Christine Mackey.Cast-up, Cast-off, Cast-on 1

Christine Mackey

This schematic outline draws from an oceanic term that underscores the tidal movements of the ocean to carry, deposit and cast ashore stuff. Our anthropogenic remnants. Waves feel their way into port, slowing down as they graze the bottom of the seabed. Raised watery lines close in on the shore. Contractions bend in response to the scattering of energy with stuff. These material artefacts are derived from various industrial processes. Simmering soups of hard and soft matter, biological and manmade, light and sound, chemical and plastic. Metabolic forces depend on the dynamic interactions between air, water and space. Composite variables fueled by ever-changing unpredictable climatic conditions of world weather systems. Circular references suggest somewhere else from where they arrive to. Each state change matters, for what follows. Step-by-step transformations pounding by the sea. The matter’s potential is there to drift back, though this may depend on the gripping mechanism of the landing sites they trade on and return to.

Figure 1. Cast-up, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey

The Kelp Farm

I begin with an outline of my time working on kelp farm as a series of embodied actions written in diary form.

       Lift, gather, hold.
       Step forward. Drop.
       Shake out. Spread.
       Step back.2

I arrived Sunday the 14th of May at Heeja’s Kelp Farm (with Sunyoung Oh) at 6:30 am. We met three young Thai women living onsite (more people to follow throughout the days and weeks ahead). It is warm. Our morning began with bundles of nets distributed across the site. We lift, gather and unfold these nets in a linear formation carrying them in pairs. Laid loose, pulled out and dragged end-to-end like aerated waveforms. Spread on top of a black membrane that conceals the bare ground. Soil conditions are irrelevant to this practice. The addition of a ground net overspreads the area secured with metal pins and stones. These stones suggest to me a blind geology. This stable bed remains permanently fixed, on which additional nets are laid, forming the main bed for the seaweed. The odd plant that managed to break through this barrier was quickly and immediately pulled and discarded like an annoying friend.

Figure 2. Kelp farm, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.
Figure 2. Kelp farm, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

These sparse botanical communities disturbed the lifelessness of the site. The nets are heavy to handle and rough on the skin. We wear cotton gloves. Nets are threaded through top and bottom with thick white rope. These act as markers to distinguish between either end. They also guide the correct way to handle the nets. Top bottom - bottom top - which way up - which way down - this is not an entangled mess! This is farming on an industrial scale in a village where the pressure of this short season demands full attention and commitment from the migrant workers (that includes me for now). The handling process of nets is pursued with precision. I am not used to the directorial demands of these movements. I have to bend quickly down on my knees as the nets graze the top of my hat or, if I do manage to move around in time, I grab the net with one hand while moving out of step with the others. I am slow and awkward under the midday sun, but catching up with these regularized movements.

With each net in tow on the ground in front of our feet like ruffled waves, we stood evenly and equidistantly spaced out in a long line marking one endpoint to the other side of this vast netted green space. We walk the perimeter of the site with wheelbarrows, brushes and pans - collecting dead leaves, pine needles and bits of thrash. It is 08.00 am, and bundles of kelp arrive on the back of the small blue truck, followed by the white truck. There are at least three men in each truck. These bundles are covered with black netted material under which the kelp is held tight with large blue straps. The men select armfuls of slippery kelp fronds, distributing them across the site. The women immediately begin and settle into this intense activity of placing the kelp head first upright on the net side-by-side. Spaced out to make sure that there is a gap between each frond. They are straight in line with little room for error. Unloaded at strategic points around the site. We worked at either end. The top end of the kelp is positioned first. Scolded for not carrying a single piece of kelp with both hands, I was dragging two in place. The tail end of the kelp, if somewhat poor in quality, was folded back and cast-off. Cream cotton gloves are worn when we collect and bundle the dry kelp from the field. We wear a heavy tight-fitting open green netted glove over these when handling the wet kelp. I am slow and awkward in my movements and at times become entangled with the nets as they are lifted, cast-out into position. Aware of the performative movement of the nets, I try to describe this in detail in the following way: as we complete a section of the site with the kelp laid flat head up and tail end down, the nets are moved. This involves walking together in a line to gather the nets together. Each person takes a position. We bend, lift the loose bundle, walk forward, stop, take a position, and stretch out the net by tugging either end. We walk a few steps closer to the edge of the site. Then, with approval from the boss, we walk a few steps forward, slipping at times over the wet kelp. Stop. Drop the net. We make sure we had all gripped the right end marked by the rope. With two hands we wave out the net gently dropping it onto the kelp, which was already buckling under the morning sun. Work continued until two truckloads of kelp were laid. We use a short stick cut from bamboo to poke and prod any sections of kelp that had become enmeshed in the net, or that had folded back on itself, or that was lying on top of another frond, or touching the edge of another. It’s 10:00 am or thereabouts when we stop for a break. The trucks have left to gather more kelp from the farms. There is a young boy magically blowing away leaves and pine needles. We are informed that from tomorrow work begins from 4:00 am! We work until 18:00 pm. Nets again. 11:30 am lunch. I cook up some eggs with rice. The rest had chicken and noodles. 13:03 pm we are still on break. We are chatting using Google Translate with Minta from Thailand. 14:00 pm, still not back on site. Noises to consider: the laying out and walking; spreading and folding with nets? Working the kelp is relatively quiet in comparison. 14:15 pm back on site. Finish at 16:00 pm. We repeated the same work in the afternoon - laying out nets and kelp. Back at 17:00 pm. The kelp is dry, which we collect and stack for the rest of the day. We begin from the top of the site. Folding back nets and beginning the careful process of picking up the kelp with both hands and laying them head side up in a barrow lined with a tightly woven net. We completed the work and then brought the bundles to a shed. This had a large-scale dryer to reduce the water moisture of the kelp even further. 17:59 pm finish. 

