Saturday, November 27, 2010

Red Oak Ice Disc

Back out of my cave to see autumn touch winter.

We've had some really low temperatures (for around here) over the last week and the earliest, widespread snow since the mid-nineties. Quite a lot had been dumped on the east, but over here in the west it had only made it to the higher hills. I was hoping that the cold lasted until the weekend so that I could emerge from my cave and experience the changes associated with the freezing point of water. I was in luck but also, when I opened the curtains this morning, there was a dusting of snow on the ground here too.

I find it fascinating how we live in a thin sliver of conditions. On a blue planet clothed in the thinnest of atmospheres and neither too far nor too near to our warmth giving sun. We all need water to live and yet it must be at a temperature to be a liquid. We sit in the middle between our kettles and refrigerators, occupying a slender space where we neither boil nor freeze.

Water is such an interesting substance, with its very own unique properties. But even in a simple game of aesthetics, it too, has exquisite beauty. Clouds, glaciers, icebergs, rivers, oceans. What else can really be said.

And so when I began to think about ice sculptures last night it dawned on me how important the transience of nature (and perhaps everything) is to me and my art. I've still been making sculptures and writing stories at the same rate that I always have, but I haven't been publishing everything. But anything that I have held back to be published later loses its potency for me once the day has passed. The anticipation, the going, the doing, the photographing, the storytelling, the sharing. All those things go together to form my art and once the day I did it on has passed, I only look forward to the next sculpture.

All of this got me thinking, about what the attraction of ephemeral land art is. And ephemeral is the key word here.

I used to do a lot of climbing. I wasn't very good and I always was very scared but still I chased after some difficult challenges to see what I was capable of. Climbing is addictive and the reason is is how the whole of the rest of the world falls away when you are on the sharp end, trying to hold it together, as you make life or death decisions. Of course you take safety measures to ensure that you reduce the risk and everything is not really a life or death decision. But often that is exactly how it feels.

Many times I have been climbing something and I have reached a point where I can no longer go up, but also I couldn't down. With many other activities you could just give up, say I have had enough, and go home. But with climbing you are playing a game where that isn't always an option. Sometimes you have to have a word with yourself and do something that every sinew is telling you cannot. If you cannot then you just go to pieces which just lands you in even more trouble but with the stakes so high, you soon discover inner reserves and the will to use them.

This all might sound melodramatic but it is, in my opinion, the main reason why people go climbing. I often felt the presence of my imminent death on very easy climbs that others could climb with their hands in the pockets and wearing wellington boots. But to me it was the hardest thing in the world and how other people could tackle it didn't matter to me as I pondered what injuries I might receive if I were to fall off. But if you can keep it together in the midst of this fear, the corner you have backed yourself into will give you freedom, as you have no easy choices and if you did you'd always take the easy option. When the easy options are removed, life becomes more vibrant and clear and you feel like you are truly living.

Now don't get me wrong. Land art isn't exactly about life and death. Well of course it is all about nature's cycles but it is rare I have had to face the consequences of death when choosing between an oak or beech leaf. Fortunately I only have to worry about ladybirds and rabbits and not grizzly bears.

But this train of thought is leading me back to the transience of nature and of experience in particular.

I don't produce land art images. No, I have experiences out in nature. Observing and experiencing what I find, discovering new things and wondering at what else is out there. A finished photo is just a byproduct like oxygen emerging from a photosythesising leaf.

I love ephemeral land art. I want to experience what I experience as I make something. And once that is done the experience is over and I am happy just to leave it to decay.

Someone once said to me "don't you feel like it is waste putting so much effort into something that may last only a few minutes?"

It is not a chore to put yourself wholeheartedly into something you enjoy, to feel connected with it, experience its intensity and have nothing but the memory left afterwards. We all do just that with many things we love every single day.

I take pictures to remind me of the experience just like a holiday snap of the family eating ice creams on the beach. But without the photo the ice cream was still lovely and the sun strong on your face, your shoulders and back.
Unless of course your beach holiday is in Britain, then your ice cream wil be full of sand and replace the word 'sun' with wind.

All of life is really about experience, the here and now, what you see, what you feel and learn. So as I pondered what to do with the ice last night, I came to realise that I am inspired when the anticipation of doing something new and interesting comes along. It isn't about thinking how to create a new style of image, but simply seeing a new colour, a new leaf or a new ice crystal spread across the water's surface. When something like that has me excited, then it seems it leads to a nice, new sculpture. But it doesn't matter what then happens as all I am doing is waiting for the next thing, that has me thinking 'well, just what can I make with that?'

I wanted to do a timelapse of it melting, but it was too cold and stayed frozen even in the sun. But still I liked how the light changed, you can see that below.

Rowan Ice Disc

Norweigan Maple Ice Disc

Friday, November 19, 2010

5 Sun Circles

Is there any other sort of visual art that requires such a combination of speed, timing and accuracy? And do those constraints change throughout the year, month to month and sometimes minute to minute?

This was originally going to be called Seventeen Sun Circles which sounds like a much cooler number than five.

But I started too late and the evenings are really drawing in fast and I started to run out of thorns. If I wanted to make seventeen circles then by the time I had finished it would be dark and I would have missed my chance.

Of course musicians and dancers have to be accurate, fast and timely. Perhaps painters have to apply their paint in a particular fashion so it does or doesn't dry. A stone sculptor must tap the chisel just right to reveal the shape within the rock, whilst the bronze must be at the right temperature for correct casting. All important technical skills for artists in a myriad of disciplines. But, as I have never followed these disciplines, their subtleties pass my by.

