The Natural World – digital nature – critical conversations about nature/culture

Featured

A discussion hosted by The British Library – Irini Papadimitriou, joined by Invisible Flock, Cheryl Tipp and Sue Thomas.

IMPORTANT: the recording of the full conversation is only available for a few hours – so please watch it NOW by clicking on image or here.

As an artist and film-maker, interested in our relationship with nature, it raises many issues that trigger big thoughts and questions in my head. I am summarising just a few thoughts here, but really want you to watch this conversation so we can assimilate the thinking and discuss later. And the more demand the recording gets, the more likely they will keep it up online. So click away and come back later!

A few nuggets:

Is there such a thing as ‘real’ nature”?

Before coming to write I made a coffee. As I did so I watched a blackbird drinking water from a plant pot saucer in the garden. I looked up at the sky and the clouds moving past. The wind was rustling the trees, making a sussaration sound.

I would argue that there is real nature – would you?

Are our encounters with nature always mediated and interfered with?

Not in my experience, but they may be for others. And just as with looking at art, each person has a different experience of what they see/encounter, depending on prior knowledge. Example – I have made a film about the materiality of a cliff formed in the Triassic period. Until I researched into it, I did not comprehend the enormity of its time on this earth, its existence. And how shocking it was to me that by merely crumbling some mud-rock in my hand I was collapsing millions of years of time.

Sources of knowledge and experience

Academics are always advised to begin with source texts – as that means you are beginning at the the centre of the thinking. But as Sue points out, writing things down began not so long ago. And writing is, of course, mediated thinking – oral history is more ‘real’ than the written word. But when we read the book we are aware of it as a different thing, it is a book of words.

Similarly, when we watch TV we know that what is presented has gone through a long process of reduction. And what we see is an encounter that is the result of numerous mediations along the line.

Encounters with nature through TV/screens/films

Firstly, when we watch a screen, we are not watching real nature. We are the end users, the expanded audience.

  • 1st audience – camera operator
  • 2nd audience editor/director
  • 3rd audience – programmer
  • 4th audience – the viewer

When we watch tv/or a film, or read a book, are we being presented with real nature?

No, they are cultural products, they are not nature.

When we watch TV, or a play, read a book, we know it is a construct

Every stage of production changes what we see/read. The conversation around aestheticization made me question my own film.

1. An alleged social trend which involves an increasing personal concern with visual displays and/or a growing role for public

This is the Oxford Dictionary definition and I love the way it begins with the term ‘alleged’. That needs discussion! It also refers to it being a ‘social trend’ – as if it should be dismissed because of that. So out goes Attenborough?! It is the terms ‘visual displays’ and ‘growing role for public’ is key to me here.

I am an artist. So I ask myself, am I aestheticizing nature and, if so, is that a problem?

The films I create are definitely visual displays of nature that have been mediated, see above. And they appear to engage people in an emotional way. I don’t knowingly set out to do that, but the passion I feel for my primary encounter with places motivates me to make films. I want to convey my emotional state. I could do a painting, a sketch or write words down to describe what I see. Indeed, in some of my films, I audio-describe things that the viewer can’t see, because I screen a manipulated version of what the camera sees, but not what I, as1st audience, see. I took that notion from the action of audio describing what is on the stage in the theatre, a process devised for visually impaired people.

In the theatre the performers are ‘real’ – living people physically present on a stage. But they are presenting someone else’s creative output. This could get complicated, so get back to my question about aesthetics. Yes, I am a visual artist and the very process of seeing then interpreting is what I do. Is my intention specifically to move people and suggest a growing role for the public? I believe it is an outcome, a leaking of my emotions, transferred through various processes – visual and sound, that collectively move people. And that occurs because what I present triggers association for others. That often surprises me.

Second nature

Is there such a thing? “a tendency or habit that has become characteristic or instinctive.” I feel 2nd nature is a simplistic term for a complex process of thinking and experiencing. I am even dubious about the concept of intuition. Surely all of these things are learned, impacted on by prior knowledge? They are also situational. Together they create an imperative. The imperative drives the public to action. Not the platform itself.

