Water retaining gel crystals – art material

The research focus of this project changed after the demise of the two majestic Oregon Maples in Library Square. Where the heartwood (the innermost part of the tree trunk) should have held up to about 80% water after testing the water content was estimated to be nearer 50%.

And so my artistic research expanded from the strength and stability of the trees, which was the primary focus for the Oregon Maple artwork for Trinity College 2017 exhibition. The 2017 piece focused on the cable bracing system and the internal cellular structure of the tree. The final artworks likened tendon-like structures using the lines of the cable system stretching between various limbs of one of the Oregon Maples.

Trinity College Trees Installation in Oregon Maple 1.jpg

Back to the 2018/19 project. Since the two older trees fell I have been focusing my art research on water. Having used water retaining gel in past artworks I again began to look at this interesting material as a suitable one for inclusion in the 2019 exhibition.

Normally this material is added to the soil around plants and trees during spells of dry weather. It comes in crystal format and after adding water it can expand and hold over 300/400 times its weight in water. Over time the gel loses this water gradually (watering the plants in the process) until all the water is gone and it again returns to it’s crystal form…until it rains again and the gel swells with water again. This process can be repeated numerous times. Manufacturers claim that these gels work for about three years.

gel & compost

In actual fact David Hackett during one of our meeting mentioned that this material might be one that they might need to consider going forward to ensure constant watering of trees during periods of low rainwater. He suggested that they would add the water retaining gel to the soil around targeted trees and that then they would add grey water (collected rain water run off from the buildings on campus) to the gel from time to time as necessary.

In the past I have incorporated water retaining gel into some of my indoor installations, subverting it’s purpose to suit a new function. I was particularly interested in how the engorged gel looked almost like chunks of glass yet also managed to be very visceral in how it felt and sounded when squished.

In one particular instance during 2011 for a group exhibition I constructed a raised walkway in a small intimate room in an abandoned building on Francis Street, Dublin 2. I covered this walkway in expanded water retaining gel and then walked really really slowly along its surface during a live performance. The audience were seated, their eye level at my foot height, the sight and sounds accentuated by their closeness and the intimate nature of the room.

For the purpose of the Trinity College Trees 2019 exhibition I will be using this material much more as it was intended to be used. It will form a large part of the opening live art performance and will remain as part of an outdoor installation throughout the duration of the exhibition.

I can’t say much more for now, but I will post images of the performance afterwards for those of you who won’t be able to be at the live event.

TCD search for replacements for fallen Oregon Maples

tcd OM fallen

During a recent computer search I came across this article written by Peter Kelly of Trinity News.  I thought it would be interesting to share it with you all.  I have included a few images that I thought might be relevant to the article. 

Trinity has begun its search for new Library Square trees to replace the Oregon maples previously in Library Square, according to Estates and Facilities. College hopes that any new tree will last for 100 to 150 years, and “look good too in that space over that time”.

The search for new trees comes in the wake of Library Square’s Oregon maple tree unexpectedly falling down earlier this summer. A second Oregon maple was removed shortly afterwards due to fears of it also falling.

Speaking to Trinity News, a spokesperson for Estates and Facilities explained that Trinity is “at the start of trying to look for replacements for the fallen trees”. It is currently unclear how long this process will take.

The first step in replacing the trees is to survey the underground area at the site of the fallen trees. According to Estates and Facilities, this investigation is taking place through the use of “ground penetrating radar”.

Estates and Facilities are considering the potential impact of climate change on any new trees, noting that they “needed to consider whether replanting with the same species as fell down (Oregon Maples) is the best choice or not as Dublin may become unsuitable as a habitat for that species”.

Should College decide to plant new Oregon maples, Estates and Facilities told Trinity News that they currently have a few small seedlings of the maples growing which may be suitable for use.

Following the collapse of College’s famous Oregon maple earlier this summer, College made the decision to cut down the second tree over fears of another collapse.

Speaking to Trinity News, Trinity’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Taylor explained that internal scanning of the trees a few weeks prior to the initial fall had revealed one of the trees “was getting hollow quite quickly.”

