Digging with Heaney

March 2014


Digging with Seamus Heaney

Digging With Seamus Heaney, a site-specific poetry performance public art project by the Russian/ British/ Irish visual artist Varvara Shavrova. In commemoration of the Nobel Prize winning poet, Varvara Shavrova created a site specific sound installation inspired by two seminal poems by Seamus Heaney performed in four languages, English, Irish, Mandarin and Russian. The piece was performed by three poets 30 metres down, inside a construction pit, in the heart of Beijing business district, creating a ‘temple of sound’ that rose up to the audience.



Concept: ‘Digging With Seamus Heaney ‘is a site-specific poetry performance
‘rehearsal’ and a public art project by the Russian/ Irish visual artist Varvara
Shavrova for the Irish Culture Festival in Beijing 2014. It is supported by the Irish
Embassy and Culture Ireland, in consultation with ARUP (Beijing).
视觉艺术家Varvara Shavrova 为2014北京爱尔兰文化节特别呈现。项目得到爱尔
Date: 12 th March 2014, 19:00
日期:2014年3月12日, 19:00
Venue: Beijing CBD construction site – open earthwork.
Varvara Shavrova (visual artist and curator, Ireland/ Russia) in collaboration with Xi
Chuan (poet, China), Helen Wing (poet, UK) and Valeriy Rudenko (artist, poet and
translator, Russia) will create a public art installation and performance project
commemorating Seamus Heaney in Beijing by using the poet’s two poems, ‘Digging’
and ‘Belderg’, as genesis texts.
沙妩若Varvara Shavrova(视觉艺术家、导演,爱尔兰/俄罗斯)将与中国诗人
西川、英国诗人Helen Wing、以及爱尔兰诗人和广播节目主持人Vincent Woods合
Varvara Shavrova will create a site-specific sound installation ‘rehearsal’ inspired by
two seminal poems by Seamus Heaney performed in three languages, English,
Mandarin and Russian. The Mandarin and Russian translations of the two poems are
written especially for Shavrova’s public artwork by Chinese Poet-Laureate Xi Chuan.
受希尼这两首诗歌的启发,沙妩若 将在特定场所,即位于北京商务中心区的建
筑工地的开放基坑中,创造一个崭新的“声响焰火”艺术装置。 烟火将希尼的

Using an original recording of Seamus Heaney’s voice produced by RTE as the central
piece, Varvara Shavrova will create an installation where the sound will focus on
Heaney’s reading and be taken up by the poets so that the poems resonate around
the space in the pit and then and ascend up to the audience.
The sound installation in the form of ‘sound and verse performance’ will respond to
traditional Chinese temple architecture and Irish megalithic tombs and structures,
placed inside an open earthwork pit inside a construction site in the centre of Beijing
CBD (City Business District). The performance will be held inside the ‘pit’ and create
parallels between Heaney’s poems about archaeological and artistic processes
brought to one pane by the metaphorical and physical process of ‘digging’. The open
‘pit’ set will resonate both with European megalithic tombs and ancient Chinese
temples, as well as bring associations with public speeches, theatrical performances
and sporting events held inside classical Greek and Roman amphitheatres.
The live site specific performance by three poets will use voice and visual effects and
Heaney’s poetry in English, Russian and Chinese. The intention is to reflect with
performance and sound on how Heaney’s poetic voice transmutes across borders
through the English, Chinese, Russian and Irish speaking worlds. The poets will be
reading and resonating together in multiple languages signaling as the poems
‘Digging’ and ‘Belderg’ suggest the commonality of human endeavor.
人们可以想像展示希尼的富于诗意的声音如何穿越不同的国界用,在英文、 语
将一起用不同的语言诵读。 他们的声音将,不同的语言形成共鸣 ,从而表达