Senses of smell

Writing about smell can evoke smells, so can memories.(prior knowledge). Language connects things, the naming of things. I have only worked with one artist who used scent in his work, and it was wonderful. Bideford Black pigment evolved from ancient fern forests and Sam Treadawy used that knowledge to create his work:


Sam Treadway is exhibiting a scent-based work. A Clearing” is the result of a re-imagining of the origin of the Bideford Black material – Tree Fern forests of the Carboniferous period – via the medium of smell. Subtle variations of this scent composition, based on accords of wood, green, earth and petrichor (produced in collaboration with Clare Rees, Library of Fragrance), and inspired by visits to Bristol Botanic Garden and Kew Gardens, London, are transmitted, via stainless steel drums brimming with Bideford Black, into the gallery space.”

images by Julian Smith

A Tidal Life documented using graphite putty

Featured

Friday 26th March 2021

I picked up my order for graphite putty from Jackson’s warehouse in Gloucester on Friday and waited until low tide, late afternoon, before trying it out. It was cold and windy at Garden Cliff at Westbury on Severn, where I did battle with sheets of A1 cartridge paper. The paper was pinned down, one sheet at a time, using heavy rocks and branches found on the ‘beach’. I say beach because it is a cliff comprising of Triassic rock formations, but isn’t a beach that one would paddle or swim from – the River Severn is far too dangerous for that.

The first rubbing drawings were very energetic. I bent down towards the paper on the ground, donned my surgical gloves and grabbed the ball of black putty. I sensed with my right hand, feeling the surface under the paper, then followed with the graphite in my left hand. I worked fast and furiously, partly because the wind was making me feel quite tense, but also because I was crouching in an uncomfortable position and it wasn’t great for my back. I felt my way into the forms with one hand, then pressed and stroked the pigment onto the paper with the other. When the graphite ball hit ridges it deposited copious amounts of shiny metallic pigment onto the ridges, and dropped small clumps of precious graphite loose onto the paper. It was a bit like learning Taiko drumming, making the hands perform opposing actions and behaviours, but somehow (sometimes), falling into a rhythm that works. The material itself feels like handling very buttery pastry.

The rhythm in these ancient rocks was provided by the patterns formed nearly 3 million years ago. Clusters of round balls of deep red clay, like bubbles, fractured by deep straight lines where geological strata slipped and slid around. Soft and crumbly, as opposed to being hard and flinty, the stone formations are variously a pale to mid grey and a ferrous red, like an ochre. They are prone to fall apart in one’s hand, not unlike the ball of graphite putty. As I rubbed it was like seeing the Alps or the Rockies emerging from the clouds when gazing out of a plane window. The marks also remind me of the patterns seen in the mud of the Severn, from the river bed, when the tide has gone out and the sun has temporarily solidified the silt in the heat.

Anyway, I made three rubbings then retreated to my warm un-windy house and spread them out in my studio. I loved them. They were all different and the best, in my mind, was the one that was most crumpled and battered by the elements on the surface and the sharp stones trapped below the paper, jutting up into the fibrous surface, but not tearing it. That is where the peaks shone the brightest.

I had taken time selecting the areas to rub, seeking out level areas and stony part, as well as straight line fractures. I took photos of the sites and more of the different stages of rubbing. This stage of using new mediums has to be like a lab, everything noted, recorded, and considered. The weather, the dampness of the air, the wind levels, the moisture on the ground and the selected paper used. I had gone for A1 because I love drawing large and also doubted this squidgy mark-making substance wouldn’t perform at its best in a small sketchbook. I was right.

Back in the studio I left them to relax overnight and returned in the morning to study them in daylight. Then I began to rely on my memory of examining these rocks in recent weeks – looking carefully at meeting places and junctions, where smooth flat areas met crumbly steps, or bubbly round forms were fractured by gashes in the stone, like crevasses. I drew into and onto the framework that the rubbing provided and soon I was immersed in pulling this drawing out of the paper, into something that spoke of that place.

This is where I got to, and I think I’m going to be doing more in the future. (I already have but that’s another blogpost). My life is now doubly reliant on tides – the high tides that bring the Severn Bore and enable the dredger in my film ‘Bed “D’’ to operate, and the bore surfers to surf. And the low tides that reveal the most wonderful patterns formed so long ago, only for them to return to their role as riverbed when the ocean washes in.

I live a tidal life.

copyright Carolyn Black 2021

New film – Bev ‘D’ Lydney Harbour – a dredger in motion

Featured

NEW FILM 2021 – BEV ‘D’ LYDNEY HARBOUR

A visual poem, the film has a dreamlike quality, shot at dusk and dawn, when the light shifted softly. A commissioned soundtrack by composer Andrew Heath captures the tone of the activity perfectly.

