carolynblackart blog

The Bean Project revisited after 15 years (actually 20 now!)

Recently I sent out some Morning Glory seeds in a handmade seed-pack to family and friends. Intended to send hope and optimism, beautiful flowers to enjoy over what could be a long summer.

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This blogpost is a re-share and refers to my first ever website project – all about growing.

My niece, Erin, is sending me daily photos of her seedlings growing, which is delightful! This all makes sense of my Story of Objects project too. Sometimes little things are loaded with love. It is said we need daily routine in our lives, especially at times like this. That will explain why there are so many fab projects emerging online.

Instagram: #nicoloneaday2020 #oneadayephemeralartproject2020

Facebook: What do you see from your window? #StayAtHome The Story of Objects (one of mine!)

Twitter: #fractalOfTheDay #DailyArt

Here are Erin’s daily photographs of the Morning Glory seedlings.

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Flow Contemporary Arts

The Bean Project 2002 – archived here: http://iloveepoetry.com/?p=196#more-196

There is something very wonderful about a friend finding my first-ever web based text project 15 years after I made it in 2017. There it is, The Bean Project, tucked away in a corner of cyberspace – the source files all gone, the software I used to programme it defunct and the browsers advanced beyond what could be imagined when it was first written. Thanks to Leonardo Flores, of I ♥ E-Poetry for taking care of it for me. Odd to think it’s used as a teaching tool in a university in Puerto Rico – but then that is the wonder of the web. I have often referred to the root meaning of the word ‘curate’ as taking care of, so this is a good example of what that makes reference to.

It was while I was doing my MA in Fine…

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Covid19, the rural idyll & climate change

Take a look at this video clip:

Is this your rural idyll?

In the light of the shutdowns occurring across the world, we are undoubtedly struggling to do everyday things that we take for granted. Travel, work, leisure, exercise, culture – all disrupted. How are you coping? Is it very different from your usual everyday life, or is it not dissimilar, but a bit more extreme? Do you miss the noise, the pollution, the packed trains, the spontaneous flights to sunnier climes? The casual shopping therapy to bide your time spending your hard-earned cash?

The video shows a world where nature is simulated, but you can’t touch it. The good old days, when you could walk into a shop and be greeted at the counter, not two metres away from it. The game is as surreal as our present reality

Until Covid19 the headlines were all about XR, climate change and Brexit. Conversations about those subjects have gone as quiet as our skies and our roads. They are still an issue, but we have taken our eye off the ball, big time. Now the only balls we hear about are rich footballers bemoaning loss of income, or Wimbledon players not being able to play tennis. Really – is that what the majority of people are worrying about? I doubt it. They are more likely concerned about friends, family and incomes. While the media carry stories about unimaginably well-payed sports people, at home people are worrying about the NHS, the service providers, the people who are important to our survival. And we thank them wholeheartedly.

This planet rolls on, for now. It is the biggest ball we rely on for our survival, yet we are still not keeping our eye on it. When I watched the promotion for the Walden Pond video game (above) it made me question the rural idyll – the quietness, the tranquillity, the sense of solitude. Not aloneness, which can feel very sad, but solitude, an act of choice, of preference. Those of us who create things often relish thinking time, making time. A house by a peaceful lake would be our dream, as it was Thoreau’s. But for many, this is a nightmare. I was intrigued by the mostly accurate depiction of natural objects in the video, and how they move – the water, the sky, the creatures. And mildly amused by the awkwardness of the little boat, very badly located on the bank. Solid objects are difficult to simulate in soft surfaces, just as  hard thoughts are challenging when your brain is muddied by fearful thoughts.

Back to Thoreau, my sister told me he didn’t live in isolation, as she discovered it whilst researching for her book Technobiophilia:

“By his own admission, he [Thoreau] was hardly isolated. He regularly walked into Concord to dine, read the papers, visit the post office and have his laundry washed and mended.” Sue Thomas Technobiophilia, page 160)

walden drawing for technobiophilia
image (c)carolyn black in Technobiophilia

It is a bit like that now, with the pandemic. Those of us who live in rural areas feel like we are enjoying a period of solitude, the rural idyll, but we are still connecting with the wider world. Thoreau didn’t have the internet, he just had newspapers, aren’t we lucky!

