Forest Breath – Currently showing in Xishuangbanna

Banna Overstory Niamh Cunningham 倪芙。瑞莲 acrylic on canvas 100x120cm 2021


The tree inhales, a temporary crystallization of carbon , holding it within the wood. Each year a ring of growth,  jacketing the previous year ,  a molecular signature of the atmosphere, an annual archive of our biosphere.

Banna Vortex Niamh Cunningham 倪芙。瑞莲 acrylic on canvas 120x100cm 2021 

Tree and atmosphere make each other, plant being a crystallization of carbon and air, but what is air? ………………….Air is 400 million years of forest breath.



The two paintings above are currently showing in Xishuangbanna State art Musuem in the group exhibition “Rhythm of Life” curated by Gao Xiang and Zhou Rui. These paintings were made during the November artist residency.

“Rhythm of Life “ runs throughout December at the Xishuangbanna State Art Museum , Jinghong, Yunnan.


During the artist residency in Menglun , Xishuangbanna , Yunnan Nov 2021

Many thanks to  Xishuangbanna  artist Han Xuan  罕璇 ( Nam) for this video.


Media link to the group exhibition Rhythm of Life 

Medial link 1

Media link 2

Link to previous blog about the  artist Residency


A huge thank you to curators Goa Xiang and Zhou Rui  all those  wonderful people involved with both the residency  in Menglun and the people who worked so hard make the  exhibition  a success in Jinghong, Yunnan, 

Hair Skull – currently showing in Shanghai, Dec 2021


Hair Skull , artist hair, Niamh Cunningham 2013

“Linear’ is a group exhibition showing at Jingheng Art Space, Shanghai , 88 Jingheng Square,  818, Zhiwei Road, Jinshan.

Working with DNA as an art material :

Physically knitting your own genomic material is a very contemplative process. Each strand is tested for strength, elasticity and tensility before being selected for specific sections of the sculpture. The white hairs are strong and tensile and suspend the skull with ease. The coloured hair is soft but elastic and resilient.

Being able to see through own genome and acknowledging it as your “coded” self as well as your personal story or experience, this screen of transparent knitted hair frames your world view. Holding on to the idea that it is my perception, acknowledging my referenced life (family traits and other things that are contained in my genome) and personal experience, this is what is framing my view of the world.


Hair Lock  artist hair, Niamh Cunningham 2015

Consciousness is controlled hallucinations:

This is an interesting soundbite worth looking into. We know now that green red and yellow colours are not objective properties of objects in the world, they are just attributes of reflected light. And as the brain works out calculations of wavelengths of light it determines what colour something is. So we don’t even passively receive colour from the world but we actively attribute it to things in the world.

Neuro scientist Anil Seth talks about controlled hallucinations as being our consciousness and says it is not just our perceptions of the outside world but also ourselves, our memory, everything we perceive is a construction.  According to Seth instead of perception depending largely on signals coming into the brain from the outside world, it depends as much, if not more, on perceptual predictions flowing in the opposite direction. We don’t just passively perceive the world. We actively generate it. The world we experience comes as much, if not more, from the inside out as from the outside in.

Hair Skull, artists hair, Niamh Cunningham 2013

Cultural perception and our ecological crisis:

This brings us back to our ecological crisis. How can we change our perspective and ways of relating to ‘life’ as a planetary process. Developing a cultural ability to see our actions and the changes we can make, to view this from a systemic perspective would be a good goal. I believe culture and the arts have a vital role in shifting these norms of perception to positive changes in consumer choice which will leading to new industries and economies which are actually sustainable.  


A huge thank you to curator Chang Feng and Shanghai Jingheng Art Space.  The exhibition continues till December 20th.


The Rhythm of Life -Xishuangbanna artist residency on local ethno- and bio-diversity Nov 2021


Dai Zu artists Han Xuan  (Nam) singing and Tie Farong on beats at the giant Buttress tree. 

The role of art and culture have important roles in advancing human partnerships with nature. An ecocentric orientation in our cultures could provide landscapes for new stories of sustainability.

 I was very excited to be invited to be part of this residency at a time when both art practitioners and art academia are more committed to supporting and building better stewardship for preserving the environment .

This residency had an earlier rendition during the Dai Zu “water throwing festival” in April. During that time Covid restrictions were more relaxed and the artists had a number of academic evenings with scientists learning about their work at the tropical botanical research centre based inside the park. Unluckily for me, the Oct/Nov residency (running at the same time as the Dai Zu  “Opening door festival”)   was no longer possible to enjoy such presentations at the research centre due to the recent restrictions for Covid control.