       Wind-chill burn.
       Lie on nets of seaweed.
       Cast-out marks.
       Hide in stones.3

These units play out a consistent and intense hum throughout the village. Heard from every direction. They keep me awake at night.

15th May, Monday. I was requested to arrive at 4:00 am. Stayed 10 minutes and left. The lights were off. I heard no people and had no prior instructions given the day before as to where I was supposed to be working. It's dark of course. Communication between the kelp farmers and workers is bad (this includes me also as a worker). I am lying on my bed now and will return at 5:00 am. They were packing the kelp inside the shed in long sections when I arrived back on-site. The kelp is held between guides holding two rows together up to a foot high or thereabouts. These are pressed down with a board and tied in three areas, the middle section and at both ends. These were brought to a platform - stacked and covered with a dust cloth. It is now 5:36 - a lot of waiting around. New people arriving. Some of the Vietnamese women are fixing the main ground net. They weave together various bits of new net cut to the size of the holes to join in with the main net. They are very skillful. 

Figure 3. Mending of nets, Visual documentation, 2023,
Christine Mackey.

They have worked here before. One woman lifted four fingers to indicate the years working on this farm. There seems to be very little communication between the Vietnamese women and the Thai women who arrived earlier and who seem much younger and less experienced than the Vietnamese women. I collect leaves and bits of seaweed with the other women not involved in the net mending. Surprisingly, neither the leaves nor seaweed is utilized for mulch, or to feed the soil for the various vegetable plants and fruit trees growing around the site. Korea has a long history with seaweed as a food source, but there seems to be no tradition of using seaweed as a home fertilizer for the land, or at least here in the village where I am based. Perhaps this is because the main plots in the village are small, found at any location where bare ground is available to be transformed into temporary vegetable gardens. No activity with kelp. It is a cool morning. The sun has risen pink in a hazy sky. Wait for the clouds to disappear. The birds and dogs are noisily competing with each other. Chattering magpies wock-a-wock-wock-a-wock. Magpies are the loudest. The laying of plates in the indoor-outdoor side kitchen means breakfast. The Vietnamese community eat first. I join the Thai men and women who seem to have taken a liking to my company. One on the woman keeps taking a selfie with me that she than uploads to some media platform! Still, there is a lot of hanging about! The boss does not explain these break times. It is confusing whether I should stay on-site as most of the other workers have a place to rest. Their living conditions are clean and very basic. Women are separated from men, I presume this is the same for couples. They stay in readymade cabins of one room, with a small bathroom, shower unit, toilet and sink. There are no cooking arrangements apart from microwave and kettle. There are no mattresses. 

Figure 4. Kelp Farm, Visual documentation, 2023,
Christine Mackey.

They sleep on one covered matted area together. There are no pillows. There is a selection of blankets only. Although they can access the kitchen this is only permitted during meal times. Breakfast 6:00 am: cold rice, kimchi and cooked fish - very salty. 7:12 am just finished rope cleaning.

Figure 5. Rope, Visual documentation, 2023,
Christine Mackey.

