Wexford Arts Centre 16 October – 3 December 2022

A solo exhibition of work by Laura Fitzgerald

Curated by Catherine Bowe

Guest Speaker: Programme Director of Art at SETU, Wexford, Dr. Ciara Healy


02 Image

Right-of-Way installation view, Wexford Art Centre, 2022. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.

02 Image

Sweet Stand: ISCP Drawings (1-6), water soluble crayons on paper, Granddad, New York, 2016. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.

The Weather Looks Threatening Today 

written and read by Dr Ciara Healy for the opening on 15th Octover, 2022 

Laura Fitzgerald at Wexford Arts Centre October 2022.

Laura Fitzgerald has a fondness for lists. Currently, on her website there is a list of approximately 72 emojis, commonly used in text messages, which have been reappropriated to describe aspects of the art industry.

A knife emoji, for example, pertains to a killer artists talk – which is something I am going to aspire to do today.

A fire emoji represents the phrase “Happy to Announce” – the ubiquitous and often irritating preamble seen on social media when artists are celebrating a publication, exhibition or funding award. Laura helpfully offers the symbol of a fire extinguisher beside the fire emoji -this is something that is useful to have in the art industry emoji collection, as it stamps out any signs of pesky artist-hubris-on-Instagram, instantly.

I was thinking about the kind of lists I could use that might introduce the themes that are explored in Laura’s exhibition today. Lists play such an interesting role in her work – there are recordings of her father reciting a list of all the items he keeps in the cow shed, there are shopping lists, there are lists of words that are used to describe agricultural land and land loss.

The first list I wrote in response to Laura’s work is an imaginary soundtrack of 10 songs. I have tried to put them in chronological order so that they reflect the context from which the work emerged as well as saying a little bit about Laura herself as an artist.

So, here is my list of songs:

1. My Father’s Eyes by Eric Clapton.

2. Here I am by Dolly Parton

3. London Calling by The Clash

4. Nothing But the Same Old Story by Paul Brady

5. Cleaning Windows by Van Morrison

6. So Lonely – The Police

7. End of the Road by Boyz to Men (often on repeat)

8. I want to Break Free by Queen

9. Feed the World by Band Aid

10. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by REM

11. Bonus Track: Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver

This list might make more sense if we know a little bit more about Laura’s life and the work in the show. She lives in Kerry and comes from a farming family. Her Father is a farmer and plays a significant role in inspiring and helping to fabricate her work. Her mother is American and has also featured in her work – most recently offering a guided meditation for stressed out tractors at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. Laura lived in Dublin and London and is a graduate of both the National College of Art and Design, and the Royal College of Art. Her family, the farm and the places where she has lived have had a profound influence on her ability to use art as a connecting force between disparate groups, as she opens up questions and actions on issues around biodiversity, agriculture, and the management and care for land and nature.

In Laura’s emoji list on her website for example, a circle of green arrows commonly used as a symbol for recycling, refers, in Laura’s Art Industry emoji collection, to an Artists Career Options (particularly in Ireland). This symbol says so much about both Laura’s and other Irish artists lived experiences of sustaining a creative practice in Ireland, particularly in a rural environment.

While the Yachtswoman and entrepreneur Ellen MacArthur coined the term Circular Economy to mobilse systems solutions that support policymakers to address climate change, the work in this exhibition explores the idea of a self-circulatory art world where the artist is forever reinventing herself, repeating herself and recycling herself to sustain her practice.

Laura’s supermarket on the ground floor is filled with drawings, a check out and a supermarket trolley. This supermarket says many things, but primarily explores the idea of a funded artist selling work to fund the production of more work. The irony here is that Laura’s work is concerned with farming, which has, in recent years, also become a funded activity that involves selling a product to fund further production.

Farming, like Art, also requires collaboration and support from family members and friends, in order to be productive. Laura, like her farmer father, involves family members in the fabrication of her work.

Students and local artists in Wexford, for example, from the South East Technological University Wexford Campus collaborated with Laura to make an artists survival manual when she became the recipient of the Emergence Award in 2019 supported by Wexford County Council Arts Department and Wexford Arts Centre. These limited-edition books are found in the shopping trolley downstairs.

