Sunday, March 28, 2010

Zebra Stick Joins the Dots

Zebra Stick Joins the Dots, originally uploaded by escher....

There is nothing wrong with brown part 3 or 'the stroppy woman in the orange jacket' or 'where has the sun gone?' Or 'can I be bothered to write anything?' Or 'the revenge of the zebra stick.'

Back to the wood again today, similar to yesterday but even breezier. The wind that is not the wood.

I was digging up some dark earth by the stream when someone shouted at me from the road. A cyclist was wondering what I was doing there, must have been a friend of the land owner. I tried to shout back that I had permission to be there, I don't know whether he heard me but he waved and cycled on.

The idea for this popped into my head and I was away, up to my elbows in mud and singing to myself. First the three blobs on the left, bottom one first then the three on the right. Uh-oh, minor hitch. The tree on the right is mossy and the mud doesn't want to stick, at least not to the bark. Each time I pulled my hand away the splat-pat came away with it. Still I perservered willing it to stick and eventually it did.

I carefully selected some complete leaves and then peeled the bark from the joining stick and finally it was finished, all I needed to do now was to take its photograph and for that I needed some dappled sunlight to bring out the colours.

This was how it had been all morning. The sun kept coming and going from behind the drifting clouds casting shadows across the woodland as there was no capony to prevent it piercing to the forest floor. And so I stood, poised, next to my camera, remote clasped in my hand, waiting for the sun to reappear. And I waited. And waited.

This didn't look good.

Slowly the sky began to brighten but only because the cloud was thinning, there weren't any breaks.

I peered through the viewfinder making sure everything was set up right and continued to wait.

And then?!

An orange streak appeared across the background of what I could see. Was this the sunlight that I anticipated so? No it was my partner in her arctic jacket positioned slap-bang in the middle of the frame, beginning to make something.

I dashed over to her and before I could say anything a bottom lip was pushed in my direction followed by a thrown pile of thorns.

"Grrr, my triangles keep spinning around!"

"Can I move you over a little bit please dear, you are in my shot?" I replied.

"Land art is so stupid, why is it so windy!!!"

I understand completely how unruly triangles of bark, obsessed with spinning in the wind can get right on your nerves but I had more pressing concerns that involved clouds and the sun.

I dashed back to my camera and waited once again.

And then?!

The sun broke through and long shadows appeared again and as if by magic, (imagine someone pressing the detonator on quarry explosives) as I pressed the shutter release the zebra stick fell out of the tree!

And you'll never guess where the sun went!

So I waited some more.

After more than an hour I feared that this might be it. There were no breaks in the cloud and it looked even darker behind.

I started to pack up and then it began to rain. I could hear it on the leaves but for some reason not feel it. If the rain has come now then that surely must be it, but as Fleetwood Mac would have you believe 'thunder only happens when it's raining' but as soon as the ground got wet, the clouds cleared and the sun shone!

So I walked back to the car with the stroppy woman in the orange jacket, happy enough that the sun had shone in the nick of time.

There is joy to be had in the knowledge that nature rules our lives, makes us what we are and that she is constantly changing. In our futile attempts to control her we miss the essential rhythms that make us what we are, that affect everything, everywhere and for always.

Spending an hour waiting for the sun to come out from behind a cloud is never wasted time as within each moment there are an infinity of discoveries to be made. I wasn't impatient and I didn't know if the sun would ever appear. That is what I love about land art. Nature is what it is and if it rains and spoils your sculpture then so be it. It is all about experiencing nature as it really is.

Whilst I waited with camera remote in hand I saw a wren loudly calling as it flew in and out of the rotting wood looking for tasty morsels on which to feed, I heard the shrill cry of the buzzard, and a owl somewhere off in the distance, I heard the percussion of the rain onto crisp, bleached winter leaves all before the wind whipped them up into an upside down snow-storm of swirling flakes until they dropped to the ground once again.

It just goes to show, you never know what is around the next corner, what will happen in the next minute. If you take the time to see, to feel the ebb and flow and rhythms of nature then there is so much more going on than one person can experience in a lifetime. And with so many opportunities for peace and tranquility and stillness, just there should we wish to grab them, it is a wonder that so many of us fail to latch onto them , especially when we need those moments the most.

Despite attempts at profundities with this sculpture I am left with images of the symbol of the scouting movement. Fleurs-de-lys anyone?!

I am also left with the feeling that my titles are becoming evermore wacky, zebra stick indeed!