I did however have a couple of really nice chats with prof Harald Schneider who sat on my corner of the studio for 20 mins one day. He observed that the particular Bauhinia flowers outside from where I painted were pollenated by bats rather than insects.I took great pleasure in this new knowledge, I felt enriched by it and it made me aware of how little I know of plant and animal life .

Over fifteen Chinese and foreign artists participated in the project with a supportive painting postgraduate team and also a documentary film team from Yunnan University, Kunming.  Here we can take a quick look at only some of the artists and their work and where possible I will interweave a little environmental philosophy, history and systems thinking.


Participants :


Duan Jianwei 段建伟, Chen Nan陈楠, Han Xuan罕璇, Mica米卡, Che Bai 车白, Bowa Gonggao博瓦·公高, Wu Hong武宏, Gaoxiang高翔, Zhangxin张鑫, Zhu Jinghua朱景华, Zhou Rui周睿, Dao Jun刀军 , Huang Yan黄燕, Yan Wen岩纹, Wang Wei王伟, Niamh Cunningham 倪福。瑞莲, Zhao Weijia 赵伟家, Zhao Zijie, 赵紫婕, Wang Cenjun, 王岑君 , Shang Heng, 尚恒 , Chen Tiantian, 陈甜甜 , Wang Chu, 王楚,  Zhu Xiangqi, 朱祥琦, Guo Ziyuan, 郭子媛, Tie Farong, 铁发荣, Huang Shunfu 黄顺富 

18:8 M:F (26)


DocumentaryTeam: Wang Yue, 王跃 , Li Sihan, 黎思涵, Luo Wenxin 罗文鑫

Duan Jianwei 段建伟

Artwork by Duan Jianwei, 段建伟

Duan Jianwei’s work focused on stylised studies of Dai Zu community in Xishuangbanna . I really enjoyed the honesty of our chats in the evening at dinner, such as the uncertainties and discomforts of beginning a work. It was easy to understand the high respect he had earned from all around. Later I realized there was burnt orange wall of the Daizu village“ opening door festival” we visited earlier and wonder if this was what caught his eye. I will ask him as I hope to visit his studio here in Beijing some day!

Photo taken on a visit to Daizu village celebrating the “Opening Door festival”.

with graduate student Zhao Zijie, 赵紫婕 and Menglun resident  Xiao Yu 小玉

 Chen Nan, 陈楠

Artwork by Chen Nan 陈楠

During the first week Chen Nan explored symbiotic relationships with organic plant and insect life. And so I was surprised  on the second week to see him working on  primitive icons of ethnocentric icons. The ‘bird man’ painting above is my favourite !

Hanxuan 罕璇

Artwork by Hanxuan

Xishuangbanna artist Hanxuan  (also known as Nam) was one of my favourite artists at the residency. She had the  gift of being able to share her good will with ease and  grace . She has impressive Dai Zu tatoos on her upper arms extending over her shoulders reaching the upper neck. HanXuan also has an amazing  singing voice (see video at the start of this blog) . Her paintings explored her native culture and stories she heard as a child.


Artwork by Mica

German digital artist Mica presented his Tree of Life to the upper floor of the guest house restaurant. Tree of Life is a special digital work on canvas where he invited all the artists to add and contribute drawings. His newly created work is of carefully trimmed exotic flora that merges into a ferocious dragon.  Mark Elvin (The retreat of the Elephants ) referred to flower viewing  as an instinctive remembrance to the lost world of human interaction with an untransformed nature. I  believe  here the notion of ‘Untransformed Nature  is turned on its head ! Mica was incredibly helpful when I had computer problems and gave me a crash course in storage of digital data. 

 Che Bai, 车白

Artwork by Che Bai

Local artist Che Bai 车白 is of Jinuo nationality. When we were on the road travelling, Jinuo mountain was pointed out to me “That is where Che Bai’s people live”. The Jinuo are specifically located in Xishuangbanna. He has been called the Picasso of Jinuo ethnic minority 基诺族. During the two weeks he painted several different ethnic groups in exaggerated styles with figures in motion.

Bowa Gonggao, 博瓦·公高

Artwork by Bowa Gonggao, 博瓦·公高

The Losuo river flowed a couple hundred metres from our Octagon guest house and Bowa Gonggao’s panorama of the tropical forest park reflected in its red clay waters with four local figures guarding the river banks. A second work by Bowa was a dance of wildlife with Dai zu roof architecture in the background . GongGao brought cheer where ever he went and is another new friend I hope to see again .

My current reading “The Retreat of the Elephants- an environmental history of China“ by Mark Elvin Yale University Press refers to an official of the Ministry of Works in  nearby Guangxi province Xie Zhaozhe’s publication “ Fivefold Miscellany”(published in 1608) The people of Yunnan rear elephants the way those in the heartland of China rear cattle and horses. They ride them on journeys. They load them up with grain…”

However by late imperial times the only elephants survived in the southwest (ie here in Yunnan ) and for palace ceremonies in the capital .