This involves taking used ropes and cleaning them with the back of a long sharp knife. Large chunks of seaweed entangled in the mass are pulled or rubbed away with the knife. We sat huddled in a small group on low plastic chairs beneath the trees on the driveway listening to the leaf blower in the distance. One young woman is speaking with her mother while cleaning the rope. I’m tired now. This waiting exasperates this tiredness. We are waiting for the kelp to arrive. One of the Vietnamese workers (male) seems to be in charge. He appears to know what needs to be done. They are strong and fast workers. The day is calm. It is now 7:18 am. 8:00 am the first load of kelp arrives. We laid out two loads by 9:36 am. Break till 10:00 am, I think? The sound of the kelp left on-site in bundles as we pick each one up head first laid out one by one, side-by-side. 11:30 am menial work cleaning ropes and gathering leaves. Break again. 12:10 finished lunch consisting of eggs, onions, rice and kimchi - hanging about for a while. Dynamics have changed with this new group of workers from Vietnam. 12:10 pm finished. I leave just before 18:00 pm. Later that evening, news that the kelp farmer does not want me back. I am not exactly sure why? Apparently, I did not show enough initiative for the job and was too slow. There was no discussion about this. This news was relayed directly to me from Sunyoung. I am disappointed. I am not sure I would have stayed for the 4 weeks as the working hours are long (14 hours), the work hard, the food not great and lack of direction proved difficult. I was also struggling with the different languages on-site: Korean, Thai and Vietnamese with very little English or hardly any. Google Translate and other apps are too slow to use well. You cannot bring or use your mobile when working. It was so hot one day that my mobile overheated! 

16th May, Tuesday. Sunyoung has negotiated a potential new kelp farm for me to work in. It is early morning and my potential new boss has come to the house to chat about the possibility of going to work on her farm. She needs to discuss this with her husband and will talk later. She does. By 14:00 pm that same day she collects and brings me to her place located out of the village on the coast road - a 10-minute drive or even less from the village. We take a turn right and follow a steep road up the mountain. The site is a quarter of the size of the previous field. No migrant farmers are working on this site. It is a small family-run enterprise. Her husband Giloon Park and his mother are there. He is the nephew of the first kelp farmer I worked with. We set to work quickly. The temperature is hot. We take regular breaks with water and juice provided by Mihwa. We work until 18.00 pm. Mihwa drives me home. It is not clear how this working situation will unfold. If work continues here, it will be a part-time arrangement. A famous dance group from Seoul have arrived and will be based at this farm for the next 6/7 days. They are volunteering as they intend to make a responsive work/performance on-site.
No more Kelp farming for me!

Figure 6. Kelp farm, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Time on my Hands

       There is a lie in the task.
       We belong to movements.
       We are water.4

Figure 7. Time on my hands, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey. 

In response to developments on the kelp farm, as outlined above, I have more time than I thought available for this residency program, and it has forced me to rethink my position while living on the island. What possible engagements could be enacted with the local community (if any) and how a ‘project’ could be pursued in response to this place, the people and the general activities of a marine-based agricultural society set in a village context. I have since extended this social engagement to move beyond the human and include other species and sites. I curated for myself some key research questions to activate this new position. These include: 

What do you want to experience in this place?

What are the differences between acting out as a migrant worker as opposed to a field worker (artist)?

What impact will our being have on this place’? Legacy issues (if any?)

        Where do my waters flow and collect to and from?
        Who drinks them?
        Are we taking or giving?
        What happened when our bodies are out there in a kelp field? 
        What does this mean for practice? 
        How to engage with others? 
        Is there an engagement process or is it simply just to absorb the farming processes and the daily activity of the migrant worker?
        Is this a live form of mimesis - the rude compulsion of becoming the ‘other’? 
        What does it mean to pretend/copy/mimic the other? 
        Where is the voice of the migrant worker? 
        How do we engage when our own language skills are fairly useless in this environment? 
        How do we do?
        What or where are the barriers?
        How does one map a new place without a map?
        Draw routes through unknown pathways?
        Encounter and pay homage to the weeds?
        Bird songs versus territory lines?
        Plant communities versus territory lines?
        Will I cast the walk with plants and seaweed?
        How to memorialize the complexity of daily sounds and bow to the majestic tides of the seas?

Abstract thoughts help. Resistance - Localized actions - Adaptations. Disruption - in opposition to/of their needs. Navigate environmental perception as we move along paths and watery oceanic routes rather than in places. Sense of ground and air around them. Climatic conditions.

       Lay out the fronds
       Head first, body north.
       Wet work.
       Bough bent back.5

How Do We Serve the Potatoes and with Whom?

Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”6

I did have one strong engagement activated with the cultivation of the small garden plots in front of the house. Here with some of the local women, we weeded and dug up drills and planted seed potato tubers that I brought from Ireland (Alouette organic seed potatoes and Connect main crop, Leitrim) and also some cabbage seeds (those seeds do not seem to have taken to the soil).

Figure 8. Potatoes, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 9. Potatoes, Visual documentation, 2023, Gatari Surya Kusuma.

Figure 10. Potatoes, Visual documentation, 2023, Gatari Surya Kusuma.

I have been keeping a careful watch on these drills - unearthing the soil around the plants and keeping them regularly watered. While outside doing this work, I imagined catching the attention of the women but mostly our paths did not cross. People are busy with their own work and with the kelp. When it rains it is for a few days at a time and then long dry gaps.

       It is raining.
       Stay put.
       Wash clothes.
       Clean fridge.

Figure 11. Potato drills, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

In Autumn, when new participants or returning people arrive, they can dig up, cook and possibly share this food with the women who planted the potatoes with me (Gatari was on-site. She could follow this up, which I have mentioned to her in conversation?). This could generate a space for new conversations through the reciprocal sharing of planting seeds, cooking food and the exchange of recipes guided by this initial seed-planting engagement. I could be there in spud spirit! This planting activity led to an interest in the vegetable plots scattered around the village. Documenting these plots, noting what is grown - mainly onions, chillies, potatoes, corn, cabbage and salad leaves and whether it is the villager's only access to fresh green food apart from what is in the supermarket.

Figure 12. Village garden plots, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 13. Village garden plots, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

There is only one shop in the village down by the port. It does not stock fresh food. Trucks circumnavigate the kelp farms providing food and other essential items, though mainly accessed by the migrant Thai community. I have noticed large and small handmade clay vessels clustered outside people's homes and sheltered from the burning heat. Onggi is hand-crafted from stoneware clay. These containers are a Korean culinary tradition to ferment foods, including ganjang (soy sauce), gochujang (red pepper paste), and doenjang (soybean paste), as well as kimchi. These and other field observations have motivated research visits to Islands such as Jeju, Saengil-myeon and Cheongsan-myeon. I organize these trips independently. This experience gave insight into the diverse land and oceanic agricultural systems and the sheer scale of these farms on water and land. There was an incredible array and mix of urban gardens for food using what portion of land was available.

Figure 14. Onggi jars, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

A recent land statistic for community gardens and urban farms based in Seoul estimates that over 170 hectares are currently in use, with the government actively promoting these plots through their educational advisory program ‘farm clinics’. I also followed the crafting and material folk traditions for various objects associated with these farming practices with a specific focus on the sea - such as fishing nets woven in hemp ‘Sambe’, rope making in straw, bamboo rafts, twine growing frames and staked rope bottom culture for seaweed, gourd buoys and woven bags for carrying medicinal herbs. 

Figure 15. Woven net with shells and stones, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 16. Gourd buoy and net, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 17. Rope making, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 18. Woven medicine bag, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Mariculture Conceptual and Physical Refractions

“If we could see our planet through the lens of the cultures of other species, could it change our relationship with other species and nature”.8

My interest began from the study of marine plant communities (Algae), embedded cultural, social and scientific relationships and how they play out their agency in the environment; stories and folk traditions, associated work tools and eco-philosophical properties of seaweed; seaweed as a potential material in creative practice expanded and distilled from pigment extraction to bioplastics as a material substrate for casting objects, making objects, film work, drawing and print. 

       Places left undone
       Shadows dance
       Picking holes in nets
       Edible shell middens.9

From an environmental context I was interested in what effects large-scale industrial practices have on the material and wider environmental conditions? What are the effects of climate change on the local mariculture and wider communities? It was obvious while here the level of pollution and materials that were drifting in from the sea and cast ashore or trapped in the mudflats.

Figure 19. Kelp farms afloat, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 20. Floating structures, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

To some degree I did experience working with kelp on the farm, the processes involved in the harvesting and drying of this hard menial process and its financial importance for coastal communities. An additional interest which I will follow up on when I get back to Ireland is to link my South Korea research with the coastal communities of Connemara in Co. Galway (and beyond). I will also think about the transformation of these algae communities - through their metabolic states, for example, fermentation pickling and other kinds of preservation processes and how these processes can be adapted in a creative context. These species can act out other kinds of shapeshifting movements both in and off the body while they can also reimagine their forms into various kinds of metaphoric phases or bits.

