weary and wary we masked

Waking (too) early this morning I reflected on the past few months. Remembered the hush of the initial lockdown and how wonderful it was in many ways. It gave us a taster of a world with less pollution, less traffic on roads and in the air. We heard the birdsong amplified in the mornings, the river rushing by.

This heightened attention enabled me to make films that now, it seems, touch people in a particular way. Something I am trying to understand. At the time of making, they were, in so many ways, my coping mechanism. Walking outside, close to the river, needing to escape the confines of my house, the endless news reporting statistics and warnings.

As I lay in bed earlier today I listened to the traffic passing by and wondered how long it might be before that stops again. In the winter I know when it has snowed overnight, because of the uncanny quietness of the acoustics landscape. During lockdown I have become raw, over-sensitised, sounds are louder, scents stronger, touch yearned for.

So I wrote down some words and made another film. I added the recording I made of the dawn chorus in April 2020 and look forward to hearing it in 2021 – with traffic flowing past.

THE ACT OF TAKING A PHOTOGRAPH IS AN ACT OF LOVE

In 2005 the artist Phil Collins spoke at a conference at Bristol Zoo, run by Claire Doherty of Situations. He said that historically some believed a camera could take the steal of a person, but he, personally, felt the act of taking a photograph is an act of love.

That comment is core to this enquiry about my practice.

Reel back in time to October 1997 when I began my MA in Fine Art at Cardiff UWIC. My mother died on 1st September that year. The first works I did were using photography and slide-dissolve images of my naked body, photographed from behind, with shed snake skins pressed between glass projector-slides that transferred their amazing charcoal-like patterns onto my body. I cast my head in red jelly and filmed it, slowly melting then reverse played, it in a loop. Forming and dissolving. I cast it in plaster too. Fixed and solid.

It was one year after Dolly The Sheep had been cloned. I now understand that I was exploring my identity, as a clone of my mother. The possibility of becoming another. No longer a daughter, but a matriarch. One particular work was inscribed by hand with the phrase “I shed my skin, I regenerate”.

Reflecting now, maybe, because I had a difficult relationship with my mother, I needed to do this, to value myself. Deaths of people close to us can have very profound affects that are not always obvious at the time. My mother would have been horrified, she always wished I would paint pictures of puppies and kittens, things people could understand and buy. Just as she said my sister would be better off writing bodice-busters instead of science fiction.

I have always disliked being photographed, and it shows in photos of me. No surprise then, that the images were mostly of my back. It was a refusal to be seen by my own gaze. My final MA work was about close examination of the body, in particular looking into the flesh body, the corporeal, compared to the virtual, digital body. It was the early days of the internet and a whole new world opened up to me. That world was text-based, so the physical body was not required to be visible, it was an anonymous space.

In 2002 I spend two months in Java, Indonesia, on a UNESCO funded residence at Selasar Sunaryo Gallery near Bandung. While there I confronted myself and my past, my father having been posted there in 1949. I made objects and films about identity, the fragility of both the digital and place.

When I returned home to the UK I did another one-week residency in Birmingham, as part of LabCulture run by PVA Labs. There I presented a number of video works called ‘Letting Go’. I made each film by animating an object – a coin, a cup rocking on a hook, a rotary washing line – then filming it until it stopped. All domestic objects. Sadly, my marriage was failing by then – each tiny film reflected that, moment by moment, frame by frame, slowing down then finally drawing to a halt. Another film was made with opaque mist from a steam room focussing in and out of net curtains. I was nowhere to be seen in any of these works. I guess I temporarily left my body and was deeply inside my head and my heart. A point of change.

By 2005 my practice was subsumed by the need to earn a living, so I did more and more producing and curating and my practice gradually slipped away.

In 2006, I moved to the Forest of Dean. A big change after twenty-five years of living near the east bank of the Severn. I relocated, not only to a new home, but to a new landscape, on the west bank of the river. I walked regularly locating myself into a new place, taking photos of trees leaning to stay upright, rooted on the side of the hills, adapting to counter the sloping ground below them. I was aware at the time that that was how I felt too and empathised with their stoic behaviour.

