Irish Tree Alphabet - VISUAL

VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art &
The George Bernard Shaw Theatre

Irish Tree Alphabet

Katie Holten

23 Jul - 18 Oct 2020 |

Katie Holten’s Irish Tree Alphabet allows us to write in Irish Trees. This exhibition explores language and the environment to highlight the importance of our words and the stories that we tell.

The artist has made drawings of trees, existing natives as well as non-native trees that are now calling Ireland home due to the changing climate. Each tree replaces a letter in the Latin alphabet; A = Ailm (Scots Pine), B = Beith (Birch), C = Coll (Hazel), etc. The result is a new Irish Tree Alphabet and font called Irish Trees.

The project finds its roots in the Ogham alphabet, a medieval alphabet used primarily to write the early Irish language. Ogham's characters or letters were called feda "trees" or nin "forking branches" due to their shape.

Holten’s Irish Tree Alphabet encircles the main gallery. Above eye level is a message in Ogham for you to translate. The Irish Tree Alphabet also finds form as a digital font called Irish Trees. This free font is available to download from Anyone anywhere can write a love letter with trees.

We invite you to share messages about your visit to VISUAL and your hopes for the future, written in Irish Trees. Send them to and we may plant some. You might also like to plant a message with trees in your town, village, farm or garden. Let us know!

Katie Holten would like to thank Seoidin O’Sullivan, Eanna Ni Lamhna, Aideen McBride, Cathy Fitzgerald, Martin Lyttle, Gerald Mills, Jessica Traynor, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Ed Cohen, Victoria Shaw, John Holten, Candy Holten and Dillon Cohen. Special thanks to Colm O’Neill for literally making it all possible and to the team at VISUAL, particularly Emma Lucy O’Brien for ensuring this project happened despite the odds.

Words Matter
As part of this season and exhibition, a stage in the center of the gallery offers a shared space for performance and calls to action. In a time when our theatres are closed and physical distancing remains a priority, this gallery space will be used by artists to perform and present work that reflects on our responsibility to the greatest common space that we have, the planet, and our hopes for a world that is kind and just. Collaborating artists include, Jessica Traynor, John Scott, Feli Speaks and Tobi Omoteso.

About the Artist:
Katie Holten (b. 1975) lives and works in New York City and Ardee, Co. Louth. She is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, the Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin, and Cornell University in New York. She represented Ireland at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. Other important solo museum exhibitions include the New Orleans Museum of Art in New Orleans (2012), Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane in Dublin (2010), The Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York (2009); Villa Merkel in Esslingen (2008), Nevada Museum of Art in Reno (2008) and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2007). She has conceived major public commissions including TREE MUSEUM (2009-2010) for New York City’s Grand Concourse commissioned by the NYC Parks Department, the Bronx Museum and Wave Hill and the New York City Tree Alphabet (2018-2019).

Why I made a new Irish Tree Alphabet - Katie Holten in the Irish Times, 30 September 2020

Image credit: Katie Holten, Today (2020)