Sisters on Saturday: Symposium at SVA, Stroud. Sue Thomas; Semiconductor: Squidsoup; Simon Ryder The New Natural

new nature

This Saturday 25th May is going to be a very interesting day. As part of the SITE Festival, artist Simon Ryder is hosting a symposium to consider the future of nature – what do we mean by ‘new nature’? Is nature only what we already know of, and some feel, have damaged irrepairably, or might it be something unimagined and unforeseen?

My sister, Professor Sue Thomas, and I, find nothing unusual in such conversations. When I look back at some of the weird discussions and debates we’ve had over the table in the past, I have rarely stopped to wonder whether this is usual family fare. It’s our normal – which is what matters to us.

Intense dialogues about when we are online, do we ‘feel’ we ‘reside’ online? Is virtuality another geography? Where does fact and fiction begin and end? Does it end? We mostly agree. But what do you think?

I’m taking a back seat on Saturday while others enter similar discussions, chaired by Rob la Frenais, of The Arts Catalyst. It will be an intriguing conversation as it unravels the different ways we might consider New Nature.

The New Natural Symposium
Semiconductor, Prof. Sue Thomas and Squidsoup
Saturday 25th May 10.30am-5pm
SVA, 4 John St, Stroud GL5 2HA
Installation Friday 24th-Sunday 26th May

11am-4pm Goods Shed, Stroud GL5 3AP

Book now:

The New Natural is presented by Heart of Wonder in collaboration with SVA, and supported by Alias.

Tickets £12 including lunch and refreshments £20 for weekend inclusive of evening events. See SVA website for more details, or give them a call.

Booking is essential as places are limited 01453 751440 or email

books blogs libraries: pictures! Simon of @artnucleus and Carolyn talking words

A few words and a lot of pictures – I know, people like pictures and we work in the visual arts so it’s important!

Simon Ryder and I have spent hours talking about art:science:nature:technology:books:cabinets

Last weekend, following a recent conversation between Flow and Landmark Trust, Simon did some work at Woodspring Priory, near Weston Super Mare. You can read about what he did on his blog, which also reflects how he has books on his mind.

It will be interesting to see how the commission Cabinet of Local Change in the Forest of Dean, supported by LAG Funding, develops – to see where his research is taking him, just sign up to his blog and read often (yes, it’s a prescription for promoting thinking!)

Meanwhile, some pictures! and yes, I know I look a bit bossy in them, but I get very animated when we talk about these things!

(photos by Chris Morris, local photographer who produces books about the Forest)


Simon’s first venture into the more unknown parts of the Forest of Dean…..

Simon Ryder

Cabinet keep outsmIn the film Stalkerby Andrei Tarkovsky (do search it out if you haven’t yet seen it) the stalker of the title takes clients into the Zone, an area that is ‘off limits’, at the centre of which lies the Room, a place where your dearest wishes come true. In the Forest the Zone is to be found in Lady Park Wood, an area fenced off for scientific research to see what would happen to the forest free of human interference (also that of fallow, roe and muntjac deer, boar and mountain bikers too). This struck me as strange, particularly strange here, in a landscape that has for centuries been so strongly shaped by man. But then again, the desire to enter a zone free from ourselves, free from things we have shaped, somewhere new to explore, that is a very deep desire: it is called wilderness. Neil, I really…

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Is blogging like whittling a wooden spoon – using words to hone the form? or just stirring things up?

In a BBC video, woodcarver Barnaby Carder talks about his passion for whittling spoons. I love this video and have revisited it many times. Barnaby talks of ‘honing’ his skill and tells the story of how he came to be whittling in London; how he had travelled and then decided to settle into a shop, indeed a shop window, where he whittles his spoons and people watch him doing so.

 When people see you make it, they like that

He refers to people seeing him making spoons from passing buses and they crave what he is doing. And they buy the spoons too. He is highly aware of the fact that his personal story is the context of his work, that they are intertwined. The timber he uses is harvested from the nearby Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and that local-ness is key to him, it is part of his process:

It’s important to be around living trees, you can’t separate them from the finished product

He’s really considered in the way he talks about what he does, how he lives, and refers to the act of whittling spoons in a shop window as a performance. He reflects upon to his previous simple life and how complex it has become. The way he discusses each spoon is beautiful, his relationship with the object, the feel of whittling the wood and how, whilst creating them, he may say to himself oh, I’m not sure about that spoon and then someone else comes along and says they love it.