Figure 21. Experimental print, Using analogue processes and the phenol capacities of plants to draw out their agency on expired photographic print paper, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

The above paragraphs serve as a basic conceptual framework that I will continue to work and develop from and which inform my research on mariculture here and in Ireland and beyond. The seeding of the seaweeds and the structures and materials that float out these farms - mainly polystyrene buoys and plastic platforms with nylon ropes. I will consider how these structures could be re-imagined with alternative ‘natural’ materials. I set up a small table at the porch entrance into the main room. This space is useful as a gathering site to lay out the stuff and think with and through this stuff. This strand is informed by an ongoing project Mesocosm10 devised as an experimental system that bridges the gap between the laboratory and the real world. 

       Buoys cradle the rocks.
       Buoys float on water.
       Buoys bump with other Buoys.
       Buoys break.
       Buoys scatter.
       Where are the Buoys.11

This project responds to environmental stresses specific to a locale, devising floating structures that can heal damaged water and land systems using a creative mix of woven plant material and experimental mycelium buoys with phytoremediator plants grown from my seed collection. Moving from this original baseline will be a consideration of the damaging effects industrial-scale water-based farming has on our oceans. Also, the effects of climate change on algae with recent research on the pathology of farmed kelp and other species. New scientific research engaged with the dispersal of pathogens via kelp rafts. I am keen to respond and explore these ongoing threats that have only recently come under investigation.12

Figure 22. Coral captured in nets, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 23. Pathogens on kelp, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

This introductory brief will continue to inform the evolutionary progression of this long-term engagement with algae here and beyond.

The Garden Plot

As a keen gardener, keeper of a small plot and seed saver, I have a deep attachment to plants as living organisms existing beyond us and our needs to exploit, harvest and use without recourse to the plant's existence. Practiced daily on an environmental platform that includes the ecology of place and the transformative powers of biological material altered through different creative processes. Materials change in contact with other materials. Atmospheric pressures include photosynthesis (humans are incapable of capturing sunlight for food!) which interacts with other molecules; Natasha Myers succinctly describes the process “as pulling matter out of air.”13 Also, let’s not forget the metabolic transaction of ingested plant material for humans and animals as a source of energy.  I will merge these trajectories with ongoing research that I had anticipated for this residency program on seaweed culture and cultivation in Ireland. 

Figure 24. The three women with baskets, 
Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 25. Hand harvesting with sickle, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 26. Spreading seaweed on potato ridges, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

There are political debates these cultural practices can carry. For example, the rights to harvest wild plant material, the mass cultivation of seaweed in general through different lab and farm-based contexts and ethics of care for the Ocean and the plants - that watery body which is under serious threat from mass pollutants and human-based practices that occur on and off the sea. Who cares for her? We, humans, are 70% water and carry in our veins "sodium, potassium and calcium” proportionate to seawater. Such contractual ideas informed by writers and thinkers such as Natasha Myers who proposes a Plantanthropology a novel discipline that would consider the effective ecologies between plants and people outside capitalist extractivism. This foregrounds Anna Tsing's ideas around the need to make space for collaborative processes working around trading trajectories - what she calls “patchy sites”14 between plants and people that may help us to survive or simply put by Donna Haraway, making “kin”15 with ‘other’. Finally, it calls attention to how we need to alter and challenge our myopic view of nature as “green, global, unanimous and nice”.16

What Did I Do Here?

Active on-site, I devised a relationship with this place through daily processes enacting keen observational strategies with various tools and methods. My feet take me in and out behind the sheds looking at odd

abandoned buildings littered with an abundance of tools, objects and work clothes. Empty nets hang from the roofs. Shadows dance patterns across concrete walls. Bits of rope strewn everywhere you turned. The light is sharp. The wind is changeable. The tides are consistent.

Figure 27. Site-work, Drawing nets on hanji (Korean traditional paper) with charcoal, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

As a visual thinker, it is important to be creatively active, working in tandem with conceptual research. That means some material transaction has to be happening while in situ. This means different things to different people. I have decided to engage with a deeply embodied ‘fieldwork’ experience in this landscape by sensing the environment and applying a multi-faceted fieldwork process not bounded by any one kind of approach, tradition or technology. Drawing on all of these potentials drives creative interest. The practice of daily walks carries with it the recording tools - sound, print and video to build a documentary archive of different sites (I came without a computer, and refinements of these data bits will be edited at a later stage in my studio in Ireland). Writing responsive short poetic statements and quick sketches/diagrams to walk, think, to see. I also enacted a direct intervention from an ongoing local-specific series 'Acts of Care’ on an abandoned site near the port.