Every piece of steel in the downstairs installation – which Laura regards as a large scale expanded drawing -has been hand bent and straightened by her father. The steel is used to create the shelving for the drawings in her supermarket.

Finally, JJ Smith, Laura’s sister’s boyfriend, cleaned and grinded all the metal. In return, Laura was given permission, as a mid-career artist to sit or even stand on the hay bales on her father’s farm, and sometimes to use the remnants of notes made by her father and left around the house, as pieces of conceptual art.

While rural life and agriculture is a central concern in Laura’s work, it is a theme that has influenced many artists over the last two centuries. British Artists of the 19th century, for example, who bore witness to the industrial revolution in Britain, often represented the rural as an idyll or as a paradise lost.

In Ireland, 19th century Landscape painting celebrated the pastoral taming of nature and linked this with the landed classes. The influence of European romantic nationalism was seen in much Irish art concerned with rurality during that period and included the proliferation of Celtic motifs, such as round towers, wolfhounds and ancient heroes which were designed to repair the link with a fractured past.

A more prevalent Victorian representation of rural Ireland was seen in the cartoons of Punch magazine where the rural Irish, most especially rural Irish emigrants, were characterised as feckless, idle and immoral peasants.

In post-independence Ireland, painters such as Sean Keating tied representations of rural Ireland and rural communities to national identity and nationhood. Others, such as Paul Henry carried on the tradition of romanticism in landscapes.

Irish abstract artists of the 20th century turned away from engaging with representations of the rural because they regarded it as a subject matter and place held down by a stifling provincialism.

Romanticism, nationalism and provincialism therefore became the dominant themes when it came to representations of Irish rurality for many decades in Irish visual culture. However, the writer and academic Fintan Cullen (1997) argues that two of the most interesting trends to emerge in Irish art in recent years that challenge these limiting representations, come from a socially coherent group of female artists willing to confront the realities of Irish life and the work of Northern artists formed in the crucible of conflict.

I would argue that Laura is one of those female artists willing to confront the realities of Irish life. She, along with her peers working in and making work about rural environments and communities have formed a new type of visual representation of the rural that is pragmatic, unsentimental, playful, occasionally surreal, and yet at the same time respectful, critical and layered with an innate understanding of what it means to form an authentic kinship with a people and a place. Humour makes the work accessible, and this helps ensure that it resonates with both urban and rural audiences. But there is a lot hidden beneath the surface.


The drawings on the ground floor depict fields and pieces of land that once belonged to, or still belong to, Laura’s family farm. There are images of the family garden, the apple tree, a field shaped like the world cup – which was given the name the world cup field after Italia 90 or the Euro 88, Laura can’t quite remember. There is a field with a large sheet of bailing plastic that has been unravelled down the middle. As children, Laura and her sisters sat on the plastic as their father pulled them along the damp grass – a game that they thought, was quite simply, THE BEST THING EVER.

Each of the drawings on the ground floor were made during a residency or during a period when the artist was funded to make work. Down the middle aisle of Laura’s supermarket for example, is a series of large drawings of fields which were made while Laura was on a residency in the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The shelves on the right-hand side of the middle aisle were made on a ISCP residency in New York. The stone drawings and signage at the back of the supermarket were made in Laura’s studio in Kerry while she was funded to make the work on an Arts Council Bursary. These stone drawings refer to the Irish Neolithic stone mace-head, which is held in the National Museum of Ireland. The original flint head was carved on each of its six sides, with spirals and diamond patterns. The shape of the stone and designs convey the impression of a human head – with the eyes and ears on the sides, and the mouth being the hole where a wooden shaft would once have been.

The stone mace-head was made by an expert craftsman during the Neolithic period, which was a time when farming practices were starting to develop in Ireland. It was discovered in 1982 during archaeological excavations of the passage tomb mound at Knowth, Co Meath. The head, combined with the impressive structure of the passage tomb illustrate how society came together in the Neolithic period for rituals that helped them make sense of life, death and their place in the world.