TCD OM fallen 2

The science of this is that basically a tree will fall if the stress in the wood gets too high, so the wood breaks,” Taylor explained. “That can happen to a normal tree if there’s a very bad storm, but if the wood in the tree is gradually getting weaker then you can reach a point where even a mild storm, or even just the weight of the tree itself, can be enough to cause the wood to fail and bring the whole thing down.”

Update on the trees of TCD

TCT book 1 lo res

If you are lucky to have a copy of the recently launched Trees of Trinity College Dublin (4th Edition) you will have access to the update on the TCD trees.  If you haven’t got a copy as yet I thought it might of interest to post an excerpt from the preface to the booklet written by Daniel L. Kelly and David Hackett, one of the Trinity College Trees team.


The TCD collection includes an eclectic mixture of species brought together from all parts of the world. The great majority are deciduous, their changing colours reflecting the rhythm of the seasons. The collection also includes a number of species native to ireland.

What all the trees have in common is that they survive in an urban, inner-city environment, in conditions that are by no means ideal for arboriculture. Although they tend to outlive us, trees are not timeless. In the seven years since the last edition of this booklet was published have seen dramatic changes.

The iconic pair of Oregon Maples in Library square were probably the oldest trees in the College; sadly, one fell suddenly in June 2008 and the other, weakened by fungal attack, had to be felled shortly afterwards.

Oregon Maple falls

Other trees have been lost due to storm damage and as a result of building and other developments.  In the same period, new trees have been planted, and earlier plantings have advanced towards maturity.

Plans for fresh plantings are in gestation. Air pollution has mercifully diminished in recent decades – the increasing diversity of lichens and moses on the trunks and branches is a testimony to this.

However, disturbing climatic trends are becoming evident, with increasing temperatures, greater incidence of drought and increasing frequency and intensity of storms.  Planting plans for the future must take these trends into account.”

Highlight – Museum Building, TCD

Museum building – Trinity College Dublin

The Trinity College Trees team are delighted to announce that a large part of the 2019 Trinity College Trees exhibition, The Oregon Maples, will be housed for the duration of the exhibition in the magnificent Museum Building on the main Trinity College Dublin campus.

We thought that this would be a good time to highlight the beauty and historical value of this building as an increadible art work in its own right.

We look forward to putting the final touches to the artworks, scientific and conservation research ready to be displayed there from April 1st.


To follow please find two links

The first will lead you to a website funded by the Irish Research Council New Horizons Interdisciplinary Research Project Award and dedicated to a detailed historical background, explanations and imagery of the architecture, sculpture and materials used to design and make this unique building. https://makingvictoriandublin.com/

Museum building image

The second link will bring you to a short video which includes 3d scans of the Museum Building. https://youtu.be/wur3EZ24hzg


Finally to follow is a copy of a Trinity College News article dated December 2018: to see this article in it’s original format visit: https://www.tcd.ie/news_events/articles/hidden-history-of-trinitys-museum-building-uncovered/

The quarrymen, stonemasons and craftspeople who cut, carved and constructed Ireland’s splendid Victorian buildings have been long lost to history, overshadowed by the architects and patrons who designed and commissioned them. Today however, Trinity College Dublin is launching a ground-breaking research project which will illuminate the hidden history of one of Dublin’s most iconic Victorian buildings.

For the last two years the ‘Making Victorian Dublin’ project, funded by the Irish Research Council, has dissected and analysed Trinity’s Museum Building — regarded as one of the finest and most influential examples of Victorian architecture. Built in the 1850s, the building has been home to the college’s Departments of Engineering, Geology and Geography for almost 160 years. The building was pioneering in its patriotic use of Irish marble and decorative stone and established a taste for Connemara marble and Cork Red limestone which spread across Ireland to Britain, the United States and even as far as Cape Town in South Africa.

To mark the launch of the project today, a new interactive website (www.makingvictoriandublin.com) allows the public to explore and navigate a 3-D digital scan of the splendid building. Users worldwide will be able to admire the splendid double-domed main hallway, the richly decorated interior carvings and 32 spectacular columns of coloured Irish stone.