The venue for the performance, in the earthworks, aims to stimulate thought and
feeling around the ideas of cultivation, excavation, sowing, reaping, building, digging
for sustenance and understanding and expression. The imagery of the venue, like
Heaney’s, is timeless and borderless. The choice to do the performance at night will
enable Shavrova to use the lighting, the sounds of performed verses and the setting

inside the open earth to effect, both with reference to casting light, digging and
building as symbols of creativity and progress of human endeavour.
In order to realize the project to its full spectacular capacity and reach the widest
audiences, Shavrova will engage in collaboration and work with sound engineers and
audio specialists to draw upon the elements of speech rhythm and inflection, to
develop a spectacular display of directed sound within the structure of the non
space and the architectural void. Although the work is a public art, it is non-
participatory. The audience will be observing the event from the existing platform,
and looking down at the performing poets, thus increasing the effect of looking into
the classical amphitheater or arena. The viewers will not be able enter the art space.
No general public will attend and the event is by invitation only.
的想像空间。 这就像对希尼的诗歌一样,因为他的诗歌也没有时间和空间的界
Varvara Shavrova
Dublin/ Beijing
February 2014

Biographical Details
Varvara Shavrova (Russia/ Ireland) 沙妩若 (俄罗斯/ 爱尔兰)
Born in a family of artists in Moscow, Varvara Shavrova moved to London in 1989 where she
lived and worked for over 15 years. In 2005 Shavrova moved to China with her Irish engineer
husband (ARUP) who was heading, together with world famous Dutch architect Rem
Koolhaas (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), the design and construction of China
Central Television headquarters in Beijing CBD. Shavrova stayed in China for five and a half
years and over this period she worked mainly with Chinese artists and curators, and
participated and instigated a number of ground breaking visual arts projects in Beijing and
Shanghai. In 2010 Shavrova moved to Ireland with her family and now lives and works in
Dublin and Ballycastle, Co.Mayo. She regularly travels to China where she is currently
working on her latest film, as well leading a number of international visual arts and
collaborative projects.
生于莫斯科一个艺术世家的沙妩若 (Varvara Shavrova),1989年移居伦敦,并在那工作
级著名建筑师Rem Koolhaas (OMA)合作,设计并完成了中央电视台新址项目。沙妩若在
与、发起了一系列具有开创意义的视觉艺术项目。2010年,沙妩若 随家人搬回到爱尔
Shavrova’s projects include over 20 solo exhibitions in Dublin, Galway, Sligo, London, Los
Angeles, Berlin, Frankfurt, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Shanghai and Beijing, and a number of
curatorial visual arts projects, artistic initiatives and group exhibitions in Ireland, UK, Italy
and China. Shavrova curated a number of international group projects, including ‘Through
the Lens: new media art from Ireland’ in Beijing where she co-ordinated visual arts
programme for the First Festival of Irish Culture at Beijing Art Museum of Imperial City, in
2008. In 2005 Shavrova conceived and realised a highly ambitious international art and
architecture project, ‘Map Games: Dynamics of Change’. The project was realised in 2008-
2009, in collaboration with Chinese curator Feng Boyi and studio OffiCina in Beijing, and
represented specially commissioned works by 22 Chinese and international artists and
architects reflecting on changing Beijing prior to the Olympics. ‘Map Games’ received high
critical acclaim and toured from Today Art Museum in Beijing to Birmingham Museums and
Art Gallery in UK and to CAOS Centre for Contemporary Arts in Terni, Italy.
Shavrova’s recent projects include ‘The Opera’, a multi-media six screen projected
installation at Espacio Cultural El Tanque, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in November 2011. ‘The

