Performers Break Cover for the Ecological Emergency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art

Performance is profound. Taking part as a performer or audience–we share a collective emergent experience that may affect our perspective long afterwards. Last Saturday, in the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the new Breaking Cover Collective shared poignant responses to the ecological emergency and inspired a large crowd to journey with them–through drumming, movement, spoken word, individual and collective actions.

The 6-month comprehensive art-ecology-performance Breaking Cover programme culminating with a final performance on Sat 5 Sept. 2021, was designed and delivered by performance artist-facilitator Paola Catizone in her role for visitor engagement at the Irish Museum of Modern Art – IMMA. The Breaking Cover programme and performance arose from Paola’s considerable insight from over 30 years experience in performance art and holistic education. It began with her initial proposal and two pilot events initiated amidst all the challenges of 2020. Through Zoom meetings and occasional physical meetings, Paola nourished the Breaking Cover programme by bringing in speakers to support/deepen/expand on the themes for interested participants. Over 2021, Paola supported 15 participants who were keen to develop a performance collective.

As an invited speaker for their first programme session early in 2021, with  Lisa Fingleton (The Local Food Project/Co Kerry Artist in residence)Oana Sanziana (Active Hope Ireland), Mary Reynolds (We Are The Ark), V’cenza Cirefice (Dublin Eco feminists) and Sandra Murphy (IMMA Biodiversity Toursand artist Celina Muldoon invited to subsequent sessions and knowing Paola and some of the Breaking Cover Collective through their participation in my Haumea courses, it was especially moving to witness these creatives evolve an engaging event of national importance.

Clearly and confidently, the Breaking Cover Collective‘s performance last Saturday responded to the ecological emergency. This is not easy terrain for creatives, art educators or curators, who in current art education have little access to ecological understanding, integrated ecosocial values or psychosocial supports necessary to advance an era for personal, collective and planetary wellbeing.

But with the Breaking Cover Collective performance, we resonated first with thoughtful individual embodied performances (see the programme alongside) that connected us to the devastation in the Amazon, to ocean suffering and pollution, to the butchery of other nonhuman species (Thomas Morelly), to planting seeds and intimate interventions with the trees growing on the grounds at IMMA. We then silently gathered around a solitary drummer Tom Duffy, whose sombre sounds powerfully called us to gather around IMMA’s large courtyard to witness a large felled tree dragged into the space (by Paul Regan).

Like the pied piper, the performers and audience then followed Tom’s drumming to an extraordinary ‘Banquet’ of over-consumption and a dinner speech plea for Earth care by Deirdre Lane in IMMA’s formal garden. This banquet, from an initial idea from Paola, involved the performers endlessing consuming and asking for “more” and “more” of Earth’s riches. Soil, other items of mass consumption and pollution were heaped from wheelbarrows onto the table with some performers going as far to consume the soil. It was a striking, uneasy scene – like a version of the ‘last supper’ reflecting today’s mindless consumption.

Beyond the piling rubbish on the table– we saw the presence of Earth (Hilary Williams) standing horrified and wailing. Then we followed her and others’ keening to the meadows to hear a roll call of extinct and endangered species. Performers embodying species fell one after the other to the ground resonating with ‘die-in’ performances of the 1960s when names of victims of political oppression were called out by protestors. If all this seems dismal, if you looked closely, throughout the Breaking Cover Collective performances, care was taken to carry a small flame to represent hope.

The inaugural Breaking Cover Collective Performance at IMMA, Sat 5 Sept. 21

All of this 2-hour performance was conveyed with little resources beyond the collectives considerable creative skill and enthusiasm for new learning. The performers’ props and instruments were mindful of costs to the Earth. We were connected to existential concerns simply and meaningfully through the hearts, bodies, mind, and voice of the performers. They imaginatively embodied and reflected the overwhelm, the grief and profound challenges of these times with sensitivity and a range of expression. In ecological mutuality, the elements around us and performers aligned: the day began overcast as fitting for such sombre reflections and then brightened, mirroring the tangible relief we can feel when we come together to care for others and greater ecologies.

One of the most moving moments in the performance was watching children called to the sound of the Tom Duffy’s sombre drum playing (which I later heard the drum was filled with intentions from the performers for ecological healing). Paola Catizone is on the right.

How does such an event happen?

An experienced facilitator is crucial. That Paola has considerable prior experience in embodied mindful consciousness facilitation meant that she was instinctively able to compose an inclusive transformative learning and sharing experience, perfect for the benefit of all involved. Facilitators enable such transformation to challenges by providing a “sense of safety, openness and trust”, and by supporting “autonomy, participation and collaboration”[1].