Zebra Stick Joins the Dots, originally uploaded by escher....

Zebra Stick Joins the Dots, originally uploaded by escher....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oak Apple DNA

Oak Apple DNA, originally uploaded by escher....

There is nothing wrong with brown part 2 (or the tale of the missing lunchbox lid).

I took another trip today to the woodland that we first visited last week. It was cool, fresh and breezy with drifting cloud and patches of warm sunshine. A fine day for some land art.

I've been trying to take the pressure off myself (self-imposed pressure) as I think my creative juices would flow better that way. I decided that I would just go along and see what happened, if I made something then great, if not then I would just explore and soak up the ambience. If I made something I would not definitely post it here, but if it felt right I would. For a while I've felt duty bound to make something and to post it at every opportunity. That isn't the way to go about it and I think the quality of work has suffered as a result.

After a very dry winter it has rained a lot in the last few days, it was wet underfoot and I was confronted by a sea of brown once again. Not inspired I relaxed and sat on a tree stump and munched on an juicy apple then went for a wander around the perimeter.

New born lambs, black socks and black faces, were up to mischief: skipping and chasing their siblings before realising mum had moved away. Bleating in panic they rushed around until finally wriggling tails signified the comfort of mother's milk. The high pitched call of a buzzard pierced the air, a large notch in its wing made its circling less efficient than it might be. I was enjoying myself listening to the song of the chaffinches, the breeze blowing through the wood and the dappled sunlight casting patterns on the leaves on the floor. Time seemed to have stopped and I could exist here forever.

It's from this peace of mind that the inspiration comes and the ability to see what is there in that environment more deeply and succintly.

Amongst the brown and bleached leaves on the ground I would occasionally find an oak apple 'a mutation of an oak leaf caused by chemicals injected by the larva of certain kinds of gall wasp' which grows inside the ball. I thought at the very least, whether I would end up making something or not) I would search for oak apples as that search would present me with the opportunity of learning about that place by concentrating on a task like this. If you've never tried it give it a go. It's like meditating and as you search you begin to see more and more that bypassed you before, it is with this that land art begins.

At this point I was finding an oak apple once every five minutes and at this rate it would take hours to find enough to make something with them but then under one particular tree I found dozens and dozens so I collected all that I could.

When I want to learn about a place I will only use what I find there and often will avoid using any tools too. And so it was today.

Many of the oak apples had a little hole in them, presumably where the wasp larva emerged so I joined them together with hawthorns so they resembled little dumbells. I was reminded of models of molecules I saw at school with red and blue balls joined together by match-stick like struts.

So I made some more, noticing how some were dark and some light so I made them into dark/light pairs.

And then I noticed the rotting log, which was next to where I was sat, that I was using as a shelf to store the dumbells and it seemed compliment the oak apples, I was then set on arranging them along a log, resembling a chain molecule or a spine. I thought that I must be able to find a better log on which to place the apples, it would be a total fluke that the first one would be the best but after 15 minutes of searching it became obvious that it was indeed the
best one.

This is so often exactly how it is. Some sculptures are a struggle and a fight and some seem to make themselves with little of my own volition involved. The larval holes were perfect to join the apples, how I placed them on the log whilst making them turned out to be a pleasing enough design so with very little effort it seemed to just come together. Perhaps the time spent freeing up my mind from the stresses of the working week is where this all comes from?

I found a small pool full with dark brown leaves. The bleached leaves I was so taken with last week seemed perfect for a frame for the long so I collected inatct ones and placed them on top of the brown before arranging the other items.

Sometimes it is easier when you don't try.

And what of the lunchbox lid? When I made the oak apple dumbells I carried them over to the pool on the lid of my lunchbox before walking back to my base camp to finish eating my lunch. After five minutes I gathered up my gear but where was my lunchbox lid? Had it blown away? I just couldn't work it out. It was only when I carried all my stuff over towards the pool that I saw the lid sat there with dumbells gathered on top.

So my art may appear from within me when I am relaxed and at one with my surroundings but it seems that I need a helper to help me tie my shoelaces, remember where I live, wipe my bottom and generally to keep my **** together!

Although I think my partner may retort that I am like that all the time whether I am relaxed, making art or not!

Oak Apple DNA, originally uploaded by escher....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Winter Beech Leaf Gradient (There's Nothing Wrong with Brown)

There is nothing wrong with brown.

I received an email the other day with a very kind offer to be allowed to make land art in someones woodland. In order to make sure that you don't organise an illegal rave there, I shall not tell you who owns it or where it is.

