Attention series No. 3: walking with wandering body & mind

Set off walking, active body

Quite quickly a rhythm settled in, a steady, fairly fast pace

I heard cars close-by to my left, on the A48

To my right the River Severn, and from a distance of around 10 miles, a rumbling noise, from the M5

The terrain underfoot level and there are no obstacles, I found an even stride easily

My attention moved away from external sounds and came closer to my body, to my footsteps, to something rattling in my backpack, to my thinking body

My walking no longer needed an active mind, my gear slipped into automatic

 

I paid attention to my speed and pace, how regular it was

My thinking turned to drumming patterns

Before lockdown I was learning Taiko drumming

I find it very hard to do different rhythms with different limbs at the same time

I practiced doing this while I walked

Stepping 1, 2, 3, 4, left arm up, 2, 3, 4 left arm up – yes, easy!

Then alternated arms, taking an odd number of beats

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 left arm up

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 right arm up.

Yes – that worked too!

 

I walked like that for a mile or so, throwing arms up in flips and flings, marching steadily

Drivers passing by were quite likely mildly amused

I didn’t care

I was on my way to the riverbank, my special place

And I felt I was improving my body, mind and Taiko playing

Once I hit the area where the path is close to the A48 I switched mode again

Underfoot was still ok but the path next to the road arrowed

One slip and I would be in the road, potential roadkill

 

I diverted my attention back to my whole body, in the hope of keeping it so

On my right, just under the railway bridge, the hedges were encroaching

The crows above were making their massive noise

A jogger appeared from nowhere

Social distancing resulted in his stepping onto the road for a few scary seconds

I turned right at the house with the odd ticking noise coming from it

When I first started walking that route regularly, I thought there was something rattling in my bag

Like the ball bearing does in my can of fixative

But I eventually realised it was coming from the house

Which was confirmed, when asked, by the owner – a security alarm

I crossed the railway line with care and wandered through the orchard down to the riverbank

Then I headed for the swing that hangs from the oak tree

 

The field had recently been ploughed, already green lines of seedlings were appearing

I had to watch my footfall there, very uneven

Making me aware of my physical vulnerability

Then I got to the swing – recently designated to be my crying place

Not necessarily sad – I sometimes cry with joy there too!

I don’t sit on the swing on my way out, because I am on a mission, a destination beyond the swing

But I did stop and enjoy the view, notice the gulls on the mudflats, the high contrast edges of the wet sandbanks against the pale grey water

 

I looked across at Garden Cliff, it’s red sandstone marking the corner of the bend, where the Severn flows between Rodley on west bank and Framilode on the east

I took my first photos of the walk, of the swing, shadows on the ground and the river

As I stood facing the river I heard a train pass by behind me, wending it’s way from Gloucester to Wales

I wondered, if due to the variance of lockdown rule, whether or not people are allowed to get off the train at Chepstow

I recalled that when I first started taking pairs of panoramic photos, they were shot as pairs

By taking a photo of the key view in front of me, for example the sea-view or the river

Then rotating and taking the parallel, less noticed view

 

I would then look at them together as a relational pair

An arrangement that created brackets of my presence, as I was always in the centre of the scene, never in the pictures

In the olden days, in the days of dark rooms, you bracketed your shots with different settings

We’re all digital now

I set off along the riverbank, following the path that took me under two wonderful oak trees.

They were like brackets too

I took more photos

I took some pairs of panoramas, just for old-time’s sake

 

As the path veered away from the river I left it and waded through the long grass to my destination

I had to stop my intellectual thoughts, give attention to my body again

Checking whether the ground was solid or not

Avoiding ledges hidden in the grass, or brambles that lashed around my ankles

Once in my little place by the river I set up my video camera, framing, surveying the activity

I had my monocular with me

While the camera rolled and captured the wildlife, I zoomed in to other things

My wandering eye switching between aided and un-assisted viewing

Through the monocular lens I saw a red ball in the mudflats

Then searched for with naked eyes

It took many attempts to find it, so I could film it

Sometimes, however much we want to see something clearly, we simply can’t

Vision and perception are tightly connected

 

I packed up to return, both relaxed and exhausted

I realise as I write this up that all the time I was there I was focussed on the visual

Yes, I heard the trains, the traffic and the crows and gulls on the mudflats and in the sky, but my attention was not on them, sound was peripheral

To my intention

To my attention

Wandering, wondering, walking

 

 

 

 

 

Attention Series No.2 : Thinking Practice

In recent years I have become increasingly aware of attention, during the pandemic my inability has become even worse. For some time now I have found reading a book very challenging and become aware that part of the difficulty is that my curiosity is evoked by something I read – such as the name of  a place, or a particular word I don’t know – and off I go.

