Category Archives: thinking

Thinking/making

My Iceland collection has expanded and this is what my work table looks like at the moment. I have made some more plaster reliefs, but you will also see that other found objects have crept in.

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Flints and oyster shells with holes made from boring sponges collected on the the beach here in Wells have been included in the collection as I start to make connections between the objects found in Iceland and more familiar objects found here on the beach at home. The shape and texture of the Icelandic bone fragments bear more than a passing resemblance to the pieces of broken flint and likewise the small Icelandic volcanic pebbles relate directly to the holed shells.

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I make some more plaster reliefs, this time of flints, and as a direct representation they work very well. However, I want something that is more open to interpretation …. something that has been created out of my own imagination and that is able to blur the boundaries between the bone/flint and shell/pebble samples.

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In an attempt to better understand the shape and form of the flints and bones I draw them and in doing so I realise that the reliefs don’t do what I want them to do; their bases are too square and uniform, and the pressed forms are incomplete. I want a full 3-d form. So I try something else and enclose a flint protrusion in clay and fill the resulting indentation with plaster.

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This small fragment (it’s about 5cm high) could be either bone or stone.

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I make some more ambiguous fragments and feel as if they are closer to, but not exactly what I am aiming for. I think it was the producer John Read who said, ‘Art is the expression of the imagination not the imitation of real life’. I am not trying to imitate or to recreate but to make something new and to create new connections. My thinking and making continues!

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Leading lights

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Recently two red and white triangles have appeared in the trees on the dune behind the last beach hut on Wells beach. The Wells Harbour website (I keep my eye on this for news when in Surrey) tells me that they are refurbished and reinstated channel transits. The triangles, which are visible offshore, are placed one above the other and when they appear in line, they indicate a safe course for boats in through the harbour entrance. At night they would originally have been lit by paraffin lamps, but now they appear to have up-to-date solar powered lights. These particular transits were in use from the 1700s to the mid 1900s. I have always known this type of signal as leading lights.

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As a child (and I must confess, still today) I was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books and anyone who has read them will remember the Swallows finding their way into the secret harbour on Wildcat Island at night with the use of leading lights.

Titty saw them, flickering among the trees and then disappearing again as they were hidden by big rocks south of the island.

John paddled on slowly.

‘There they are again,’ said Susan.

‘Close together,’ said Titty.

John turned round from his rowing and had a good look at two small stars twinkling over the water.

‘Right,’ he said, I’m going to do nothing but row if you’ll keep your eyes on the lights.’

‘Are they still close together?’ asked John.

‘Fairly close,’ said Susan.

‘Where is the top light?’ asked captain John.

‘A bit to the left of the low one,’ said Susan.

John pulled a stroke or two, pulling a little harder with his right. ‘Sing out as soon as it is just above it.’

‘It’s above it now. Now it’s a bit to the right of it.’

John pulled his left.

‘Above it.’

Tell me the moment it is one side or the other.’

‘The lights are exactly one above the other,’ said Susan.

John had shipped the oars and was now sculling over the stern.

‘The lights are quite close to us, ‘ said Roger, and as he said it there was a gentle scrunch as Swallow’s nose touched the soft, pebbly beach of the little harbour.

Captain John had used his leading lights for the first time, and had made his harbour in pitch dark.

 How exciting!

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The idea of a boat, or indeed a body in the landscape, having to move from left to right or up and down to get the correct view of something – to line it up – reminds me of research that I did during my MA about ideas of experiencing the environment. Anthropologist, Christopher Tilley writes in his book, The Materiality of Stone, ‘The body is continually improvising its relationship with things … constantly opening itself out to the world as it moves in it. The manner in which we sense the world remains forever incomplete and ambiguous because we always experience things from a particular point of view or relationship. The body is open to the world but things are always hidden from it.’

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The idea that I could make a piece of work that moves in and out of focus or that only appears as it should from one particular viewpoint is a powerful one. Different elements could line up, as with the leading lights, to make a whole. Or one part of the work could hide another, only to be revealed  as you move or peer around it. To actively walk around in order to experience a work would relate to the way we experience objects outside in the environment, where their size and shape appear to alter as we change our relationship to them. From different directions and with a different order of seeing, things do not have the appearance of sameness.

Seeing the Wells leading lights has got me thinking, but I’m not sure where this one is going yet …..

Brisons Veor – first thoughts

Wow! I’ve been back from Cornwall for a couple of days now and my mind is still buzzing with the many impressions and experiences of the past week.

