Art Therapy and Ecology 1

January 7, 2018


Photo: Mud and gold paint 1

Ecology Definitions:

1. The study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment.

2. The set of relationships of a particular organism with its environment.

3. The study of the relationships between human groups and their physical environment.

(Source: Collins Dictionary Online)

Workshop Information for MA Students in Art Therapy, Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork Institute of Technology

Groundswell is a social enterprise that works in the areas of art therapy, organic horticulture, environmental education, arts and health, and art and participation. 

“The environmental practices of Groundswell are aimed at developing biodiversity habitats combining…[edible plants], herbs, fruits, wildflowers, and indigenous trees. This method of networking domestic and ecological territories facilitates a consideration of both the cultivated and wild landscapes in which we live, engendering an appreciation for relationships between nature and culture as contexts for daily living. For example, gardens can generate an interest in both the productive and creative aspects of horticultural growing. They are cultural spaces that reflect interactions between human nature and ecology. Making art within a natural setting expresses themes related to growth, decay and processes of change, as well as cultural traditions associated with different seasons of the year. Groundswell links people, ecology, and place…The natural world’s aliveness and diversity illuminate the potential for artistic exploration that unites the materiality of the natural world with the materiality of the human condition…infusing art therapy with new frontiers of accumulative creation.”

(Quotation from Pamela Whitaker, “Groundswell: The Nature and Landscape of Art Therapy” in Materials and Media in Art Therapy: Critical Understandings of Diverse Artistic Vocabularies by Catherine Hyland Moon)

Making a Scene in Public: Art Therapy and Ecology Workshop 

This workshop for art therapy students at the Crawford College of Art and Design will explore the creation of land art within the nature of public spaces. Working with found and natural materials in outdoor studio areas, artworks will relate to both personal and collective themes. Therapeutic situations will be encountered en route through the examination of outdoor habitats. We will consider how art therapy can be choreographed through spontaneous relations with environment. Artworks will be both site specific and portable, assembling ingredients of location in an attempt to enact the energies of participants with the character of place.

Workshop Themes

Art Therapy Out of Bounds
Social Environments
Land Art
Choreography of Space
Therapeutic Situations
Conditions of Nature
The Artistry of Location


Photo: Mud and gold paint, 2

Editorial Quotations, Art Therapy and Environment, Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal.

Whitaker, Full Editorial, Art Therapy and Environment

A Natural Response to a Natural Disaster by Jess Linton (free access until March, 2018)

“An art therapy environment is both an art form and a place of production.”

“Art therapy environments are ecologies that produce particular conditions for creation.”

“Environment is not neutral.”

“The surroundings of art therapy are the starting point.”

“Art therapy can craft habitats.”

“Art therapy can find its place within social environments and form a sense of locality or residency within society on the move.”

“Art therapy’s environment is more than the boundaries of a frame. It can be an encounter, a happening, or a situation in the making.”

“The totality of an art therapy location can be a physical environment for art.”

“An art therapy environment is not a background, but the scene for experiences in the making.”


Photo: Mud and gold paint 3


Emin, Tracey, I do not expect to be a mother

Photo One: Tracey Emin, Everyone I Ever Slept With 1963-1995, Appliquéd Tent and Mattress, Photo Two: Tracey Emin, I Do Not Expect, 2002,, Blanket Graffiti

It’s not what you inherit, but what you do with your inheritance (Tracey Emin,

Emin employs the lightness of traditional “women’s crafts”, like sewing, to explore what (Louise) Bourgeois classed as the “volcanic unconscious” which we only ever encounter in parts: “That’s why I use a lot of embroidery,” Emin explains. “I take this craft but I don’t treat it like a craft, but like high art. (Tracey Emin: Craft Work,


Photo: Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998

Well-known for her confessional art, Tracey Emin reveals intimate details from her life to engage the viewer with her expressions of universal emotions. Her ability to integrate her work and personal life enables Emin to establish an intimacy with the viewer…By presenting her bed as art, Tracey Emin shares her most personal space, revealing she is as insecure and imperfect as the rest of the world (

Within art therapy fibre, texture and story can be incorporated to make a variety of items: 

Book Covers, Sheets, Curtains, Purses/Bags, Tablecloths, Scarfs, Cloaks, Tents, Pillow/Cushion Covers, Veils, Quilts, Blankets, Clothing, Accessories, Upholstery, Aprons, Personal Altars, Baskets, Shrouds, etc.  

Fabric acts to conceal and cover objects and persons, while at the same time, disclosing them…The objects may be commonplace but the wrapping gives them a certain mystery, vitality, and seductiveness. Fabric is malleable. It lends itself to wrapping, draping, and swathing. It restricts direct access to the naked object, but it also has the ability to suggest, enhance, and draw attention to what it covers over and adorns ( Anne Hamlin, Freud, Fabric, Fetish).


Photo: Tracey Emin, Sleep, 1996,


Photo: Tracey Emin, There is A lot of Money in Chairs, Credit: David Sillitoe, The Guardian)

Tracey Emin admits that she is a product of her past, created with her experiences sewn into the fabric of her very being, much like her tapestries. As the onlooker, we’re encouraged to not be ashamed of what occupies the dark recesses of our minds; the skeletons in our closets and the insecurities to which we never gave a voice  (Morgan Meaker, The Art of Self-Indulgence: Tracey Emin).