The website also showcases new and exciting findings on the architecture, materials and sculptures of the building conducted by researchers from the Department of Geology and the Department of History of Art and Architecture. The team’s research, involving building surveys, extensive archival research and quarry visits, has led to new insights into the pioneering role of the Museum Building in the employment of Irish decorative stone and new understandings of the industry which sourced, supplied and crafted this stone.

Christine Casey, Professor in Architectural History, commented: “Too often we remember those who paid for these buildings and those who designed them. Architectural history is strong on telling the story of the patrons and architects and weak on those who translated design and ambition into reality. Ireland’s historic buildings were created by generations of craftsmen from raw materials extracted and cut by quarrymen and stone carvers. This project has sought to illuminate this largely hidden history by foregrounding the history of building materials and craftsmanship.”

Patrick Wyse Jackson, Associate Professor of Geology, added: “Built at the start of the golden age of Ireland’s decorative stone industry, Trinity’s Museum Building set out to showcase the extraordinary potential of Irish decorative stone. Featuring stone from right across the country the building is an Irish geology lesson in itself — in a few strides a visitor can encounter stone from the length and breadth of the country. The dominant use of Irish stone and the depiction of native Irish plants and animals in the building’s carvings were in keeping with a post-famine drive to promote and exploit Ireland’s natural resources through various Great Exhibitions and the newly launched ordnance and geological surveys.”

Website highlights:

  • Navigate and explore the main Museum Building with an interactive 3-D scan and admire up close the work of quarrymen, stone masons, and builders.

  • Find out about the 22 different stone types used in the construction of the building — 13 of which are Irish, coming from quarries across the country.

  • Learn about the remarkable networks of quarries, craft communities and transport routes linked to the construction of the Museum Building.

  • Watch a short film which charts the journey of massive blocks of Connemara marble from quarries in the west of Ireland, up through the River Shannon to a marble works in Killaloe, where they were transformed into columns, and onwards by barge to Dublin.

  • Learn about a range of new sources for some of the building’s striking architectural details which have been traced to buildings in Italy, Spain and the Middle East.

  • Admire the multitude of native Irish plants and animals identified by the team which feature in the building’s beautiful internal and external carvings.

  • Learn about how the building was constructed and how ornamental stone was used in load bearing columns for the first time in a building in Ireland and Britain.

  • Meet the remarkable O’Shea brothers who carved the building’s superb stone carvings and how they were given the freedom to design these carvings themselves — a revolutionary idea at the time.

More about the Museum Building:

The Museum Building of Trinity College Dublin (1853-7), by Cork architects Deane, Son & Woodward, is a seminal work of Ruskinian Gothic architecture, influencing a generation of British and Irish architects, and revolutionising Victorian architectural taste. Central to the architects’ design was a radical endorsement of the creative power of individual human happiness. Adopting an aesthetic first articulated by England’s pre-eminent art critic John Ruskin, the architects encouraged the freedom of their workmen in designing and executing the building’s external and internal carvings. The building was also pioneering in how it showcased a range of Irish stone and utilised them for structural load-bearing columns for the first time in a building in Ireland or Britain. Constructed as a School of Engineering to house lecture theatres, staff accommodation and two museums — one of engineering models and one of geological specimens — today the building is home to the disciplines of Geology, Geography and Civil Engineering.

More about ‘Making Victorian Dublin’:

In January 2017 an interdisciplinary project, Making Victorian Dublin, was initiated by Trinity College Dublin’s Department of History of Art and Architecture and Department of Geology, examining the relationship of architect and craftsman and the role of materials in the delivery of the University’s Museum Building. The collaborative project explores the pioneering role of the Museum Building in the employment of Irish ‘marble’ and the industry which sourced, supplied and crafted the stone. This project is funded by the Irish Research Council New Horizons Interdisciplinary Research Project Award.

museum building TCD

2019 Exhibition dates confirmed

It is official after a delay of nearly seven months the Trinity College Trees team are happy to announce that they are ready to put on display the fruits of their scientific, artistic and conservation work over the last eighteen months.

The re-scheduled Trinity College Trees Exhibition will be open to the public from April 1st to May 3rd 2019.

Exhibition plans include an outdoor installation and performance involving the Oregon Maple tree embedded in the Parsons building extension. Indoor exhibitions will take place in the reception area of the Parsons building and the entrance area of the Museum building, both situated on the main Trinity College Dublin campus.