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Of course, I went with expectations and pre-conceived ideas. Before I left, decisions had to be made about the materials to take and these were based on what I thought I would like to do and what I would like to investigate. Naturally, all expectations were confounded, but little glimmers of something new have been planted in my mind as a result.

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The sun came out on the last day but its was still cold and windy

The process of exploring a new place, I’ve discovered, can never be pre-judged. There can certainly be tried and tested methods of working, but you never know what the environment, the weather or your own physical and metal state will be at any fixed time. You can only deal with what is happening now.

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Out of the studio window

I went to Brisons Veor hoping to work with the sounds of that place. I wanted to listen actively and deeply so that I could understand it aurally. But that didn’t happen quite as I thought it would. Brisons Veor is at Cape Cornwall, a small headland that juts out into the Atlantic. The cottage is the most westerly residence in England. It perches on the edge of a granite cliff and at high tide it is only metres away from a boiling sea. We had ‘winter’ weather. The noise of the wind and the waves was constant. The howling, whistling and roaring virtually blocked out all other sounds. Only occasionally did a faint bird call penetrate the all-encompassing cacophony. I went hoping for a multi-coloured palette of sound but, if this existed, it was drowned out by the natural conditions at that particular time.

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There can be no sound without movement and sitting high on the cliff by the coastguard station or down on the beach in the cove there was wild movement everywhere. The wind, eddied and gusted. Heavier gusts buffeted me so that I was physically moved. It whistled through the gap between my head and my hat, it flapped at my my coat and froze my fingers. The act of hearing the wind became confused with being touched by the wind.

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Porth Ledden on the other side of the Cape

High on a cliff is, for me, an unfamiliar way of seeing the sea. In Norfolk I look at it from ground level and from that angle there is less sea and more sky. But at Cape Cornwall, from such an elevated position, the sea and sky are almost equal. Below me, the force of the waves is broken by the cliffs and the tall rocks that lie scattered all along the coast. Their crash and roar is a continuous white noise as they break and ebb. All around me is movement and noise, but far out across the waves on the horizon, is stillness and silence. The further the distance the calmer and quieter it gets.

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The weather conditions continued for the whole seven days. Each time I stepped out of the cottage I was confronted by the same symphony of wind and waves. Whilst I was there I was disappointed. I felt that this ‘noise’ blocked out the sound detail. But I was wrong. This wildness and movement and sheer, overwhelming sensation was the most important thing about the place at that point in time. The sound was uncontrollable and immense and the movement that produced it was ever-moving, ever-changing and multi-layered.

From my sketchbook:

There is no movement without sound.

There is no sound without movement.

All around me, extending outwards

the duet of sea and wind.

But out on the horizon is stillness.

No sound reaches me from there.

I’m not sure what will come out of these first thoughts. All week I wrote and drew and printed and made. I have collected a lot of data and documented it. Next time I’ll show you some of the things I did and give my thoughts on them ……

Simple starting points

I’ve started making a new piece of work. I’m at the beginning of the process and although I’m beyond the first sampling and trying out stage, I’m still in, ‘not quite sure exactly how this will turn out’ mode. I thought I’d write a little about some of its origins and a few ideas I am pondering at the moment.

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The form of this work comes from Minimalist music that originated in America in the mid-sixties. This type of music broke away from the classical tradition to be more chaotic and you could say, less musical.

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Some of the features of Minimalist music are:

  • Layers of repeated rhythmic, melodic or harmonic patterns that are repeated many times (the proper word is ostinato).
  • Repeated patterns that gradually change over time.
  • Layered textures

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Composers included Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

I remember taking part in a performance of Terry Riley’s In C, when I was at music college and being completely amazed by the way a seemingly simple score could create such complex sounds.

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In C consists of 53 separate bars of music in the key of C, each with a different melodic and rhythmic pattern.  Players repeat each bar as many times as they wish before moving onto the next. The result is an ever-changing web of sound where complicated patterns and unpredictable combinations of the set bars occur.

The idea that one simple form, when repeated over and over again, can produce complex and multifarious patterns is very beguiling and is also very relevant to visual art. The work I am making at the moment is made up of a simple, repeated form. When assembled these forms will create an altogether new and more complex work. I think that this work is the simplest interpretation of the idea…..

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….but already my mind is moving on to how I could make an even more complex work from the simplest of ideas: very, very, simple repeated, rhythmic layers that slip in and out of sync with each other to make a complex work.

