staring into white space waiting i see a circle in the sky start to emerge then fade away i’m watching slow breathing the whiteness blocking my ability to think the tide coming in and going out things float across my vision my eye keeps returning to the white and the yellow oh so slightly yellow circle that i keep thinking i can see but then can’t birds call in the dawn getting louder with hope for a new day then dip into silence muttering at its absence the future in a whiteout is clouded the past a smudge on a surface drawing on water the sun doesn’t rise the river flows both ways waiting just waiting for something to change
The Cliff looms high above her head, there’s someone collecting rocks on the beach to make pigment with. She gets down on to the ground and presses paper onto the surface of the mud. A smile breaks out on her face as she peels back the page – she has successfully transferred the landscape into the notebook. The traces of her walk are recorded without the use of brushes or pens.
She thinks about the Triassic age, before the Jurassic period, when major climate catastrophe resulted in the extinction of dinosaurs. Maybe, in 2000 years, someone might find her footprints fossilised in this landscape in which he feels so embedded?
Some of the strata have uncannily straight edges, as if written or drawn by a ruler. The lines were formed by compressed mud and clay.
Nature found a way to produce geometric forms, even though humans think only they can do right angles, triangles and circles. Bubbles of water, or air, we’re trapped in the mud, leaving only the container that had held them there – a perfect circle.
The earth’s surface appears to us to be suspended in time. Yet humans have shaped and changed it so often, it is hard to know where the edge of the natural and the built environment actually resides.
As she gathered her bags, the sun broke through the misty sky. Seagulls gathered high above the cliff. What about the birds’ skeletons – will they end up as dinosaurs of the twenty-first century? Alongside human remains?
The time when humans destroyed the planet and all it supports.
Hopefully it will recover, but maybe not in our lifetime unless we make changes. The Triassic-Jurassic boundary is marked by a major extinction in the marine realm. Was it marked by a line in the sand?
This new film“Reeds Waving” is the outcome of an incidental coming together of a singer, Eva Rune in rural Sweden, and artist, Carolyn Black in rural England.
When making my first film of the pandemic lockdown “When You Call I Shall Come” it was clear in my mind that I wanted to use a kulning song as the soundtrack, to call in the bore. They are traditional songs used to call in cows and reindeer. It is a haunting, clear sound that can be heard for miles and miles. The songs have been passed down through generations, as have stories about the Severn Bore. I foraged online until I found what I needed on Spotify and contacted Eva via Facebook to ask her permission to use it. Which she kindly gave me.
As time went on we kept in touch and eventually met online. We are living in similar circumstances and both welcome this opportunity to collaborate and develop new works. We have had wonderful conversations about the nature of collaborations, how they work, what would be best for us. We have learnt through testing and watching and listening. The Reeds Waving film began when I created the footage, bringing together aspects of our conversations. Eva is writing a book that explores dream bridges and my work is about the Severn – so I filmed the Severn Bridge at sunset with her in mind, having listened to her CD on the way to Lydney. I made her a film and she sent one to me where she sang a song to me from her river.
The reeds evolved from another conversation, when Eva said she loves rustling grasses – I had that footage already, from an earlier river expedition. I sent a draft of the film, as a simple split screen work, to Eva and she improvised the sound and song. We had sent each other parcels of stones from our rivers and gifts, through the post – she sent me a CD and I sent a photogravure of When You call. Eva recorded the song the day she received my package and the rustling sound is made by her crunching the tissue that wrapped the print. With her home recording equipment she created this soundtrack.
During editing I enjoyed the contrast between the noisy rustling reeds/paper and the quietness of the sunset scene. I employed the same switching process that I used in As Above So Below to respond to the sound, allowing the rustle to become the reeds.
It flowed together well with a bit of tweaking. We also tried adding my voice, but I felt it didn’t work so took it put again. Singing with someone with a voice as pure as hers is impossible!
So this finished work is the outcome of a long process of engagement with each other. We try things out and discard, everything is done by agreement. The words came in at the end, they narrate not only the film the both of us, to the point where the edges blur.
