Working Landscape by Peak

I am one of a group of Welsh artists who have been selected by Peak, the arts organisation based in the Black Mountains, to present work at Wakefield Artist Studios. I’ll be showing my film ‘A Walk on the Isle of Grain’ 

A Walk on the Isle of Grain’ follows a psycho-geographic wandering around this edgeland of the Thames estuary in North Kent in the company of writer Iain Sinclair, film maker Andrew Kötting, poet/film maker Rick Goldsmith and artist, Anna Falcini. The still and moving imagery is largely narrated by the voice of Iain Sinclair as he recalls stories, histories and incidents in his lengthy association with the area. The group find themselves walking into dead ends where the military have cut off paths, scrambling through overgrown swamp like areas and meeting two local men whose target practice with an air gun is a Sunday leisure activity. They also reach areas of large, open vistas that look out over sweeping marshland to the North sea, where they contemplate the rich complexities and incongruities of this landscape.P1000012

 

Working Landscape by Peak

Working Landscape is the first of a series of collaborative events between Peak, an arts organisation based in the Black Mountains and The Art House, Wakefield. The screening programme introduces the work of Peak Collective, a community of artists, writers and filmmakers living and working in the Black Mountains and recent Peak artist-in-residence, Rebecca Chesney. The works provide shifting encounters with place observed at rest and whilst walking, driving and from the air. Day shifts into night; industrial legacies, idyllic landscapes and contemporary technologies collide.

Featuring work from Susan Adams, Edwin Burdis, Stefhan Caddick, Rebecca Chesney, Morag Colquhoun, Anna Falcini, Penny Hallas, Islet/Ewan Jones Morris, Siôn Marshall-Waters, Chris Nurse and Helen Sear.

Where: The Art House

When: 6 – 7pm

http://www.the-arthouse.org.uk/event/186/wakefield-artwalk

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Creative Methodologies: Exploring Practise Based Research

I attended the Creative Methodologies Workshop at Bath Spa University today, a session aimed at the vexed question of creative practice as research. I was keen to attend because since doing my Ph.D. I have found the subject of practice based research to be quite tricky to navigate at times. The written component is an integral part of the research but sometimes I wonder if more emphasis is placed on it by the academic field? I have been finding a lull in my research recently and in particular my practice based elements. It is Winter, January’s dark and cold month and it is impractical for me to visit the Hoo Peninsula at the moment. I can’t stay in my trusty camper van as the weather is too cold and the days are so short of light. However, since my transfer panel (or upgrade) in the Summer, I have found it increasingly hard to find a footing again in my research.

So this workshop today was perfect to re-generate some energy into my project. The workshop was delivered by Paul Geary of the University of Birmingham and Yiotta Demitrou of the University of Bristol. Both Paul and Yiotta laid out the issues around practice based research so well and gave a lot of context it. There were some interesting ideas about how you have to go out of yourself, without knowing what you might discover because only in taking these leaps of faith will you extend research. Geary talked about Heidegger’s ‘techné, where things are bound up together and of course, the writing and practice should be in dialogue, informing each other.

Demitrou talked about the process of the research being as important as reaching the culmination and final production of work. At each stage of my research I have wanted to immerse myself in it and enjoy each moment. I’ve waited since 2002 to do this research and I want to take time to understand it and observe all of those unexpected discoveries and ideas that happen. On the other turn of the coin though, there has to be a conclusion to the research.

There were some useful discussions about intuition and the value of it within a practice based research project. I thought of the recent exhibition that I saw at the Fortuny Museum in Venice called ‘Intuition’. In the introduction to the beautiful catalogue, Daniela Ferretti says that ‘intuition is the revelation of consciousness and a condition that reveals the unknown.’ In that sense, intuition should be a critical tool of practice based research and harnessed for it’s ability to go beyond what is seemingly already acknowledged and into new territories. Intuition is potentially problematic for Ph.D. research because it is mysterious and hard to define. It is also subjective and experienced individually and not a shared experience. I do think the phenomenon can be an invaluable tool in research based practice and even in the writing, there are moments where my writing seems to temporarily drift into a more fluid language where a spark of an idea appears on the page.

