Staying connected – A relationship with the ocean and beyond

Happy November everyone, & welcome to my artist takeover for Greenhouse Culture this month. I was delighted when Ashleigh Downey invited me to talk about my processes, practice and what motivates me. We recently connected  through the Climate Culture Exhibition in October in which she kindly included one of my sculptural pieces and moving image work. Just wonderful to know that there are like-minded people out there who find inspiration through nature or environmental issues and use that to create something positive and meaningful.

I’ll start with a short introduction. My name is Nina and I live in a beautiful seaside village in the South of Donegal. I work as an independent artist and costume maker. I’ve adopted Ireland as my home about 10 years ago and am originally from a culturally diverse metropolitan area in Germany. My deep passion for the sea and creating a home away from the city to bring up my children has brought me here.

Wild swimming and Sisterhood

So…, November! I feel grateful being in the space that I am in right now. My days are super busy, and I don’t really know where I find all the hours in the day to accomplish what’s on my to-do-list. Days keep getting shorter and less daylight hours don’t make things any easier! Still, I feel very grateful. Staying busy and working on the things I love makes my life full and helps me focus on my deadlines. Keeping busy also helps me with the environmental guilt that I am sure many of us feel today. Awareness is part of finding a solution but can quickly turn into something that presses us down every day. I find that I can turn that guilt into something positive if I use it to stay focused and active.

I find a huge comfort in being close to the ocean, walking along the shoreline, watching the waves roll in and crash at the shore. The constant hum of the sea and wind, it calms my mind and helps me to concentrate on my thoughts. I love exploring tidal pools and take a lot of inspiration from the small sea creatures and fauna that you can find in that space between above and under water. A lot of my artwork takes direct inspiration from this space and sometimes even gets made out in the water. I deeply care for the ocean as part of my home, my life source and my happy place and I try to find like-minded people. At this stage I’m sure everyone has one friend or knows someone who enjoys sea swimming, there are groups popping up across the country. I’ve connected with my local community and we love meeting up and going in the cold water (the water temperature has insanely dropped over the last week!) for a swim. There is nothing quite that’s comparable to the fresh dip in the ocean, drifting in the sea and the feeling of connectedness. Connected to your immediate environment and connected to the friends you’re sharing the experience with.

Have you heard of the Salty Sea Sisters? They have a fabulous wild swim map with locations you can travel to for that special dip around Ireland. They’re also quite active on Instagram @saltyseasisters and you might end up with finding a swimming group near to you – and not just women! In September they celebrated their first birthday with a  wonderful event up in Fairhead, Northern Ireland (Game of Thrones fans, anyone?). It was magical! A weekend filled with swimming, abseiling, crafting, yoga, live music, and banter. Not to forget some unreal scenery, hiking and camping thrown in. Being out and staying active in nature really keeps me going. 

Working on a variety of projects helps me to get things done and stay happy at the same time. I do get bored if I work on something for too long and need a second or third project to keep me going. The key for me is to stay organised, manage my time and focus on one goal at a time. Until I pause, calm my mind, and then keep going on something else and repeat. At times it gets crazy busy as I tend to create too many opportunities for myself, especially if you throw a family, pets and house chores in, but I have to say, staying active really keeps me happy.

Connecting with organisations that work in areas that I care about, also helps me to stay positive and inspired. To mention a few close to my heart: Seal Rescue Ireland, Project Jonah New Zealand and Climate Ambassadors Ireland. All three do important work in their chosen field and help to care and create an awareness for our environment. For example, Project Jonah, an organisation that has built a network of volunteers across NZ to respond to live strandings of marine mammals. Their work is incredible, yes, they are on the other side of the world, but their experience is invaluable on a global scale. Make sure to check them out. 

Sculpting and Catching Memories

I love learning new skills! Mastering new technical skills, crafting, or practising new digital skills, is quite enjoyable to me. At the moment, I am looking forward to a sculpting workshop with Paul McDonnell next month. If you want to learn some sculpting from home, I can recommend a free workshop by Paul. You can find Sculpt a skull here.

Right now, my personal work circles around reusing materials that have a  ‘memory’ of an encounter with the ocean. I am breaking down torn wetsuits that cannot be repaired. Most wetsuits are made from an oil-based neoprene foam which isn’t environment friendly and are destined for the bin at some point. For me this used material offers an opportunity of a unique source of medium that I am using in sculptural work. I find it attractive as I believe the wetsuit as an object has a memory. A memory of the ocean and of being close to a human’s skin. I am experimenting with different techniques to manipulate and alter the material and test out what new shapes and forms I can create. At the same time, I am working with copper wire, making sculptural forms, that remind me of underwater organisms and kelp forests. Sometimes I’ll mix both and dip it in plaster to obscure what is there and to freeze the piece in time. The plaster reacts with the copper and catches its colour while the flexible form of the neoprene tries to break free from the plaster which becomes brittle in places. Maybe it doesn’t want to be restricted.

If you are intrigued to find out more about oceans and human health, our relationships and interconnectedness, please read on here on SOPHIE,  Seas, Oceans & Public Health in Europe. I am particularly interested in research studies around blue spaces and wellbeing and hope to further my own research in this area. Interaction with blue spaces is beneficial to our health but puts pressure on our coastal and marine ecosystems, and as we cannot bring everyone to the sea, is it possible to bring the ocean to the people? Can art function as a link to create ocean experiences? Immersive art installations, soundscapes or simulated experiences with augmented reality could be possibilities to explore.

Thank you for reading this far and sharing my thoughts with me. A book that I’d like to recommend to all of you, Saltwater in the Blood by Easkey Britton. Hopefully you find some time to read over the darker days of the year. Or listen to the audio book, here is a teaser beautifully read by Easkey. This one is very close to my heart. Or if you are more of a podcast listener, this might interest you, Oceans of Learning by the Marine Institute, Episode 1 Our Ocean: Our Life with Easkey Britton

Have a lovely end of the year and enjoy the quieter season.

This busy lady launched a sustainable swim & fitness wear label in September 2021. The pieces feature hand drawn art prints which are rooted in her sculptural work. Nina has a strong background in textiles and costume making, which is evident when you see her work. Her most recent project was a production called The Wonder, an adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s book by Element Pictures and Netflix.

Also as Nina mentioned at the beginning, two of her exquisite artworks (a sculpture and a video piece) are included in the online exhibition CLIMATE CULTURE; an ‘art, culture and climate action’ initiative developed in collaboration with An Taisce, Climate Ambassador Programme.

Thank you so much Nina Fern for your inspirational TAKEOVER. You call to my mind the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941),
who wrote in his 1910 mystic play The King Of The Dark Chamber, “You cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water“.
Time for a swim come the new year, me thinks…

To view all contributors: TAKEOVER Full List