Carolyn – artist/producer
@severnsideartist on Instagram
In our current times of pandemic lock down Carolyn and I found a new collaboration together. With less possibilities to carry on with normal social life at home, we got to know each other on Skype and Zoom and found our mutual interest in artistic explorative work. The first one of Carolyn’s films I saw talked to me, the film ”When You Call I Shall Come”. And from that starting point, we talked and started to share creativity, in a free flow when we have time and ideas. No hurry.
When Carolyn sent me the film of the Severn Bridge seen from Lydney she included at separate voice mail where she told me of the setting, the weather and her thoughts. Carolyn was recording sound sitting in her car on a very rainy day, waiting for someone. The car engine was off, but the wipers on. I was really captured by the uncommon rhythm in the voice mail. Carolyn spoke each time the windscreen wiper wiped the screen. Then silence. Next speech on the next move of the windscreen wiper. I heard the wiper very clear, and the only motor sound was quite low, and I heard a mumbling tone, a key tone, of the windscreen wiper motor. This sparked my idea that I record my voice singing in the same period, synchronised with the rhythm of Carolyns voice talking + the wiper. I wanted to make use of the key tone in the motor, so I created a little ongoing ostinato that circled around the musical key. I found a sort of a beat in the windscreen motor too, with some bars of break in between. Very useful.
I’m a beginner of how to use my new home studio but enjoy just moving ahead and see what I can do – now. It’s also an effect of the pandemic, where I see the benefit of making music here at home without much traveling. I find it really inspiring to discuss and create together with Carolyn, from our two different fields of art, but so much in common in process.
Songs and Sound Poetry A celebration of human imagination through voice
I’m writing this post as an arts professional who has an opinion, with experience of supporting and delivering arts events in empty buildings. Artist-led groups thrived in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, when artists began to initiate their own gallery opportunities, due to the huge number graduating from an overstretched university system. The YBA (young British artists) or the Britpack, was one of the first. That was in the days when artists needed spaces, and councils had empty ones that needed filling. The rest is history.
Below, I make the case for revisiting creative occupation of empty shops and rethinking the High Street.
Listening to the news today and hearing economists saying (yet again) that we must ‘save our high street stores’, and more or less blaming the pandemic and online businesses for the closure of shops, is depressing. For a start, our high streets have been declining for years. Yes, online shopping has taken the trade by supplying products more cheaply and delivers them to your door. Why is that a problem, isn’t it something that makes people’s lives easier?
The only reason we must keep some retail shops is so we can buy local, good products, to reduce the need for importing so many things. That way we keep the carbon footprint down. Shops run by independents, keeping the economy local. The government could invest in farming and creative companies that work in an environmental way. Ones that support recycling, plastic free and fossil few industries. The recent government report, by Dasgupta, flags all this up. So the government can no longer pretend it’s not an issue – they commissioned the report.
We need to reconsider a new economy that isn’t just about financial profit.
The biggest problem with the success of home deliveries is not that high street stores are closing, but that all those extra fossil-fuel vehicles delivering are damaging the environment. That could be addressed using electric vehicles, which the government could make a legal requirement. Where jobs are lost in the retail industry they could, surely, be employed in the environmental recovery industry, which must be our priority
For centuries new innovations have changed the way society operates and products are distributed. The printing press saw off town cryers; washing machines replaced dolly stirrers; tumble dryers mangles; tractors horses. The list is endless. Big chainstore shops are no longer needed because they make more profit selling online. Arcadia has collapsed, Debenhams and many others are closing. So what could replace them?
Years ago I read a book written by Louis Gerstner who turned IBM around. In a nutshell, IBM was the world leader in mainframe computers but desktops were arriving which could be used in homes. The closed-shop management team and Board would not acknowledge that they too should take on desktops or would cease to be needed. Part of the problem was appalling internal communications, but the biggest failure was not seeing that however hard you dig your heels in for the sake of the good old days, when a better, more useful and universal product comes along, it will inevitably, eventually, replace the old system.