Lydney Harbour hasn’t been dredged for over twenty years. Bev D was filmed there before and after Christmas 2020, just before hide tides. My eye was drawn in by the elegance of this huge, heavy, dredging machine – the slow nature of her movement – accompanied by the clicks and clacks of her actions.

WATCH FILM HERE

“Crying, but with nowhere for their tears to go” organoids and art

Thursday 18th March

I’m on the mailing list for The Conversation, an online journal that has “academic rigour, journalistic flair”. One headline on today’s update is We grew human tear glands in the lab, and now we’re making them cry by Marie Bannier-Hélaouët, Utrecht University.

It wasn’t the headline alone that caught my eye, it was the image on the newsletter and website. Together, they sparked off a line of thinking. I can’t reproduce the image here, as it has copyright limits, so you will need to go and see it yourself. But I can describe it very easily, because it is uncannily like this image of mine, done recently. It looks like a bubble burst on paper, like this:

(C) Carolyn Black Bubble Drawing 2021

My image was not created by tears, but it made me want to cry when I read “The organoids were secreting their tears on the inside: crying, but with nowhere for their tears to go.”

I headed for Wiki, not wishing to over-quote from the The Conversation, in case I breach copyright laws. And I want you to read it too, because it is fascinating.

“An organoid is a miniaturized and simplified version of an organ produced in vitro in three dimensions that shows realistic micro-anatomy. They are derived from one or a few cells from a tissue, embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells, which can self-organize in three-dimensional culture owing to their self-renewal and differentiation capacities.”

In the article, Bannier-Hélaouët describes this more poetically “the stem cells form tiny replicants of the organs from which they were extracted, which we call “organoids”.

To me, without the scientific knowledge of what organoids are, the word sounds like something from Star Trek. Maybe the term replicant feeds that thinking. The fact the organoids are grown in vitro, like humans can be too, also tugs on the emotions of human association.

Back to my drawing, shown above, that evolved from participating in a Drawing Meditation workshop recently. We talked a lot about breath and of course breath has risen high into everyone’s consciousness since Covid19. Partly because it attacks the respiratory system, and partly because there’s a high level of anxiety about, resulting in meditative practices becoming almost as essential as breathing itself.

I think it is fair to say that all of the artists on the weekend course found the bubble drawing process exciting, exhilarating and sometimes disappointing. The disappointment was usually down to the scientific issues, the type of detergent used, the dilution level with water.

But now, having read this article, I can’t help but wonder whether we were collectively moved and touched by the process because they were created from our precious breath and, like the tears, trapped in the bubble. The breath had nowhere to go. And I know I held my breath while I waited for the pop to happen, in anticipation of what it would leave behind.

And the joy of seeing a perfect trace, a record of my existence, on the paper, made me want to cry.

When I reframe the poignant sentence above – “The organoids artists were secreting their tears on the inside: crying, but with nowhere for their tears to go”  I feel deeply sad.  I immediately allow more serious thoughts into my head, about the impact of the pandemic on artists. I am not going to launch into politics here, now, because I want to leave you with a floating feeling, like a bubble in the air, floating off into a future.

Because imagination can take us there.

(C) Carolyn Black bubble process video 2021

*STOP PRESS*

GALLERIES HAVE REALLY HAD THEIR BUBBLES BURST – PLEASE HELP GET THEM CAMPAIGN TO RE-OPEN. If, like me, you think that art galleries are as safe and as important as horse racing, shops, gyms and nail bars, PLEASE sign this petition to support galleries to reopen after 12 April: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/577489 #CheltenhamFestival

Walking The Land First Friday March 2021

Featured

The inspirational prompt from WTL team:

Our walk will again have as a focus ideas around ‘Place’ – this time, how we know, recognise and respond to it.  It’s highly likely our concept of ‘place’ can be seen to be both fluid and deeply rooted. Below are quotes that go some way individuals try to explain that awareness:

“We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape … into ‘another world’: somewhere we feel and think significantly differently. They exist even in familiar landscapes: there when you cross a certain watershed, recline or snowline, or enter rain, storm or mist. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographics, leaving known places outlandish or quickened, revealing continents within counties.”

Robert Macfarlane

“Place is always the first thing I connect with – rather than the music or the imagery – when I travel; I am always trying to understand what a place is, and what does it mean to the people that live here? What are its layers of history? How has it changed? How might it change?”

