about the artist • michael o'callaghan
I was born of Irish parents in Geneva in 1952, my father being a UN diplomat with the ILO and my mother a medical doctor. I attended French-speaking primary school and studied violin at the Conservatoire de Musique. At the age of 11 I spent a year learning German by immersion in the 800-year old Benedictine school of Melk Abbey in Austria; (founded in 1089, its library features in Umberto Eco’s novel, The Name of the Rose). I got my secondary education at Glenstal Abbey School in Ireland, where my Jungian art teacher awakened my interest in individuation and the emergence of symbols from the personal and collective unconscious. At the age of 16 I fell in love with cinema, especially the films of Bergman, Buñuel, Pasolini, Fellini, Antonioni, Rocha, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky and Godard.
In 1970 I went to study medicine at Trinity College Dublin, but was quickly turned off by its foundations in obsolete 18th century physics, which views living creatures as if they were ruled by entropy. I then applied to study economics & ecology, but was refused because “the subjects are not related”, and decided to learn Italian and read Italian and French literature, relishin the texts of existentialism and the Theatre of the Absurd. I got into Sartre, Camus, Beckett, Ionesco, Pirandello, and the need to be engagé or socially responsible, and was blown away by Nicholas Roeg’s cinematic portrait of the 1960s-era English psyche, Performance.
1972 was the year of the Limits to Growth report by the Club of Rome, the first UN Environment Conference in Stockholm, dictatorship in Greece, Allende in Chile, Nixon in the White House, the Vietnam war, Watergate, and John & Yoko Lennon’s film "Imagine”. I dropped out of the university as part of the global psychedelic counterculture, embarking on the proverbial journey back to nature in what seemed like the terrestrial paradise of Ireland’s Wicklow mountains… which I then found to be contaminated by radioactive fallout from the French hydrogen bomb tests at Moruroa atoll in the South Pacific! I studied art at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, got into mediaeval vernacular architecture restoring a castle in Tuscany, travelled to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and India, where I lived briefly with indigenous people in the Himalayan Valley of the Gods. I coined the concepts of information-art and context of information during a field trip to a 5,000 year-old megalithic site on a mountain overlooking Dublin Bay, which features a passage aligned to summer solstice sunrise. I saw this as a work of information-art or context of information that draws the attention of the observer in situ in a specific way. Inspired by this approach and by systems thinkers including Gregory Bateson, Buckminster Fuller, Paolo Freire, Fritz Perls, R.D. Laing, Marshall McLuhan and Gene Youngblood, I then set out to research the air & water pollution produced by Dublin, which led to my realisation that this 1,000 year-old city had no feedback mechanism to be aware of its ecological footprint because the fragmented institutional structure of its body politic prevented anyone from seeing the big picture! This triggered my interest in the artistic potential of cinema and information technology to create contexts of information that could enable urban inhabitants to become more conscious of their relationship with their ecosystem.
To explore this further, I moved the USA in 1976 and founded Biosynergy Foundation in Boulder, Colorado, to develop the idea for an impressionistic musical feature film conceived as a collective self-portrait of humankind and the biosphere. After a few months in Boulder, I then moved to New York to develop this project further, and lived for the next 20 years in Greenwhich Village, Soho and the Lower East Side. I continued this R&D in collaboration with the cinema artist and timelapse pioneer Hilary Harris, Santana percussionist Michael Shrieve, mythologist Joseph Campbell, the Club of Rome founder Aurelio Peccei, the Center for Appropriate Technology and the Systems Dynamics Lab at MIT, the Princeton Center for Alternative Futures, anthropologist Joan Halifax, psychiatrists R.D. Laing, Stanislav Grof and John Weir Perry, economist and futurist Hazel Henderson, international law professor Richard Falk of Princeton University, Nobel Peace laureate Seán MacBride, multimedia artist Gerd Stern, ecological architect William McDonough, and Barbara Marx Hubbard who co-founded the World Future Society. As part of my research for that film, I wanted to document how leading thinkers and ordinary people perceived the future. I produced and directed an interactive video project called Future Tapes (and collaborated on another one called Nuclear Tapes) with global thinkers including Buckminster Fuller, Richard Leakey, Tomas Berry, Hazel Henderson and Dr. Helen Caldicott, participated in World Game Workshops with Bucky Fuller, John Todd, Amory Lovins and Lynn Margulis, taught sociology at the New School for Social Research, took seminars with Ivan Illich, Mary Catherine Bateson and William Irwin Thompson at the Lindisfarne Association, studied the paradigm-shifting new cognitive biology theory of autopoiesis with the neuroscientist Francisco Varela and formulated my syntropy ratio theory of cognitive evolution in 1980. I sat on the board of Friends of the UN, and was a co-founder, with Prof John Kallos, of the Sustainable Development Initiative at Columbia University Graduate School of Business. In 1981 I founded Global Vision Corporation, an NGO accredited to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) with filmmaker Sheldon Rochlin and a trans-disciplinary network of advisers. I made seminal interviews with Jungian psychiatrist Dr. John Weir Perry on apocalyptic visions in schizophrenia and with Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum on indigenous peoples. I wrote about the transformative image of Apocalypse in mythology, madness and the future. I became friends with Maurice Strong who organised the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and I participated in the follow-up UN Conferences on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993), Habitat II (Istanbul, 1996) and Rio+10 (Johannesburg, 2002) where I shot in-depth conversations with 25 NGO leaders on the emerging global civil society consensus. During this time in New York I also worked for 5 years as an archival film specialist with Petrified Films Inc, a stock footage library set up by my friend Pierce Rafferty (who directed the cult film Atomic Café), where we licensed the vast encyclopedic stock footage libraries acquired from Warner Bros and Columbia Pictures. I was on the organising committee of the UNDPI/NGO conferences in 1995 & 1996, hosted by the UN Department of Public Information for strategy coordinatation with global civil society organisations, when I also produced the first cyber café at the UN Headquarters. From 1996-2010 I lived in London and in Ireland's Wicklow mountains where I developed a proposal for the first global multimedia curriculum on sustainability, supported by UNESCO, UNDP, UNEP, UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO, WWF, IUCN, IISD, Peace Child International, Working Title, City Screen Cinemas, Gro Brundtland and Martin Scorsese. I made short films including Time for Change: a millennium message from the Dalai Lama and another about water with Bernardo Bertolucci, produced a documentary called Fire on the Mountain about a ten-day gathering of tribal elders, wisdom keepers and medicine women from five continents who had travelled to a Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre in the French Alps to discuss their concerns with the Dalai Lama and representatives of the world’s religions about the current state of the world and their concern about the impact of deforestation, oil and mineral exploitation of the worlds rainforests and oceans. In 2003 I filmed Be The Change! about a gathering of 1,000 teenagers from 130 countries in Morocco organised by Peace Child International. In 2005 I founded the GM-Free Ireland Network and used my information-art strategy to declare 1,000 GMO-free zones on Earth Day 2005 which eventually led the government to keep Ireland off-limits to GM crops.
In 2010 I returned to Geneva where I established GLOBAL VISION FOUNDATION in 2012. I then designed a detailed 3D model and completed the architecture renovation and business plans for a worldview transformation centre that I want to establish in a 1,000-year old castle on a hilltop in Tuscany. My current focus (December 2021) is the POLITICS OF PERCEPTION film.