I appreciate not everyone has technology, or the internet, even now. That is another outcome of social inequality. But if we stop trying to keep fixing broken things, like shops, (especially chain stores that don’t even contribute to local economies) open, and focus on enabling people to shop safely and well online, wouldn’t that be wiser? Don’t forget that libraries were opened to give access to books for all, even those that couldn’t afford them. Or pay for education. We still want, and need libraries now, but maybe for different things? It is interesting too that funding of libraries is no longer a government responsibility, but an Arts Council England one. Clearly our government no longer values our literacy and perceives it as a creative pursuit, not a necessity. Is there a case to argue here that creativity IS a necessity to our wellbeing as well as something that meets the human inclination to be social animals?
There was a time when people worried that cinemas would close down, when TV, video and DVD brought film into our homes. But they didn’t, they came back bigger and better with multiplexes. And to counter-balance that, small film clubs opened up in villages and towns. The film industry is still thriving and also includes small producers and creatives. Cheap access to digital cameras and phone cameras has opened up even more creative opportunities. All of these developments have contributed to social activities. People love to share experiences together, which is one of the greatest sadnesses for many during lockdown.
Mass production of cheap clothes, imported and sold at low prices end up in landfill, which has resulted in a genuine desire to buy quality, natural, handmade artisan products. And to mend them not bin them. The fashion industry are now looking at their own responsibilities in this system too. Fast fashion contributes to pollution, fast food no longer satisfies people.
No longer supporting chain stores means cutting out the middle men/women. Which risks removing power from those who only care about profits and have little respect for social need or environmental duty of care.
Surely this is a good thing?
So now, to my point, how does this relate to the arts? After all that is my specialism, it is why you read my blog posts. Here is why:
When things progress and there is a sense of loss of things left behind, it is artists that often find ways to find new audiences or the lost social aspects – e.g. film – the big Hollywood films are still happening BUT artists and those who love 35mm are also thriving and keeping things accessible and social.
There became a concern that ebooks would destroy book shops – but many people went back to buying books, missing the tactile quality of paper books. And people like to share paper books. People still love going to book launches, the personal touch. Book Clubs thrive online and off. Artist books are very popular, as is bookbinding by hand.
There are many more examples, but essentially, what I am saying is that ART and ARTISTS enliven places and spaces. They are social and accessible. Anyone can join in.
Since the pandemic began there have been losses and gains for the arts. It is horrendous for those whose practice depends on having large audiences, such as theatres and festivals. But for some audiences, this resulted in a gain. Suddenly, the big city-based event providers started providing access to audiences who had previously been able to see their performances. Those who live beyond the cities in rural areas. Those who can’t afford expensive tickets to attend the London theatres.
Art and craft materials are selling like hotcakes.Online art classes well attended. Artists who walk are thriving too – indeed many nature activities have been accessed by people confined to local areas. It is nigh on impossible to buy a dog these days, unless you have thousands of £’s.
Everyone is appreciating the countryside more, David Attenorough is the new god, rural areas are packed with more visitors with shiny new camper vans with their puppies.
So chain stores come and go, high streets have gone temporarily quiet. Those who have just discovered online shopping may well not return. What to do with all those empty shops?
How about artisan shops? Artist studios? Small event spaces? Local makers who run workshops too? Shoe repairers who also teach you how to do it (but they will always do it better!)? Book exchanges, with comfy sofas and serving good coffee and homemade cakes? Community spaces? Convert the big chain stores into a hive of artisan makers, where they make and sell too? Wool and fabric shops? Blacksmiths? Potteries? Artist supplies? Florists?
The list could go on.
But in the meantime, until we are able to do this, let’s make sure that local authorities and central government stop pushing for reopening high street chains.
A few paragraphs of text from Thomas A Clark’s ‘In Praise of Walking’:
‘A rock outcrop, a hedge, a fallen tree, anything that turns us out of our way, is an excellent thing on a walk. Wrong turnings, doubling back, pauses and digressions, all contribute to the dislocation of a persistent self-interest. Everything we meet is equally important or unimportant. The line of a walk is articulate in itself, a kind of statement. We can walk between two places, and in so doing establish a link between them, bring them into a warmth of contact, like introducing two friends. Pools, walls, solitary trees, are natural halting places. That something exists outside ourselves and our preoccupations, so near, so readily available, is our greatest blessing.’