Wu Hong, 武宏

Wu Hong, 武宏

Wu Hong explores  natural earth pigments in his work. His filtering and sieving processes suggested pharmaceutical precision of locally sourced clay. He painted meditative patterns  of the Bodhi leaf motif, his intentions also include making floor installations with his pigments.

Art work by Gao Xiang, 高翔1

Art works by  Gao Xiang 高翔2

Gaoxiang is known for his large scale, contrasted impasto brushstrokes. On a previous residency I really enjoyed watching him think and pace around his canvasses before he rushed to stab them with the brush. On this occasion we were opposites sides of the wall and could not observe his process this time. His vibrant wildlife cycles of life and death such as the deer caught in the leopards mouth is a figure reworked on large canvasses. A paper in Biological Conservation (Rostro- Garcia et al 2016) listed the Indochinese leopard having only 7 viable populations , extinct in Singapore , likely to be extirpated in Laos and Vietnam, and almost extinct in Cambodia and China , with small distributions in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand. (Study published over 5 years ago.)

The Octagon House  ( where we slept )  &  Restaurant and  other buildings where we made studios 

Zhang Xin, 张鑫

Kunming artist Zhang Xin workspace was under the roof of the Octagon house. He layered sheets of pigment both acrylic and oil. This layered materiality made me think of the layers of time,  the eons , our notions of history are often so limited to our own era.  Zhang Xin’s work helps us put into perspective a wider history of our planet and its materials.



A mechanistic world view : 

Eco philosopher Carolyn Merchant in her book The Death of Nature (1980) examined the mechanistic world view of modern science which she claims sanctioned and gave license for the exploitation of nature. For me there is some difficulty in accepting this view, my early adult academic training is in science, I have respect for the sciences and now I discover that I identify with them which is why I am a little “put out”. The more I learn about ecophilosophy, I see contradictions are inherent in complex systems of knowledge, meaning and behavior.  But surely it was more economics that gave that licence.

 Zhu Jinghua, 朱景华


ZhuJinghua interweaves machinery into the  wood of the Black heart tree . When his wood arrived we all gathered in his studio /shed after dinner that night to marvel at the dark centre of the wood, feel and smell the sap. Zhu said the wood is strong and can quickly resprout and grow. Local residents grow it in front of their house as fuel for their homes to avoid deforestation.

I hope to visit Zhu Jinghua in his studio in CAFA Beijing  soon and he might even have a tree story for the ‘Memory Palace of Trees’.

Zhou Rui 周瑞

Artwork by Zhou Rui 

Xishuangbanna artist Zhou  Rui explores the roots of his native land, both in painting  celebratory ethnic dance , Dai Zu architecture and peace of place. Zhou Rui is also organizer extraordinaire, he is the other half of the curatorial team with Gao Xiang . Throughout the two weeks if he wasn’t at his easel he was moving about trouble shooting and fire fighting ensuring a safe passage for the project.

Dao Jun , 刀军

Art work by Dao Jun

Local artist Dao Jun was always up  very early and cheerful . We shared opposites sides of the studio shed .  He kindly provided me with insect repellant  rings to burn in the late afternoons and evenings. He focused on the Daizu  culture in his work . Weaving is a fascinating subject for me and  I loved this dramatic composition .


 Huang Yan, 黄燕

Xishuangbanna artist Huang Yan was the only artist  to  work on  paper, using ink and brush to investigate patterns of nature .


Wang Wei 王伟

Yunnan artist WangWei made small scale but powerful studies of tropical plant and animal life .


Niamh Cunningham 倪福。瑞莲

 Artwork by Niamh Cunningham

Entering the forest for one last walk was a highlight  of Xishuangbanna for me.  I walked in silence and paused when it started to rain, to listen to the drumskin thuds of different leaves and tried to distinguish different sounds coming from which exotic tree. The paintings were studies of the tree canopy and the huge butteress featured in the video at the beginning of this blog. They are giants of the forest and although roots are not embedded very deeply, their height is stablised by these wide extension structures.  Trees that look perfectly straight from a distance can often be spiral like when viewed from the base.


A note of gratitude:

A huge thank you to all the artists for their excellent company and from whom  I have learned so much . Also a big thank you to the postgraduate students and local artists who were ever so helpful. Special thank you to Wang Cenjun, 王岑君 and  Yan Wen岩纹. Also a big thank you to Yu Jin 玉金 manager of the Octagon(八角楼) guest house.