So why might this be like blogging?

What if the blog = the shop window?

What if the whittling process = writing?

What if the wood = the content?

What if the spoon = words?

Imagine this blog is my shop window, it is where I share my ideas, experiences and reflections. It is where I hone my thoughts by writing them down, whittling them, shaping them, trying to hold onto the initial thing that made me think about them. Be it the local woods, or the art I see, or the books I read, the places I go. They are my timber.

Sometimes it all comes together, and I am happy with what I have made, and other times I think oh, I’m not sure about that spoon [art I have just seen]. Or the words I just wrote. Just as Barnaby might sand and smooth, and think back to the tree, the wood, the texture, the grain, and attempt to analyse why the spoon doesn’t feel right to him, I do that after seeing exhibitions, reading books, going places. And if I blog, that process is public, because I am doing it in my shop window. And maybe sometimes there are sharp bits, splinters, rough edges, that are uncomfortable for both me, and the end-user.

It happens, none of us can get it right every time. Honing is an ongoing thing, thinking and reflecting is cyclical, and there will always be a risk of splinters and rough edges. Material is like that.

Do watch the video, it is so fascinating.


Light bridge

A good omen from Simon, and I saw it too, the same rainbow at the same time from a different place!

this is real partnership working!



Simon Ryder

Cabinet rainbowMy first day working in the Forest of Dean today, with two workshops one in each of the libraries involved in the project. Coming back at the end of the day, along the River Severn, which is the eastern boundary of the Forest, this bridge of light appeared over the mud-filled waters, framing Westbury on Severn in the distance. I wish I could have stayed a little, as it was low tide just before the current reverses, often with the Bore wave marking its progress upstream, which I would loved to have seen. In any case, I’m taking this bridge of light as a good omen!

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micro-residency for artist in libraries 6 weeks to respond by blogging, thinking, making

Today Simon Ryder and I did our first workshops in the two designated libraries in the Forest of Dean. Thanks to everyone that made it – it was a really fascinating day and everyone participated fully.

Simon will be blogging about this micro-residency – he has less than 6 weeks to respond to the forest and the unique nature of the place – both literally and metaphorically.

By meeting people and conducting personal research, he will become entrenched in a myriad of thoughts! I’ll leave him to share those thoughts in his blog – to get them sent to your mailbox regularly subscribe by signing up on his website.

Who knows, it may not be long before some participants from the workshops begin to start blogging too…..

Great mix of people  too – architects, engineers, librarians, ex-policemen, editors to name but a few.

Here’s a few pics by Forest photographer Chris Morris

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@bbcglos Forest of Dean: Day one of Cabinet of Local Change with @artnucleus artist Simon Ryder

It’s not too late: – Mitcheldean Library at 10.30-12.30 and Newnham Library at 2-4 TODAY

After today we have another 2 at each library
 on Monday 3rd and the 18th JUNE

This is how we plan to work together, but it can change according to the needs of everyone – it is a pilot. The key objectives for the workshops are:

  • that we hear about you
  • you hear about us
  • Simon collects research content for blogging and following through
  • What we do together informs what art Simon makes, which will include some form of ‘cabinet’ that can contain evidence of his time in the Forest

Flow Contemporary Arts is managing and overseeing the project & Simon Ryder is the artist in residence during May & June. We won’t be available all the time but you can contact us by email with any questions and we’ll get back to you.Image

During the project Simon will be blogging about what he learns as he does some research in the forest, which you will be able to read here.




visit to SITE Festival in Stroud – brief review Baseman; Hapaska; Wood & Harrison +

Good day visiting Stroud SITE Festival yesterday. Didn’t catch it all, but what I did see I enjoyed very much. Driving home is always thought-provoking – reflecting on what I saw, stimulating my mind with past and present connections, both with Stroud and SVA.

In order or my schedule, I saw:

Something of Place in the Museum in The Park

My friend Dr. Suze Adams  is part of the Space Place Practice Group and in the museum you will find a set of boxes re-appropriated by artist members of SPP. The membership consists mostly of artists working within an academic context, and this shows, each work being deeply grounded in theory and having very personal narratives. When they were explained to me I found them intriguing. But alone I would struggle – they are very private works that didn’t give away many clues as to why they contained what they did. I wanted, no, I needed, to know more about them, without reading the folder. The context of the room helped, the works nestled in with the existing displays – but those displays had museum style labels and information boards. It’s that tricky balance that is always a struggle – how to engage without making it a one-liner, obvious work. From my perspective, it was a little frustrating.