I have a history of going on walks with numerous cameras and bits of equipment. I bought a 360 degree camera about 2 years ago and the first artwork I made with it was 12 Circular Walks. I used it again last summer when creating As Above So Below. The invitation to consider doubling back and digressions on the first day of 2021 was too tempting – especially if I was allowed do exercise my persistent self-interest relating to my love of the Severn.
I devised a system as I planned to use Map My Walk for the first time in years and I have a wrist tracker too. It was the 1st day of the 1st month of 2021. I decided I would wander (or should I say mud-wade along?) along until I hit 2021 steps. At that point I would stop and do some circular walking. On the way I began to wonder whether the action would be sufficient to draw a spiral on the Mapping App – so I walked in circles around some benches and a bin as I wandered, to test it out.
The first stop was at the end of a VERY muddy river-path. I stopped along the way, allowed myself to be distracted by the mud. Thought about The Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, made a bit of video, did a voice recording about Rosen and sploshed on through.
When I arrived at my point at 2021 steps, I set up my video camera to point at the river, and placed the 360 one the ground. I walked around it. I then rotated the video camera to point towards my 360 and filmed myself walking around it with that too. The action of creating works about the seen and the unseen is embedded in my brain. I like to record the bits I can’t see while I am busy working on the seen! By that I mean filming the river while I walked behind the camera on the tripod. Then filming myself using the 360. Then the mobile camera.
I continued on the higher path towards Broadoak and did a bit of circular 360 there too. Little videos, photos. Then turned my back to the Severn and crossed the A48 towards the Silver Fox Café. I couldn’t go back the way I came, it would not be a circular walk if I did. And I remembered this song.
Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon Like a carousel that’s turning running rings around the moon
My return trip involved sheep dodging and crossing a small stream. I stopped and played again with my 360 camera on the little bridge. Walking homewards, I mosied behind the building site where some 90 new homes are being built, some with river views. I felt sad that I couldn’t afford to buy one – I dream of seeing the river every day when I awake, without having to leap out of bed and hang out of the window, as I currently do.
I took a few photos of the landscape through the security fencing – snapped some islands of cultivated foliage left behind and mountains of red soil. A landscape within a landscape.
This Christmas is a very weird one and Facebook dug up this blogpost from the archives from 4 years ago. I miss those rich soliloquy’s and one-to-one dialogues from those days. They should bring them back. Especially now we are so often alone – I think that’s why Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads series was so poignant this year too. How often do we find we are talking to ourselves, growling at radio announcements, raging about Tweets about Trump, or sighing in despair about our government? I know I do it more often than I’d like. But these days are a hotbed of it and art of today needs to reflect that.
Re-reading the blogpost today I see how important it is in terms of critical analysis. It plays very much on composition, on light and religiosity. And my recent films have been considering those things too. It is amazing how the camera, the setting, the content can draw you into something very deeply, during very few seconds.
Back to Eastenders, I must say this current series is getting worse by the minute – but it won’t top me seeing what happens at Christmas! It strikes me that the Producer is borrowing methods from the Nordic thrillers – with drone shots, complex plotlines, corruption. I’m not sure it works as well as the references to the old masters did, but things change, and so must we, as audiences. And creatives.
Here’s the original writing, December 2016:
Christmas – I recently blogged about it, how I find it empty. As a closet Eastenders fan , I enjoy watching the build up to Christmas on the square. Impending doom, love, hate, violence and crisis usually thrown into the mix, along with a good sing-song in the Old Vic and a wedding, funeral or death.
Last night, on 16th December, there were subtle clues for sleuths; relationship shifts and twists, but the best part was the scene of Dot, alone, having not gone to the Nativity play. Sometimes these are the absolutely best moments in Easties – when the characters sit down, shut their Cockney mouths, and show us their inner thoughts by the means of classical lighting and staging. This shot is one of those old mistress/masters moments and I love it.