Laura uses depictions of the stone mace head in her drawings to address the ways in which we value our relationship with land and place. The work acknowledges the fact that long ago we believed that objects, people and the land were intrinsically connected, each having their own agency. The core notions of co-existence, of material sentience and agency are explored repeatedly in each constellation of drawings. In this regard, Laura’s visual language is spoken not just with one authoritarian artists voice, but with the many voices of the materials and collaborators with which she has co-created this exhibition.


The stone heads in these drawings are all eating the land – or vomiting poisonous nitrate rich parts of it out. They look distressed, and, in their distress, Laura invites us to question current socio-political and socio-ecological paradigms. The supermarket is a place where the land is up for sale. It calls attention to our misplaced priorities within capitalist systems and highlights how such systems have the power to turn those who work with the land and the oral histories they hold dear into commodities and objects to be sold. As she puts it herself: When you get to a point where the stones are starting to freak out then you know we are fucked.

02 Image

Everything must go, oil stick and water soluble crayon on John Purcell (customs due) on sheets of imported paper, ignored and mounting FedEx invoices, trips to Tesco, 2022. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.

02 Image

Right-of-Way installation view, Wexford Art Centre, 2022. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.

This is echoed in the slogans that are hung from the ceiling of the supermarket – each slogan is suspended using survival cord from mountain climbing. The Slogans include phrases like:

Are We
We are
For You
Great Loss
Much love
Always Better
Great Cost
Great Rage
Great Gain
Great Pain

These slogans are derived from the language of advertising. They offer the promise of lower prices, of great value, of happiness and comfort. And yet the offers are hollow and empty when we consider the fact that rural environments and communities currently face unprecedented socio-ecological pressures and changes. Laura asks us how we will negotiate our relationship with, and our responsibility towards a warming world. What choices are we making each day to acknowledge the labour gone into the land to produce our food. The stone drawings at the back of the gallery embody that anxiety. Are they eating the land to protect it or destroy it? It is an anxiety many of us have felt– that fragility- especially in marginalised parts of the country where land requires so much more work and investment to become productive.


Farmers often see themselves as custodians of their environment and make many positive contributions to nature. This fact is often overlooked. Over the past two decades, farming practices have changed radically in Ireland. The perception of farming, held by members of the non-farming community in particular, has also changed. With the intensification and mechanisation of agriculture, issues such as water pollution, animal welfare and biodiversity have come to the fore. At the same time, the increased use of social media along with the urbanisation of the Irish population has meant that these concerns have gained more attention, and, in certain cases, exaggeration, as far as many farming families are concerned.

In a recent exhibition at the Royal Hibernian academy, Laura produced a sculptural work titled Rural Stress (2022), which highlighted some of these concerns. The sculpture she produced was a large tractor fabricated from steel rods and rebar. Beneath the tractor frame was a thick rubber mat (which referenced both mechanics, agricultural housing, and yoga) along with a set of headphones. Participants were invited to lie back and identify with the body of a worn-out guilt-ridden diesel chomping Massey Ferguson, pushed to the limit by cocaine fuelled operatives cutting grass until 3am on warm nights in August. The guided meditation, narrated by ‘Laura’s Mom’, asked participants to let go of their climate killing, septic tank emptying, slurry spraying, methane munching past, so as to embrace a more body- positive outlook. The recording encouraged acceptance, reassuring us (and all our fellow exhausted tractors), that it is not always possible to run efficiently on chip oil and have a large following on TikTok. Here, With humour, alacrity as well as a profound understanding and insight into what it means to live and work in rural Co. Kerry, especially during a lockdown, Laura created a narrative in drawing, sculpture, and sound, of a particular kind of rural resilience, irreverence, and hope.


For me, some of the most poignant drawings in this supermarket collection are on the left-hand side of the main aisle and are titled the I want to go home series. Realised on brown paper, these drawings of Laura’s family farm were made whilst she was working in London and call to mind Fintan O’Toole’s (2002) suggestion that

Home is a word that has no meaning without the term away. Belonging to a place has often been, in direct proportion to one’s distance from it: The further away home is, the larger it looms.