However, for now, it’s on with the sewing – there’s a lot to do.  More on this project later as I progress!

 

 

Waiting

My family have filled the house for the holiday weekend and with bad weather forecast we were expecting to be stuck indoors, so what a delight it was to wake up this morning to find clear blue sky. There was a definite feeling that spring was round the corner and for the first time this year you could contemplate going out without a coat. I sneaked out of the house quite early to go and sniff the air and with the warming sun and water filling the channel my mind turned towards boating.

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Most of the running moorings up the beach bank are empty at this time of the year. The slack ropes, which are caught at each end by a short metal post, are thick with marsh mud and tangled with sea-wrack that has accumulated through lack of use over the winter months. 

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The fat shackles that attach the rope to the posts shine out in the sun….

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…. and plastic buoys that mark out the moorings are dotted, in and out of the water, along the shoreline.

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One or two boats have been left out, exposed to the elements, over the winter. With their paintwork peeling and their metal fittings rusted they look rather a sorry sight.

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Our small boat has been stored snugly in a barn since the autumn, but with the prospect of stormy rain tomorrow, the mooring will have to wait for a few more weeks before we risk taking her out. Today has given me a hint of the pleasures to come later in the year.

Place, memory and the act of recording

It is wonderful when you realise that you have gained knowledge without actually having to do anything particular!

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This is what happens every time I step outside and take a walk. Sometimes I take a sketchbook or a camera with me to record the things that I notice, but more often than not I take only myself. I walk and I chat (if I’m with other people) but I’m not consciously looking for something new and exciting.

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The natural world is always changing: the light, the direction of the wind, the weather and the atmosphere are never constant. Different forces, both visible and invisible, act with or against each other, on the land and in the air, to produce fluctuating conditions. Sometimes these conditions are fleeting – like the bright flash of the horizon when the sun shines on a stormy sky behind it or a strong gust of wind that catches dry sand and blows it across the beach. Because of this mutability there is nearly always something to notice and store away and I never know when these nuggets of information will come to me or what they will be.

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The walks I do up here on the North Norfolk coast are very familiar as I have been walking over the same ground for 20 years, and this repeated exposure to the same place has caused me to build a personal relationship with the landscape. What I take from the place: the things I see, hear and touch, I take in because I am me and because I am interested in certain things. I love this place because it provides me with these things and another person might well be immune to them. By walking repeatedly along a particular path new things seem to jump out at me (being deeply acquainted with a place makes uncommon occurrences obvious) and these are stored away, adding to the history of memories and experiences that I already have.

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Although the work I am making at the moment started elsewhere, I have become to realise that it is actually about these transitory moments. They are trivial, inconsequential things that, because of me being me, I have noticed: a sound, a movement and a play of light.  I haven’t recorded the ‘noticings’ anywhere other than in my memory and the act of making this work is an act of recording the memory of immaterial, and sometimes invisible, phenomena with physical materials. I suppose this reciprocal taking and giving between myself and the environment – me subconsciously taking and the environment offering – is, for me, one definition of a sense of place.

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These photos were taken recently on a walk from Morston to Blakeney …. and I did have my camera with me on that occasion!

In which I feel lost but come up with a plan

I’m feeling rather reluctant at the moment to show you things! I’m working on several ideas but nothing seems to be resolving itself into finished work at the moment. This happens. When I’m in ‘nothing is working’ mode sometimes the best thing is not to think but to just make what feels right. I firmly believe you can overthink and often it is only when the work is made that the ideas and the objects can be joined together to make a whole. I often remember Terry Frost who said that the thinking happens before and after the making. When actually making (or in his case painting) it is all about putting materials together – not concepts.

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For the past weeks (or indeed months) sewn eyelets are what seem to be right for me and I’ve made quite a few small cloths in an attempt to feel my way. I hadn’t looked at them for three or four weeks as I’ve been busy doing other things, but this morning I got them out and they seem to be a lot better than I remembered! I feel reinvigorated as suddenly I can see potential.

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On the whole the things I want to make are not direct representations of landscape or place. They are ambiguous objects that are inspired by a huge number of experiences and memories that are the result of being in the environment. Textures, sounds, objects and happenings all come into play and sometimes it is a puzzle to pin everything down to the what, where, when and how.

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For these works however I do know that I am interested in the physical qualities of the cloth – the actual cloth used, its colour, scale and the processes used to make it into its final realisation, rather than using it as a surface for an image or narrative.

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For now the plan is to keep going down this route and see what happens …