Katie Holten


Language – unique to humans – creates order, allowing us to enter real, distant, or non-existent worlds. Several years ago, recognizing a potential failure of language and a looming crisis of representation as our species adapts to life in the Anthropocene, Holten created a Tree Alphabet. Each letter of the English/Roman alphabet was given a corresponding tree: A = Apple, B = Beech, etc. This new ABC offers viewers a deceptively simple way to reread what they already know, seeing the trees for the words. 

As part of her contribution to the Treeline Project Katie Holten will create a new Tree Alphabet especially for Dublin city. Trees will be drawn from a comprehensive list of existing native and non-native street trees, trees listed in the Cyclops episode of “Ulysses”, as well as new species that are being used in Dublin City Council’s Tree Strategy.

Tree Alphabet by Katie HoltenThe Tree Alphabet can be used as a planting guide, allowing us to write (plant) words, poems, or even short stories through the city streets and parks. Today the potential to rewrite the urban landscape is enormous. This is an accessible and humorous way to engage young people and adults alike in redrawing their neighborhood. Holten looks forward to exploring the possibilities with local school children and other residents through workshops in the Shed and field trips to forested areas of the city.

The Tree Alphabet can also be turned into a font called Trees which will be available to freely download, allowing anyone anywhere to write a love letter to Dublin, in Trees.

Holten also hopes to translate James Joyce’s “Ulysses” into Trees. What will the iconic text look like – what will it tell us – when translated into a forest? Joyce’s work has recently been studied within the context of ecocriticism and Holten hopes to explore this in depth with theorist and Joyce scholar James Fairhall, local poet Paula Meehan, and other scholars. The artist will attempt to read the book in light of her new awareness of Joyce’s provocative questions concerning colonial exploitation of people and resources and the interplay of the environment and cultural memory. 



Katie Holten grew up in rural Ireland and studied at the Hochschule der Kunst, Berlin (1997), the National College of Art and Design, Dublin (1998), Cornell University, New York, (2006), and the Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico (2013). In 2003 she represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale. She has had solo museum exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of Art (2012); Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, (2010); The Bronx Museum (2009); Nevada Museum of Art (2008) and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2007). 

Committed to social causes, especially as they pertain to environmental issues, Holten has become an advocate for merging daily political activism with artistic practice. Her drawings, sculptures, installations, books, public artworks and ephemeral actions often function as poetic alterations to the everyday. She often works on site to explore the history, ecology, and other invisible aspects of an environment. At the root of her practice is a fascination with the inextricable relationship between human beings and nature. Since 2014 she has been hosting monthly salons on the possibilities for art and activism in the Anthropocene. She is currently developing a Tree Alphabet for New York City with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Google’s ecology department has invited her to create a living Tree Alphabet (2017-2019) in collaboration with local community groups and residents in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Twitter: @katieholten