Ethan Pennell: The Doors of Perception: An enquiry into the spirit of place

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The presentation relates to my practice as an artist and how this addresses the term ‘sustainability’ in relation to folklore, mythology and storytelling. The work explores different ways of perceiving the world, challenging the dominant paradigm of the past three hundred years, the Cartesian-Baconian scientific model. In its place a more holistic vision of the world is engendered, one that highlights its animating presence, the genius loci or spirit of place. The paper will argue that such a mindset is paramount if we are to tackle the current ecological crisis. 

The prevalence of the dualistic mindset since the Enlightenment period is seen by many as the root cause of environmental degradation. An alternative approach, what research physicist, Fritjof Capra calls a ‘shift to a new paradigm of deep ecology’ that sees the world as ‘a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent‘, [which] recognizes the intrinsic values of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life’ is  occurring amongst researchers at the leading edge of science in areas such as cutting-edge science, social movements & alternative networks  (Capra, 1995, pp.20-23). The presentation focuses in particular on the use of folklore, mythology and storytelling within my work to help people develop a deeper emotional relationship to, and appreciation of, the environment via their cultural heritage. It draws on inter-disciplinary research in a number of areas such as anthropology, archaeology, cultural geography, ecofeminsim, ecopsychology and history.

The presentation will discuss how my practice has combined the above theoretical approach with practice-based research that is informed by the locale. Taking the traditional Irish storyteller’s or seanchaí‘s idea of becoming, as mythologist and wilderness teacher, Martin Shaw puts it ‘thoroughly drenched in a place’ by taking on the role of ‘cultural custodians of a five-mile radius’ (Hopkins, 2012), my work is informed by the ecology, folklore, history and geography of my local area, utilising locally sourced, eco-friendly, salvaged, and re-used materials wherever possible. Time is spent walking the land, meditating and dreaming – in essence tuning into the spirit of place.


Capra, F., (1995) ‘Deep Ecology: A New Paradigm’, in Sessions, G., (ed). Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: readings on the philosophy and practice of the New Environmentalism. Boston: Shambhala.

Chalquist, C., (2007) Terrapsychology: Re-Engaging the Soul of Place. New Orleans: Spring Journal Books.

Hopkins, R., (2012) An interview with Dr. Martin Shaw. [online]. Totnes: Rob Hopkins. Available from: [Accessed on 13th November 2012, at 14.49].

Download poster: Ethan Pennell CREST Symposium Poster 2013