So we went to visit it today, not really expecting to make anything as spring hasn't quite sprung yet. And as I keep saying to everyone who'll listen: "I am a bit fed up of just brown and ever-green, all there is is dead wood, stone and fallen leaves."

Now this was definitely a case of not looking hard enough, or indeed not looking in the right way.

As we were being shown around the wood my overriding feeling was of peace and tranquility. I felt especially relaxed and un-get-at-able there and I am sure it had nothing to do with the jar of Valium I had guzzled beforehand. I've seen Deliverance and I am always suspicious of invites to woods in the middle of nowhere by strangers so I thought I'd best be prepared for a shock.

But seriously, despite the cacophony of shotguns being fired across the field and the sound of banjos being duelled, I did feel contented and relaxed and perhaps my eyes were to open in the right way.

Where before I had just seen brown, black and grey now I saw every hue of brown one could imagine, muted shades right through to black. The leaves on the ground had not rotted away as it had been drier than usual this winter and colder too so perhaps they had been prevented from rotting by a covering of snow, frozen ground and frost.

Many of the leaves were bleached from the sun and where they overlapped with another, they would be much darker underneath. This picture doesn't show how white they were as it rained lightly and stained the white leaves darker.

I took sections of the beech leaves and pinned them onto a slab of bark, sealing the edges with strips of more bark pinned with thorns before displaying them on the rotten and black, fallen tree.

I came away with two overriding feelings today. One of peace and relaxation and the pleasure of the generosity of someone who is happy to share their peaceful idyll with others that would appreciate it just like they do. It would be so easy to erect 'keep out' and 'strictly private' signs all around this wood (and this world) but it would not be a place where peace would be found by the trespassers or the owners alike. Generosity helps both parties either side of the gift and for that I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for being on the receiving end.

And secondly I came away with a feeling of joy in what Andy Goldsworthy has given to me. This sculpture is an homage to him and his vision which has allowed me to peel back the layers of nature too and find what is hidden beneath. Unequivocally the fade of found, natural colours is from the vision of Goldsworthy but I have taken it and seen it through my own eyes and I will not apologise for that.

For those who are generous of spirit will appreciate things for what they are whereas the ungenerous will seek to exorcise their own demons through criticising what others do while singularly faling to ever take a look at themselves.

If land art is about anything it is about the time spent doing it, just being in a place, taking the time to be and being at peace with yourself and with nature.

If that is how you really feel then why would you not want to share this with everyone you can?

A gift made will payback tenfold and this is true in so many aspects life.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

...The End Leads to the Beginning

So it was earlier this week that I posted this and I was quite taken aback by the heartfelt responses.

Being a hyper-sensitive person can be quite overwhelming at times. I felt like I had backed myself into a corner and was living out (not literally!) that common dream of standing naked in front of hundreds of people. Sensitivity can often be a gift, having your senses permanently turned up to 11 can be wonderful but when they get out of kilter it can be extremely stressful.

Land art and hill walking are my solace, my place to escape from the noise of the world and the noise inside my head. To feel nature close up and to let the beauty and wonder fill your senses and mind, there is nothing else that comes close.

And yet my art ceased to become my solace, I struggled with it and found no peace. Self-imposed pressure meant that my creativity dried up and with it the space to be and to think. My art did not flow out of me like it once did and I lost my ability to escape. The search for peace and solitude came first and my art appeared out of that. It doesn't work to try and find peace through forcing myself to create. It needs to be the other way around.

And so all of this came to a head when the abusive emails started to arrive and those were the final straw. I felt completely raw and exposed to anything and everything anyone had to say with no place to escape.

So I went for a walk. And another. And another. And another...

The fog was starting to clear.

So today I went out to create something with no intention of sharing it with anyone. Perhaps someone will chance upon it whilst walking and it will brighten their day. Making it brightened mine and I felt relieved to have found an escape again, to make something only for fun and because I want to.

I think I will need to this for a while to find my inner voice once again, but I will surely be back and firing on all cylinders again.

I don't think I will ever grow a thicker skin, I have always been this way and I expect I will always take criticism badly but I wouldn't change my sensitivty for the world as it presents me with many great gifts on so many occasions even if it can be a bind at other times.