I worked as a producer and curator for the following ten years, not exhibiting work, not making much either. At one point, I explored the possibility of creating films by embedding cameras in the gorilla compound at Bristol Zoo, to film the visitors from the gorilla’s perspective. We didn’t get it off the ground, but the very thought of that is pertinent as I write this piece.

In 2017, in November, my brother died after a long slow illness. I had a cancer scare myself and, like the films of things in the letting go series, I ground to a halt.

In January 2018 I began to draw again, spurred on by the fact that my brother had often chastised me for no longer making art. I took my series of panoramic photos of the Severn, shot on my phone therefore not good enough for quality prints – and I modified them and drew them as large, one-metre wide panoramic works. I took more photos, creating pairs of opposite sides of the Severn, gathering memories, facts and fictions as I travelled from bank to bank. The book evolved in parallel to the drawings.

Once the drawing series was complete and the book published, I paused for a while. I regathered and gained momentum in Producer work, which involves supporting other artists to create work for landscapes in response to places.

Late 2018 I got my hands on a 360 camera and began to make films again. Exploring the moving image felt good, as I had previously made video installations. But it also brought with it the issue of the gaze, and my being present in the imagery. By their nature, the dual-lenses capture everything, including the operator. Me. I hid behind cars and bushes, trying to find a way out of the frame. As I understood the capacity of the camera and its ability to capture its surrounds, I found the optimum distance I could perform to it without obvious facial recognition. The film 12 circular walks came out of that and, just as I did with the trees, the riverbanks, I collected a number of works together – this time not for a book, but for a film. As I walked in circles I held a stick, in homage to Caspar David Friedrich and his depiction of a gentleman purveying a sublime view of nature. My circular meanderings we very different to that.

There followed a period of my returning to the river with video and 360, getting closer to it psychologically, understanding it better. And it was a relief to take me out of the equation, not to do battle with removing myself from the scene. I combined drawing with video, with animation, I played and played, in the day by the river, in the night in my studio, with charcoal, projectors and tripods.

Come the 2020 Covid19 pandemic all these elements of my practice were ripe for picking. Having time to walk daily to the river, I began to find new ways to revisit it, both literally, by walking a new route, and metaphorically, as in finding visual ways to present not a view of the river, but my experience of it. To develop a 1:1 relationship with it, on equal terms. In April, when the bore surfers stood down out of respect for Sabrina and each other, I filmed the high spring tide for three days and used the footage to make When You Call, I Will Come. The words relayed a message from the voice of the tide itself. A kulning song, performed by Eva Rune and others, pulled the film together, enabling viewers to be drawn into the yearning, for the need to find comfort somewhere, somehow. In a matter of two weeks it had 500+ views which was overwhelming for me. It appears to have a power that goes above being a documentary of the Severn Bore.

When You Call, I Will Come and was selected for EarthPhoto2020, a Royal Geographical Society project in collaboration with Forestry Commission. It has also resulted in an experimental collaboration with the singer/composer Eva Rune, who lives in Sweden.

The next film I made was like taking my winter studio out into the light. I dragged 3 cameras and tripods; 1 iPad and a myriad of drawing materials, to my favourite place, next to a swing on the riverbank. I did many films of the swing, empty, released and allowed to move until it stopped. Letting go. I sat under the huge oak tree that supported the swing and I filmed myself drawing there. I was back in the frame again. Albeit at a distance.

The resulting film is called As Above, So Below and was selected for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize Show. Composer Andrew Heath provided the soundtrack.

Jump to 4th October 2020.