Opera’ solo exhibition at the Gallery of Photography Ireland opened Dublin Chinese New
Year Festival 2012 and toured to Limerick City Art Gallery and Ballina Arts Centre in 2012.
Shavrova participated with a solo project ‘Mirrors on the Opera’ in 2012 Pingyao
International Photography Festival in China, and took part in ‘New Irish landscapes’ group
show at the Three Shadows Photography Arts Centre in Beijing in 2013, as part of the Irish
Culture Festival, both projects curated by Tanya Kiang, Gallery of Photography Ireland.
Shavrova is currently exhibiting her Opera project in London, a solo multi-media show at
Patrick Heide Contemporary Art. She is also working on completing a feature length artist’s
film based on an international artistic community living inside a 600-year old Buddhist
Temple in an old Beijing hutong that is currently undergoing a dramatic change of use.
Shavrova’s Digging With Seamus, a site specific public art work and performance dedicated
to the memory of Ireland’s greatest poets of the 20 th and 21 st centuries, Seamus Heaney, will
form part of Irish Culture Festival in Beijing in March 2014. Shavrova received a number of
international awards and fellowships including Culture Ireland grants, London Arts Board
grant, Ballinglen Arts Foundation fellowship awards and Prince’s Trust artist’s travelling
award. Shavrova’s works can be found in important public and private collections, including
Department of Foreign Affairs, Arts Council England, Museum of Modern Art Moscow,
among others.
Xi Chuan (China) 西川 (中国)
Xi Chuan (official name Liu Jun), poet, essayist, translator, was born in the City of Xuzhou,
Jiangsu province, in 1963. He studied English literature at the Peking University. He is
currently teaching Classical Chinese Literature at the School of Liberal Arts, Central Academy
of Fine Arts in Beijing. Xi Chuan is one of the most influential poets in contemporary China.
He has been well known in the Chinese literary scene since his student days. In 1988, he
founded, with friends, the unofficial poetry journal Qingxiang (Tendency), which was,
however, banned after three issues. From 1990 to 1995 he worked as an editor for the
unofficial magazine Xiandai Hanshi (Modern Chinese Poetry). He is now one of the two chief-
editors of the magazine Dangdai Gouji Shitan (Contemporary World Poetry). 

He has published five collections of poems to date. His series of poems Jinghua Shuiyue
(Flowers in the Mirror and the Moon on the Water) was adapted into an experimental play
directed by Meng Jinghui and was well accepted at the 35th Festival Internacional
Cervantino, Mexico, 2007. In 2005, the Italian visual Artist Marco Mereo Rotelli made a giant

installation named Poetry Island with 12 poems from 12 poets (including Adonis, Yves
Bonnefoy, Charles Tomlinson, Tadeusz Rozewicz and Xi Chuan) and exhibited it at the 51st La
Biennale di Venezia.
觉艺术家 Rotelli 制作了一个被称做诗歌岛的装置,西川的作品是12首入选诗歌之一。
The composer Guo Wenjing turned Xi Chuan’s poem ‘Yuanyou’ (Long Journey) into a piece
of music and was performed in 2004 by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted
by Edo de Waart. 

In 1997 he edited the collected works of the poet-hero Hai Zhi, who
committed suicide in 1989. He also works as a translator, mainly of poetry. He has translated
works by Seamus Heaney, Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, Czesław Miłosz and Olav. H. Hauge
into Chinese. 

Xi Chuan has been awarded numerous prizes, including: in 1994, the
Modern Chinese Poetry Prize; in 1999, one of the top ten winners at the Weimar
International Essay Prize Contest; in 2001, the national Lu Xun Prize.
及Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, Czesław Miłosz and Olav. H. Hauge等多人的诗歌。西川曾

Valeriy Rudenko (Russia) (俄罗斯)
Was born in Moscow and graduated from Moscow Architectural Institute. He is a member
of Moscow Art Union, Moscow Architectural Guild and the Journalist Guild of Russia. He is a
prize-winning architect as well as a fine art book illustrator and translator. He has translated
many Chinese poets into Russian. He has illustrated 40 books for children, some by famous
Russian storytellers and has exhibited at the book art fairs in Moscow and has had particular
praise for his work on Old Beijing. He moved to China in 1987 and his artwork is influenced
by his wide travels in China. He also works as an architect and graphic designer here in
Beijing as well as publishing essays and novels about China in the internet magazine
"KRUGOZOR". His poetry translations are published in China and Russia.
Awards and Prizes: Third prize for project of building of Academy of Since of the USSR, First
prize for the Alma-Ata concert hall project, First prize for illustration of the book “USSR is
your motherland”, book illustration exhibitions in Moscow, recent canvases sold to private

Helen Wing (England) (英国)
Helen Wing is a poet and a fiction writer who lives variously in Beijing, Cairo and London.
She was born in London and studied Spanish and French at Cambridge University. She
completed her PhD in Spanish Poetry and published widely in Hispanic and Comparative