The implications of living in a foreign country meant that there was a continuous need for Laura to make visible what was absent. This is certainly the case in those 3 quiet drawings of familiar fields, re-created from Laura’s memory. The more she tried to eliminate what she missed from her home, the more it re-emerged in her unconsciousness. Or, as the writer John di Stefano (2002) suggests;

Longing is a perpetual process of attempting to appear. That which disappears is, for a displaced person, in a state of potential reappearance by virtue of the desire to have it reinstated.

There is something very timely about this work when we think about the many people today, most recently from Ukraine, who are displaced and whose homes and livelihoods have disappeared.

This longing for home, to connect with nature and the search for a sense of belonging and meaning is something that echoes through the work upstairs. Here Laura’s drawings attempt to make tangible what is missing and absent, most specifically her yearning for nature while living in the city.


02 Image

Hunter Gatherer, 6 & 8mm Micheál Fitzgerald cold hand-bended-straightened, Laura Fitzgerald bent and welded and grinded  (blood), Christopher Steenson & MF painted steel, dimensions variable, 2022.

02 Image

Ah Surviving,  publication including; writing workshops, joy and fear, typos and corrections. Screen printed by James Merrigan, edition of 49, (one lost in an experiment involving leaving one out in the rain), 2022

These abstract circular drawings, which are reminiscent of constellations, were made while the artist was still living in London. During the time of their production however Laura was also commuting regularly back to Ireland to study on an agricultural training course in Limerick. This was something her father wanted her to do so that she would become a custodian of their land and would understand how to care for it when he retired.

The drawings were made at a time when Laura was struggling to find a space to speak. They look like mandalas and in some of them, there are fine line depictions of formal clipped hedgerows, which Laura drew whilst visiting Hever Castle in Kent. In her search for nature in the city she found the tidiness and formal organisation of plants in urban environments unsettling and so different to the wildness she experienced in her native Kerry.

Only one of these drawings has been seen publicly. It appeared in an exhibition in Dublin curated by Aisling Prior. The curatorial premise was for the works in the exhibition to reflect upon the 2008 film The Beaches of Agnès, which was directed by the film maker Agnes Varda when she was in her 80s. This tension between lightness and joy alongside profound darkness and marginalisation which was a central theme in Varda’s work, is also present in these drawings as much as it is in the experience of farming today.

This brings me to the next list I compiled in response to Laura’s work. Which is a list of the top 3 best-selling sausage brands in Ireland this summer according to the Irish Examiner.

1. Super Value honey & mustard Irish pork sausages 380g €2.99 Score 8.5.

2. Lidl Glensallagh Irish Pork & Smoked Bacon sausages 400g €2.49 (62c/100g) Score 8.

3. Clonakilty Ispini Mora 380g €3.29 (86c/100g) Score 7.5

The reason for including this list is because in the upper gallery Laura has included notes that her father made during lockdown. Her relationship with him, his work and the farm they live on is a central feature in her practice. Many of the notes presented in this show include shopping lists on the back of food packaging. There is also an audio recording of her father listing all the items in his cow shed. Sausages were a regular feature on the shopping list, sadly none of them were from the top 3 I listed – although he did look for big sausages as well as a very particular kind of soft blue cheese.

Written amongst these lists are short paragraphs by her father on land use and the division of land during the establishment of the free state. Although humorous at first, this work draws our attention to the darker side of farming. There are, for example around 145,000 sows in Ireland, almost all in intensive farms where they spend half their lives inside a cage too narrow to turn around in.

The notes Laura found in her father’s kitchen are vulnerable in form and so are embedded in Perspex and presented perpendicular to the wall. They are a simple and elegant choice for such a complex layering of ideas – a farmer writing about land use on food packaging which is then found by his artist daughter and transformed into a conceptual artwork that explores notions of ownership and land management, of responsibility and care.

This brings me to my final list – which is a list of three facts about agriculture in Ireland published on the 2020 National Farm Survey published by Teagasc, some of which, I believe relate to this show.