Both of the above films were selected for exhibitions and I had a period of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, call it what you like. Not having shown work beyond the Forest of Dean for many years, it felt huge. I have just listened to Charlie Mackesy speaking for the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Online, of course. I saw his drawings on Instagram when he first began, and ordered his book prior to publication, which was autumn 2019. He spoke eloquently about his work, about being vulnerable, about recognising that his art is a way to process deep anxieties. I guess that is what has happened for me with my films, they touch people. I didn’t set out to make them do that, they reflect my own inner state, my personal way of coping with the pandemic.

I started writing this article yesterday, after planning it in my head. Today, hearing Mackesy talk, feels like synchronicity. I’m a pretty pragmatic person, few would think me romantic, but there is something about time and place that always matters. And sometimes amazing collisions and collusions begin.

I am now back in my body and planning new work. Uber-conscious that I have been reflecting on my own presence, and absence, in my work, I am now going to explore the presence of other living things in this landscape that we share. Try and see their perspective, like looking from the other riverbank. When I sat up in bed this morning I watched the dove that sits on a TV aerial outside my window, every morning, every day. And I thought “what does the bird think? Does it see me? What is going through its mind?”.

It is time to go beyond myself and walk in my collaborator’s shoes. My encounters in the world mean far more than I do, my work needs to reflect that. My daughter and I had a discussion about these things, her perspective informed by training to be a puppeteer and the role of the operator, along with her experience of making documentary films, about sustainable farming and food provenance. Ironically, I am now wishing we had taken a photo of us together that day, while we were talking. It was the launch of my film at the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize Show.

My arts producer work is becoming increasingly concerned with climate change and environmental issues. The Severn is, of course, at risk, as is the wider natural world. Watch out for new work. It probably won’t be right first time, but I am trying.

Going full circle back to the start of this writing, if taking a photograph is an act of love, then that is what I need to do. I feel it is the only thing to do.

Swings and Films – exhibitions

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Recently I have spotted swings being hung from trees around the local area, the Forest of Dean. They have signs near them encouraging users to enjoy themselves, it appears to be a guerrilla-style action with no name. I love it.

Prior to their arrival, I too had developed a relationship with a swing next to the Severn, a few miles walk from home. As an artist and film-maker, I did more than swing on it. It became a place for a daily retreat from Covid19 – a bolthole. I wrote about it as being my new ‘crying place’, having witnessed the removal of my old one. That was a huge tree stump at the top of a hill which looked down over the bend in the Severn near Newnham. But that is no more.

The riverbank swing doesn’t provide big sky views and open vistas, it is very close to the water and offers a wonderful view of Garden Cliff and to see the sunset there at the end of a Covid-day is an indescribable delight to witness.

Over several weeks I visited and made films of the swing swinging, and from the swing swinging. With me, without me. I leant against the trunk of the oak tree it hung from and drew in its shade, often distracted by the dancing shadows of the branches above, and the bugs that came to check on the progress of the marks on my paper. I filmed the silhouettes of the leaves, then filmed myself drawing.

One day I went on a major mission to capture this unusual experience. Gathering all my ideas together, alongside a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree camera; a video recorder; an iPad with an animation app; a phone camera and three tripods; sketch pad and charcoals with a putty rubber and a heap of determination, I made a film.

Several days of editing, collaging and shaping ensued until I had a finished film. “As Above So Below” was the result.

It was the second significant film I’d made since the pandemic began – the other one “When You Call, I Will Come” documented the spring-tide Severn bore without any surfers.

I submitted them, somewhat nervously, to share them more widely. With galleries and venues closed I had to find a way to get them seen because they are so pandemic-influenced they are a record of this strange time.

I am still thrilled by the way people responded to them. Before “When You Call” was accepted for the EarthPhoto2020 exhibition, from over 3,000 applicants, it was viewed by  500+ YouTube viewers. EarthPhoto2020 is run by Royal Geographic Society and Forestry Commission and will tour to various venues.

This boosted my confidence, so I submitted “As Above, So Below” to Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize – a fantastic annual event that had over 4,000 applicants – and it was selected.

