Joe Hogan | Making Nests

06 Apr 2020

Joe Hogan is a traditional basket maker and fine artist. He originally studied philosophy and has worked from his studio in Loch na Fooey in West Ireland since 1978. He grows his own willow and harvests other naturally occurring materials such as wood, bark, larch, birch, bog myrtle, willow, and catkins, which he then incorporates in his work. Joe Hogan is regarded as one of Ireland’s master craftsmen and has gained a worldwide reputation for his work. Joe Hogan was shortlisted for the LOEWE Craft Prize 2018.

View works available from Joe Hogan here, including a collection of nests new to The Gallery this April.

Joe Hogan | Making Nests
Joe Hogan in his studio in Loch na Fooey, 2015, photo: Peter Rowen, courtesy of Design & Crafts Council of Ireland

I was drawn to basket making because willow growing provided an opportunity to live rurally and develop a real understanding for a particular place. Over the last thirty years, I have found it a very satisfying occupation. I take some time each year to try new ideas and to make new designs but I also value repetition and the fluency it develops. You learn to be patient, to work in the present moment and to not prejudge the outcome. For the past ten years or so I have become increasingly interested in making non-functional baskets, some of which involve the use of found pieces of wood. This work is prompted by a desire to develop a deeper connection to the natural world.

Joe Hogan

MAKING NESTS by Joe Hogan, April 2020

'About sixty year ago Mao Tse Tung had what he thought was a flash of insight. If the sparrows could be prevented from eating grain, then there would be more left for the people to eat. And so began a period of persecution for the sparrows. The level of obedience in China at the time was so great that most of the population joined in the campaign. They used drums to prevent sparrows from landing. As soon as a sparrow stopped to rest, they were hunted away and many of them simply died of exhaustion. Millions of sparrows died, and they became close to extinction in China. Did this lead to more grain for the people? Not exactly. Instead there was a plague of locusts the following year. The locusts had lost their main predator. Grain production collapsed over the next two years and there was a huge famine. Official figures put the death toll at 17 million people, but it is estimated by most experts that the death toll was at least 45 million people. Moreover, in order to eradicate the locusts, poisonous chemicals were used, which subsequently killed many beneficial insects. Some crops had to be hand pollinated.

This story illustrates the inter-connectedness of all living things, the discipline now known as ecology. Long before ecology was ever heard of Chief Seattle spoke about the “great web” and how important it was that we understand that “we did not make the great web, we are merely a strand in it".

The United Nations has recently warned of a catastrophic loss of biodiversity with the loss of insect populations being particularly marked. It is very easy to overlook the importance of insects, their role in pollination, in breaking down all-natural materials back into the soil and of course as food for birds. There has also been a dramatic decrease in the number of birds over the skies of Europe and north America over the last 30 years.

So this project is for me a way to explore and educate myself about bio-diversity loss. But this is only one of the strands woven into it. It is also a way to explore what it means to be at home in the world. One of the seed ideas that started this project was an image from Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geesewhere she talks about the world “offering itself to our imagination”, calling to us like the wild geese, reminding each one of us of our place in the “family of things”.

Other images fed this desire to make nests such as Wendells Berry's “the peace of wild things” and Yeat's lines (even though not about a bird's nest) "the mountain grass does not forget where the mountain hare has lain”. Inspiration also came from the wonderful imagery of birds that runs through Eamon Grennan's poems.

But of course, making nests also comes back to making. To exploring materials, what they will or will not do. The materials suggest possibilities, other ideas arise. With these nests I am trying to make things that do not show the way they are made – that seem almost artless. My experience of using heather to make lobster pots helps and leads to other materials: birch, larch, lichen.

Ideas arise again. What is it to be at home? What is it like to be homeless? A cardboard box and a sleeping bag as a human nest. Another type of homelessness is to be cast out from your own place in the world, a migrant in a world obsessed with borders. Amongst the graffiti in the “jungle” near Calais, a phrase, “we borrow the hearts of the migratory birds who do not trouble themselves with borders.” What chance is there that we could learn from the birds and realise the connections that bind us?'

Joe Hogan

Joe Hogan | Making Nests
Extra Large Larch Nest, 2020, larch, W23 cm
Joe Hogan | Making Nests
Catkin Nest I, 2020 pussy willow, W34 cm
Joe Hogan | Making Nests
A selection of Skibs, 2018, willow, D35 - 100cm
Joe Hogan | Making Nests
Loch na Fooey, County Galway, Ireland
Joe Hogan | Making Nests
Catkin Bowl, 2018, willow and pussy willow
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