques were made as perfect mini versions of the flat bottomed vessels, that transported livestock up the west coast of Ireland. Also popular was the tradition of creating intricate ships in bottles. The bottles having been emptied first… Lighthouse keepers used, what was readily available, so bottles were decorated with shells, or models were constructed out of spent matches. Despite their tough, manual hands many were able to work with great skill in intricate detail. Fishing was also popular. Coastlines around lighthouses are naturally wild, but at quieter times they could throw a line from a rock or venture out to catch something for supper.
“Kinetic Seagulls”. Wood. The life size, flying sea birds, depict the Common gull and the Herring gull. The largest bird is the great Black backed gull, flying home to its nest on the cliffs with a mackerel. The distinctive, red dot on the underside of the beak is to guide the chicks to peck, and thereby make their parent release the food.
Many thanks to Bill Scanlon, Gerry Butler and others for sharing their lighthouse keepers' impressions and to Professor PM Bruck from University College Cork for geological information.
In 1992-2001 The Ewe Art Centre in Goleen undertook environmental design projects and art commissions. Visitors are welcome to The Ewe sculpture garden and gallery. Also on offer are art courses for all ages, either for a few hours or in residence for a week long course.
The Ewe Art Centre design team for the Mizen foyer project was Sheena Wood and Kurt Lyndorff. Sheena grew up in England, Kurt in Denmark, and both always had a fondness for the sea. With Kurt as a foreign correspondent they travelled the world, eventually settling in Ireland and establishing The Ewe Art Centre 1994. Kloe and Eliza, their children, were born in the travelling years in The Middle East and Latin America and are enthusiastic members of the team. The family is now rooted in the rocks of West Cork.
Since 2002 the family have moved to Glengarriff and developed The Ewe Experience, a unique interpretive Sculpture Garden. www.theewe.com Kloe and her partner, Adam, run their own company, Two Green Shoots, from the garden as well. www.twogreenshoots.com