Most of the square are in church for the nativity play, and while the children sing Away in a Manger, there’s a cut to a slow pan towards Dot’s front door, then this view of her. It lasts for 16 seconds, the sound track continues and the shot ends when the song does, and returns to the church.
The out of focus corner of the wood panelling on the left, the subdued midnight blue of the cardigan, the deep dye red hair of the hag-like face in contemplation; the upright spine of Christianity; the candle, light of the world, and God; the still life of fruit, Christingle exotic orange, symbol of the world and worldliness; ribbons for gifts, empty chair of an absent friend; string bag hanging on door, empty, no longer used; shiny brass door knob, polished, with care; in the right foreground something brassy – a lamp maybe? Definitely not Ikea. In the shadows, whatever it is still gleams, slightly, as old things do. As does Dot. Excellent chiaroscuro.
It could be about loneliness at Christmas, or a fading flickering light of the square about to expire. There’s a sense of imminence, but we don’t know what yet is going to happen. It doesn’t bear thinking about really. Dot is the Walford matriarch, we see that when after the service lots of friends and family, having noted her absence, stream into her house with jollity and love.
This one episode was the frame for this image, this narrative, this moment.
It does what a good artwork does, it holds a thought, incorporates a huge bundle of signifiers. It is both minute in scale and monumental. And very beautiful.
During lockdown I, like many others, have been doing more thinking than usual. I’ve read new books, experimented with different cooking, making art, trying out new apps and podcasts, basically allowing myself to explore things I was not looking at before. That includes ways to distract myself from feeling anxious.
Today, before I got out of bed, I dipped into a meditation app to find something new to start the day. I found ‘Connecting To The Soul Within’ by Saqib Rizvi. I gave it a go and the introduction resonated with me greatly, not in relation to my soul, but about ownership of ideas and places, due to my thoughts on going to sleep last night following reading a book. More about that later. What I took away from this, the thing that lodged in my mind, was the introduction. Rizvi described the stages of transgression that are needed to connect with one’s soul:
My mind momentarily wandered off on a tangent, thinking about the journey from the individual to the universal in landscape ownership terms. I did manage to bring it back in line and listen to the rest of the session. Am afraid I failed to locate my soul and must try harder next time. But I did feed my brain. I went downstairs with that fluttering around in my head.
Can land rightfully belong to anyone? I’m also reading ‘The Story of Trespass’ by Nick Hayes. The National Trust is stuck between two banks/walls/places, but surely their role is to tell the true story of history, not the white-washed, economy-engineered version? Land has always been contested and actions of enclosure, trespass, racism and trade have shaped and framed the landscape, creating territories, borders and countries. All in the name of power.
I spotted another dialogue on FB between creative practitioners, which revolved around finding soothing things to do/read/listen to, during lockdown. In that conversation, someone recommended a podcast I haven’t heard of before – ‘Aphids Listens’– which hosts discussions between Lara Thoms and artists. As someone who is interested in art in public spaces, I went straight to episode 7, with Amy Spiers. The podcast begins with a statement:
Aphids acknowledges the wurundjeri and boon wurrung peoples on whose lands we live and work. Sovereignty was never ceded and we pay our respect to past, present, and future aboriginal elders and community, and to their long and rich history of artmaking on this country.
Obviously, there’s a connection between the NT document, Nick Hayes’ book, and this podcast. The first specific artwork that was discussed was ‘Dancing In Peckham’ by Gillian Wearing – an old favourite of mine. I wrote about it many years ago, when I was awarded a Creative Writing Bursary from Arts Council England, around the time that the work was new, in the 1990’s. Wearing dances wildly in a shopping centre, no headphones, just dancing to a song in her head in a public place, with abandon. When they spoke of Wearing’s work, they referred to her “losing it, losing oneself, losing inhibition”. And how some may have thought this was a little worrying, a bit weird.
Wearing danced in public, that was a transgression, a private act seen by strangers.