The exhibition will comprise of a mix of art works, scientific and conservation research and information about the Oregon Maples of TCD.

We will post further information pertaining to the exhibition nearer the time.

David Taylor, David Hackett and I would like to thank Trinity College Dublin for their support funding this project and for granting us an extension when we had to change our research focus due to the demise in 2018 of the two iconic Oregon Maples in Library Square.

Trees of Trinity College Dublin – launch

Trees of Trinity College Dublin (4th edition) – launch of booklet

The new booklet, edited by Daniel Kelly and our own David Hackett, was launched during Green Week, on Wednesday 20th February 2019. The launch was hosted by The Department of Botany and The College Botanical Society. The guest of honour was Thomas Pakenham of Tullynally Castle, Co. Westmeath, Chairman of the Irish Tree Society, historian, writer and tree enthusiast.

Launched at 2.30 p.m. In the beautiful Botany Lecture Theatre and chaired by Professor Jennifer McElwain, Head of Botany. There was two wonderful talks, one entitled ‘The role of the arboretum’ by Thomas Pakenham and the other ‘The trees of Trinity College’ was given by Daniel L. Kelly.

tct trees book 3 lo res

The book itself is a great credit to all involved, the imagery and information on the trees of Trinity College Dublin are meticulously gathered together in a easy to read format and best of all it is easier than ever to locate a specific tree on one of their detailed maps. Well done to all.  

Also included is a lovely image of snow capped Oriental Planes, two of the trees included in our last exhibition. See image below.

tct book 2 lo res

Remembering Endo Exo exhibition in the Parsons Building


My most recent post about the Parsons building brings to the fore the ongoing interest I have had in the parsons building since 2013 when I began visiting David Taylor there to discuss the overlaps of interest in both of our practices.

The notion that it consisted of two different buildings abutting and melting into each other was fascinating for me. In actual fact bricks from the original 19th Century building were deliberately preserved and are on display in the main corridor.  See image below.


In 2015 David Taylor and I exhibited a selection of art and scientific pieces in the liminal space between the two buildings. See to follow a slide show of images form that exhibition and an extract from the exhibition press release outlining some of the notions of interest to both David and I.


It is interesting that the architectural themes of this liminal space and the exoskeleton notions of interest to David and I are still relevant in the work being created for the upcoming exhibition. More to follow on this in a later blog post….

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“ Endo Exo: Opening event: Monday 21st September 12.30pm – 1.30pm. Hassett will respond performatively to various sculptural elements in the exhibition during the opening on September 21st. The exhibition will continue until the 2nd of October in the Mechanical Engineering Building, Trinity College Dublin and will be on view from 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday.


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Images from Olivia Hassett solo performance part of Endo Exo

The hybrid nature of the Parsons Building in Trinity College Dublin with its recent award winning modern build attached to the original building has fascinated Hassett since she began visiting and working with David Taylor in 2013. endo/exo is sited in the reception area at the point where the exterior of the old building negotiates with the new addition and becomes an internal wall.

endo/exo acts like a bookmark in the ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration between artist Olivia Hassett and engineer David Taylor. Where Hassett’s work deals mainly with the internal visceral human body and the skin threshold that surrounds it, Taylor’s research focuses on the mechanical characteristics of bones in both exoskeletons (e.g. insects) and endoskeletons (e.g. humans). Both practitioners share an interest in interfaces, the liminal threshold between inside and outside and it is at this point where most of their discussions and outcomes have derived.

To date outcomes include the development of a hypothetical human exoskeleton prototype of the knee joint by Taylor and various hybrid art/science works created by Hassett incorporating and responding to Taylor’s design and notions surrounding the existence of a hard external skin.

Occupying a liminal space between animation and inanimate objecthood, various elements of endo/exo will go through transformative processes mediated by environmental factors and the artist’s performing body. The nature of these elements will shift back and forth across the tenuous boundary separating active, embodiment and the alleged passivity, of an acquiescent, inanimate, state and are reminiscent of the ongoing transformations that occur within the human body.

Kindly supported by Trinity College Dublin and South Dublin County Council