Hamlyn, A. (2012). Freud, Fabric, Fetish. In J. Hemmings (Ed.), The Textile Reader (pp. 14-26). London: Berg Publishers.

Meaker, M. (2013). The Art of Self-Indulgence: Tracey Emin. Retrieved from

Tracey Emin: Craft Work. (2010). Retrieved from

Tracey Emin Exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery. (2016). Retrieved from

Ward, O. (2011). Tracey Emin: No Bedtime Story. Retrieved from


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Photo: The Parangolé, 

Irish Museum of Modern Art , Hélio Oiticica: Propositions  

Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica’s (1937-1980) contribution to physical performance was enfolded within the dimensions of the parangolés  he produced as wearable sculptures. The parangolés  were inhabited as a dwelling space for physical exploration and expression. The complex fabric dimensions of these tent like constructions embodied architectural spaces. The fabric also had associations to homelessness and the nomadic carrying of one’s own belongings. Foremost, the wearer entered into an experience which performed new sensations regarding one’s physical positioning within public space.

The parangolés supported non-conformist bodily actions. They were intended as political interventions within the social context of a military dictatorship in Brazil. The purpose of these cape like structures was immediacy during a historical period of constriction. Rather than behaviour within boundaries Oiticica proposed the wearer of the parangolé to exert an influence upon surrounding social conditions. The anarchy of wearing unstructured layers of fabric could be considered a camouflage, but also a banner. The parangolé experience was an intimate experiment, aimed at finding new routes of social movement within limiting political circumstances.

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Photos: A Forest Art Therapy Studio, Investigations of Movement

The consideration of fabric being worn as a supportive frame for physical disclosure and deterritorialization* is perhaps unusual within art therapy. The parangolé was not a costume, but a physical revelation. And still today it offers an inspiring example of how to interrogate physical presence. The wearer of the parangolé was both a celebrant and a dissident. Particularly evocative when worn outdoors, these draped dimensions of fabric facilitated movement patterns that were ambiguous and sculptural, punctuating public environments with sensory inquiry.

The choreographer, theoretician and dancer Rudolf Laban used the term living architecture to describe explorations of space and geometry through movement. By drawing the body through lines of travel, a mapping process occurs. These lines of investigation compose movement dimensions  – forward and backward, high and low, and diagonally across from side to side. Demarcating space with pathways and networks of geometry, facilitates not only the physical explorations of spatial possibilities, but also cognitive capacity. Embodying the full spectrum of environmental possibility stimulates both mind and body. By learning to move in more than one direction, the coordinates of how we travel through life are extended. We move into new places, new situations, new volumes and depths.

*Deterritorialization is a term developed by Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus, 1972) to describe the transgression of subjectivity from its routine formations, into a state of becoming  (being in a state of flux, in process, in transition). It also refers to political and social movements, and society undergoing disruption and change.


Header Photo: Don’t Be Afraid, by Maser, South Richmond St., Dublin 2

“Focussing on aspects of interaction and relationship rather than on art objects calls for a radical rearrangement in our expectations of what an artist does.” Suzanne Lacy quoted in Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art


Public Relations: Art and Social Enactment, Pamela Whitaker

This is a course about social activation and participatory arts as public art forms. The course will involve group projects with each group developing their own website or blog to profile their research into participatory art and their implementation of a project in this area. The aim of the course is to offer experiential learning, and to explore methods of how art can be a means of social enactment and live communication with others. Participants will undertake their projects either in conjunction with a gallery education programme or on-site at NCAD. Each project will be uniquely titled, planned and conducted as a way of researching theoretical models that involve public interactions with art. The course will offer participants the opportunity to work together as a collective of artists, and to learn about collaboration first hand in regards to working with peers, initiating public engagement, and achieving an artistic enterprise.



Photo: Lori Gordon, Knitting Sittings, Sculpture, Performance,

Duration of Conversations Accompanied by Lori Gordon Completing a Knitted Gift: Beth 4 Hours, Melissa 5.5 Hours, Scott 3.5 Hours, etc.

“I create functional knitted objects for the sitter, and they are required to be present for the entire duration of making the object. During this time, an intimate conversation is had between myself and the sitter” (Lori Gordon).

“Lori Gordon invokes the handmade family gift, offering to knit something warm and cozy in exchange for a few hours of shared time. By the end of the session, a relationship has formed, and the gift has been invested with sentimental importance.” (Anu Vikram, Exhibitions Director, Richmond Art Centre, California)

Free Website or Blogs for Group Projects







Photos: The People’s Library, Come Author Your Own Book, Libraries Designed, Built and Authored by Community Members

The People’s Library is an ongoing collaborative project featuring libraries designed, built and authored by community members. The project transforms and repurposes discarded books into blank canvasses for the production and exchange of local histories.