In the pre-screen, pre-computer days, one might first search in the glossary of terms for the answer, or open a thesaurus or encyclopaedia. But now we pop onto the computer to learn what we lack. But I have found that, increasingly, once I leave the page, I have left the book. Rarely do I return.

The pandemic is relevant here because so much time alone has opened the door to far more contemplation-time. I have always worked at my best when there is time to reflect, whether that be in terms of writing, making artworks or simply going more deeply into things. The life of a freelancer doesn’t leave much space for that, having no financial security unless one is constantly multi-tasking. Portfolio working. Only now do I see the irony of that term for an artist. Because a strong artist portfolio will evidence focussed thinking, sequential learning, development, and connected thinking.

Looking back on my own creative portfolio (stepping away from the anxiety of the gig economy), I recall that when I was studying for my degree and for some time afterwards, I divided my images up into irregular grids of works that were  depictions of one thing but from different ways of looking and understanding Close-ups of leaves and seeds next to huge trees or complex roots structures. They were an anatomical representation of my life. Married with two young children, my life was more manageable if I broke it down into little pieces. When I made collagraphs (collaged plates of treated card worked into then reassembled on the bed of the press for intaglio printing) I was literally doing my best to hold my life together.

Jump forward a few years to when I did my MA in Fine Art at Cardiff UWIC, I left the printmaking process behind and slipped into first experimental darkroom photography, then slide dissolve, then video. Another transition about self-identity. The imagery was self-portraiture, inspired partly by the fact that my mother died just before the course began. It led me gently from static printed images into time-based activities. By the time I completed my MA I was writing about the body and technology and creating spatially disrupted video installations that were immersive and drew the viewer into them through portals such as peepholes and mirror tunnels. I had somehow warped time and space using these media. Only now do I see that this was also about giving attention to the subject by zoning in the viewers gaze.

That was all in the late 1990’s, early 2000’s.

In 2017 I began to make art again, after having been producing and curating non-gallery exhibitions since 2002. All my adult life I have had a strong pull towards the River Severn, walking there for 25 years on the east bank and the last 13 years on the west. After a move to the west bank in 2006, I spent much time gazing not just at the river, but also to the other bank. I also loved taking panoramic photos of the river, because they enabled me to create something more than a photograph and less than a video. The attention of my eye whilst taking them was on how to ensure each end framed the centre, and that the horizon line was as straight as possible. I gathered all these photos together, digital as they were and not good enough to print very large, I decided I would draw them. Returning to the messiness of charcoal and chalk after many years of technology and screen, I loved the tactility of the medium. And at one metre wide they allowed my eye to draw the drawing, just as it had tracked the river.

I decided to revisit the places I used to go to with my family and friends, pairing them with the places I had come to know on this bank. Soon I had a big map on my wall with the pairings and I set off to photograph, then draw, each one, and also write about them in parallel. I loved the idea of drawing opposite banks and writing in parallel to drawing, it held a poetic resonance.

The drawings and texts were completed as a looped journey and a book produced – Severnside: An Artist’s View of the Severn. There a followed a period of experimentation, having got my hands on a 36o degree camera I dabbled and considered whether or not to learn more and return to my interest in immersive video, but in the round.

The idea of only being able to make work for screen or headset consumption didn’t appeal to me enough. I wanted to create something that could speak about the immersive landscape, not the immersive artwork. I have always struggled with being in front of a camera, due to my self-consciousness and dislike of being photographed or filmed. During my MA I made glass slides with shed snake skins, acquired from Bristol Zoo, and projected them onto my body. Initially, they acted as a mask to my identity. On reflection, they related to my psychological desire to reinvent myself, as this was the period when I realised I needed to leave home and begin a new life. But I wasn’t quite there yet.

Back to the Severn, the exploration of 360 space resulted in my creating works that responded to my dislike of being filmed. The 360 gaze is all-embracing with nowhere to hide. I turned to art history to find a way to inform my work, settling on Caspar David Friedrichs work by turning my back to the lens and standing on the river bank gazing across, at my past, with my walking stick in hand. A feminist response to landscape, not about controlling it, but becoming at one with it.

I eventually returned to making videos of the Severn – I used to create video installations in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. I found myself during editing re-creating the charcoal-ness of the drawings, black and white, sharpened contrast, long shots and intimate details. Just like my MA work had been, but that was about my body, this is about a body of water. We both know the process of having a smooth surface and a rippling one now!

My love of the Severn permeates my life now. I have tried to move away, but I doubt that is possible.