For those unfamiliar with lifelong and life-wide transformative learning (which is also central to all the Haumea courses – especially the new Earth Charter course*), it is beginning to empower the profound shift in global education toward equitable sustainable living. Transformative learning has evolved over several decades and is central to ESD – Education for Sustainable Development, most recently articulated in global 2021 Berlin Declaration on ESD.

Importantly, UNESCO recognises transformative learning: comprising compassion, expansive consciousness & mindful practices for personal and planetary wellbeing, with disciplinary knowledge, as essential for the deep behaviour change needed for a just and sustainable world.

Transformative learning is for an ecological worldview is also accelerated when collective learning and reflections are fostered. The Breaking Cover Collective fostered an emergent ecology of practice because it also combined the considerable creative skill and lifeworld experience of Paola and all of the participants: Rennie Buenting (an organic farmer and ceramic artist), Carmel Ennis (a gardener and dancer), Karen Aguiar (dancer), Thomas Morelly (illustrator and XR activist), Laura O’Brien (embodiment practitioner), Miriam Sweeney (student), Mary Hoy (a visual artist), Paul Regan (performance artist), Hilary Williams (performance Artist) and Sophie Rieu (therapist and artist), Rebecca Bradley (painter), Tom Duffy (musician, artist and educator),and Deirdre Lane (environmental activist and consultant).

In the arts, transformative learning has much potential to guide individuals, whole institutions and the sector with new integrated ecosocial values and language, creativity, compassion and sensitivity, so we prioritise care for individuals, others and expansive ecologies systematically in all we do. Mistakenly separating social and environmental concerns is at the heart of ecological crisis. The dominant culture is in profound crisis because our human focussed preoccupations are alienated from the wellbeing of the greater Earth community. Sustainable cultural renewal will insist that we all develop a much broader systems thinking mindset. In a way, transformative learning means we think, care and act in more expansive ways for greater mutual benefit, much like how a flourishing forest community of many diverse species works through interdependent cooperation.

As yet, operating with an ecological worldview is far beyond what is customary in much of art (and general) education. However, the growing shock of the unravelling of Earth’s life support systems, with climate breakdown, species collapse, and economic-stopping pandemics, means education and cultural policy in all spheres must urgently face new realities. In Ireland, the Dept. of Education is working toward new strategy for ESD across the Irish education landscape from 2021-30 and culture is identified as having a crucial role as the 4th pillar of sustainability to inspire the shift society to a better future. The Breaking Cover Collectives’ programme and performance indicates how such new priorities will blossom, if acknowledged and supported.

Again, congratulations to all involved and grateful thanks to Paola for her courage & vision in developing such a comprehensive programme that speaks so movingly to these challenging times.


Dr Cathy Fitzgerald, Founder-Director of Haumea Ecoversity (PhD by Creative Practice, NCAD, Art and Ecology Research Fellow, Burren College of Art) is a successful and popular transformational learning guide, lecturer, writer, speaker and researcher for sustainability for the creative sector, a former science researcher and an ecological art practitioner for the ongoing Hollywood Forest Story and advisor for the Carlow Creative Drummin Bog Project since 2017. Her work has been featured in The Irish Times, and in peer-reviewed publications. This makes her uniquely placed to guide other art professionals toward the most urgent challenge for contemporary art today – how can we effectively employ creativity and cultural leadership to inspire societal change for the better world we know is possible.

Or please feel free to email Cathy below.


If you are interested in transformative learning for your creative practice, teaching or institution or organisation, please see the Haumea Ecoversity Course page for courses starting in early Oct. 2021

We offer small, supportive and accessible ONLINE group learning so book early to avoid disappointment:

  • 7-week Essential Ecoliteracy course for Creatives and Cultural Professionals
  • * and a new 6-week course on Embracing the EcoSocial Vision and Values of the Earth Charter – which involves an overview of transformative learning and integrated ecosocial values relevant to guide teachers, scientists, cultural and business leaders, for a better more beautiful world.

[1] Edward W. Taylor 1998, The theory and practice of transformative learning: a critical review, ERIC, Columbus, OH, pp. 53-4, cited in Prof Emeritus Stuart B Hill’s summary of transformative learning (2008)


3 Replies to “Performers Break Cover for the Ecological Emergency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art”

  1. Good words here by Cathy Fitzgerald. Gives an all-over review of what we the “performers” aimed at, worked for, and experienced over the few months of guidance and leadership. It was performed at Imma, the space was good and the event became a fundamental brand new art exploratory piece, the basis of which was mainly Performance Art,
    We all read the essay from Amanda Coogan written for visitors to IMMA and live art /Performance art, dance theater, myths and legends, body and voice and a weirdly wonderful coming together of ages, cultures, backgrounds formed a sort of fragmented glass-like object ,multi-views collectively sound and visually interesting.
    I hope there will be more reviews.

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