Triptych (2016 – present)
1. Rock Art (by my own yardstick)
2. Snapshots Art (Heptateuch Heptaptych)
3. Art Grab (Non Jaffa Citrus Item 1/5800)
1. Rock Art (by my own yardstick)
3′ x 3′ Fired Clay and Metal
2. Snapshots Art (Heptateuch Heptaptych)
Photographic Paper (x 70)
Acrylic Boxes (sealed)
3. ‘Art Grab’ C-print
+ 1 Non Jaffa Citrus Item (1/5800))
Triptych (2016 – present)
Snapshots Art (Heptateuch Heptaptych)
(Below are the front images of each of a series of 10 photographs, layered inside 7 sealed acryllic boxes)
In the south western corner of the Island of Anglesey, in North Wales, is a village called Newborough. The name, originally New Borough, was given to an area of royal estate land where a population, in 1303, had been forcibly made to settle. They came from LLanfaes, another village on the Island.
The native men and women were evicted from their previous homes to make way for the building of one of King Edward the 1st’s castles, and for the construction of the town of Beaumaris.
(I say evicted, but at least the burgers of Llanfaes were allocated with parcels of land in the new, if somewhat barren, area. The new town was built around a crossroads of two streets and it’s medieval layout with narrow plots running behind the houses can still clearly be seen. The preservation of the layout of the medieval town in the modern village makes it historically important).
Nevertheless, it was a great struggle for them.
Towards the south eastern ‘corner’ of Anglesey, and near to the area still known as LLanfaes, is the small hamlet of Caim. Back in 2016, an artist who lives there, on what may be a Romano/British site (the Romans famously and viciously invaded Anglesey) , called for work for an Exhibition she would call ‘Artfield’.
At this time, around the shores of Britain, refugees (many fleeing the anarchy of Libya after their leader had been toppled by Britain) were still arriving (some of them) as they risked their lives to build a better life, by taking to the sea in flimsy boats, many dying in the process.
These people had been referred to as ”The Swarm on our Streets” by the then Prime Minister, who had also likened them to “insects”.
I was struck by the correlation between these ‘forced’ evacuations, and deliberate movements of people, either under order, or of people so utterly desperate as to have no other choice but a flight to safety. Humans have always moved around, and colonised lands they were not born into (Romans included, castle builders included), and we continue today to construct ‘defended enclosures’, both physical and mental, in an attempt to keep us safe.
Likening people to insects was a deliberate attempt to dehumanise, to turn people seeking safety into ‘the other’, and the repercussions of such statements was/is to have far reaching implications.
Insects swarm. Insects move from place to place, from country to country, and know no artificial boundaries. Without insects our plants will likely die. Without plants we die.
So ‘Swarm Painting’, consisting of a bed of clay, peppered with bullets encasing a multitude of different seeds from a garden in Newborough. The square meter, surrounded by a hard border (frame, albeit broken), took it’s place in ‘Artfield’ and waited for whatever was thrown at it. Each ‘bomb’ with the potential for growth and abundance.
Rain came, then more. Then …
1/7 ‘”Swarm” Painting (from Newborough, to Caim, via LLanfaes)
as at 2016 04 01′.
There was an invasion indeed. It rained in Biblical proportions as soon as the piece was installed. The seed balls, which had been carefully inserted into the clay matrix, so that the growing-medium would make contact with the soil beneath, began to disintegrate.
I wondered whether my seeds stood any chance at all. Had the Artwork drowned, at birth? Would it ever be an ‘Artwork?’.
At last the rain stopped and the rude covering was removed, but the surrounding soil was waterlogged. I held out little hope, but enough of the original clay ‘bed’ was intact, and a ‘wait and see’ policy ensued.
However the resident dogs would not wait and see, and I realised that ‘containment’ was required. A makeshift netting fence, squashed into a vehicle when transporting to the site, revealed itself to be the prow of a ship. (At least that’s what I ‘read out’!). Anyway it was now a defended enclosure.
I would wait for sunshine, but with no confidence that even the tiny mustard seeds would have survived. (Mustard seed hates wet).
2./7 ‘”Seeking a Better Life” as at 2015 07 30’
The sun beat down, but there was next to no germination. I feared there would be no great flowering, no bees, just a great suppression.
I had been foolish to think that seeds scattered, and left to fend for themselves, would survive. My work, with it’s optimistic title, had been imagined as an oasis of colour, but lay there now, devoid of much that was living, (to the naked eye at least). I considered cheating, for no one would see me replanting, as no one was paying attention. It was soon to be subsumed by surrounding vegitation anyway.
I let it be, and to escape, journeyed to our great capital, to the hallowed Tate Britain, London, where Art that wasn’t supposed to look like Art, but did look like Art, was on show.
And that’s where I found it!
I would take back this offering (we were invited to take one from an Artwork), to what I now considered it’s companion piece (humour me please), currently dematerialising in an obscure corner, of an obscure field, somewhere …
(‘Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges)’ itself had ‘dematerialised’ at some point in it’s history, only to have been resurrected by a chap flitting through … but that’s another story) .
See ‘Additional Material’ for more.
I’d saved the orange (we were supposed to eat it), maybe IT would save my piece and prove that I’d been art-making all these months, and not gardening, ineptly.
Well that was the Idea.
3/7 ‘Orange Spot Painting (from Arts Lab (1967) to Caim (2016), via Tate Britain’
By August there was a great and surprising uprising, not of the imported garden annuals I had hoped for, nor of an upsurging orange tree (the fruit lay rotting on the ground), but a resurgence of a crop of native horsetail, lying wait beneath previously long maintained field which had kept it subdued.