So recent works during the pandemic have involved my paying attention to the nuances. The changes brought about by the external impact things have on the river. The disruption of human social behaviour and how their absence during the Spring Bore allowed the river to breather more freely, to expand and relax undisturbed. It was a bit like seeing your lover naked for the first (and maybe, only) time. It was an encounter during which the river was given a voice.

The last one explores the relationship between the artist and the muse. The context and the activities. A meta-narrative woven from three threads, three cameras.

  1. Video filming the subject – the view
  2. 360 camera filming underneath and around
  3. iPad filming the drawing in progress and the shadow play as animation

I share my process because it is integral to the work – and the editing is revealed through the spoken narrative.

Thinking practice is all about how I work through ideas, and mediums, to complete a work. A window into my seemingly scattered mind that reveals a coherence one can only see through reflection and retrospection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covid-time keeps me in a semi-liquid state, which is rapidly becoming my normal.

Set off for my daily exercise feeling a bit low. Walked about 2 miles but when I got to my destination, a swing next to the Severn, it was broken. I wandered along taking photos of other broken things, there were so many. My heart sank even further, like a boulder in the Severn mud.

BROKEN THINGS BY CATEGORY

BODY PARTS: Hearts Bones Ankles Wrists Teeth

COMMITMENTS: Promises Will Loyalty Trust Agreements Laws

FRAGILE THINGS: China Glass Jewellery Dreams Governments

TECHNOLOGY: Televisions Radios Phones Internet Computers Data

REMAINS: Pieces Shards Fragments Remnants Damaged Communities Debts

Just when I was beginning to feel very sad that it was shockingly easy to find many broken things, I turned towards the river and saw two blackthorn bushes, loaded with wonderful blossom. I smiled and my step lightened. A few steps away two bright yellow flag iris’ caught my eye – fantastic!

So easily up

So easily down

Mood swings

My emotions are not broken, but I sometimes feel as if they are on the edge of collapse. Like cornflour mixed with water, they pour and dribble towards that edge, yet are amazingly resistant to hard knocks. Should they become so liquid they drip off the table, I retreat from the world for a few hours, then simply gather them up and put them back again. And give them a good bashing to make sure the alchemy is still holding them firm. Call it willpower or survival impulse.

Covid Time keeps me in a semi-liquid state, which is rapidly becoming my normal.

As I walk further along the riverbank, feeling happier and highly sensitised, I notice the smells of the grass, the light on the river. Suddenly, a small cloud of birds passes overhead, looking like a shoal of fish in the sky, swerving en-masse and swooping, like a murmuration of starlings, but more tightly, in a soft pillow-like formation. As they swerved, they flipped over slightly and the sun hit their white undersides, making them appear to glitter as they moved. Like flying, glimmering jewels. Later, on my way home, the wind had risen and was blowing the silver birch leaves wildly in the wind – they too revealed their silvery underbellies. Like a visual echo of the birds.

Back to the riverside, my eyes locked onto a pair of barnacle geese wandering around in the mudflats. One watched the other as it traced loop de loops in the sand with its feet, leaving behind patterns like those that a sewing machine leaves in paper. They shouted at each other occasionally, like a grumpy couple. The wader dipped his beak down into the grey river silt and pushed it along like a mini-bulldozer. 

I settled down close to them in the long grass and got out my drawing materials.

Within a one hour period I had switched from rigorous speed walking, to slow, sad searching for broken things, then accelerated with glee at the beauty of the flora and wildlife. All that looking and the erratic emotions, were akin to sharpening a pencil in preparation for a period of deep engagement and immersion in the act of drawing.

When I ran life drawing classes I called them The Looking Class – partly a pun on Alice and her adventures, but also referring to it being a class where you learn to look. Because to be able to do observational drawing, you need to be able to see before you can draw. What you look at may not be in the room, but inside yourself. No matter. Whether you look out through a lens at an object, or reflect back into your imagination, you must be in a state of super-sensitivity. 

I decided I would write about this and use the photos I took as a mapping of the moods.

Together, every element of the walk is important to the outcome. On this occasion, the outcome is a strange rambling text, a series of photos connected by the concept of broken and a drawing that records the marks in the sand as described above.

And this blogpost.

Be well.

 

 

 

 

Letting Go, Refusal and the third space during Lockdown – a time when you have nothing to do and everything to do

Letting Go, Refusal and the third space

Lockdown – a time when you have nothing to do and everything to do – both at once.

Do you feel hypersensitive at the moment? Does your brain seem to be like a colander today, yet memories of significant things in your past float up constantly? Do they then create links with today’s thoughts in strange, unexpected ways – tethering the present with the past? Mine certainly do.