“When You Call” can be viewed online on the EarthPhoto2020 website and the exhibition for the drawing prize opens at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, Wiltshire: 2 to 31 October 2020, then tours to Cooper Gallery at the University of Dundee, Trinity Buoy Wharf in London and The Gallery at Arts University Bournemouth.

Links:

Trinity Buoy Wharf Prize

EarthPhoto2020

Attention series no.5 – 16th May 2020 – studio notes

Having gone to my studio notes document today, an ongoing, live working document, I realise I have not entered anything since 16th May. I am updating it but also enjoyed reading it and seeing how important that time was for my practice. A lot has happened since then, I’ll write about that next week, but here are my reflections from May:

In March Covid arrived and the world changed forever.  I am not going to write about that here, but it has inevitably affected my life and my practice.

I have started walking a 5 mile stretch of river banks, regularly, filming, drawing and writing. I filmed the spring ride bore – the surfers stood down and I felt I must document the haunted-ness of the experience. It was both beautiful and ominous.  When You Call I Shall Come is the outcome. [note – selected for EarthPhoto2020 since these notes were written]

Launched it 8am on Friday 15th and writing this the next morning, there have been 100 views. I am leaving it online for a while and hope to get some bookings for it to be shown in galleries or as part of festivals – online or off. [That increased to over 600 on Youtube but was moved to Vimeo]

This work is significant for me – having been drawing, then moving into 360 video, then video, I have slowly regained my confidence in my filmmaking skills. It feels comfortable. Around Christmas I was trying animation and it was a good learning curve, but not quite right for me. What it did do is take me into a place whereby I was drawing, making films, then merging through projection and refilming.  I love process. I love the thinking, the planning, the testing – and the accidents that move the work onwards into something unexpected.

I came to this document to make notes about my next work. But maybe I need to write more about the thinking first and how I got to where I am now, at this moment in time.

While I’ve been playing with film, I have been actively finding ways to use mediums that can express my hypersensitivity to the natural world, and my love of the river. Conversations with my daughter helped – we talked about having a heightened awareness of the physical world, in every sensory way. It is like having one’s skin turned inside out. I sometimes feel raw, overwhelmed by the emotion of it all. Emotions are like tides, they gush in then dissipate, they swerve around daily events, bits of news, mundane jobs that need doing. Sometimes, they sink like a stone, leaving no trace of the person I know myself to be. Other times they sparkle on the surface and enjoy the ride, with glee and wonder. 

I am now envisaging these emotions as being like damselflies – fluttering around carefree, skimming the skin of the water, but occasionally dragged down and saturated. It takes some effort to rise up and out again, to go up towards the sun and dry one’s wings. 

This is the way of the world, my world in Covid time.

Does yours feel like that too?

So back to the studio work – last week I took an A2 pad to the river to draw. I didn’t take any cameras, bar my phone, because I wished to make myself draw. Drawing outside is always a pleasure, though I dislike doing so in public places. Along the riverbank, I could get well away from onlookers.

 

[my next blogpost will reveal more about what happened next….]

 

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 my stride easily

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

My walking no longer needed an active mind, my gear slipped silently 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 narrowed

One slip and I would be roadkill

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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 saw him 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 heard the ticking sound, I thought there was something rattling in my bag

Just like the ball bearing does in my can of fixative

Eventually I 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 was recently ploughed – already green lines of seedlings were appearing

I had to watch my footfall on the narrow edges, very uneven

Making me aware of my physical vulnerability

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

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

I rarely sit on the swing on my way out, because I am on a mission, aiming for a destination further along the bank

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 left bank and Framilode on the right

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

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

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

I took a photo of the primary view in front of me, for example the sea-view or the river

Then rotated and took one of the parallel, less noticed, view

I would then look at them together as two parts of a whole

The images created brackets of my presence – I was in the centre of the scene, but not 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

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

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I STOOD HERE

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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, brambles that lashed around my ankles