Many thanks to the great curatorial duo team Zhou Rui and Gao Xiang. Sincere thank you to Xishuangbanna Culture and Tourism Bureau, Xishuangbanna National Museum and all the departments involved in ensuring this artist residency a success.



The  following links have some good overview  videos


Media link One 

Media Link Two 


The Meeting of the Waters -The Hangzhou-Beijing Grand Canal

For decades, waterways have fascinated me. Nineteen years ago I began painting the Al Khor series in Dubai. When I arrived in Beijing eleven years ago I continued to paint these fluid conduits , the canals in Beijing are now part of parks and recreation areas offering places of rest and rejuvenation to residents of the city.

Canal Bank Walk – Yuan Dadu Relics park Beijing  180x200cm oil pigment rubbing Niamh Cunningham 倪芙瑞莲2021


Residency Studio space , 15th floor of Art Park , Tongzhou


In August 2021 I spent twelve days in neighbouring Tongzhou on a painting residency for the Grand Canal Project .

The Hangzhou Beijing Grand canal is the longest man made waterway in the world.  Originally built over 2,000 years ago, bringing grain from the south to the capital in the north , it reached its peak in the 13th century connecting five river basins including the Yellow river and the Yangtze.

Residency Studio space , 15th floor of Art Park , Tongzhou


During the residency I shared a large highrise studio space with  Prof Gao Xiang from Yunnan University. We worked quite intensively , allowing each other space and quiet until meal times where he shared many thoughts, insights and stories .


The two works I made for this project are quite different, Canal Bank Walk- Yuan Dadu Relics park  is oil pigment rubbing with cloth.  I allow myself two oil paintings every year until I have finished my supplies. This slow phasing out is a long sad goodbye in terms of my painting practice but it will be eventually replaced with acrylic , mixed media and new media.  

The Meeting of the Waters 180x200cm acrylic  Niamh Cunningham 倪芙瑞莲2021

The Meeting of the Waters is the view outside the residency studio window where the famous Randeng Pagoda tower built in the 500’s stands . It  served as a landmark for barges so people knew after a very long journey  their destination was near.

Enjoying a chat with Fan Di’an President of CAFA (Central Academy of Arts) and  Peng Feng (Dean of Arts Peking University) during the opening at XinGuangDa Musuem on Saturday


A huge thank you to people who made this residency such a valuable experience , to Sophie Zhong and Mr Peng Fei of Deiruiao Culture Media  , Beijing Tongzhou bureau of Culture and Tourism  and Beijing Deruiao Culture Media, to academicians FanD’ian  and Peng Feng , to the girls张佳妮 Zhang Jiani and LiLi李莉 on the 15th floor of Art Park 9  who kindly opened early and closed late during the residency, to AK and to Rainie (華雨)  to Prof Gao Xiang for his great company throughout the residency , also for the great company of fellow artists whom I got to know on Saturday’s opening  and at the beginning of the residency  





Participating artists include:

Fan di’an, Gao Xiang, Jing Shijian, Kang Lei, Li Aiguo , Li Mu, Qiu Ting, Wang Keju,    Wang Wei, Xue Lei, Xu WeiGuo, Xiang Yang, Yuxu Hong, Zheng Lu, Zhang Lujiang , Zhang Xinquan, Anna Kazmina,  Fabio Barrera,  Jacopo della ragione, Jiri Straka, Mica, Niamh Cunningham , Sally , Santiago Barrio, Wieslaw Borkowski Jr.

I will attach media links here once they become available


ART BEIJING 2021 Irish “Garden of Friendship” exhibition April 30 -May 3


Welcome to ‘The Garden of Friendship’ at Art Beijing 2021, a compelling exhibition by Irish contemporary artists. Much has happened since Irish artist Maurice Quillinan organized the first ‘Youyi Visual’ event in Hangzhou in 2019.

At this unique moment, ‘The Garden of Friendship’ offers new perspectives on connections and elicits from us our greatest creativity and courage and the intriguing prospect that we can build a safer and more inclusive home.

The collection ranges from literal visual realism to conceptual abstraction with a broad language of convergence. Are the answers for our new world in transition immersed within these diverse contemporary works?

A global journey beckons. Passports and quarantines are not required. It is our ideas and endeavors which will take flight. The exhibition is arranged in two seasons. A busy season full of movement and action. Many of the artworks discover the value of functioning networks, whether in family dining rooms or in geometric grids hinting at the screen divisions on video conference calls.