Video 28. Acts of Care, Video (unedited), Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

The remnants of the industry are collected in the form of bits of nets, ropes, broken plastic, seawater, and wild plants from the sea while exploring the ‘wild’ weedy herbal plants (that all come from somewhere else), gathering and extracting pigments from individual plants. Activities draw attention to the neglect of these plants. These 'papery' traces are pursued by the plants themselves. I am merely the conveyer for this process to happen.17 This colorful trail leads to various abandoned ‘brownfield’ sites and disused sheds and factory spaces. My main guides are the ones that speak out: Mugwort -  Ssuk (Artemisia Princep), Vervain - Ma-pyeon-cho-sok, Vervain L. Verbenaceae, Fleabane - Gae-mang-cho-sok Erigeron L. (Asteraceae) and Tickseed - Do-kkae-bi-ba-neul-sok, Coreopsis tintoria (Asteraceae).18

Figure 29. Mugwort, Pigment on hanji, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 30. Tickseed, Pigment on hanji, of Care, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 31. Fleabane, Pigment on hanji, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Mugwort is the plant of dreams. Magical properties expel evil and misfortune. It was used in scrying (future telling) and divination. In Korea, there is a tiger-shaped talisman - aeho - made from mugwort that would have been worn in women's hair or hung above the door for protection. Vervain is the floral symbol of enchantment, styled a sacred herb by the Greeks and ascribed a thousand properties not the least of which was its power of reconciling enemies. Fleabane is so-called for its apparent ability to ward off fleas. Since this plant does a good job of attracting insects, it may not have been the most effective insect repellent. Its reputation persisted. The plant’s scientific name is Pulicaria dysenterica, from the Latin for flea (pulex). Old herbals claim that ‘fleabane bound to the forehead is a great helpe to cure one of the frensie' and it’s good for ‘the itch’ and other skin disorders. Tickseed is a particular species used to produce yellow and brown dyes. The flower represents warmth in the language of flowers. Coreopsis comes from the Greek koris (bug) and opsis (view).

Material Transactions

       “A text speaks of plants.
       A text has plants for footnotes.
       A leaflet rests on a bed of leaves.19

To some degree, I am physically processing and assembling a range of found materials, entangling the natural with the synthetic. These activities open a dialogue with and between the materials, the contextual research, liminal zones between sites or ecotones and their broader conditional effects. Materials locate this discourse towards an ecology of the islands. This is expanded through Guattari's ideas around ecosophy as a complex triad of relations that flow between the mental, the social and the environment.20 Materials acquire power because their networks are complex. Loaded by the actors mobilized in their making and in their uses and coordinating amplifications of same abound. They can scatter, be invisible and transitory and trade like stacks of dried Kelp.

Figure 32. Stacks of Kelp, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

They can circulate and embody different kinds of references and resonances with non-human species. These material entanglements create a holding space to think about the vulnerability of watery organisms and the complex habitats that circumnavigate coastlines. Informing these material transactions and processes are the stresses between the village/industry/town, natural/synthetic/hybrid, migrant/local/artist, cultivate /wild/weedy, farm/fresh/frozen and how these relationships can become knowable, played out and observed with me, the artist, acting out in hand with a net bag of tricks and tools. Drawing an entangled ecology of the islands with non-human species and their long-term legacy. Their potential vulnerability with regard to climate change. This also informs a secondary interest in the erosion of habitats due to the changes to their ecosystems from the effects of industry on coral, which wild microalgae and other organisms need to live on.

Figure 33. Drawing on site, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

The lack of sunlight available to other marine plants and species due to the clogging of the water surface by the excess or overcrowding of particular plants, and the types of materials used in the processing of the harvest of seaweed (e.g. plastics and polystyrene floats) may not be very beneficial to humans and other watery creatures including the farmed kelp. The seepage of microplastics into the core structure of the marine algae digested by humans and animals informs a circular economy of material references and effects. This notion of material reference draws from Latour's ideas around circulating reference whereby a thing is never a unified whole but matter through which a series of step-by-step sequences then becomes a thing, then form, then signs and circulates back to matter. These transformations take the place of the other through a series of successive movements in the field. Creative examples of these can include but are not limited to walking, drawing, photos, plant sampling, sound recording, material gathering, note taking and text. Processes retrace localized phenomena presented beyond their original coordinates. For example, an individual kelp frond (sample) can become witness to an entire population enmeshed with the economy. It speaks from and through a complex network of relations scattered between locations, states, patterns and communities.