Ironically, after the ****storm on Reddit and the resultant nasty emails my stats went through the roof. But weirdly it had nothing to do with the picture that made it on to Completely coincidentally a Korean website posted my 'Stack'' and 'Balance' sets the day after and since then I have had 40,000 hits one day and 16,000 the two days following. The Equilibrium Stack then made it onto Reddit and the comments are much more kind: "I'll bet he uses glue" and "Nah, they are really easy to make - it's not proper rock balancing." I can cope with that, not so happy being called a ***** as I was on the other one but being called Andy Bronzeworthy did raise a smile!

This morning on the news they said that this spring is going to be a belter. Due to the very cold weather we have had everything is going to sprout at once. The daffodils are late, crocusses are just starting to appear and it seems we may see everything coming to life at once.

This episode, then, will hopefully be just a blip (like all my 'episodes') as I get lost in the majesty of spring and find myself by losing myself once again.

I also hope that I can't start writing something funny again, I am sure you are wishing that too!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Heartbeat of the Hardy Palm

Heartbeat of the Hardy Palm, originally uploaded by ...escher....

What did Andy Goldsworthy once say?

"Good art keeps you warm."

Well this must be rubbish as I was bloody freezing! No, it's a thick jacket and the sun that keeps you warm, neither of which were helping me out. One being in the wardrobe and the other behind a thick blanket of cloud.

If it were true I'd spend my heating allowance on a nice framed picture, "throw another log on the Picasso will you dear?"

A year ago I bought a dilapidated hardy palm that needed some TLC. That TLC consisted of planting it in a big pot with fresh compost and keeping it watered. This was all it needed to take on the pretensions and proportions of a triffid with thick lustrous leaves.

Over the winter some of them had bent and would eventually wither. I had had in mind for a while removing a leaf or two and making something with them before they withered.

I was going to cut out a square zig-zag pattern along its length but I soon discovered that this would be difficult or impossible. The leaves are very fibrous with a distinct grain that follows along the leaf meaning that it splits easily along the grain but not against it.

So once again the material itself played its part in what I was able to make. Each leaf was split at the end like a forked tongue and I tore from the end and it split right in two all the way down the leaf following a single grain all the way. I split three more lines within and used cut sections of leaf to weave in between the splits.

I had missed this about land art. Not since the snow sculptures a few months ago had I had the opportunity to learn about new materials and through that exploration and learning process create something that followed the properties and structure of each material. The state of the snow on each different day dictated what I could do with it but even more the sculpture emerged from the experience of learning about the materials themselves as I touched them, played with them and tried to make different things.

And so it was with these palm leaves. I learnt about the grain and structure of the leaves, the growth pattern and how each cell lays next to another. Pun not intended - I always try to follow the grain of the material I am exploring so I am using its inherent properties and not going against them. The idea is to experience and learn about each plant, each medium, each place and making something is just the way I do that.

The sun hung just above a big bank of cloud and the original idea was to show off the grid pattern of the woven leaves but alas the sun soon dropped behind the thick clag and did not return again.

As I carried each leaf to a wood to hang them between two trees one of them became messed up and the woven sections went out of place. I had originally arranged them so they were parallel but now it made a wave. The accidental sculptor had made a more pleasing design than I could so I went with that instead and rearranged the other two too.
As I sat and waited for the sun the brisk North-easterly got colder and colder and I knew I might be out of luck today. The only shot I might get would be a silhouette against the sun. I looked for another tree on the edge of the wood where the only background would be the sky but I discovered that the trees on the edge had many more branches that were not at all suitable to what I had in mind so I surmised that the trees that did not fight for the sun grew leaves all over and did not have some branches with gaps like I needed, like the ones deep inside the wood.

The photo of the sculpture is not all I wanted it to be. I felt reluctant to post this but the photo is only a small part of my land art. The experience and discoveries I make are all the more important and today there were many and as such I feel duty bound to share.

If only to tell you to take a coat out with you and not an oil paiting.

But if I was to search for any symbolism that I sense with this sculpture it would be the energy of growth. I very rarely make something with a concept in mind but sometimes they make me think of something afterwards or while I am waiting to take its photograph.

I noticed today two of my plants in the garden have sprouted new shoots an inch from the ground, in amongst the dead and withered remnants of their life last year. This week I too have felt new life from within (I'm not pregnant :-)), the lengthening of the days and the change of the season has filled me with vigour and optimism for the rest of the year. I have emerged from the doldrums of the long winter months.

So if I was looking for that concept it would be the emerging of that long stored energy of nature, held deep in the roots of the earth as a new cycle begins.

Perhaps you feel it too?