There are multifaceted ecologies among them include the allegorical, infinite and shimmering. These can be seen in the quieter more reflective side of the exhibition space.  Other ecologies show oceans we know to be fragile violently crash on the shoreline.  Cutlery drawers reference our food cultures that are also in transition and demand agriculture be a force for sustainable nourishment. 
Vaccines may give us time but only art will ensure our ability to survive as it endorses the realism and dignity that recognizes our planet as a living system. This is not so much an issue of independence nor dependence nor even interdependence but learning that friendships are an important measure of humanity.
I would like to thank Irish Ambassador Ann Derwin  and all from the Embassy of Ireland  especially Jack Mc Cormack and Han Bai for their support and hard work. A huge thank you to Emily de Wolfe Pettit , Shi Yang and Michelle Feng of Peking Art Associates who installed and operated Booth B 28  as I have been physically indisposed recently. 
Madam Bi Hong, Ambassador Ann Derwin and Emily de Wolfe Pettit at the VIP preview.
Participating Artists  参展艺术家及作品
Helen G Blake           海伦·G·布莱克
Abigail O’Brien  阿比盖尔·奥布莱恩
Tom Climent             汤姆·克莱门特
Niamh Cunningham        瑞莲
Bernadette Doolan   伯纳黛特·杜兰
Pauline Flynn             宝琳·弗林
Maurice Quillinan     莫里斯·奎利南
Robert Ryan              罗伯特·瑞恩
Una Sealy           尤娜·西利,
Donald Teskey         唐纳德·特斯基
Samuel Walsh           塞缪尔·沃尔什
Bernadette Doolan  
This painting illustrates through the human, an innate strength that through life events and social connections empowers us to steady our belief in moving forward. I have always been interested in the symbolism of the red thread of fate, or invisible red thread in Asian mythology. It has influenced my work before and appears again with this painting. In this painting it shows the girl ready to play, however a little uncertain.
Bernadette Doolan, Steadfast, Oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm, 2019
Pauline Flynn
My work is abstract but sometimes suggests landscape. While working on paintings I was thinking of icecaps, rocks, Ogham script (ancient Irish writing dating back to at least the 4thcentury CE), the fragility of earth, light and space. I graduated as a sculptor and later began to make painting.  I often use mixed media as well as paint in my work.
Pauline Flynn Earthwork I, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2019
Maurice Quillinan
In recent years I have incorporated Chinese ideograms as my primary mark making process, continuously drawing, erasing and redrawing until a logical, visual conversation becomes fleetingly tangible. The poetry of Hanshan and T.S. Eliot (my other important influence) brings the reader into the DNA of places and ideas, narratives I endeavour to engage with via a visually tactile painterly platform.
Maurice Quillinan Poem 117: There is a Mist Eater, Oil on linen, 99.3 x 122 cm, 2019



Niamh Cunningham

‘The Sucrose Series’ explores transformation through crystalisation and drying of water content in mixed media. This transformation occurs on two levels. In the early stages ink is lifted from the surface with hot mixed media, particles of ink are moving and shifting as the process of drying occurs and crystallization takes place and to a certain extent the painting process continues. This layer could be the metaphor for our unique current era of the ecological emergency, being the first generation to witness climate change and the last generation to be capable of taking meaningful action.

Niamh Cunningham, Meeting of the Waters -‘The Sucrose Series’,Original sucrose, mixed media, 30 x 22 cm, 2015



Helen G Blake

Blake’s work is self-referential and without a theme. Using a working method where process and contemplation are both allowed to guide the evolution of the work, she composes overtly hand-made paintings which record and examine colour conversations within accumulating pattern structures, embracing accidents, flaws and discrepancies within their rhythms. The title here is deliberately ambiguous but may be taken as a comment on how the colours and shapes were selected and arranged.

Helen G Blake, Working Together, Oil on linen, 80 x 100 cm,  2019




Abigail O’Brien

O’Brien works in a range of media including painting, photography, video, sculpture and embroidery. She explores ideas of tradition, religion, ritual and domesticity. Table for Two, 2019. refers to preparations being in train, for dinner with a friend or loved one. A meal cooked for you by someone else is very special and food made with love tastes delicious.

Abigail O’Brien: Cutlery Drawer,  from ‘Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner No. 3’, Lambda chrome print on archival paper,  116.5 x 90 cm, Ed 1/2 & AP, 2019