Interestingly, on reflection, I did not even think about the labelling or signage at any of the other shows I saw. Maybe it was the museum-ness that made me expect it?

The craft show in the Museum in The Park

Just have to share pic of Kyra Cranes pots, stunning. How on earth can anyone say that Craft is not ART?

What this picture doesn’t show is that some of the bowls have a bright, egg-yolk yellow glaze inside on the bottom.

kyra crane ceramic
Jordan Baseman ‘Green Lady’ at the INDEX gallery
I’ve been wanting to go to the INDEX gallery for a while but not made it until today, thanks to Suze’s local knowledge. Jordan Baseman’s film also left me a bit confused – in a good way.

(Note to self: I have a stinking cold, so maybe the whole day was affected by that – it could have been – the way we feel in ourselves influences our response to work, and I certainly felt fragile).

Anyway, I loved the narrative, the way the story unravelled and the emotional rollercoaster played out. The glimpses of denial about nonsense and superstition and coincidence. The logical head being challenged by the experience of the world. Avoidance of the ‘spiritual’ – I identify with that refusal myself. The voice and sound quality were excellent. but the film? I  wasn’t sure it was needed. Sometimes I closed by eyes, the visual busy-ness and random-ness conflicted with the emotional pull of the voice. Sometimes, when the screen became still, or white, it was ok, because then it allowed me to be in the room with the narrator. But sometimes it jostled for attention, like a needy child.

There’s something about the film visuals being needy and the boxes in the museums that are somehow similar. That sense that one is witnessing something that has very personal significance but, as a viewer, I am not quite ‘getting’ what that significance is? I want to, but it’s not quite hitting the spot. I closed my eyes a lot and listened to the woman’s story whilst the rain hammered down on the corrugated roof. It was very moving and intimate when my eyes were closed. The voice held my attention, the visuals dared me to look and try to find something familiar, but apart from the dreamy clouds, it was mosty rather chaotic. Like flashbacks on speed.

It made me think a lot later, and is still doing so. Good. The concept behind The Green Lady is very poetic.

Siobhan Hapaska ‘the sky has to turn black before you can see the stars’ in the Goods Shed

The Goods Shed is a brilliant space and it has this ability to accommodate a diverse range of works beautifully, and this one works really well in it. The fact that I am personally very interested in nature and technological issues allowed my spirits to lift as I enjoyed the sadness, the subtlety, the materiality of these trees horizontally suspended in cuboid scaff frames, shuddering like anxious nature does these days. Olive trees, an immediate association with Palestine and the trembling, oppressed people there. The wild springiness of the tree canopies vibrating wildly, making the leaves dry and fall, whilst the trunks slung from rubber straps were more stable and strong, resistant to the violent shaking, the roots just gently echoing the manic activity at the other end. The black shroud in the centre of its gravitational weight concealing the motor, the agitator.

I know why I enjoyed it so much – it was instantly an experience, a wonderful new way of understanding our fragile relationship with trees, with technology and with the politics of land. Phew.

siobhan hapaska 2 siobhan japaska 1

There will be a video available soon on my  Vimeo page, from about 10am today.

John Wood and Paul Harrison ’10 x 10′ SVA

How good to see the latest offering by Wood and Harrison. I selected a show with Neil Walker from SVA in the early 2000’s, when I was also making my own work, and Wood & Harrison were in that then. I have delighted in seeing how their work has evolved and matured. From crazy, playful, pseudo-optical illusions in their studios to this complex, highly polished film. And they have retained that lovely playful innocence but it has evolved into a much more complex animal, referencing politics, the recession, the insanity of office life, cartoons, David Lynch, our need for natural things in our sterile works (plants, fire, water). The film style like an ongoing elevator revealing every floor of an endless monotonous tower block of offices, each one identical expect for colours and contents. The humour of moments when the human penetrates ceilings and walls, or lies on the floor, seemingly in passive despair.


at risk of being a groupie for Thinking Practice, great paper on ‘being plural’

There is little I can say about Mark Robinson’s latest blog, “We have come here today to be plural” other than you must read it if you wish to read a balanced and considered reflection upon the impact austerity is having on the arts. He uses some wonderful images as illustrations of how people can work together, let’s call them benchmarks, to whet your appetite.

I hold another image in my mind after reading it – A Sudden Gust of Wind by Jeff Wall.

jeff wall a sudden gust of wind