Category Archives: thinking

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!

 

 

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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 …

Sand and salt bags

I’ve had some little pieces drying in the beach hut and they are now done. These are experiments. I don’t know yet if they will be developed into something else but they have several properties that are quite promising.

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The pieces have been filled with a mixture of sand and salt and soaked in the sea until wet through and then left. They have taken between three and four weeks to dry out fully.

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The smaller pieces were inspired by heaving lines – a lightweight line with a weight at the end, made to be thrown between a ship and the shore, or from one ship to another, and used to pull a heavier line across. The weight in them is really pleasing. I often feel that 3-D textile work lacks heft so I am really pleased with their heaviness.

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The longer piece was made simply to see how much sand/salt could be stuffed into a small work before it became too heavy…… it’s not too heavy to hang! Again I really like the feeling of gravity – you can see the weight of the sand/salt pulling the cloth down towards the ground.

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Food for thought …..

Waves

I am wrestling with making work at the moment – too many ideas means that I can’t settle comfortably to one thing. I jump around from one idea to the next, not really sure whether things are working or not. It’s a state I’ve been in before – I just have to keep going and remember wise words that I read somewhere (sorry I can’t remember where) and that is that if you know what you are doing you are not being creative.

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Walking always helps – often ideas occur to me or connections are made as I walk myself into a meditative state. However, even though sometimes there is revelation, more often than not there is silence.

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A couple of days ago I went down to the beach in-between rainy showers for a much needed breath of fresh air. The tide was coming in. Watching it flood over the sand flats and fill the dips and hollows in an inexorable movement forward is mesmerising. I find I have the need to map its coming in – to measure its flow. A quick line made in the sand with my foot marks a spot a few metres back from the edge. Waves ripple forwards in surges, back and forth, advancing and retreating, until the line is reached. It makes me think of my grandfather who always said that the seventh wave is bigger. I count the waves. This piece of folklore is not scientifically correct but there are occasional bigger waves and they seem to push the tide further in.

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Watching and counting the waves I start to notice. The more I look, the more I notice and the more I make connections to what I see and what I think. Crossing lines of foamy water relate to small line drawings I have been doing recently. Tiny bubbles make me think of a different way of making holes in cloth. A small shred of bladder wrack that floats in connects to some salt and sand pieces I have been making and suggests something new.

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A breath of fresh air has cleared my head and luckily this time I have found the impetus to go on.

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Mapping place

I’ve done a lot of stitching recently – over one hundred eyelets so far and I’m not even half way there! I stitch myself into a meditative state and as I stitch I think (probably over think). I turn over haphazard ideas  trying to fit things together.  Every now and again I jump up to look something up in a book. I thought it was worth putting down these latest ponderings about the Soundmark pieces that I am making at the moment – they are central to what I am trying to achieve. ‘A more profound engagement must depend upon more than the visual, upon those things that remain invisible’. Tacita Dean  ‘Hearing structure and articulates the experience and understanding of space’. Juhani Pallasmaa P1230247 Understanding an environment or place is to understand how you sense it. Its light, its texture, its atmosphere and its sound – eyes, ears, hands, feet. It’s about time spent and the changes that take place over time. Its ups and downs, nears and fars, louds and softs, movements, rhythms and silences. P1230246 An understanding is not arrived at by just seeing, or just hearing or just feeling but by a mixture of all the senses together. P1230243 Take walking for instance. Your feet feel the ground. Your ears hear your footsteps as they beat a continuous rhythm on its surface. Your legs feel the slope – up or down, and as you breathe deeply your temperature rises. All around you sounds, both near and far, come and go. Your eyes confirm all of these sensations. P1230240 To map these sensations as an artwork is not to suggest the visual alone but to integrate all these feelings. Ups and downs (height) become highs and lows (pitch). Large and small (distance) become loud and soft (dynamic). Events – visual, aural and textural – that occur one after the other (succession and duration) are rhythms that happen in time. The gaps between, either spatial or durational become silences. P1230236 I think of these as a type of 3-dimensional graph: height as up/down or pitch, breadth as time and rhythm, depth as distance, either large/small or loud /soft. Uniting all of these sensations is texture: the visual, aural and haptic qualities of air, land and sea – atmosphere and weather, rock, earth and water. P1230237 The lines, shapes and forms of my artworks recall the contours, movements, rhythms and textures of the environment – water on the beach and marsh, air waves, sea waves and sound waves. They bring to mind things I have seen or heard or felt. They don’t describe but are ambiguous and can have several meanings: of sound, of sight, of touch. P1230239 The photos are small watercolour drawings.  They contain impressions, feelings and hearings done from memory and with imagination.