So what interests me is how so many groups are setting up online forums of support and activity for local groups. Possibly the biggest loss to those who live in villages is not having a chat in the waiting room at the doctors, or in the local pub. Now they go online to their village Facebook page, or join a What’s App Group. Which is great. But there is a risk that unless those conversations are held wider,  localism to such a miniscule level may make us forget the bigger picture.

The media talk about the ‘British’ suffering with the pandemic, yet it is world-wide and others suffer far more than we do. And while it spreads ever wider and wider, individual’s daily lives are shrinking. So many people are switching off the news because they simply can’t bear it. Brexit was like that too.

Social and physical distancing is an imperative, a necessity. And online socialising is a great replacement to fill the gaps. But let’s not let interactions come down to the lowest denominator. Localism is important, but the planet matters more.

Back to the awkwardly placed boat on the side of the pond. It reminded me of me. Of the other day when I walked by the Severn and wanted to lie down on my back and watch the clouds. There was no-one in sight, so I did. I don’t usually lie down outside in public places, as I am a little ungainly when I do so. But that didn’t matter. And when I settled with my spine firmly grounded on the earth and watched the huge white clouds zooming across a bright blue sky, I thought to myself “if it has to be zoom, can it be this type of zoom please?”.

While the media bemoan economic crashes, find yourself a safe space, a private place, make the most of it, because it won’t last forever. Take the opportunity to lie on your back and wonder, wouldn’t it be great if it was always as quiet as this? And how can we move to make that our rural idyll?

How about we steer some of our strategic thinking back to planetary issues? Use online interactions to do something useful. We are getting used to our narrower lives now, our new normal, and no doubt enjoying the resultant quietness of it all. This *is* the rural idyll we have been going on holiday to find. We are living it. Go for a walk from your house, see how far you can go without meeting a soul. Listen. Look at the springtime rising out of the soil, blooming on the hawthorn bushes, the blackthorn. Wild garlic to eat, ferns unfurling. The sky above, only occasionally. chalked with the vapour trail from a transatlantic plane. Good trains keeping our industries going, farmers still working the land, tending their livestock.

Let’s get through this together and plan for what is ahead. I’d like to hear from others about this, as I am sure I am not alone. If we are going to talk online, on phones, over garden fences, let’s talk about the long-term future of the world. Doing so may also distract our thoughts from immediate concerns, like getting more toilet paper.

Our communities are getting stronger together now, it is no longer the rhetoric of ‘big society’ – people are actively working together to find solutions, and that is brilliant.

Let’s hold onto that thought and keep our eye on the ball, collectively.

 

 

Find your crying place – unstable horizons

Find Your Crying Place

Screenshot unstable horizons stillDo you have a happy place, a crying place, or both?

It is common to refer to ‘being in a happy place’ as a metaphor for feeling good, we are rarely referring to a location when we refer to our happy place.

A crying place is different. It is somewhere we visit, to lie low, like a wild animal. To calm anxiety, to release tears. More often than not, it is a specific location. It may be indoors or outside, in a cupboard under the stairs or at the top of a mountain. Whether the space is vast or enclosed, it must hold us. Because we are unable to hold ourselves and we brim over. It must allow us to have solitude.

A crying place is somewhere, where one can release emotion, often in private and feel safe, unobserved. It is a very important place.

Whilst we are confined to our homes due to the Covid19 pandemic feeling alone can be challenging. Some people may find being at home with family a wonderful opportunity to bond, others might be struggling badly for many reasons. Social media is flooding with videos of happy families singing together, communities getting together on conference platforms and reading poetry, doing yoga, discussing gardening. But not all families are so happy, and whereas previously they could walk out and escape, now they can’t so easily do that. Sometimes getting out is a necessity for vulnerable people.

As an antithesis to the parental mantra of ‘get outside to play and get off that screen’ we are now going to our computers in droves. They are our life line. After many years of social media being slammed and considered the devil because ‘people don’t get out any more’, it is now our only social centre, bar the telephone and letter-writing. No shops, libraries, gyms or community centres.

The saving grace is that we can go out for exercise once a day. So we need to make that outing enjoyable. And I do!

I decided to find a new crying place to visit. In my book, ‘Severnside – An Artist’s View of The Severn’, I mention a previous crying place, from which I looked out over the Severn.

Shepperdine was my bolthole, I went there when the currents of my emotions were dragging me down. I would walk along with my dogs and sing a favourite song from choir – “All will be well, all will be well”. The Severn lifts my spirits, always has, always will.