A Walk on the Isle of Grain

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The Isle of Grain, the furthest tip of the Thames estuary, operates between a schism of expansive landscape that invites exploration and dead ends that constantly interrupt the flow of navigation. As I drove to Grain in late November with my good friend, poet and filmmaker, Rick Goldsmith I was reminded of this. We passed through the industrial zone that is locked down with security paraphernalia deterring the attentions of eco terrorists and wandering artists with notions of documenting this Tarkovsky like zone (an incident of photographing the strange scenes from the public highway at this very spot, got me into an awkward situation with the police last year). We emerged into the hinterlands of Grain village, the edges of which butt up against the boundaries of the power station and deep sea port. We drove into the car park at Cockleshell Beach, the end point of our road trip from the borders of Wales and England. Here in a kind of pseudo 80’s Bodie and Doyle episode, we lingered amongst the transit vans and dog walkers to meet up with the writer Iain Sinclair and the filmmaker, Andrew Kotting. Iain had kindly agreed to meet and walk with me on this strange outpost of the Thames estuary along with Andrew, one of my Ph.D. supervisors and long term friend and collaborator of Iain’s. Rick a native of Stanford Le Hope, gallantly agreed to come and wander around the place and offer his responses to a place he’d known at distance across the watery divide of the Thames in his childhood.

From a transit van next to us emerged two men dressed for the rough terrain and climate of Grain like two modern day Dickens’ characters, full of colourful language evoked in the guttural estuary inflection, ready to combat vermin and targets with an air rifle. I wondered at the accents of the local populus of Grain in the 19th century. We get a sense of it in the dialect of Dickens’ character, Jo Gargery in Great Expectations – “Pip, old chap! You’ll do yourself a mischief. It’ll stick somewhere. You can’t have chawed it, Pip.”A recent episode of Word of Mouth on R4 discussed the way Shakespeare’s plays would have sounded in the original context and it was fascinating to think about how the sounds of vernacular language have shifted and changed as much as the infrastructure of the landscape. The progression of this auditory nature of the spoken word though has all but been lost and there are limited clues to its form and sound.

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We headed along the beach in the direction of Allhallows where Iain sought out the first of many barriers. This one was a military metal obstruction stopping us from walking further along the beach because the land beyond was restricted. Although no humans could enter it, according to Iain, cattle regularly grazed there and he wondered if these were ever used as targets? We followed the line of the fence up to a strange quarry where he and Andrew were keen on tracking down a tree they had used in Andrew’s film, Swandown. The tree duly obliged and appeared in the distance but it caused some hesitation as Iain and Andrew were sure it was originally standing on an island of land but now had a grand bank of marsh grass to luxuriate in. As the issue of the tree was debated we continued walking up a small hill and emerged into a porous surface of sand with micro hillocks sprouting fresh grass. In the centre loomed a lone air rifle propped up and attending to a target were the two men we had previously seen in the car park. A conversation was struck up, primarily by Andrew who was interested in the ultimate potential of this target practice. The two men postulated upon a few rabbits, with the juicy possibility of clearing some agricultural land locally of vermin and pests. What the extent of the vermin might consist of was never fully explored but it was all discussed in a very pragmatic and jocular manner. A bit of recreational killing outside of the day job.

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We entered a bizarre swamp land with bright green algae and trees submerged, that might have been in Florida. Behind the swamp, were domestic houses reminding us of the close proximity of these interchangeable zones of industry/domestic/wild spaces. Things got decidedly hostile as we entered an overgrown pathway of brambles, reeds and willow that slapped and tore at clothing and our bodies. We emerged, thorns embedded into weatherproof jackets tested in laboratories for endurance, onto the asphalt of a minor road. At this point there was discussion about which way to walk. East was towards the monolithic power station whilst to the west was the elusive London Stone, a marker of the point where the river becomes sea. I requested we go towards the stone and so we walked in the direction past land owned by Marconi for angling activities. Iain recounted a story about some Marconi employees who committed various gruesome suicides under rather depressing circumstances and suddenly the unease of the landscape became more visceral and a reminder of how it swirls and surfaces through the narrative of Conrad, Dickens and films such as The Long Memory.