Figure 34. Note Taking, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 35. Drawing with kelp, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

The Seaweed Auction - Wando-eup

       “A plant can become a sole representation of thousands of others”. 21

Fieldwork has extended to the city following the noticeable transportation of kelp out of the village. I set out on several day visits taking the local bus there and back to Wando-eup, not knowing the exact location. It was somewhere down at the port. I walked towards the grittier end. Odd noises began to creep in my footsteps. What I would find there? Was I heading in the right direction? I was clueless. 

Figure 36. Seaweed auction, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 37. Seaweed auction, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 38. Seaweed auction, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

The pathway that runs parallel to the main road opened up. Leading out towards a large drive-in space. Bales of kelp are delivered and stacked according to the line of trucks waiting to offload their goods. The energy was palpable. I spent hours looking, walking, and recording with video, stills and sound. After a few visits, people became used to me being there. Some came and spoke as best they could. Inquiring who I was, and what was I doing there. Why 'take so many photos?’. This experience of following the kelp from the ocean to the auction house has inspired me to use this situation with the recorded film and soundscapes to develop a potential work that centers on the capitalist structure that trades a species. This trade matter will locate the working project title Cast-up, Cast-off, Cast-on beyond the ecology of these islands. Matters acquire power because of the complicated networks that they imply and the people mobilized in the skill, distribution and applications of these materials. They cast their net wide that may resonate amongst different kinds of non-human species.22

In Conclusion: Potential Visual Assemblage

To record and mark the agency of marine life intertwined with vast levels of pollution and climate change that exploits the body of the ocean. How: I will construct a narrative spoken from the voice of kelp, informed by various scientific papers and trade articles that include the expansion of the seaweed industry across the globe that I have read so far. This textual component, combined with digital footage from the village, the auction, and elsewhere will be woven (edited) with experimental work on film (16mm film, 35/120 mm). 

Figure 39. 16mm Black and White Film development and processing onsite, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 40. 16mm Black and White Film development and processing onsite, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 41. 16mm Black and White Film development and processing onsite, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

These analogue processes in film and print mean no camera is involved. The imprint of this place utilize the phenol capacity of local plant material (seaweed in this context) with household ingredients to draw out an invisible landscape that attempts to capture the atmospheric stresses of the sea and watery species. The algae flow of unseen toxins entangled with objects cast ashore (real and metaphorically).

Figure 42. Experimental print. Using analogue processes and the phenol capacities of plants to draw out their agency on expired photographic print paper, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 43. Experimental print. Using analogue processes and the phenol capacities of plants to draw out their agency on expired photographic print paper, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

Figure 44. Experimental print. Using analogue processes and the phenol capacities of plants to draw out their agency on expired photographic print paper, Visual documentation, 2023, Christine Mackey.

This method of working directly with material sources avoids a non-representational view of the site and all its active players. An assemblage, combining the natural with the synthetic opens a dialogue between different and competing materials, the research, the site and wider conditional effects. This is what Bruno Latour refers to as swarm work.23This implies a collaborative effort across my work as an artist embedded in a community -  in which humans and non-humans embody the textual fabric of a becoming.

Figure 45. Experimental drawing work on paper that activates the phenol capacities of seaweed in a secret brew of toxins and seawater cast-up, 2023, Christine Mackey.

The work's outcome is not clear. Film, book, visual essay, prints, installations, more research, object making - the list, for know is endless. It will for sure become a hybrid mix of botanical science, art and food. This weaves an ecology of the islands with non-human species and their long-term legacy, and potential vulnerability with regard to climate change and environmental stresses. 

I will cast it out from there.

Christine Mackey (1968~ ) is an independent research-based visual artist attending to complex environmental issues, iterated through a range of site-specific and socially engaged contexts explored through the subject of the seed and the agency of plant matter. Her approach cultivates relational and site-responsive works that look to the smaller-scale land-based notions of nature and the act of remembering localized farms, public gardens, common lands, and vegetal systems. These lost, forgotten, or stressed subjects are transformed to reflect alternative patterns of place, ecosystems, and plant life. Through this eclectic and microscopic lens, she visualizes the entangled narratives and often antagonistic relationship between human and non-human species and pursues this interest across four developments in the way plants can be regarded and researched socially and culturally, namely: human-plant geographies; critical plant studies; cultural botany; and environmental change. Working across disciplines, Mackey’s drawings, archival and photographic images and texts, installations, public-sited interventions, temporary events, and publications generate an assemblage of materials including multiple sites of interest, archival intuitions, and community integration. Her work is speculative, open-ended, and transient while being embedded in the biological, social, and historical narratives of place and the environmental imperatives of the present. Current research engages with plant material as phyto-remediators for damaged water and soil systems co-structured as woven floating gardens Mesocosm. Running Parallel is an experimental series of works whereby the phenol capacities of plant material are grown and harvested to create an embodied expression of plants to places to people combining the composition of explorative textual narratives through text and film.