And here we all are, during a pandemic, trying not to lose it, but making every effort to lose ourselves. Dancing in our kitchens, rolling around on the living room floor for zoom yoga, or doing life drawing from the sofa while watching TV.
As the saying goes – everything is connected.
So on to how this connects with my current studio practice and thinking about land ownership, or even possession, and/or losing it. Many people know I commission art for public places, so understanding differences between space and place is embedded in my thinking, as is land ownership.
When it comes to my own art practice, I have mostly made work relating to landscape, though sometimes that landscape was of the body, as in my MA video work. I have recently returned to lens-based practice, and the power of the gaze has arisen again, especially when working in 360 degrees.
What unites all my recent work is the River Severn. The title of my book “Severnside – An Artist’s View Of The Severn” sums it up really. It has been about my particular take on the Severn, the book is autobiographical in many ways. Not any-river, or any-person, but me, writing about it. But in recent works, that has started to shift.
I am reconsidering my relationship with the river as a place, its history and the other living things that inhabit it. That includes other artists working with it, of which there are, and always have been, many. In terms of possession, maybe I have become possessed by the Severn, rather than me thinking I possess it. Maybe I am losing my ‘self’?
The Severn belongs to no-one, no-where, no-time.
In my recent works, I have sought to relinquish my gaze, to consider others’ relationships with this river. That is why these new works are called ‘the seen and the unseen’ series. It first happened in April, when I made ‘When You Call I Shall Come’. This was made possible because the bore surfers stood down, no-one else was competing for ownership, or rights-of-use, of the river, only me, and it. And I knew, as soon as I began to edit it, that this moment was as special for the river as it was for me. I filmed as an observer, then, during editing, the river became the storyteller. It wasn’t about my relationship with it, but the opposite. The river is the narrator.
In the ‘seen and unseen’ series, I’m playing with ideas about locating myself, losing my inhibitions, finding my place in the world through vision and sound. In film no.3 I speak of what is in front of the camera (not me), whilst showing the viewer what is behind. I talk about myself as an actor in the scene, in the 3rd person. I am seeking to separate myself from owning the gaze by employing a form of audio-describing. I narrate the action as if it were a play. Most of my work these days is a meta-narrative, a story about itself.
Then there is the thinking about ownership of land, in terms of creative interpretations. Locating the self, whilst not claiming ownership of land. I want to relinquish my one-to-one relationship with the Severn, to reflect that the land itself has a form of agency, has cycles, behaviours. It’s not easy, it feels slightly like a divorce. I know it is good for both of us, but it is hard to let go.
I have collaborated with two other artists in recent years, on works about the banks of the river. Suze Adams and I took photos of each other across the river for our Walking The Land project. More recently, Carol Laidler and I worked together on a Liquidscapes project and presented it as a performance lecture at a Dartington conference. Both were about me – here, the others – over there. We called out to each other across the void, by doing so we connected both sides.
Maybe the next project needs to involve meeting others in the middle, or swapping sides, putting our feet in each other’s shoes? Dichotomies are destined to divide people further. Hayes suggests that words create walls, I think he is right.
Covid19 transgresses all of those things. It is affecting everyone, everywhere in every time zone.
There is a lot of evidence that blue therapy is a powerful thing during tumultuous times. I’m no sailor, but thinking about the USA at the moment, the waves look choppy indeed. In parallel, here on this small island, the comparative still of lockdown has washed over us. It is a time for much reflection but hard to move to the next step, future planning.
As always, I am immersing myself in making art. It is my way of finding a level. Most of the footage I’m using has been gathered in recent weeks. We have been in the pandemic so long now I remember very little about the optimism of pre-pandemic. The projects planned were almost tangible, only to be knocked out of the picture completely. Those that don’t involve audiences (for now) can keep moving forward.
When I was doing large drawings of the river I left large areas of white in them. Those voids were to leave space for the viewer to dream in. Strange that now, only a few months later, a different void has been presented to everyone – a time:space gap. It leaves many of us lost and at sea. I hope my films offer gentle spaces that provide a constant sense of support to you, as much as they do to me.