The Performance of Intentions

March 6, 2013


Emotionally we derive from nature pleasure, fulfillment, inspiration and solace; nature is fundamental to our culture, language, psychological and spiritual well-being (Irish Environmental Information Service).

Plants and trees shape imagination, they are alive symbols rich in social history, customs and beliefs.  Historically they are emblems that inspire stories, poetry, and folklore. As living landmarks, they designate boundaries, record historic events, offer medicinal cures, and  become gathering places for communities.

May Bush

Tree and plant folklore in Ireland is rich with psychological references. Gathering bundles of plants for protection, influence, love, prosperity, and good health are a strong cultural tradition. All Celtic seasons involve the psyche within the dynamics of seasonal activity. Propagation, harvest, death and new growth are all reflected within particular seasonal intentions. Each Celtic season has customs associated with physical and psychological processes connected to change.


The great ideas in art often manifest in very humble forms, through a small area of colour, or through a green tone around a certain small form, or for instance through an olive leaf.

Agriculture is a question of art, which for me is is the engagement with substances. In other words, if one understands the spirit of substances, one can only really do agriculture. (Quotation by Joseph Beuys, What Is Art?).

Traditional herbalism promotes the restorative aspects of plants often mistaken for weeds. Charms and rituals were also connected to the picking and bundling of herbs, which would offer support during times of distress or aid in the acquisition of good luck. Dressing trees for May Day, promised fertility and abundance. Lighting a fire for Samhain (Halloween or Summer’s End) produced the fertilizing ashes for the next growing year, and distributed in its smoke the hopes and wishes of the community.


The production of amulets made from natural materials, are sculptural forms that can be carried by children and adults for a specific purpose. A bundle of symbolic natural materials, can act as a hand held sculpture. Collected while wandering through forests or naturalized areas, each plant and tree ingredient can have a particular meaning, and collectively act as an assemblage of influences from nature and the world at large.


Lisa Lipsett, a Canadian artist and environmental educator, believes that an empathic relationship to nature through touch, develops attention, contemplative action and spontaneity. Using nature as an outdoor studio, inspires art forms that can be embraced in a different way than bought art materials. The discovery of shape, texture and use of each found environmental art material, creates a composition of many influences, evoking a  personal ecology.


Lisa Lipsett,

Niall MacCoitir, Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore

Ben Simon, Tales, Traditions and Folklore of Ireland’s Trees

Volker Harlan (editor) What is Art? Conversations with Joseph Beuys


St. Brigid’s Well, Northern Ireland

The May Bush (An Irish Traditional Symbol for Protection)

Young Girl with Bouquet Headdress

Children participating in Land Art Workshops, County Louth, Ireland 

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