Julian Hoffman

We invite you to search your own thoughts on what goes to make a place special for you. Try to explain exactly what it may be about the place that influenced your response. This could be through any visual media, through sound or words…wherever it takes you.


Destination – Garden Cliff, Westbury on Severn Gloucestershire. Duration 2 hours

Circle Walking

changing my approach to Garden Cliff

led me to arrive from a different direction

to surprise myself

I passed a circle of trees I’d never noticed before

because when walking the other way I didn’t look left

I habitually turned right to see the huge oak tree

in the grounds of Westbury Gardens

further along I passed tree I knew well, in it’s hey day

I did my first circular walk around it

but it has fallen, rotting on the ground

pre-pandemic I rarely saw anyone at Garden Cliff

sometimes at sunset young couples in pairs may be spotted,

wrapped closely in each others arms, gazing

or elderly pairs in cars, staring,

parted by a gear stick and forty years

jackdaws mate for life

every morning I watch two pigeons

bobbing along the fence-top together 

on my way I saw several families

I hoped to find quiet solitude at the beach under the cliff

to gaze, stare, draw, film and walk in circles

Pleased to find myself alone

I unpacked materials and equipment

taking care not to let things fall into the mud

I set up my camera but, just as I was about to shoot

two children clambered over the rocks shouting 

they too had arrived to have an adventure

I carried on, hoping that my strange behaviour might scare them away

send them running home to their parents

and tell them there was a mad woman walking in circles

their parents would think they were making it up

So I carried on, recording the sounds of loud splashes

when they hurled rocks into the river

I took photos and prepared to take mud prints

when a familiar creature came bounding onto the beach

Django, a friend’s dog, followed by her, her Dad and two kids

operations were abandoned 

The place transformed from one of solitude 

to a social space, it was good to see them

two more people came into view

waving – to me, to Sarah? Her Dad?

I waved back to Eleanor and Russell, some friends from Dorset!

change allows for the unexpected to happen

the beach had transitioned

from uninhabited to occupied

had it had been a car park, the sign would flash FULL

My Walking the Land mission

was complete

the place I know so well, had become unrecognisable

an enjoyable interlude

from solitude

with people that share my love 

of the Severn


Post walk notes……

The morning of the Walking the Land event, I had given a talk for art.earth about my practice In which I had referred to transitioning from 180 degree drawings to 360 degree filming.

I remember my degree thesis was about circles

My final work for my MA included a mirror tunnel that transformed film footage into a big globe

I walk in circles quite often

When I drive places I like to go in one direction and return in another

The weekend after the walk, I participated in a Drawing Breath workshop

We blew bubbles with ink onto paper

I’ve recently been making circular monoprints

Meditation breathing is circular, as are the tides

We also drew from memory, then erased, and re-drew, repeatedly, without having the object in view

I’ve been blowing bubbles on printing blocks

And drawing a large circular work

Round and round we go

Reeds Waving

Featured

reeds waving light fading voices merge dreamers dream weaving flowing edges blur

click on this image to view the film on Vimeo

Carolyn’s story:

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

Eva’s story:

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.

Eva Rune

Songs and Sound Poetry
A celebration of human imagination through voice

@eva_rune on Instagram

2021 Steps From Home – Walking the Land

Featured

Friday 1st January 2021- First Friday Walk

The prompt text from the ‘Walking the Land‘ team:

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.

I made a film called “2021 Steps From Home” which you can view on Vimeo – it is just over 2 minutes long – please have a look, it is the outcome of the above thinking. Using split screens, it reveals the process behind my work and the range of outcomes from a simple action – that of walking in circles.

The film below is on the route towards the sheep fields. I had forgotten that Map My Walk talks to you unexpectedly! (keep the volume fairly low or it will make you jump, like I did!)

Has Eastenders influenced my films? Or did the old masters/mistresses influence Eastenders?

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.

15590074_10157884822790576_3294814576553953871_n

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.

Everyone, everywhere, every-time – on the ownership of creative work, land and river

Featured

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:

  1. Being someone/somewhere/sometime
  2. Being no-one/nowhere/no-time
  3. Being everyone/everywhere/every-time

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.

Once armed with a cup of tea, I popped onto Facebook for further distraction. I read some interesting conversations, after which I downloaded the National Trust Research document,  ‘Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust’ to read later.

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.

VIEW: When You Call I Shall Come