My instinct (or is that intuition?) is to listen to those collisions and collusions that my mind, and my heart, are offering me. Some people say we must respect our ‘innate’ intuition, others believe intuition is the outcome of cumulative knowledge (I’m inclined to believe both). I feel we are offered a new understanding of past and present if we can reconsider them through different lenses, at different times. If we allow them to have a dialogue, to intertwine, they may inform new ways of thinking about this strange period we live in. And we might learn more about ourselves.

I’m half-way through reading a book recommended to me by other artists, spotted on Instagram:  “How to Do Nothing – Resisting the Attention Economy” by Jenny Odell. One of the people who has read it told me “it will change your life”. It already has, yet I’m only halfway through. Which says something about my inability to do nothing. I spend way too much of my life on social media, for work and for pleasure. I love sharing photos, videos and seeing other peoples, especially during self-isolation. And, double irony here, I would not have heard about the book if I didn’t.

So, I am sorry Jenny, but your book is so loaded with things I knew nothing of before, I have to stop reading periodically and go and follow my curiosity – seeking out links and downloads to follow up with. If I don’t do it whilst live-reading, I may forget (see comment above). This is not an issue in terms of practice, it is a research process, but nor is it the outcome I anticipated when picking up the book.

The writing is delicious – the combinations of narratives on offer flow freely – the nuggets of examples from philosophy and contemporary art thrill me. A literary and creative feast. So much so that when I came to make my breakfast, I randomly added rosemary and garlic to my mushrooms and parsley to my scrambled egg.

  • Parsley: useful knowledge, feast, joy, victory
  • Rosemary: remembrance, love, loyalty, fidelity
  • Garlic: protection, strength, healing

I chose rosemary knowingly, as I had already considered its meaning when my brother died. I was also aware that garlic is for protection, strength and healing. But I didn’t know that parsley means ‘useful knowledge’, so that alone is somewhat spooky. Those things will now be intuitive to me.

Covid 19 is time to eat parsley, clearly. The remembrance issue relates not only to a family death, but also to that of an artist, Clare Thornton, who I worked with some years ago when I was a writer in residence for Redefining Print, at Double Elephant Print Studio.  A Facebook post about the anniversary of her death sent me off to dig deep into my archives where I found a recorded conversation with her about her work, in which I comment that I knew her partner from my time in 2002, when I did PVA LabCulture. I have shared that with him. Clare introduced me to the Triadic Ballet, which I have loved ever since. One of the people that set up the residency was Simon Ripley, who told me that the book (see above) will change my life.

During LabCulture I shared some films of inanimate objects being released into action then slowing down to a halt – the series was called “Letting Go”.  It was also the year that my marriage was slipping away.

Last week I made some slo-mo films with my iPhone – I pulled back a swing that flew above the River Severn (my muse and inspiration for all I do), and let it go. Only today have I spotted the link with the LabCulture films.

Collisions and collusions – past and present.

My film of the swing is also about letting go. Here, now, in this unpredictable, unknown place we are in, we must let go of many things. If we don’t it is too painful. Our daily routines have changed, forever, but not through intention. There is little choice.

In Odell’s book she writes eloquently about refusal. She refers to Diogenes and his explorations and actions relating to refusal. She describes his actions as creating ‘a third space’ – a magical exit to another frame of reference.

“For someone who cannot otherwise live with the terms of her society, the third space can provide an important if unexpected harbour (pages 68/69)”.

Might it be that our creative selves can provide us with our third space, when we urgently need a magical exit to our present frame of reference?

Wearing a quickly-made paper mask influenced by the *Triadic Ballet, and photos by Inge Morath & Saul Steinberg, (which came to me from a friend sharing on Facebook), for a zoom meeting, allowed me to prevent others from scrutinising my facial expressions. A refusal.

Sitting on a swing by the river allows my dreams to flow with the tide. Editing film takes me into another zone, as if doing meditation.

Making a silly video of my relationship with the screen, influenced by my watching the eyes of Villanelle in the TV series Killing Eve, lifts my mood.

I don’t think I really want To Do Nothing – I doubt it is even possible.

Just as John Cage proved you can’t record silence. Like Bartleby the Scrivener, if you ask me to do nothing I shall probably respond with “I would prefer not to”.

Surely this image from Triadic Ballet is calling out for a re-enactment during social distancing?

Screenshot 2020-05-03 at 10.56.46

 

*Note reference Triadic Ballet – made in 1922 by Oskar Schlemmer, it is a great early example of performance art/dance choreographed for filming for the screen. The activity is played out within that frame, just as Wood & Harrison do in their work. I propose that the screen of ZOOM and other online video conferencing facilities provides a ‘third space’ we can explore through creative practices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

capturing a river is one thing….

trying to capture the experience of viewing wildlife on the river is another….