Tom Climent

Tom Climent’s work investigates the borderline between abstraction and representation. His current body of work is predominantly landscape in nature, it suggests a narrative but never actually reveals what that might be. The paintings also investigate materiality and aesthetics. The layers and the mobility of the paint and textures become a witness to the thought process of their making.
Tom Climent, Giant , Oil & plaster on canvas, 92 x 92 cm, 2019
Robert Ryan
Referencing post-modern, it borrows qualities from European old masters, using traditional characteristics in a modern context. Robert Ryan paints landscape, but his work cannot be described as ‘landscape painting’. Allegorical concepts including the infinity of space and time, solitude, vulnerability, fragility and the cycle of life are explored in his paintings and drawings in which a generic four-legged creature is central. This creature inhabits another world, a universal landscape. Ryan has cultivated his images, of both place and its inhabitants, into a hybrid, a non-specific and as a result the viewer is left to reflect on essential truths. This is work that ultimately celebrates the commonality between man and all other creatures – past, present and future.
Robert Ryan, Last of a Species, Oil on canvas, 61 x 76 cm, 2019
Samuel Walsh
Ver is the Latin for Spring which indicates the time of the year that the painting was
made. The Maya were a Mesoamerican, Central American civilization. The painting comes from researching the Mayan period probably through images of Mayan art and architecture. No subtitle, so it was probably a reaction to the season. Influence is not something I am aware of, but I live in and work in the world and occasionally the world taps me on the shoulder and says, look!
Samuel Walsh, Vex X (Maya), Oil and acrylic on canvas, 51 x 51 cm, 2013
Una Sealy RHA
This painting chronicles a moment in time in a kitchen in Dublin, Ireland. The individuals are a diverse group of young people, some are members of a band, some are family and friends. There are 12 figures present. There are many details in the painting of typical foods, drinks, packaging and furnishings. All the characters posed for me, but not all were there at the same time, and the painting evolved organically, as a kind of time lapse, a glimpse into the lives of others.
Oil on canvas, One of the diptych, 100 x 120 cm, 2019
Donald Teskey
For the last 40 years the focus of my work as a painter, printmaker and draughtsman, has ranged from aspects of the urban landscape to the ruggedness of the western seaboard. Working outdoors and returning to the studio to develop work on a larger scale, my images reflect the formal elements of composition; – Shape, form and fall of light, with large abstract passages and surfaces which articulate the relentless, energetic and elemental force of nature.
Donald Teskey, Summer Storm, Acrylic on paper, 76 x 105 cm, 2018


The Pattern that Connects

What an unusual opportunity to be able to show work at this time. ‘The Pattern that Connects ‘ is a duo exhibition with woodcut artist Ma Liangfen from Cangzhou academy of Painting , Hebei. The exhibition opened (26/9/2020) at Dong Yue Art Musuem in Chaoyangmenwai . 



Thank you to Therese Healy , acting head of Mission at the Embassy of Ireland who spoke at the opening . Also to Wang YueZhou from Cangzhou Federation of Literary and Art Circles. Media figure Ms Chen Bing gracefully presented as Master of Ceremony . Thank you also to academic curator  Zeng Luhong  for his exhibition essay and media coverage and special gratitude to fellow artist Ma Liangfen whom I really enjoyed getting to know and learn from over the past two weeks. A big thank you to Yuan QiuLai director of Dong Yue Art Musuem with whom we had numerous cross cultural exhibitions over the past six years. The exhibition focusses on Nature , explores the human relationship with Nature and also examines  aspects of the ecological emergency . 

In January 2020 I began collecting written submissions on any aspect of trees for my blog “The Memory Palace of Trees” gathering stories from poets, childrens writers, dendrologists and other people across the globe. This socio-eco practice highlights the interdependence between trees and people and explores the place it might take us. 

Here are some artworks from earlier stories in the year. 

Forrester Anna Finke’s interesting passion for climbing trees



Environmental educator Carrissa Welton’s story “Roots of Recovery” linked to the Ginkgo Sucrose work

Barrow Trance 

The story for ‘Trees can Communicate’ was linked to artwork on Barrow river reflections.

Joshua’s tree the Hawthorne with the painting Piyos view

WU Yiqiangs 吴以强 story of artists replanting the Swan Goose Forest

Mayfield 4am 凌晨4点 80 x 60cm Niamh Cunningham 倪芙瑞莲2014

‘The tree in your Backyard Yard’ story is matched with Mayfield 4am.

When taking some visitors yesterday on a tour of the exhibition we were talking about shared DNA , how we share 25% of our DNA with trees, Shared DNA of all lifeforms on earth are also part of the pattern that connects. 

北京公共汽车站Beijing-Bus-Stop-132x-90-cm-oil-on-canvas Niamh-Cunningham倪芙瑞莲 2014


The funny poem by Pat Ingoldsby thinking about a wooden telegraph pole next to a bus stop match with painting Beijing Bus Stop


New developments on the sucrose series have extended to selected  UV prints on aluminium  . I have also shown some original sucroses which are not immediately  easy  to identify with the earlier process stages.  This work visualizes the transformations that occur during crystalisation as a metaphor for the ever present ecological metamorphosis. 

Sucroses in the original form

Tree Song Jinan, sucrose series, UV print on Aluminium 200x 100cm Niamh Cunningham 2020


There are also some figures from my  2019  Portrait series most of these have never been exhibited before. 


There are also some figures from my  2019  Portrait series. 

Here is a link to view more details on the portrait project . 

Ma Liangfen 马良分


Ma Liangfen’s expansive collection of woodcut boards cover journeys of the natural world across China. There are a number of prints on paper including some reverse colour prints where only one board was used . I asked her about her affinity to cats and she told me had no cat at home but loved observing the independence of the wild cats exploring at leisure. Other works explore unexpected thoughts and fantasies creating new worlds within the realm of reality . 




Here are more in depth links to her work 

Ma Liangfen link 1 

Ma Liangfen link 2 


Exhibition Media Doc link 









Sucrose Series -currently showing at Wuxi Bund Art Centre

Pond Poplars   池边白杨11.02.20 sucrose series Niamh Cunningham 2020

I am very pleased to be exhibiting some of my work in a physical space for the first time in the year 2020. Silent Explosion opened it’s doors  last week  at the impressive venue Wuxi Bund art Centre.

My work showing at this group exhibition is a digital work, a video showing the stages of transition of four Sucrose works in mid transformation:

We are deeply rooted in the ways we see our reality. When you observe ‘process’ you see constant change and consider the flux of relationships that intermingle to make up our systems. When we don’t see the delicate tendencies within an ecosystem which gives it its integrity there is a problem.  

Spiked Stardust   星芒  18.03.20  Niamh Cunningham 2020

Transformation and Nature are recurring themes in my work. Transformation has an essential role in life and I have been exploring this through materiality and process of art making. For several years I have been looking at the monocrystal sugar and its interaction with paper and ink and other materials.




I explore this process of crystalisation in the painting process where minute ink particles pulled from the under layer of digital print are lifted into the mixture which later forms crystals. Occasionally you can see the movement of ink as the crystalisation takes place. Therefore the painting process continues without further interventions. There are two things of interest that are taking place here. At the early process stage, near the surface of the cotton paper there is a slight movement of tiny ink particles which are lifted into the sugar mixture. But this is minute in scope. The more obvious surface crystallization spreads its delicate web obscuring the image some might call this a painting in reverse.

Cotton Catkins Flying    飞絮濛濛. 15.02.20 Niamh Cunningham 2020

The dense and often disorienting landscape  of the Chinese garden has fascinated me for a long time. For these sacred gardens scholars borrowed geometrical order from Confucianism, the search for the elixir of life in Taoism (which is more in touch with natural world than the artificialities and etiquette of Confucianism)  and the garden as an aid to meditation as in Buddhism. These cosmic diagrams reveal an ancient view of man’s perspective of the natural world.

My idle Dreams roam far    闲梦远 12.02.20 Niamh Cunningham 2020

I have chosen garden sucroses, ‘Pond Poplars’, ‘Spiked Stardust ‘and ‘My Idle Dreams roam far’ which are based on my favourite Chinese garden Yu Yuan in Shanghai. The title for “Cotton Catkins Flying’ is taken from a poem by Li Yu who wrote about the West Lake in Hangzhou from where the underlying image is taken.


Taken from exhibition text


Silence is an illusion

Spring has passed through in silence

Nature is flattered by man’s inertia





Silent Explosion is an exhibition curated by Jiang Danming.

Art director :  Ma Yiying

Academic host: Tong YongSheng

Video Media : Wang Yanning 王彦宁

Participating artists include:

Chen Hao, Liu Jincai, Liu Lang, Li Jintao, Niamh Cunningham Ruilian (Ireland) ), Wang Jianrong, Wei Ying, Zhang Xuebo, Zhang Ziyi, Zhu Jiancheng, Zhu Zhigang.


A personal thanks to Ma Yiying and Zhuzhigang and Jiang Danming .


Link to the exhibition  Silent Explosion 


The Exhibition “Silent Explosion” at Wuxi Canal Bund Art Centre  continues till July 31st 2020



Taking on the Overwhelm – Ecoliteracy in the Arts


Purls from the Undercut  GIF   sucrose series Niamh Cunningham 2020 









“What is the pattern that connects?”

Exploring the cultural dimensions of sustainability is a vast subject. Recently have I been introduced to the work of systems thinker the late Gregory Bateson.  Learning about “the pattern that connects” was his life’s work. He was preoccupied with why humans frequently behave in ways that are destructive of natural ecological systems. He asked questions of holistic structures such as how does it work? what works with it? what are the relationships? how does it learn? how does it think? how does it interact? In the documentary produced by his daughter Nora Bateson “An Ecology of Mind” we see how Bateson liked to look at a thing from different angles, twist it around endlessly so as not to get stuck on a singular line of thinking. If we don’t search for this pattern that connects, in our global culture, in our educational institutions, we are likely to break it and when that happens Bateson said “you necessarily destroy all quality.”


“The planetary emergency we are facing is a crisis of culture” said Dr Cathy Fitzgerald who presented the online course ‘Essential ecoliteracy for creatives and art professionals’.   I first met artist -researcher Cathy twelve years ago in my home town of Carlow, Ireland. Her course is packed with valuable resources, video links and readings.  Fellow artists, educators and policy makers from all over the globe met on the weekly zoom meeting ,  using the material for that week we explored ecological insights that promote paradigm shifts.  The rest of this blog will touch on only a few highlights from this course.


Purls from the Undercut (16.7.5.a) sucrose series Niamh Cunningham 2020

At the beginning of the course Cathy took us through some terms such as


The Holocene : Since the last ice age 12000 years ago the earth has experienced only small scale climate shifts.  However we have drifted from the Holocene since the Industrial revolution and are now currently in the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene : Our current era  is where humans dominate climatic, biophysical and evolutional processes at a planetary scale.    

The Symbiocene : This term was  coined by Glen Albrecht which hints at more symbiotic relationship,  where  life thrives through interrelated mutuality between many species and we can affirm the interconnectedness of life and all living things. Albrecht also said that he saw art as a meme for the Symbiocene.

Glen Albrecht is author of the book Earth Emotions where he defines other words for our new world such as solastalgia, soliphilia, (Please see link at end of this blog for more )


To support people on the enormity of the work ahead one of the modules included psycho-, social and physical supports and practices. Every module had a ‘mind-body coherence’ session, a physical and mental exercise with Veronica Larrson. I also learned unexpected things like why ‘compassion’ was far more important to practice than ‘empathy’ from eco philosopher Dr. Nikos Patedakis.


As part of the copious resources, links and readings which were packed into each weekly module I encountered environmental activist, scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology author Joanna Macy.

‘That knife edge of uncertainty illicits from us our greatest creativity and courage, we need to live with sufficient realism and dignity to know that we are living with that knife edge of uncertainty.’

Putting our interconnectedness, our courage and intelligence to good use she speaks of the shift of an industrial growth society to a more sustainable civilization. That knife edge of uncertainty feels all the sharper now as we work our way through the Covid 19 era.

Purls from the Undercut (16.6.30.a) sucrose series Niamh Cunningham 2020

We also studied the UNSDG’s Sustainable Development Goals. (This module propelled me onto another online course called “Planetary Boundaries” for which I am currently learning. I hope to write an overview blog on that experience later.)  I came across an interview with Scientist Susanne Moser who also presented a positive picture for these overwhelming times and claimed one good reason to get out of bed in the morning is that we haven’t tried everything yet. “Having done miserably at communication, having done miserably at policy, having done miserably at market responses to climate change, this gives us a ton of hope because we could do so much better’ (



The week we looked at Expanded Earth Ethics we considered the work of the late Scottish barrister  Polly Higgins. Ecocide is the missing piece of law to assist in reframing a system to avoid business as usual. Higgins is author of the book Dare to be Great. The term Ecocide is likely to have first appeared at the time of the American war in Vietnam. Cathy took us through some of the ideas behind the book Moral Ground edited by Kathleen Dean Moore.  We then looked at the Earth Charter. Systems thinker Fritjof Capra described it as a declaration of 16 values and principles to create a sustainable, just and peaceful world.

We then explored how others expanded their ecological art practices such as Newton Harrisons’ ten minute video Apologia Mediteranneo an evocative apology to the largest inland sea. On our final week participants presented our own socio eco practices to the group, learning a little bit more of the people who had been raising questions during the previous weekly sessions. After two weeks I am still reviewing many of the readings and links on the course referencing the renowned and also the less known movers and shakers in the world of ecological thinking and eco-social art practices.  



I would highly recommend this online course for artists and creatives and policy makers who wish to inform their practices / educational programs and policies.  


Here is a link to Dr Cathy Fitzgerald courses site


This is a blog by Dr Fitzgerald expanding  on some of the topics above


Purls from the Undercut (16.7.5.a) sucrose series Niamh Cunningham 2020


The artwork for this blog is part of the sucrose series. The image is based on a waterfall outside Shawan, Sichuan, when visiting with other artists working on the early stages of a sculpture project in ‘Hong Fangzi’ October 2019. 



Note  my practice “Memory Palace of Trees” continues with upcoming tree story about Su Dong Po’s family residence in Meishan.