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

IMG_5056

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

IMG_5062

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

IMG_5154

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

IMG_5177

I STOOD HERE

IMG_5176

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

 

 

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

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

free-writing from May 2018 about the Severn Bore

 

Arrival

Standing, I take one panning video of the river, left to right

Then sit at eye level with brambles, restricting my view

Like being in a cheap seat

At the theatre

Listening

Sounds of the Severn, small dancing waves

Running, apparently  towards the sea

But not for long

Pigeons coo, sparrows twitter their replies

Witnessing

A blister of waves bursts over the sandbank

Exposed to bright light

Sun glare blinding.

Hard to look

Retinas narrow to focus, see the distant

Church spire in Westbury, like a sharp needle

Piercing the skyline

Bright green grass on the other bank

Low clouds forming, chilly wind rising

Twinkling sparkling

Water on sand spits

Distance

The boats at Bullo, masts leaning

Distant dark shapes, sitting solid on sand

A seal? A surfer? A lump of wood?

A body?

A pool of water catches my eye on the bend

A wave? No, the riverbed is still dry near Awre

No incoming tide

Yet

Light

Lights on lights off

Clouds filter the sun – a sole surfer glides past

Sitting, he rides the river flow, to later return

On the cusp of the bore?

Colour

To the left the sandspit looks burnt umber now

With a chrome white line of foam

Defining it against the steely cold water

Then the sun blooms, the ochre colours break through mirrored

By wet sand pools

Patterns

To the right, the riverbed is like a sandy beach

Shadows of clouds drawing bar codes across it

My eyes scan it, while my ears register

The water getting louder

The black lump is still down there near bullo

The wind whips the water up

The bushes quiver towards the sea

Three more surfers enter

Surfers

From the opposite bank, two surfers carry boards

On their heads, the walk together

The other grips his tightly

Under his arm

Filming

Standing, I notice there are a couple of people on opposite bank

And the sandbank below the river bank at Newnham has wonderful ripples in it,

Each tiny crevice highlighted by the sun as it rises

The pigeons coo

There’s another black lump in the distance to the left of me

I keep glancing to my right

Checking out the bend where the bore

Will appear

Waiting

Nothing yet, on the left

A single duck naively (or knowingly)

Glides on the rivertide

The cliff ducks are wiser

They hangout behind the undercliff below Ruddle

Listen and watch when the wave approaches

As they fly out from behind the bushes

Quacking and flapping

If they don’t rise fast they run the risk

Of being battered against the cliff

Recent rockfall has left spliced slabs of red clay and tea green marl

Evidence of climate change

The ducks have learnt to survive

We have not done so well

Time

Is trapped here in stone

Breaking up in front of me

Rocks like squashed sandwiches

Compressed in a lunch bag

Separating them, I notice

Each layer is different

More waiting

Most the surfers are now out of sight, probably behind the cliff

With the ducks

The sun on my face is soothing

The clock chimes nine

The bore timetable lists the bore arrival as nine-o-seven

Time to pour my coffee

Time, it’s all about time

Waiting, passing

Dandelion clocks witness my flask

As it performs as a sundial

My body does too

The sun locates me in the world

On the ground, in the air, by this river

Two more surfers arrive

Lateness

Are they late, or the others early?

Or misinformed?

Another surfer arrives, whose board looks bigger than the others

It has a fin on it

He walks with a swagger

Still no wave

A tardy bore

Two more surfers come along

The first throws down his board

And runs back to the bank

He’s fetched another!

He leaves the first one, its blue, on the sand

He drags a golden board along and joins the other

Surfers gathered on the opposite bank

A white line is forming near the bend

On the west side

Four more surfers arrive, three with boards, one empty handed

The fourth lifts the blue one up under his arm

It looks heavy and hard to carry

Imminence

The white breaker edge has dissipated

The body of water is holding the shore behind the cliff

Out of sight

Four more surfers enter the shallow river, sitting on boards

Soon the wave will whip out from behind the cliff

There are no ducks

Yet

Arrival

As the wave gets closer I abandon my keyboard and stand to video

As I film, a skein of ducks flies out from behind the cliff

So predictable

Several surfers stand up, and stay up, for a while, all whooping and howling

The wild side of life let loose

My smile widens

The joyous relationship between humans and water never fails to delight

Afterswell

To surf safely you need to know and understand the river

It’s a social and cultural experience

As I film, my neighbour arrives (you may spot her ducking from the camera!)

As we talk, both keeping one eye on the tide, neither of us apologises when, intermittently, one points and comments on the waters progress

Our meeting here is incidental, our sole purpose is to see the bore

As the spectacle passes us by, the surfers tumble off one by one, then clamber out onto the banks on both sides

She points to the spire and tells me she was brought up by the river

Her mum worked at the thermometer factory in Newnham

A friend of theirs drowned in the river

Her mother used to sit by the river with colleagues as a young girl, having their lunchbreak

The river keeps flowing by

Getting deeper and deeper

All is well

As it always has been

IMG_1474.JPG