She graduated with a Ph. D at University of Ulster and Fulbright Research Award, USA at University of New Mexico, Art & Ecology LandArts. Her major solo exhibitions include The Long Field (The Leitrim Sculpture, 2021) and Safe Hold, Wexford Arts Centre. Group exhibitions include Artists for Plants Svalbard Seed Vault, INTERFACE, CITY Highlands Gallery, Drogheda Municipal Art Gallery, Drawing Box International ongoing touring show (2022). Recent residencies and upcoming projects include; EcoShowBoat (Leitrim), Utopiana (Geneva), Politics of Food (Delfina Foundation, London), Woodland Symposium Research Residency Interface Galway (2022/2023), DRAW International (2023), France and Water LANDS Horizon (2023/27). Her work is supported through the Arts Council of Ireland Bursary Awards, Culture Moves Europe, and the Leitrim Arts Office.

1 In using this title, my aim is to weave a narrative across time and space, and across materials and continents in ‘more than human’ contexts.

2 Christine Mackey, 2023. Short poetic texts in response to my being here.

3 Christine Mackey, 2023. Short poetic texts in response to my being here.

4 Christine Mackey, 2023. Short poetic texts in response to my being here.

5 Christine Mackey, 2023. Short poetic texts in response to my being here.

6 Kimmerer, Robin Wall (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, Scientific knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed editions, p. 339.

7 Christine Mackey, 2023. Short poetic texts in response to my being here.

8 Britton, Easkey (2023). Flow: Connecting with the Patterns and Power of Water. Watkins books, p. 177.

9 Christine Mackey, 2023. Short poetic texts in response to my being here.

10 Available at:

11 Christine Mackey, 2023. Short poetic texts in response to my being here.

12 Mabey, A.L., Parvizi, E. & Fraser, C.I. (2021). ‘Pathogen inferred to have dispersed thousands of kilometres at sea, infecting multiple keystone kelp species.’ Mar Biol. 168, 47 (2021). Available at:

13 Georgina Reid (2021). Welcome to the Planthroposcene: A Conversation with Natasha Myers. Wonderground. Print Issue No. 1, 2021.

14 Tsing, A. L., Swanson, H. A., Gan, E., and Bubandt, N. (eds.) (2017). Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Tsing, A.L., Mathews, A.S. and Bubandt, N. (2019) ‘Patchy Anthropocene: Landscape Structure, Multispecies History, and the Retooling of Anthropology: An Introduction to Supplement 20’, Current Anthropology, 60(20), pp. 186-197.

15 Haraway, D. (2015). Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulhucene. Donna Haraway in Conversation with Martha Kenney’, in Davis, H. and Turpin, E. (eds.). Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. London: Open Humanities Press, pp. 255-271.

16 ‘Can we land on earth? An interview with Bruno Latour’ (2017). (Exhibition and catalogue). Narrayannapress, Odder.

17 The pigmentation in plants is variable due to the level of toxicity in soil conditions and the heavy metals that they absorb. How to play these pigments off against a pristine landscape (if it possibly exists) is an interesting thought. With regards to the pigments across the seaweed community, these marine natural pigments include chlorophylls (green), carotenoids (yellow, orange, red and purple) and phycobiliproteins (fluorescent proteins of various colors, including fuchsia, purple-blue and cyan) allow immense medicinal potential and health benefits. They are used across a range of therapies such as (PTT) photo thermal therapy, (PDT) Photodynamic therapy and (PAI) Photoacoustic. The other unknown composite in relation to algae is their use in dyeing food.

18 Beggerticks, Black jack, Burr marigolds, Cobbler’s pegs, Spanish needles, Stickseeds, Tickseeds, Tickseed sunflowers Bidens L. (Asteraceae).

19 Latour, Bruno (1999). Chapter 2. ‘Circulating reference: Sampling the soil in the Amazon forest’. Pandora’s Hope, Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Harvard University Press, p. 34.

20 Guattari, Felix. (2000). ‘The Three Ecologies’. Translated by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton. London and New Brunswick, NJ: The Athlone Press.

21 Latour, Bruno. (1999) p. 28.

22 Cast embodies multiple meanings to play with such as ‘cast lots’ or gamble, cast a spell, cast your mind back (or do you remember), make a copy.

23 See: