"Great Willow Weave" broadsheet

Click here to view A collage of photos and sketches on tumblr

"Great Willow Weave"

a social practice art project by students of the School of Landscape Architecture UCD

This broadsheet publication has been produced by the students and the module tutor Sophie von Maltzan for an exhibition in the Architecture Centre at  Royal Institute of Architects Ireland in September 2018. The students have produced a film that will be shown at the exhibition together with photos from the “Great Willow Weave”

“Social practice is an art medium that focuses on engagement through human interaction and social discourse. Since it is people and their relationships that form the medium of such works – rather than a particular process of production – social engagement is not only a part of a work’s organization, execution or continuation, but also an aesthetic in itself: of interaction and development. Socially engaged art aims to create social and/or political change through collaboration with individuals, communities, and institutions in the creation of participatory art. The discipline values the process of a work over any finished product or object” Pablo Helguera, 2012

"Great Willow Weave"

In 2010 we left the UCD landscape architecture studio drawing desks for the first time.

Instead of designing in the studio, we go out and work with communities in the City.

The each- way learning between students and community as they “explore” the neighbourhood together is immense.

In the summer of 2016 Phibsboro Tidy Town approached my practice Fieldwork & Strategies. They had received € 500 funding for building a memorial for Phibsboro teenagers who were shot during the Easter Rising.

After spending several weeks exploring Phibsboro and the community’s expectations from a memorial, the students came up with several proposals. The community chose four of them. With the community we then applied for funding from Croke Park Community fund. Croke Park was incredibly positive and very interested in part funding all four projects. The community decided to start with the “temporary” project: Weaving willow sculptures with the community on Great Western Square.

With funding promised by Croke Park, UCD and DCC we began planning the Great Willow Weaving in January 2017. Handing out flyers door-to-door and Design- participation- meetings with the residents followed meetings with the resident association. At the same time we costed the project, put together a workshop framework and explored willow as a material.

Willow weaving workshop dates were set for the middle of June, posters printed and put up in every shop window in Phibsboro by PhibsboroTidy Towns, who also invited local primary schools to take part. 

6 UCD students, several local residents and over 200 school children built 10 willow sculptures over one week in Great Western Square. Over the weekend we held a fete, organized by the students together with Phibsboro Tidy Towns. There were local musicians, games, weaving dreamcatchers, headbands, Brigid’s crosses and Harvest Nuts.

Originally the plan was to leave the sculptures up for 4 weeks but the residents association asked us to leave the sculptures for longer. Over the following months we came back to the Square every fortnight to monitor the project and gradually took down the sculptures as they deteriorated over time. Every time the community resisted. Especially the local children who visited the park every day were upset. We did do repair sessions with the residents in-between the end of June 2017 and the End of January 2018. Nonetheless the sculptures gradually disappeared- they were built to be ephemeral. Soon residents asked whether there would be another workshop …

One resident had the idea of organising a willow weaving festival each summer inviting international artists to build with the community. 

DCC has previously been offering to place benches, play elements and a biodiversity area on Great Western Square, but to date the residents association declined for fear of vandalism and loitering.

Yet the residents did not want us to take the willow sculptures away and in Spring 2018 the residents association asked us if we could repeat the project. 

We asked: “ Why do you want the sculptures but not the furniture?”

The answer was mostly: “Because the Willow is easy to take away again if it does not work.”

We did a door-to-door survey on the Square asking the residents if they would like another Willow Blitz. With the answers positive, we built another 8 sculptures in June 2018, this time with over 400 local school children. The materials for the project were financed by DCC. Is this now an open- ended temporary project?

The process was participatory, playful, open ended, inventive and spontaneous and the result very ephemeral.

We started this project from the grassroots: The community invited us to come and help. We then spent a lot of time with them, developped project proposals with the community and then presented the final proposals to the Bigger Community, Dublin City Council (DCC), a potential sponsor and the owners of the sites. 

Running this project over two summers gave us time to analyse the benefits and disadvantages of willow installations for the different parties involved: The residents, the wider community and above all the children. 

We learnt how much maintenance is needed. How little a threat vandalism is and how much damage child and dog play can do to the willow installations. We realized that the ephemeral aspect of the installations allow for personal interaction- installations can be changed and adapted and after they break down all together- they can be rebuild the following year by another 400 children. 

Sophie von Maltzan, UCD