In Hampshire in August there is a glorious period when crops of wheat, barley and oats are ripe, but not yet harvested. The landscape feels full up and plentiful. I try to get out and paint at my favourite places then, the closest of which is Northfield Hill, Selborne.
In about two hours working on a small canvas I aim to complete an oil colour sketch. It’s a challenge- but fun – and so peaceful. Just a few birds and the occasional hare. My idea of heaven. Here are some views of Northfield Hill in August 2016.
Given our physical separation (we live on 3 continents and in 5 countries) and the fact that we have never met each other face to face how did we do it?
We focused on an agreed upon broad theme early on, geographical barriers were overcome through long hours, plenty of interaction online, and good Skype enabled meetings.We worked together effectively and steadily as a sturdy team, making sound progress each week including during ‘break’ weeks in our academic term schedule. We accommodated occasional absences, and delegated particular tasks to individuals so they could have the freedom and authority to proceed, yet the entire group had regular opportunities to comment and provide constructive criticism to written, and video work.
The outcome is a collaboration where the 6 individual video pieces are distinct and personal, with each artist responding uniquely to the theme of Priceless and the collaborative piece brings these together in one video that is both professional and engaging. Well done us!
“Priceless” is an online video exhibition developed and curated by six international artists. We are based on three continents and in five different countries, and working together well using our online forum site and Skype. A great use of technology. We are all studying for a BA in Fine Art.
This exciting collaboration features each of the artists unique response to the word “Priceless”, using materials and methods that are both low or no cost, and low impact. The exhibition provokes reflection on what we treasure and yet is priceless.
My own contribution entitled ‘Running’ raises questions about Why do we run? Why do we draw? It can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/165145733.
These timeless, universal, priceless activities of running and drawing are among those that intrigue me as I try to express how we explore and experience the peace and tranquility of our natural environment. I am interested broadly in how we go forward in our natural environment and in our lives never entirely sure of the outcome.
Left: Cave painting (30,000 BC) Chauvet Pont D’Arc , France. Right: Pipe cleaner runner (2016)
Some 24 inches (61 cm) of snow fell on Saturday with blizzard conditions across the State and along the East Coast of the US. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay in and be warm, and found it a magnificent storm from that vantage point.
The woods did fill up with snow. My installation also got a good covering but remains intact.
Winter has arrived with a vengeance so now time to reflect on the complete installation.
The process of making it, at work in public space and with living plants, was surprising in two different but related dimensions, the audience and the materials.
I realize that my newly engaged audience, interested in the piece over the period of its assembly, really wants to interact with the artist and the installation. It becomes of increased personal significance when the image development is direct, visible, responsive and maybe takes a little time?
“My family and I are temporary visitors to the Institute for Advanced Study. Thank you for your recent installation of public art on Springdale Road. It has been a real treat to walk past every day and wonder who or what is coming next. The children have commented each time, and argued about the animal being walked, even though it’s clearly a dog! Thank you for doing it.”
The practical support I received (with cutting head materials), and advice (‘keep going you have more space’) all improved the work, and combined with regular shots of enthusiasm from passers-by while I was on site, were an enriching source of positive feedback into the project.
Secondly, having the flexibility to choose and work with the materials I could gather locally and easily carve proved to be a sound strategy. I developed a sense of simplicity in form and an eye for contrasts in surface texture, learning that as with a painting, each figure or element affects the entire piece.
Andy Goldsworthy views his outdoor installations of living material as being at their ‘best’ when they are just completed and naturally that is when he completes his documentation, since their fragile ephemeral nature (e.g.Dandelion flowers pinned with thorns to rosebay willow herb stalks. 1985) and often precarious placement by the artist means that inevitably the materials will dissemble and decay fairly rapidly. In contrast, in the case of the epiphytes (moss), symbionts (lichen) and saprophytes (fungi) attached to the wood and bark I used, moving them gave them access to more water, more light and less competition for both by being brought into a new stable environment. As a result and with mild moist weather they thrived and grew.
It seems likely that this installation could continue to develop as a small and thus fragile but sustaining ecosystem for much longer than I originally envisioned, and I shall observe and document this with interest. A new theme and direction for my work has emerged.
John Muir would not be surprised “ When we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”.
From Muir, J (1911) My First Summer in the Sierra, Houghton Mifflin, Boston)
The weather has been mild for the past few weeks until now, which is unusual here in December. In response to the warmer and wetter conditions several of the species growing on the bark and wood of my installation have either continued to grow or some new species have colonized and are doing well. You can see a ‘new’ colonizing brown shiny fungus (Auricularia sp.)in the photograph above.