The materials I use come from nature and change and grow and decay all the time. Leaves rip, tear, dry out, shed fixing thorns, curl up and go brown. You need to be accurate so that you aren't fixing them over and over as they cannot take the punishment. Wood and sticks dry out and contract, will snap and not be moist enough to be pierced with thorns. Colours fade and everything becomes brittle so you need to be fast too if you want to bring your ideas into fruition.

I try to incorporate the elements themselves into what I create, the sun, the moisture in the air, the temperature all play a part and as you become more skilled with the materials, you reveal more and more about how they behave. You notice the subtle nuances in everything: the height of the stream, the angle of the sun, which new plants grow at different points throughout the year.

This may sound like I am bemoaning the variability of what I use but that couldn't be further from the truth. Does paint change throughout the year? Will a piece of music die off in autumn and return once again in spring? The more time I spend making land art the more gifts Mother Nature throws up for me to discover.

I may have set off to make seventeen circles but I had to adapt. Therein lies the essence of land art. I had to experience and feel the change in the movement of the sun, the drawing in of the evenings and the impending dark time I feel within.

Nothing ever stands still, everything is in constant flux and making natural art sculptures from anything I find around me opens a little window into the world of nature and all her wonderful and fascinating nuances.

By the way - I am still hibernating. I made this is in September. I'm off back to my cave...

Saturday, November 13, 2010


See you in spring...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rowan Leaf Lightning

Rowan Leaf Lightning, originally uploaded by escher....

If you like your DVD extras then scroll down for the Making Of Film. It is short and sharp whereas the unpublished director's cut is hours long and has a pretty brutal ending.

I'm quite surprised I managed to make anything today. I normally have to get going early or I quickly run out of steam, or will power to start in the first place. I didn't even get to where I wanted to be until after midday but fortunately I felt inspired and had willpower to spare.

Last night my house became possessed by an evil demon. The sort of demon that preys on innocent, virginal (ahem) land artists, who are minding their own business trying to get their beauty sleep (believe me, it is important that I get some).

In the middle of the night there were unholy noises coming from upstairs (steady) and the curtains were moving in and out, as though something menacing and scary was drawing breath and sucking the air out of the room.

I couldn't possibly sleep through these spooky goings-on so I had to decamp to the sofa to catch some more zees. I promise you it had nothing to do with Haloween and definitely nothing to do with my girlfriend having a cold and being all bunged up.

The noise miraculously went away when my poorly girlfriend went to work so I slept in.

Once I was up I went out to search for Copper Beech leaves but as I approached my favourite trees I suddenly remembered the amazing Rowan I found yesterday.

For a couple of years I've been searching for a Rowan that has a full on colour explosion in autumn. Many of them in the hills go straight to brown and the others haven't had the full range of colours. The ones that I did find, fully on fire with autumn, were too high, in private gardens or simply impossible to get to.

Finally, yesterday, after lots of searching, I found an absolutely amazing one. I am not sure how I'd forgotten about it this morning. I'd promised myself that I would make something with its leaves today. Fortunately it wasn't very far from where I was so I trudged over to it and collected loads of leaves.

I dashed home to have some breakfast, collect my stuff together, make a packed lunch so I could go out and make something in the time I had left. I was in a rush but felt sure I had everything I required. Feeling sure is one thing. Actually remembering everything is quite another.

I only went home three times to get wellies, then camera, then my mp3 player so that's proof enough I have an outstanding memory.

The first job was to collect a couple of bucket fulls of mud and then find a suitable place to make the sculpture. I am sure my arms were two inches longer once I had. As is customary I couldn't just settle on a nice easy place to get to. I had to choose somewhere which required clambering across loads of greasy, mossed up rocks and ducking under twisted branches whilst slipping on roots. Still, I think the tree I found was pretty cool, so it was worth it.

Now, have you ever seen a woodlouse poo before? That's the verb not the noun. As I started to smear the mud onto the rock I noticed some woodlice scuttling across the surface. In one crack there was a perfectly sized woodlouse garage. One scuttled towards it and parked perfectly in a sideways stance. Another came along, obviously looking to park there too. It wasn't expecting to find another parkee and as it approached it felt with its feelers and felt very surprised. At its rear end a segment lifted up and out came a miniature louse poo! Never seen that before, I thought, how fascinating!

Anyway, there was no more pooing to be witnessed so I just carried on with the mud. It wasn't long before I was thirsty and hungry. But, although, I had four spare jumpers, half a tent, a gas canister, knee pads and a screwdriver in my pack, I seemed to have left behind my lovingly crafted sandwiches and my water bottle. And a morsel of woodlouse poo wasn't going to provide much sustenance.

As I said. Being sure and actual actuality are quite different things.

I'd remembered the leaves, fortunately, and they really were wonderfully coloured. I was trying to draw attention to both the colour of the Rowan and the power of the Oak tree next to which I placed them. Well something like that anyway.

Although I had walked through that place before today I hadn't really clocked how amazing the trees were. Twisted and primeval just like the demon who is possessing my house. Although nothing that a cup of hot lemon, laced with decongestant won't fix.

Rowan Leaf Lightning, originally uploaded by escher....

Rowan Leaf Lightning, originally uploaded by escher....

Making of Rowan Leaf Lightning