I used to create video installations and have recently started to dabble with film again. Inspired by the wonderful William Kentridge, I decided to try working with animated drawing.

Of course, I returned to the river as my muse. This is my first attmept and I am quite pleased with it. Not perfect, much more to learn, but it does what I set out to do. My next challenge will be using the flash of blue the eye registers when a kingfisher does a fly-by. In truth, we don’t ‘see’ a kingfisher in flight, we notice the movement, the colours, the speed, the pattern of it’s travel and we name it.

The egret, indeed the river, was drawn totally from memory…I love it when the egrets visit. Usually, there are a pair of little egret here near Newnham. Last week I saw a pair of huge white herons fly over my head and I believe they were great egrets. Isn’t life exciting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday thoughts: black, white, grey, erasure, rebuilding, remembering

I’m in the middle of doing a large charcoal and chalk drawing on black pastel paper. I’ve always had a penchant for working on black surfaces. During my MA I projected videos onto black perspex, lay thick printing inks onto black watercolour when I made monoprints.


I attended an Arvon writing residency about arts writing and we were invited to choose an image to write about in first person. I chose this:

ellsworth-kelly-ek-319-daros

and wrote this:

ELLSWORTH KELLY 1963
WHITE OVER BLACK
I am the shadow underneath
Hosted on black, barely visible
Where white drapes over me, I gain attention
You will notice white more too
When I lurk below it
Even the black cannot deny me
When white reveals me
Without my subtlety
Their boldness would go unnoticed
They would be flat dull and lifeless
I am the space between
I give the illusion of space
I am their breathe

My first ever website was called “Grey Matters” and had a drawing of a human brain as it’s main image. I’ve always enjoyed exploring liminal places, and spaces, and thoughts.


I married a man named Black


I wear black



I have always had black and white pets!


I just looked for some of my old work in my portfolio and found these old friends. After all these years I can see a connection in my artwork. Landscape. Virtuality. Space. Trees.

Worked in many mediums, woodcuts, lino cuts, etchings, ink washes, charcoal, photography, projected shed snake skins (yes, that’s my self portrait!)

So here they are, a blast from my past, and a work in progress now…..(click each for full size)

 


work in progress today:

pond series - work in progress 190119

charcoal and chalk pastel on black pastel paper 1 metre wide

me on radio Gloucestershire yesterday, talking about binks, banks and little twizzles!

Yesterday (19/11/18) I had a conversation with David Smith on BBC Radio Glos

Nicky Price Show
first section 0:20:50  to 0:26:10
second section 0:34:27 to 0:40:15
fave words that slipped out “bink bank” and “little twizzle”!
PS they have renamed BBC iRadio ‘sounds’ – that\s the tab you need – confusing or what?
to make it easier, I’ve put it up on Soundcloud too.
and this is the poem I struggle to describe!

A book, a body of large drawings & a new toy

It’s been an interesting couple of years. Since I first put charcoal to paper in January 2017 I have been on two journeys – one, the route of returning to practice, the other, driving and walking around in circles, in circles. Realising what has happened makes me feel a little bit dizzy!

From posting the first drawing on Facebook and asking friends what they thought, and getting an amazing response, I have gradually gone full circle myself, to that of being able to say ‘I am an artist’ again. I’ve gone from 180 degrees to 360 degrees, then back to the book which is 180 degrees. Like a breath – breath in, expand, and breath out again.

The 360 degree camera has given me a whole new way of seeing the world, and it’s challenging. I set off to learn about VR but disliked the need for headsets or panning on screen. I did, however, enjoy the making of images that have been distorted by the marble lens.

The book is the peak point of the Severn series of works, the texts flowed along next to them as they evolved. I only had 100 printed, they are all signed and numbered and make great present form those who love rivers, and/or the bore. There’s information about how to order books here.

Watch the circular walking films here   (they may be on the screens in Newnham Community Library during opening hours too).

You will also find some digital prints and an original charcoal drawing on display in the library. Check their Facebook page for opening hours.

Next up is the the Newnham Arts & crafts Fair over 3 days – 7th, 8th & 9th December, various hours, please check their Facebook page too.

And then it’s off to the Wye! I’m showing some works in Brockweir and Hewelsfield Shop/Cafe from the same weekend!! Different work, several new ones about Brockweir and the Wye, and a lovely shop which is a good model for our hopes for The George development (ReNewnham).

Another week begins – I love Monday mornings because I get to plan what comes next!

 

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