It’s as though the whole piece is thriving, living and settling in. Not at all what I expected. Only the ivy has wilted a little, until recently.
My installation does not fully ‘cover’ all of the fence area that runs along the road, and informally people have said to me ‘Why don’t you just keep going and fill it up?’ So far I have not had the time to continue the piece but now am planning to, but with a shift of imagery and slight change in materials. I think five figures is enough, and more of these may in fact be less.
I am planning to add some ivy or evergreen plant material to extend the line running along the bottom of the installation that really holds the piece together visually. I then will try to create the impression of a small piece of woodland that the figures could notionally be moving towards. Not using bark, but more twigs and branches, and with interesting color on them if I can find it.
All well and good but I need to refurbish supplies and so today on one of the shortest daylight days of the year I have been down in the woods with my secateurs searching for more materials. Managed to smile at myself, as I rejected many small pieces of wood that are easily available since they were not interesting enough, insufficient texture or surface color. The foray was time-consuming because I was so particular but it was also fairly successful. Now I just needed a lot of ivy and sourced that from our garden!
Could not resist adding one further small piece of observed life in the woods- a bird!
The big day dawned and all the figures were completed including fitting the dog with a collar and bone.
Thanksgiving 2015 was a cool but sunny morning. The 5K run/walk starts at 8.30pm. As the promotion says:-
“Enjoy a favorite area tradition, prepare for your Thanksgiving feast, run through scenic Princeton, NJ and help people in need. Run or walk in the Trinity Church Turkey Trot, a family friendly 5-K benefit event.”
I set up the camera on a tripod on the opposite verge from the installation and lay in wait for the first runners.
These are serious athletes, not really interested in public art along the way. They are racing plus they are coming to the first and only ‘hill’.
As the parade of 2,000 or so runners and walkers came by, the pace slowed, people had more time and enjoyed the view. Hooray!
A comment that day from a fellow walker and artist (photographer):-
“Your installation is terrific! I love the idea of computer- (ASCII-) like figures rendered not just in analog–but in PLANT. What a lovely addition to the neighborhood, and perfect for that spot! It’s true, from the few “site-specific” things I did, I thought the interactions with people are the best part. I’m curious about how everything is held together in your piece, but perhaps all is revealed in the blog. I’ll take a look as a treat during the post-turkey food coma.”
Following my foray for more materials, I now have the final figure – the cross- country skier layout planned. This one is a bit more difficult with moss covered bark for the figure, and skis and ski poles that are more 3 dimensional than the bark pieces.
I also decided to move the rope down a few inches. It acts as the surface for the figures and I believe holds the composition of the group together.
Set about affixing the skier on a bright but cool morning, and it did take longer than the others to fix firmly onto the fence.
As I was working several people stopped to chat, including an Australian couple who said they had enjoyed seeing the figures develop over the past 10 days, and that the cyclist was their favorite. Always good to know.
I explain to everyone that the installation will only last as long as the materials and then will literally go away, and I think viewers find that intriguing “I must make sure my children see it..” as one woman runner remarked.
“That art should be permanent or impermanent is not the issue. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature and should not be confused with an attitude towards art generally. I have never been against the well-made or long-lasting.”
Goldsworthy.A (1990) Andy Goldsworthy: A collaboration with Nature.
I now have some materials for the heads- at last. I want to keep them simple and schematic so they do not detract from the texture and color of the rest of the figures. It would be so easy to embellish and get rather fussy, and I really don’t want that.
As I work on the pieces I am finding that each figure interacts with the entire group, and adds something new to the whole piece. I am finding that I’m spacing them out more than I originally thought and they are becoming a little larger. I have space for this and maybe the encouragement I have had from passers by has made me more confident?
Have had a couple of responses to my request for comments by e-mail. Here is one:-
“I walked by your fence for the first time in a week and when I came up to the art on your fence, I had to pause and smile, it is so subtle and pleasant, just blends in….And then more was added since yesterday so I anticipate the next and next additions. I will never look at the bark in our wood pile in the same way again, in fact, picked up two pieces of bark from our driveway, that you may consider for future additions! “
Went down to the woods to search out and bring back more and different materials. There is plenty of dead wood and bark available. Hurricane Sandy hit this area in October 2012, and many, many trees came down. The wood is now rotting from those fallen trees but the bark remains and some has moss and lichen on it – some nothing; there is a great variety.