The Bleeding Tree

Artist: Aideen Barry in collaboration with Composer Stephen Shannon, Soprano Joan O’Malley and Cellist Mary Barnecutt.

The Song of The Bleeding Tree is the installation that grew from this research into the fault lines of our history and relationship with the natural world. I began with the Swamp Thing premise by looking into the Irish Schools Archive of the National Folklore Collection in University College Dublin. In particular I was looking at the relationship between the somatic voice and the natural world. Within it I found tales of caution rooted in particular practices that connected Irish people to our land, flora and fauna in a really interesting way. In one story a man goes to cut down a Black Thorn Tree or a Hawthorn Tree. The tree sings at him “Stop, you are cutting me..” he ignores it and continues. The Tree sends a thorn into his hand and the man is poisoned and dies within the same day. The folklore associated with these trees is so strong that in many parts of the west of Ireland people will not cut down these trees and notoriously EU funded motorways have been re-routed around outcrops of them much to frustration of our European neighbours and taxpayers. However the connection to these trees is older than just these folktales collected in 1937. In particular parts of the west there has been a long held tradition to put the afterbirths of both animal and human onto the roots of these trees, a kind of pre-Christian right. The tradition still takes place and it is said that at some times in the year these Hawthorns are said to weep human blood. 
This work was commissioned by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland

The project catalysed into considering The Song of the Bleeding Tree for a special show in Salzburg in the summer of 2023. I was asked by the curatorial team at the Salzburg Kunstverein to consider making an artwork that could be considered within the context of the festspiele which is the largest art festival in Europe and specialises in Opera. So I approached the amazing composer Stephen Shannon, an Irish Soprano Joan O’Malley and Cellist Mary Barnecutt, and I wrote a libretto out of the folklore texts which was manifested as an operatic love lament called “The Song of the Bleeding Tree”. I installed a 3 channel video installation of pulsing placentas that feed the tree on the ground and acted as kind of lungs. What was completely uncanny was that it was the hottest summer on Earth since the appearance of man, I was installing in 40 degree heat, while a warning of floods and global boiling was sounded across the world press. The urgency to look at our natural world and our connection to it felt nearer than ever. The work had a major resonance with audiences and I was invited to show it in the Republic of Benin and Nigeria for Lagosphoto 2024. Interestingly the Igbo have a very similar tradition of placing afterbirths onto the routes of certain trees that bring nourishment to the soil and watertable of certain villages. Again with Stephen Shannon and an incredible Nigerian-Irish Singer and Musician called Esosa Ighodaro we have re-recorded The Song of the Bleeding Tree with a completely different interpretation to bring the work into the context of a West African canon of song and image in a project that appears to have a never ending possible computation of songs of bleeding trees.

Three plaits of the Morrigan’s Hair morph and transform into a rope that coils and solidifies in form before unravelling to the strands again. Inspired by stories in the Irish Folk Archive at University College Dublin I explored the depictions of the Morrigan who I see are an Irish manifestation of the Graeae or perhaps Moiri of Antiquity. The Fates like the Morrigan were a troika of three females, in antiquity they held a jurisdiction over birth, life and eventual death. They spin a thread, hold it and cut it. In other interpretations of these three they share an eye-ball that they can see into the future with, in Irish antiquity they spin their hair into forms to cause trouble. They are a Swamp Thing, made up of different parts that metamorphosize into something other. In these recent works I am very interested in using cutting edge animation technologies to manifest these forms. You take a surface of one living matter and weave it together to manifest another, a kind of Frankensteination process of sorts that can make a new language out of one that exists in the natural world. 
The moving image work Cracking Floor was inspired by the folklore and practices of the Oracle at Delphi. The Pythia would dance or jump on the floor of the temple and cause the floors to crack giving off volcanic vapours that when inhaled would transform the priestess into a soothsayer. The inhalation of earth’s vapours caused the seer to hallucinate and predict futures or alternative ways forward for the seeker. 
This animated render was actually created for a collaborative work called Powerful Trouble which was made by Barry for Junk Ensmble’s multi collaborative/multi artistic and experimental dance performance in the 2023 Dublin Theatre Festival. Dancers jumped on an ash and salt laden floor and the animation was triggered by this somatic collective action. The notion of a Swamp Thing is further encapsulated through the transformative idea that the underworld’s vapours can cause an action and metamorphosis in us that can help us see a way forward or a leviathan that we must yet slay.

Image: Aideen Barry, Junk Ensemble & photographer José Miguel Jiménez.


Aideen Barry is an artist whose means of expression are interchangeable, incorporating performance, moving image and sculptural manifestations. Employing visual trickery to create a heightened suspension of reality, the common denominator of Barry’s work is an attempt to deal with anxiety. Barry achieves a lot of the creation of her work through collaboration with artists and non art communities. She has exhibited widely at venues including: New Art Dealers; New York, Centre Cultural Irlandais, Paris; IMMA; Ireland, CAC Malaga; Spain, The Headlands Center for the Arts, US; Centre for the Less Good Idea; South Africa, Art OMI: New York, Skaftfell: Iceland, Banff Centre; Canada, Salzburg Kunstverein; Austria, Matucana 100; Chile, The Katzen Center at the American Museum; US, Wexner Centre; US, Elephant Gallery; UK, The Whitaker Museum; UK, Moderna Musett; Sweden, Musée des Beaux Arts; Lyon, Louise T. Blouin Gallery, UK, Artscene Shanghai; China and Project 304 Gallery; Bangkok, BAC; Geneva, Liste Art Fair; Basel, Catharine Clark Gallery; US. Barry has been award prestigious fellowships and prizes including; The Myron Marty Lectureship at Drake University; US,  The Anderson Lectureship at Penn State University; US, Project Awards from the Arts Council of Ireland, Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks 2015, The Golden Fleece Award in 2021, Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust Award and the Temple Bar Gallery & Studio ISCP residency award 2022.