Once settled into my perfect place by the river, I put up my tripod and video camera, framing, surveying the activity

I also had my monocular with me

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

My wandering eye switching, from viewfinder to lens

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

Then searched for it with naked eyes, so I could film it

We see what we want to see, sometimes

Vision and expectation 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 near the Severn 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 to focus has become even worse. For some time now, I have found reading a book very challenging. Part of the difficulty is that my curiosity is distracted 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, creating spatially disrupted video installations that were immersive. They 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 love taking panoramic photos of the river, because it enables 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, digitally. Because they were are 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 track 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 of the Severn on my wall. With the pairings in mind 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 followed a period of experimentation, having got my hands on a 360 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, but not be an immersive artwork. I have always struggled with being in front of a camera, due to self-consciousness and a 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 naked 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.

This thinking informed a new body of work – When You Call I Shall Come and As Above So Below video films were made around this time. Both have been selected for shows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belief, Stories and Marketing – how the Rooster story grabbed my attention

Belief, Stories and Marketing

One of the reasons I wrote the Rooster of Notre Dame piece is that I was struck by the story. In terms of marketing, it’s an excellent example of keeping something up there in the public eye:

Stage one – the fire – HUGE worldwide attention

Stage two – the fundraising – another WOW factor

Stage three – the amount of money!

Stage four – the thorn from Jesus’s crown, hidden in a weather vane

The press grabbed it and ran – even Wiki was already bearing the fact of the fire and who found the rooster – Wiki says the relic was saved by Jean-Marc Fournier, Chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade. The Telegraph claims the rooster was found by a worker at the site. Another says it was a restoration specialist

In storytelling, anything is up for grabs.

As we all keep reminding ourselves – Brexit – you couldn’t make it up.

Which takes me to belief – we all know the saying “It beggars belief” – to be unbelievable or not deserving to be believed : to defy belief.

With a weird turn of my memory, I recall that when I was studying for a PhD I met another researcher who had a theory that Jesus was the first marketeer. Funny how some stories lingers in one’s mind. This now feels like a strange circle of thinking – here I am referring to marketing, in relation to one of the most iconic religious buildings in the world, and I recall that micro-fact.

The truth be told, (if truth exists), is I took a certain delight in hearing about the rooster. The majority of religions have failed to sell their story to me, I just find them impossible to believe. Yet here comes a charred cock, a metal weather vane that apparently holds a religious relic, and I am seduced by it. It drove me to explore the story behind it too, which is pretty plausible.

Maybe it is now gauging my own capacity to believe in something.


Here it is again:

The Rooster of Notre Dame

Fallen from the burning spire

Hidden

Inside the battered blackened twisted body

Of the rooster

Lies one of the 70 thorns of the Holy crown of Jesus Christ

Concealed and protected

From weather, fire and time

Inside a spiritual lightning rod

The crown a plaited instrument of passion

“We may behold the thorny crown, which was only set upon the head of Our Redeemer in order that all the thorns of the world might be gathered together and broken” (Migne, LXX, 621)

Botanically known as Ziziphus spina-christi,

More popularly, the jujube tree

Tasting of apple

With the appearance of a small date

The pit like that of an olive

In 1238 the Latin Emperor of Constantinople

Anxious to obtain support for his tottering empire

Offered the crown of thorns to Louis IX

As security for a heavy loan of 13,134 gold pieces

But redeemed and conveyed to Paris where Louis IX built the Sainte-Chapelle (completed 1248) to receive it.

There the relic stayed, until the French Revolution

When, after finding a home for a while in the Bibliothèque Nationale

The Concordat of 1801 restored it to the Church, and it was deposited in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame

During the Notre-Dame de Paris fire of April 15, 2019

Two days later, while ash and the tang

Of charred timber

Both hang in the air

The fund to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral has reached a billion euros

To house the thorn

In five years time

The rooster will be re-homed

The cathedral be restored