At the root of Dublin-born artist Katie Holten’s practice, is a curiosity with life’s systems. By examining the meaning of ‘environment’ and the significance of place, her work is an ongoing investigation of the inseparable relationship between man and the natural world. Her work often considers our engagement with the environment and our impact upon it. Much of her work stems from collaborations with historians, botanists, ecologist and architects.
Katie Holten: The Golden Bough, installation shot, 2010, The Hugh Lane, photo by Dennis Mortell.
Five years after graduating from NCAD in 1998, she was awarded the Fullbright Scholarship in 2004 to develop her practice in New York. Holten was selected to represent Ireland in the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003.
In 2007, Holten was commissioned by the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation to create Tree Museum in order to celebrate the communities and ecosystems along the Grand Concourse. The Grand Concourse is a 100 year-old boulevard in the Bronx, New York. Visitors are able to listen to local stores and the lives of the trees offered by current and former residents.
Her exhibition at the Golden Bough, curated by Michael Dempsey, is her first show in Ireland since 2002. The Golden Bough II, a sister show to the Hugh Lane show, will run concurrently at LMAK projects until 28 March.
Katie Holten talks about her show at the Hugh Lane
When Michael Dempsey invited me to show in The Golden Bough I wanted to find out what exactly The Golden Bough is, so I went in search of it – I got a copy of the book. I realised that no one quite knows what it is. It’s a myth. Perhaps it was mistletoe glowing golden in the winter light? An optical illusion? Or in Greco-Roman times they say it was a mystical tree – when Aeneas breaks a branch from the tree he gains entrance to Hades. Breaking the branch represents the division of good and evil, of light and dark. My own personal reading of The Golden Bough is that it is an acknowledgement of the systems that different societies have used to catalogue and understand nature.
Around the same time that I was reading The Golden Bough I came across the ‘average colour of the universe’. It was ‘discovered’ by astronomers at Johns Hopkins University. I was immediately intrigued – how can we claim to know what the average colour of the entire known universe is? And what does it mean? And does it matter? It turns out that the scientists discovered not one, but two colours. ‘Cosmic Turquoise’ was the first result, but when the scientists realised that there was a mistake with their calculations they declared it the ‘incorrect average color of the universe’. They recalculated and the ‘correct’ average colour was discovered to be ‘Cosmic Latte’. The absurdity and inherent inaccuracies of this scientific discovery is fabulous! Our never-ending search to understand, catalogue and control nature and the world around us is inherently futile, flawed and ultimately ridiculous. For me these two colours represent our wondrous, cosmic hope – continuously searching to understand why we are here and what here is exactly – as well as our profound failure. We don’t know what The Golden Bough is, yet we keep reading and searching and imagining.
I have painted as much of the gallery wall as I can physically reach with ‘Cosmic Turquoise’ – the ‘incorrect’ average colour or the universe – and the rest of the wall is painted the ‘correct’ colour. Perhaps it is no coincidence that my apartment was flooded this time last year. The watermark is mirrored on the walls here. Although it is no coincidence that we have experienced extreme weather conditions during my one-month residency in Dublin this January. I am collaborating with climate scientists who are researching ‘Snowball Earth’ amongst other things and there is endless talk of growth, dependency, economic bubbles, disaster, sickness, disease, change, mitigation, adaptation…
The Golden Bough is a collection of drawings and objects made on site that tell my own version of the story.
I first visited The Hugh Lane with my granny when I was a little girl and I would like to dedicate this project to her, Peggy Cussen.
The Golden Bough I : The Hugh Lane, until 2 April, 2010.