Walking towards the London Stone we passed various signs that overtly identified land locked down for private or military concerns, deterring interlopers such as ourselves. Ignoring the black silhouette of a man crossed through with a red line, we continued and as we walked, a large tract of water, Yantlett Creek came into view. This was the bisection that created the original Island of Grain and was variously filled in or opened up over the centuries: a watery boundary that was constantly shifting. Yantlett Creek featured in one of the scenes of a film called The Island made by B.P. in 1952 about the construction of an oil refinery on Grain. The engineers were busy filling in fleets and draining sections of land for the storage of Persian oil ready to be refined. Perhaps nothing had ever reached such perfection in Grain since?  In fact, much of this area was recognisable from scenes in the film. Ahead of us we could see large silos, lumps slouching in the landscape and a line of pylons loftily gazing out towards the decommissioned Kingsnorth Power Station, needles holding latent buzzing threads of electrically charged cable. The land stretched out at this point and became a breathable space, a vista typical of the Hoo Peninsula. The dark flat wilderness and low leaden line of the river of Dickens’ prose. As we walked Iain reflected upon his initial visit to explore this space many years ago. He came across ‘..this astonishing landscape, so cut off.” He had come here ‘looking for a place where someone would really hide out, get off the map’ for a book he was writing called Radon Daughters.

Our walk finished back at Cockleshell Beach car park and as Iain and Andrew departed, Rick and I wandered down to the low light of dusk, capturing the dying moments of luminescence of the day as Grain disappeared with every evaporating particle. On the cusp of darkness it suddenly became exquisite and fragile; the place for hiding out, mute and shrouded in a cloak of inky black.

 

Collecting sounds

http://www.llgc.org.uk

I visited Aberystwyth on Monday to see Gwen John’s letters again and to collect some ambient sounds from the reading room. It was a beautiful day and the drive there was wonderful. Lots of soft colours on the hills and there was a nice muted light.

I found some new letters which I hadn’t seen before that were interesting. These were later letters that documented John’s immersion in faith & religion. At times it felt like her devotion to Rodin was replaced by one to God. I admire her self sufficiency, her willingness to live without many things in order to pursue her work. Now that is admirable but in that period she was really going against the grain of society.  

 

Binoculars 

These beautiful binoculars were waiting for me in an antique shop and they are perfect for the Gwen John project. On the eyepiece is inscribed, ‘Iris, Paris’. The age of them seems to fit with the time that John was in Paris and I will be thinking about how I might use them in the show.  

   

Talking to Gwen

   
 
These are recent works which I am developing for my upcoming show at Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown, Wales which have evolved from my residency last year at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. During my residency I discovered Gwen John’s draft letters in the archive of the National Library of Wales. I am making a series of drawings that take the structure of the protective book which holds the letters as inspiration to develop a form based upon the technique of ‘tipping in’. The drawings will be multiples collected into thematic groups. Among my interests are John’s letters to Rodin, her lover in Paris. The first drawing takes a cue from Rodin’s sculpture, ‘The Lovers’. 

The Erasure of John Baskerville Exhibition & Micro Residency

Baskerville Poster copyI have an exhibition and micro residency at the University of Birmingham on Saturday 14th – Sunday 15th March 2015 from 10:00 – 17:00 called The Erasure of John Baskerville.

I will be showing drawings and interventions on the Ground Floor of the Arts Building (R16) exploring the legacy of the typographer, John Baskerville who lived in Birmingham in the 18th Cenury. I will also be making work in situ, in response to words heard at the Beauty of Letters Conference. Working in the Baskerville font, I will render these words onto lengths of paper.

The conference will be a fantastic event with many superb speakers including Lynda Mugglestone, Jenny Uglow and Susan Whyman and is organised by Professor Caroline Archer (BCU) and Professor Malcom Dick (UoB).

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/cwmh/events/2015/beauty-of-letters.aspx