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

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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

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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

“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

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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

Body and mind, drawing and meditation equal balance

Reflections, reviewing, revising, reconsidering.

Following the weekend of the Drawing Breath workshops I felt physically exhausted, emotionally exhilarated, intellectually accelerated and calmly curious. I haven’t spent much time with drawing this year as I’ve been making films. So it felt like going home for the weekend. With a group of like-minded friends.

Now, two days later, I’m beginning to connect the work made over the weekend with some other recent research relating to river mud. I took some of my favourite work from the weekend and pinned it up on the studio wall. Yesterday I felt a little flat, so allowed myself time to develop a few things that were still lingering in my mind.

I really enjoyed the part where we were told to choose an object to draw and put it in a bag, so you couldn’t see it, and hold it in your non dominant hand. Then draw it with the dominant hand, from the sensation of holding it. I had taken a quantity of dry river mud from Garden Cliff – a beautiful rusty red colour, full of haematite. It took weeks to dry it out, in preparation to make pigment with it for printmaking. This bag of material felt quite sharp, brittle, grainy in my hand. I loved the weight of it, the way that it pressed into my palm. It reminded me a little of kinesiology. It literally gave me a sense of gravitas, held in one hand and drawn by the other. Balance. I drew with charcoal, my comfort zone material, and found myself working quite confidently, drawing almost to scale.  It is one of those I placed on the wall.

Two odd things with this red earth. One, the Mars landings and two, the possibility I may be anaemic. My body needs iron.

Yesterday morning, the day after the course ended, I was thinking a lot about how the bag of dry, crumbly earth felt in my hand and created a mono print with that memory. I laid white ink down on the block, drew into it loosely and took a print on black paper. It is fairly similar to the original charcoal drawing, but there was more of a curve underneath, showing the weight in my hand more than the original drawing did. Maybe memories really do hang heavy in our minds?

This print reminded me of another I did a week or two ago, when I pressed my  sketch pad pages onto the wet mud of the riverbank, revealed at low tide. That’s been on my wall since. It’s shaped like a brain and now, when I look at the first drawing of the soil in my hand, it think it looks like a cross between a brain and a heart.

So, going back to the soil for the drawing exercise. During the lunch break, I piled it into square glass vase then half filled it with water. It was mesmerising watching the material dissolve into the water, slowly sinking, settling. A small amount remained dry, like mountains, or icebergs, paler than the wet earth below, creating air pockets.  I made a tiny video.

It was only when I was looking intensely at it for twenty minutes that I noticed little bubbles were forming in the red liquid. Some organic matter was releasing gas from the soil into the water, compacted by the weight of the dry material above. Those little bubbles reminded me of the first exercise we did, of blowing bubbles onto paper. And of the time that a geologist explained to me that the smooth circular bumps and hollows in quarries were caused by air trapped during the rocks’ formation. When it came to drawing the vase and its earthy contents from memory, without looking, I wondered if I could include the bubbles, but using a chunky graphite pencil at a smallish scale defeated me.

Another thing I did for the first time during the drawing breath weekend was to draw my breath with my eyes closed, using dry watercolour crayons onto paper  fixed on the wall, then sprayed it with water. Like the water in the vase, the pigment was released, creating streams and drips which represented my breath flow.

We drew our lungs, our hands and, without intention, I drew a brain and a heart. Using earth loaded with iron.

body and mind

drawing and meditation

=

balance

Reeds Waving

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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

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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!)

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.