Initially, I had described it as my crying place, then dropped that term in favour of bolthole. The earlier drafts described how I would go there when I felt upset, take the dogs and lie on the slope of the flood-bank and sob. I remember how it felt, to get out of my home and release my feelings into the open air, unobserved by others. I smile now as I write this as I notice the word flood-bank is a very apt one. On reflection, by later editing out the lying on the grass sobbing part, even in my autobiographical book, I was unable to present myself as vulnerable. Instead, I described myself as a positive, optimistic, happy-clappy woman singing songs as I walked.

How hard it is to be honest with oneself about these things. Writing this is my self-imposed penance. Self-isolation is inclined to evoke contemplation of life and the universe.

When I finally left the east bank of the river to live on the west bank, I had to relocate myself in the local landscape too. Where I live now is very close the banks of the Severn, so I set off up into the hills behind the village to walk and explore and get the long view. On the way up to Pleasant Stile, across the meadows, there was a tree-stump at the top of the last field. It was high, about one and a half metres, and I used to climb up onto it and gaze at the horseshoe bend of the river below me and look over to the Cotswolds. It became my Forest of Dean crying place. I would sit and draw, breathe, cry and wonder at the world, then return home feeling lighter, relieved of my burdens. Looking the other way, I occasionally drew the view of May Hill in the distance.

What needs mentioning here, is that both of these places inspired me. When there, I took photos, did drawings, recorded sounds, collected flotsam and jetsam, read books. Not surprising that my professional work as a producer involves commissioning art for unusual locations and I wrote a book about the Severn.

Back to the now, this strange time when we are challenged by having both everything to do, and nothing to do, at the same time. One piece of exercise allowed outdoors a day, but where to go? The tree stump has been removed, to run a new track through the fields. Electric fences now zig-zag the hillside and the footpath is hard to follow. I miss it, but everything has its moment. Things change.

I decided I must relish my time outside, so I struck off for a walk in a direction I hadn’t been for many years, because last time I went the footpaths were untended and impossible to get through. I sought to try again, heartened by seeing someone from a distance walking there.

Suffice to say I have found a new crying place. At a time when everything else is moving fast and furious with unexpected twists and turns, I found the place to ground me, to escape to. Next to the Severn, my anchor. With open views and wildlife, washed up branches, quiet corners to lie down in, off the path.

My days of self-isolation are over. Yes, I am in my tiny house every day apart from the necessary outings for food. But now I have purpose – a new series of photographs and films so far, maybe some drawing when it gets warmer. There is a swing on a tree facing the river, with a railway behind it. The occasional passing trains fracture the soundscape, the roads are now very quiet. I swing. I film.

Sitting on the crooked wooden seat, I am in my happy place. Lying on the ground, looking up at the clouds, the tears scud down my face as I consider how special this world is, how good it is to be alive and to be able to lie there. Unseen, alone and coping (just).

The swing connects me with my creative inner child and lying on my back on the ground, my adult.

Right now, I need both, due to unstable horizons.

(also published onMedium)

associated video film:

 

 

PS I will have a new batch of copies of Severnside – An Artist’s View of The River for sale very soon. Get in touch if you want one – there will only be 100 copies available.

REACHING SATURATION POINT

Listening to the weather when I awake

It is unsettled and petulant

With a grey moody texture

Swishes of tyres, squelching of feet

The soundtrack of recent weeks

Puddles become pools become rivers

Heavy grey skies mirrored in a spectacular waterland

As far as the eye can see

Water defies boundaries, bursts banks, streams over bridges

Natures rule book sodden then swept away

Trees dance thrash then snap

Wrenched from the earth by turbulent storms

We have slipped, fallen, gone under

Into the depths of climate change

Yet still we build build build on flood plains

Our infrastructure crumbles

A saturated honeycomb of potholes 

A lonely island with fractures and fissures

In a state of collapse

We must listen to this saturated land

thinking about David Abram film – Becoming Animal

“It’s weird, you know, the way so many people accept the notion that stone is inanimate, that rock doesn’t move. I mean, really, this here cliff moves me every time that I see it.”
― David Abram, Becoming Animal

The issue of [a film] being a record of human existence is very powerful, our need to use tech to document human behaviour, as we do so when we document the world around us. The only painful thing, as an artist/filmmaker,  is it is pointless, because once humans become extinct, there will be no means for other species to access our existence through those technologies.” 