  1. The average age of a farmer is 59 years of age. Dairy farmers are the youngest at 55. Cattle and other farmers are the oldest at 62 years of age.
  2. 52% of farm households have off farm employment.
  3. 43% of farms in the South region of Ireland are classified as viable compared to only 18 per cent in the North and West region.

What is interesting about these statistics is the relationship some of them share with the artworld. I wondered what is the average age of an established artist, might they also be in their 50s and early 60s? Like farming, the majority of artists need other employment in order to sustain their practices and like farming how many artists practices could be classified as viable as a result of the fact that they need to sell their produce or have it funded in order to survive.

To be viable and survive, farming has become an increasingly solitary and lonely activity as a result of mechanisation. Wider societal changes also mean that farmers and members of farming families can experience social and cultural isolation, something that was exacerbated during the Covid19 pandemic. Any collaborations that allow greater connectivity between individual farmers, the broader farming community, and urban populations in particular are hugely important. Laura’s work mediates a more nuanced narrative of agricultural life and plays an important role in giving agency to rural communities who feel misunderstood, disenfranchised, or disaffected with social and political structures. 

02 Image

I want to go home drawings, oil stick on unprimed paper (bad idea says more successful friend), 2016

02 Image

Box, Micheál Fitzgerald Plywood portfolio crate, Aer Lingus flight from Shannon, extortionately expensive black cab ride, RCA interview, 2011

This notion of surviving and survival pervades throughout this exhibition. In the centre of the upper gallery is a large wooden crate which Laura’s father built to house her drawings when she applied to study at the Royal College of Art in London. A video about art college also plays on the ground floor in the supermarket. The crate travelled back and forth between London and Ireland on a regular basis as Laura applied many times for the Emergence Award. The crate survived those many journeys.

The theme of survival is there in the collaborative artists book Laura made with art students from the South East Technological University and which was hand printed in a limited edition by James Merrigan. The survival manual and the work in this exhibition was made because Laura won the Emergence Award. Because of this award, she is, therefore, deemed to be surviving in the eyes of the art world. Because of her love for her family and the land in which she grew up, the farm that inspires so much of her practice will also survive. But, as the manual shows us – survival isn’t just about money, land, viability and production.

To survive our climate crisis we also need art, poetry, music and theatre because they offer us the ability to readdress fixed paradigms and narratives, to find new modes of surviving.

Laura Fitzgerald reminds us that although we are vulnerable and tiny on this vast, increasingly unstable earth, all is not lost because there is art, because there are events like this, that allow us to come together and engage in creative thinking in places as beautiful as this newly refurbished Wexford Arts Centre. So, in the words of Dostoevsky, our survival will depend on beauty, because, perhaps it is beauty that will save us all in the end.

Ciara Healy October 2022


Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Cited in O’ Donoghue, J., 2003. Divine Beauty The Invisible Embrace; London: Bantam Press. P. 231.

Cullen, Fintan (1997) Visual Politics: the Representation of Ireland 1750-1930. Cork: Cork Univeristy Press.
Stefano, J. di., (2002)
Moving images of home – video recording about homelessness, Art Journal, Vol. 61, No. 4, Winter 2002, p. 38-54.

O’Toole, F., (2002), Irish Art Now: From the Poetic To The Political, Exhibition Catalogue, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, p. 99.



Please click below to view an inconversation text between Laura and writer Colm McAuliffe.
02 Image

I drew these…pen on paper I bought next door, 2015. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.


02 Image

Right-of-Way installation view (upstairs space), Wexford Art Centre, 2022. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.

02 Image

Everything must go, oil stick and water soluble crayon on John Purcell (customs due) on sheets of imported paper, ignored and mounting FedEx invoices, trips to Tesco, 2022. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.

02 Image

Right-of-Way installation view, Wexford Art Centre, 2022. Fields have feelings too drawings, water soluble crayons on paper, joy, Janice Hough, Upstairs studio in IMMA, 2017. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.

02 Image

Right-of-Way installation view, Wexford Art Centre, 2022. Photograph by Frank Abruzzese.