So, what of my ‘Painting’ now?
What of this upstart plant?
It made interesting reading.
(The extreme isolation of Equisetum, combined with fossil findings that show that horsetails have retained multiple ancient features dating back to the Jurassic and possibly even the Triassic, indicate that Equisetum could possibly be the oldest extant genus within the vascular plants.)
What had been this talk of Romans, LLanfaesians, Libyans etc.?
Or even bees, or other insects?
‘Swarm Painting’ was turning Triassic.
Can I ever pin this Artwork down, or will it forever wander?
4/7 ‘Bombis terrestris, Wandering, as at 2016 08 25’.
BIRD AND BEES ...
5/7 ‘The Laws of Nature, come July’
Who knows what Art really is, and who ever achieves it.
I’d set out, in April 2016, in collaboration with nature, to make what I thought would be an Artwork, and one that would cleanse the word ‘swarm’ (if only in my mind) from the hostile associations it held. (For anyone not making the connection the piece would at least be pretty).
The seed balls, packed with viable seed and high expectation, should have transformed a patch of land into an oasis of colour. Bees and butterflies would have swarmed to admire.
Nature had her own ideas however, and instead of a riot of colour, my ‘painting’, with clay matrix still intact, was a plain of muddy white, dotted with the now blackened barren seed balls, forming a grid of dark spots. These were interspersed with the stumps of equisetium that had previously colonised my ‘garden’.
As everyone knows, 350 million years ago horsetails were the size of enormous trees and most of the earths forests were composed of them. Their compacted remains later formed into massive coal deposits.
And their lanky ancestors, having burst through my ‘canvas’ had left their mark as they had pushed through the holes I’d made back in April.
The pips from the orange I’d taken from “Soul City” were lying peacefully on the surface, but a ‘sister’ orange, taken by my companion on that trip (or was this my one?), was still intact, dried out and blackened. I placed it on the grid. Perhaps this was the Art I’d been making? ….. ‘Coal City’?
Maybe I should stop here.
But yet, I’d marked out a grid and, with care, the pieces could be lifted …
6/7 ‘Black Spot Painting, late August’.
I was asked to leave (in fairness we all were), and I carried off my matrix.
I like that the word matrix has so many different meanings, especially –
“ the natural material (such as soil or rock) in which something (such as a fossil or crystal) is embedded“.
The soft clay, now nicely stiffened, had been at various stages of wettabilty, and back again, during the five months it had been installed.
I ‘made good’ the ground I had disturbed and felt sure that nothing visible would seem to have changed, even after a short period of time. One day I will go check it out!
Since the site was to have been an area worth exploring for Roman artifacts, I hoped my square meter would not excite interest, at some future date, that it did not warrant. I’d had no idea either, when reassembled back in my workshop, whether what I had would excite my interest, but it did.
I found that much of it’s short history was indeed “embedded”, and I wondered what to do with it. It had been, (like “Soul City”, which became an inspiration to me half way through ‘Swarm Painting’s’ ‘manifestation’), partly intended to embody “ephemerality, time, and decay”. Would I therefore reclaim the clay and wipe it’s history with it? Unlike ‘Soul City (pyramid of oranges)’ (which was only recovered from the ‘sorry, no image is available’ slush pile, by someone who saw it’s image in a magazine and decided it needed to be included in a major exhibition) no one photographed mine for publication, and no one who saw it would likely remember it (I can’t vouch for the bees though). What a long and winding paragraph, one day I might shuffle the words around.
Was it even Art? Did that matter? But if not Art now, maybe Art then?
Would it be considered Art if it were rock, not clay? Since fired clay is chemically the same as rock, might the finished piece intrique as Rock Art? (If not now, then perhaps many thousand years from now, when it would become Art without words attached, and be Art that bewilders.)
I sallied forth with the firing. I called the piece, now shrunk to a square yard, Rock Art.
The rest is going to be history.
7/8 ‘Full Square, as at 2016 09 01’
Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) 1967 – Roelof Louw
This work is created from 5800 oranges, and raises questions about ephemerality, time and decay. Visitors are invited to take an orange and as a result the piece literally dematerialises and changes through visitor participation. This work first appeared at the Arts Laboratory, London in October 1967. At this time, Louw had a large, low-rent studio in Stockwell Depot, which was an artists’ run initiative founded in 1968 by St Martin’s sculptors, Roland Brener and Peter Hide. Stockwell Depot provided an exhibition space for work that was often large-scale and unsellable.
Detail, as at 2016 09 01
Detail, as at 2016 09 29
Detail, as at now
THE CURTILAGE OF AN ARTWORK
Sometimes we long for a tour around the curtilage of an ‘art something’, a thing we interpret as Art, or have told ourselves (been told) is Art. There’s always a space around what humans make and have made, inviting words. Cup and ring marks, those ubiquitous holes and circles, carved into hard stone, over long periods of early human history, continue to intrigue and baffle and invite interpretation.
The piece I call Rock Art may or may not intrigue, but I like to think some future person might wonder about those prominent tiny structures, for instance, looking perhaps like the remains of the homes of a forgotten tribe of very miniature people (or gods!). Would they ever know they were flimsy walls, formed by rain falling on a wet clay surface, the liquid slip this made having shored up some abandoned seeds, the residue of a well traveled non Jaffa orange?
Nah … they’d make up their own story.