In Richmond, Virginia in partnership with the Main Branch of the Richmond Public Library, a thousand blank books are being created for anyone in the community to check out, bring home, fill with their histories and bring back to the library to be included in the permanent collection. The resulting installation includes a thousand micro-monuments, becomes the real and symbolic meeting place for alienated publics, and offers sustainable, collective and critical alternatives for the form and function of public art… People’s Library champions collective production as an avenue for face to face interaction between diverse publics. The project reflects the histories, needs, desires of local residents, and reinterprets public institutions as a space for production, meditation, and alternative education.Individuals in youth programs at each library have co-facilitated dozens of workshops. At each workshop, which are free and open to the public, participants complete various tasks, engage in conversation and learn functional creative skills.

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Photos: Erica Felder, The Bird Feeder Hat

Terms of Reference

Participation = The act of taking part and being related to a larger whole. Participation can involve team-work, collective decision making, sharing and joint decision making. 

Participatory Art = Participatory art is a term that describes a form of art that directly engages the audience in the creative process so that they become participants in the event (

Community Arts = Art is part of a community of relationships with a specific context or locality. Art reaches out to participants who engage and impact its purpose and manifestation. Community art is artistic activity that is based in a community setting, characterised by interaction or dialogue with the community and often involving a professional artist collaborating with people who may not otherwise engage in the arts (

Art Intervention = An artist’s interaction with an audience or venue/site or space, where the artwork created is often temporary and sometimes is realised as a performative event or communication platform. It often carries an implication of subversion, operating counter to the authority, challenging or provoking comment in relation to the context and the expectations of a particular public (

Socially Engaged Art = Socially engaged practice describes art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work. Socially engaged practice can be associated with activism because it often deals with political issues. Artists who work within this field will often spend much time integrating into the specific community which they wish to help, educate or simply share with (

Social Practice = Social practice [also called socially engaged art] can include any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction. This can often be organised as the result of an outreach or education program, but many independent artists also use it within their work ( 

Public Relations = Actions promoting the creation of goodwill and communication between people. 

Public Art = Presenting an artwork to a community, or within a public space where other people play a role in the art’s production or participate in relationships that produce art as an object, environment, conversation/interaction, service, etc.

Enactment = acting out, active expression and communication,  making a message or experience come alive.

Collaboration = Working together to achieve a common purpose through partnership or team effort. 

Situation = a set of conditions, locations, people, moments in time and circumstances as a context for participatory art. 

Haircuts by Children, Mammalian Diving Reflex, 2006 to the present.

Mammalian Diving Reflex views innovative artistic interventions as a way to trigger generosity and equity across the universe. We create work that recognizes the social responsibility of art, fostering a dialogue between audience members, between the audience and the material, and between the performers and the audience. In all it’s forms, the company’s work dismantles barriers between individuals of all ages, cultural, economic and social backgrounds; we collaborate with non-artists, and offer both participatory opportunities for the audience as well as the traditional option of simply watching the proceedings as they unfold. It is our mission to bring people together in new and unusual ways.

Haircuts by Children invites the consideration of young people as creative and competent individuals whose aesthetic choices can be trusted. While providing atypical entertainment for the public, Haircuts by Children also shifts the traditional power dynamic between children and adults, creating a safe social space where children and adults who live in the same community can meet and share a unique creative experience together. The idea that kids should be allowed to cut our hair evokes the same leap of faith, courage and understanding required to grant children deeper citizenship rights. For many it is actually less terrifying to contemplate allowing kids to vote. (Artistic Director Darren O’Donnell, Mammalian Diving Reflex)



Photo Top: Photo: Rivane Neuenschwander, I Wish Your Wish, Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Photo Below: I Wish Your Wish, Miami Art Museum on July 2011. Chocolate Milk, Photography.

I Wish Your Wish, Rivane Neuenschwander, 2003 is based on a tradition at a church in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where the faithful tie silk ribbons to their wrists and to the gates of the church; and, according to tradition, their wishes are granted when the ribbons wear away and fall off. At IMMA hundreds of similar ribbons are printed with visitors’ wishes from Neuenschwander’s past projects exhibited elsewhere. Visitors are invited to remove a ribbon from the wall and tie it around their wrist. According to Brazilian tradition, the wish is granted when the ribbon wears away and falls off. In exchange, the artist asks you to write your wish on the paper available and insert it in the ribbon hole. The artist collects your wishes and some are added to the work when next the piece is exhibited again (Irish Museum of Modern Art,

Photo: Michael Swaine, Reap What You Sew and Mending for the People

The white cube is usually seen as an emblem of the estrangement of the artist from a society to which the gallery also provides access.

Brian Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Galley Space)


Public Art,

Click the Thinking heading in the top menu, and then check out the writing, definitions and glossary sections. These headings have some material relating to participatory art, and might prove useful for essays.

ReCreate: Creativity Through Re-Use,

ReCreate is a national social enterprise that takes end of line and surplus stock from businesses and reuses them as arts materials. Our warehouse is full to the brim with all types of fantastic arts materials such as paper, wool, plastics, fabric, tubing, foam and many other unusual and unexpected surprises. Annual Student Memberships Available.

Opportunities within Visual Arts

Visual Artists Ireland/Jobs, Internships and Volunteering