Katie Holten is a ecologically-inspired visual artist and environmental activist living between the concrete jungle of New York City and the peatland of Ardee.

With warm, hazy memories of a childhood spent running through spongey mossy under enormous trees, Holten says that it was her childhood in Longford that sparked her relationship with nature and the great outdoors.

"In my memory, it wasn't wet or rainy," she smiles. "It was perfection. I should also mention, my mum was a gardener so we were always in the cycle of you plant something, you harvest it, you consume it and you compost. That's always been my understanding of how the day to day goes, and I feel we've stepped away from that."

"Humans are nature," she continues. "Nature, for me, is an urban city as well. Coming to New York was about looking at the system of how are we working and consuming on this planet. I've always seen our species as so strange and separate from all these other animals."

"That separation is something we created and it's become hugely problematic," she adds, "and we've started to realise that in the last few years. There's been a huge remembrance of indigenous ways of thinking and knowledge. There's a huge surge and revival and, hopefully, that will just grow and grow."

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Holten's fascination with the human condition and how it connects to the planet has been a constant inspiration as both an artist and activist.

Having studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin, Cornell University in New York and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, the visual artist has worked to create an illustrious career with unconventional and unique works.

Pushing the boundaries of ecological art, Holten has used her work as a platform for good. As well as presenting solo exhibitions across the globe, the eco-minded activist has held Sunday Salons in her home for a community of artists, scientists, writers, philosophers since 2014, not to mention the work she has done in Ardee to protect the bog.

"More and more of my work is about using that word - love," she explains. "I think before I would have avoided it or thought it too sentimental, but I've come to realise that it's the simple things that are the true things. and we shouldn't be scared to talk about the love that we all share."

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One of Holten's latest projects embracing the concept of love and the wider world has been the creation of her Tree Alphabet, offering readers "a language beyond the Human".

Marrying her grá for the great outdoors with her fascination with human nature, the artist created drawings of trees in Ireland (both native and non) to represent each letter in the Latin alphabet. A becomes Ailm (Scots Pine), B becomes Beith (Birch), and C becomes Coll (Hazel).

Inspired partly by Ogham, a medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish language in stone, the alphabet feels rooted in history and human nature.

"The Ogham language grew from the ground up the way trees do. It was natural to imagine that people communicating would do it the way plants grow. The base level is the ground in the soil, then the sprouts come up, then the leaves and the shoots and the stems."

"That's how we see it on the Ogham stones. They come up and have strokes coming out to the left and right. It's uncanny in a way."

"Even though it's straight lines, when you think about it, it clicks that this was a living thing. It makes so much sense because there wouldn't have been distractions then, you would have been connected with how things grow and the cycles."

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Not a woman to do things in half measures, Holten was recently inspired to translate James Joyce's Ulysses into the language of Irish trees using her unique typeface.

"I wrote an essay for Emergence magazine on the Irish Tree Alphabet, and I translated the tree wedding ceremony section of Ulysses where the trees and the human characters intermingle and intertwine and become one. One day, hopefully, the entire Ulysses will be translated."

"People are re-reading texts with an eco-critical eye and seeing things they hadn't noticed before," she continues. "At the beginning of that wedding section, one character says something along the lines of 'we'll be as treeless as Portugal soon', and this was Joyce saying that we need to reforest Ireland."

"It's connecting with this new movement of reforesting and rewilding that's happening right now, it's all connected. That's why I thought 'I definitely have to translate this and reforest his words'."

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For Joyce fans, the excerpt in Ulysses reads:

"As treeless as Portugal we'll be soon, says John Wyse, or Heligoland with its one tree if something is not done to reafforest the land. Larches, firs, all the trees of the conifer family are going fast. I was reading a report of lord Castletown’s...

"Save them, says the citizen, the giant ash of Galway and the chieftain elm of Kildare with a fortyfoot bole and an acre of foliage. Save the trees of Ireland for the future men of Ireland on the fair hills of Eire, O."

"Europe has its eyes on you, says Lenehan."


If you would like to see Holten in action over Zoom, she will be taking part in Trailblazery's This Place We Call Home, an online Hedge School Summer Programme.

She will be joining a panel of creative minds to a cultural immersion to celebrate the festivals of Bealtaine, Summer Solstice and Lughnasa - the Summer Season of the ancient Wheel of the Year.

"We're going to look at the roots, I guess, of where do we come from and where are we going," says Holten. "It's just another opportunity to come together and share stories about humans in the 21st Century and what the hell we can do to make things better."

"There's so much potential and beauty, and by looking at our roots we can see the possibilities."

For more information on Katie Holten, you can visit her website here. You can listen back to Katie's interview on RTÉ podcast Ecolution here.