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SAC - Special Area of ConVersation, 2019, was a temporary art installation on Portrane Beach as part of An Urgent Enquiry. The commission was researched and implemented by collaborating artists Joanna Hopkins and Mary Conroy. The artwork draws attention to the conservation efforts being carried out in the Fingal area for both humans and wildlife, to highlight the existence, fragility and importance of all the creatures who call the Fingal coastline 'home'.

''From June to September 2019, we lived in Portrane, Fingal, on the edge of the sea in Lynders Mobile home Park. We were inspired by two local bird conservation projects. The Roseate Terns Conservation project on Rockabill Island, is the largest breeding colony of the species in the Northern Hemisphere. We also spent two months volunteering with Little Tern Conservation Project on Portrane Strand, the rarest of Ireland’s five breeding tern species. The journey of small birds such as the Little Tern, at only 28 days old is capable of flying all the way to the West coast of Africa. They know to return two years later to the very spot they were born in and begin the cycle all over again. The magnificent Roseate Tern, journeys thousands of miles all the way from another continent, to a tiny island on the Skerries coastline, in search of a life long mate on Rockabill.''

Image credits and courtesy of Brian Cregan

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SAC Performance, Portrane Strand - Saturday 14th September 2019

For An Urgent Enquiry we wanted to create a temporary, ephemeral artwork that responded to the area and our research, and one which left no physical trace in the landscape. Eight eggs were hand made by Mary Conroy, using parian porcelain and sand from Portrane beach. Each egg bears a gold mark, together they create a map of Fingal’s eight SACs - a Special Area of Conservation, or a Special Protected Area on the East coast.

On Saturday 14th September, an audience and participants were led purposefully past areas of collapsed sand dunes along Portane strand. Intended as a participatory artwork, we invited the bird conservationists that we had engaged with throughout the residency to carry the handmade eggs to Portrane beach for a live performance. Ourselves and the project partners carried the remaining eggs.

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On an area of erosion, a character inspired by local woman, Frances Power Cobbe, received each egg from the participants and placed them carefully in the sand exactly as each SAC appears on the map. She recited a poem, written by Joanna Hopkins, as a ‘conversation starter’. It was written in prose, and reflected our time, our questions, our awe and our fears of all we had learned in the preceding months of research.

To deliver this performance, we devised the character of Frances Power Cobb, (b1822) a famous writer who was born and raised in the locality, at Newbridge House, Donabate. We came across the history of ‘Fanny Power’, as she was referred to in some texts, in the local Portrane-Donabate library. As two female artists we were drawn to her story. Frances Power Cobbe was a suffragette, journalist, animal rights activist and campaigner. She was reared and lived in Newbridge House until she was 35. The life of Power Cobbe was researched, and what emerged was a figure of immense dignity, ethics, values and hard work, with a love for all creatures. She was a woman ahead of her time.

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Wexford County Council, Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council initiated a research project in 2017 titled 'An Urgent Enquiry' with funding from the Arts Council under the ‘Invitation to Collaboration scheme’. Each local authority hosted a Think Tank at which artists, scientists and biodiversity experts presented approaches to Art, Biodiversity and Climate Change. The research project and enquiry has led to the next logical step with three significant artist residency commission opportunities in Wexford, Fingal and Dublin City funded through Arts Council Phase Two – Invitation to Collaboration Award.

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