That last line is, I feel, key to the issue: “once humans become extinct, there will be no means for other species to access our existence through those technologies.”

What does this mean to me, to humanity, to the process of being an artist, a film-maker, a writer, a recorder. Have we become little more than  recorders of our own demise? 

Why do we document our lives?  With social media abounding many of us do that daily, others write, draw, make films, make objects. If ALL human beings cease to exist, will any of that matter?

Abram talks eloquently about the arrival of language and the word. How that major change in perception, that ability to verbalise, to describe, to record, overpowered our sensory bodies. To some degree, one might say that our bodies have become little more than sensors in the service of production of useless artefacts. 

And whilst we avidly document, photograph, capture what the natural world consists of, we have lost our ability to be part of nature, no longer on equal terms. We act as if it is there to serve us. But to what end?  And, should it be that humans disappear from the face of the planet, yet other species survive, what will our recording efforts mean to them?

nothing

As I write this, I recall an essay I wrote years ago, Virtual Lobotomy, which is on Medium and still resonates with this thinking. Essentially, my studio had been burgled and I reflected on whether digital content existed or not, and questioned what, exactly, had I lost?

“When I lost my digital files, the concept of memory returned to its original meaning. Much of the lost work remains only in my memory, as opposed to the computer’s memory, with no material evidence of its prior existence.”

Implications for my studio practice

I have made copious notes while watching the film. Oddly for me, they are handwritten in a paper book. Whilst for many that is their usual way of notetaking, it is not mine. Primarily because my handwriting is terrible. I once made a film about it, with subtitles and voiceover (in Georgian), which was part of the double bind of bad handwriting needing deciphering.

What fascinates me about Becoming Animal is that it has a meta-narrative. It is a film about documentary film-making. About how the film crew capture, edit, and represent what they want the viewer to see. A rich palimpsest  of construct upon construct.

The filming method raises awareness of the lens based visuals, the conceit of exploring the natural world through a lens, editing that, then sharing it as film footage. The collaged layers, the juxtaposition of human and animal, the visual parallels exposed. The film-makers process, their presence in the frames, their equipment unhidden from the viewer, as mostly happens in wildlife programmes on TV. The soundtrack also creates a nature/culture experience, the sounds of the animals urinating juxtaposed with a running river. One of the high points of human sensibility of the sublime is when choral human voices rise up and drown out the sounds of the wild. Or when the elk’s groans are drowned out by the noise of cars on the road.

There is a lot of static camera work, a la David Lodge, with creatures (this term is used by me to denote both animals and humans) ambling in and out of frame. But there is also a point where the cameraman talks to the viewer about how his gaze sometimes tracks a bird in the sky. Later on in the film, you hear him say “we must catch that” as he looks up – this time, a plane, not a bird, crosses the mountainous skyline. 

David Abram shares his thoughts to camera too. He is very camera conscious of the fact that we shall be passively observing him, more aware of the camera’s gaze than the wild animals are. We must not forget that those ‘wild’ animals are living within a gated community of a wildlife park, therefore more used to being objectified than Abram is.

I must not forget that when I visit the river, I become part of that place. Moved by it. Touched by it. It may sense my gaze. When I make drawings of it I use earth materials to depict it – charcoal, chalk. When I film it I honour it with light and capture not only the visual but the sound too. The birds wrap around me when I stay still. I become invisible to them.

I dislike being photographed and filmed, yet the artworks I make reveal me more than any lens will ever do.

Here are some experimental films I have been making, in response to this thinking

 

 

 

Both sides of the Severn – prints on show at Slimbridge Wildfowl & Wetland Trust

Ever since I did the drawings of opposite banks of the Severn I have wanted to do huge drawings on opposite sides of a corridor, positioning the viewer in the centre of the river.

So far, this is the nearest I have got to that. Today I hung framed prints of the original huge panoramic drawings (sorry, all sold) on opposite walls. Only a few pairings, but hopefully it works.

I think it works, but would love to hear from you if you see them. I have long been a fan of Slimbridge WWT. About 25 years ago I ran some printmaking courses there. It is a great place to take the family, the birds are of course wonderful! When we took our small children we always took towels and a change of clothes – inevitably they would get wet though intention or accident.

Hope you can get along, they do make rather charming presents for river lovers and dwellers.

capturing a river is one thing….

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

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

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

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