Poetics as an academic. Currently she is Writer-in- Residence at Harrow International School
where she publishes an annual poetry book project with Harrow students and the students
at Project Hope Vocational School, a migrant children’s charity school based in Wangjing.
She has stories published in the Mississippi Prize Review, the Southern Cross Review, in the
Tale of Four Cities and Sukoon and poetry published in a recently Middle Eastern anthology
called 'Nowhere near a damned rainbow: unsanctioned writing of the Middle East.' In 2012
she rose to no.4 on Amazon's e-kindle poetry with her poetic work Archangel. She spends
most of her time writing poems…
Helen Wing 是在北京、开罗和伦敦生活的诗人和小说家。她出生于伦敦并在剑桥大学
工子弟学校。她还在Mississippi Prize Review, the Southern Cross Review, in the Tale of Four
Cities and Sukoon等刊物发表作品,她的诗作最近被收录于一本中东诗选。2012年,她
Helen Wing and Xi Chuan have collaborated in past projects: first 2012 International
Women’s Day poetry reading by Chinese and English Speaking poets; 2013 Capital – M
Beijing ‘Poetry as Fire’ Helen Wing and XiChuan – Poetry as Fire. A discussion based on the
belief that poetry is all that is not lost in translation – against Frost. Helen has also written
for an introduction to Varvara Shavrova’s Borders project.
Helen Wing和西川曾多次合作:2013年国际妇女节中英双语诗歌诵读会首次合作。2013
。Helen还曾为, 沙妩若的边界项目做序。

Project Venues, Partners and Sponsors
Venue: Building site in CBD Beijing close to Irish Embassy (Emperor Group / Arup site)
地点:位于商务中心区的建筑工地,邻近爱尔兰使馆,具体地点待定 (英皇/奥雅纳
Engineering consultant: Chas Pope, Associate Director (ARUP, Beijing).
技术支持:Chas Pope, 副总监(ARUP , Beijing)
Construction company partners: Emperor Group
建筑公司合作伙伴:英皇 (待定 )
Sound installation and new media co-ordinator: Jonah Jiang (Beijing)
装置和新媒体协调人: Jonah Jiang (Beijing)

Official partners and sponsors

Irish Culture Festival Beijing 2014; Beijing Bookworm Literature Festival 2014; Embassy of
Ireland, Beijing; Chaoyang District Government; Culture Ireland; Arts Council Ireland; Dublin
City Council; Beijing Dublin Twinning Committees
Commercial/ industry sponsors
Construction company, CBD (Emperor Group)
Company to provide additional floodlighting for the site
Sound equipment and events production company
Media resources and installation software company
建筑公司、商务中心区, ‘英皇’,照明设备提供商,设备提供商,媒体协助和软件
Film Crew:
Sound, Lighting, Camera and admin. China In A Box, Beijing
声音、灯光、电影和行政事物 .北京华景合咨询有限公司

‘They just keep turning up
And were thought of as foreign’-
One-eyed and benign,
They lie about his house,
Quernstones out of a bog.
To lift the lid of the peat
And find this pupil dreaming
Of neolithic wheat!
When he stripped off blanket bog
The soft-piled centuries
Fell open like a glib;
There were the first plough-marks,
The stone-age fields, the tomb
Corbelled, turfed and chambered,
Floored with dry turf-coomb.
A landscape fossilized,
Its stone wall patternings
Repeated before our eyes
In the stone walls of Mayo.
Before I turned to go
He talked about persistence,
A congruence of lives,

How stubbed and cleared of stones,
His home accrued growth rings
Of iron, flint and bronze.
So I talked of Mossbawn,
A bogland name ‘but Moss’?,
He crossed my old home’s music
With older strains of Norse.
I’d told how its foundation
Was mutable as sound
And how I could derive
A forked root from that ground,
Make bawn an English fort,
A planter’s walled-in mound.
Or else find sanctuary
And think of it as Irish,
Persistent if outworn.
‘But the Norse ring on your tree?’
I passed through the eye of the quern,
Grist to an ancient mill,
And in my mind’s eye saw,
A world-tree of balanced stones,
Querns piles like vertebrae,
The marrow crushed to grounds.

Digging” BY SEAMUS HEANEY” (An excerpt) 
 Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down  Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging.   The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands.




Arup Group Limited

Sennheiser Electronic GmbH & Co.

Embassy of Ireland





Photos by Chas Pope