Here's the past week condensed. Just add water (preferably ice), leave to stand for a minute, stir and serve.
So the cold snap continues, although it is due to end in the next 24 hours and it has allowed me to do more with ice than I have before.
Apart from last year, the last ten winters have been mild with only a couple of cold ones in the previous twenty. Before that we supposedly had proper winters, those that we like to trot out whenever someone, who wasn't old enough to remember them, comments on how cold it is. "Cold? This isn't cold lad, I remember when winters were winters, and we only had one pair of shoes between the whole street. We had to break the ice in the loo when we needed the toilet. Etc etc etc."
Well, that deal is off. This winter is a proper one and seems to be breaking records all over this country and elsewhere too.
How I remember those winters, though, may not be entirely accurate. I remember the snow being deeper than we get now. And I remember the snow being around for months with no gaps. But then again I remember Christmas day taking 9 months, like a full gestation period of extreme tension to arrive, after breaking up from school for the holidays. And I guess the snow was deeper then as my wellies were only half the height of what I have today. It's the same with the mystery of the ever decreasing Wagon Wheel. Have they really got smaller? Or did they seem bigger thirty years ago because my head was smaller?
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Here's the past week condensed. Just add water (preferably ice), leave to stand for a minute, stir and serve.
So where am I going with all this? Boy, you do ask some difficult questions.
Our perceptions certainly change over time, as we get older, as we age, change and develop. Christmas now arrives at lightning speed, without the nailbitingly slow anticipation but then without much of the magic either. Although that lost magic has been replaced ten fold by everything I see around me outside in the world. Well not replaced exactly. Maintained from when I started to walk.
I've come to realise, and perhaps this is the same for us all, that the things I do for fun become anchor points for my life.
I have a pretty large record collection as I used to DJ at raves, clubs and parties in the '90's and just recently I've been recording my vinyl onto my computer and relistening to a whole load I've not listended to for twenty years. It's brought back many memories of when I first heard or played a particular record. Anchor points aplenty.
After my DJ'ing exploits I got into the outdoors: walking, exploring, trekking and climbing with lots of trips to mountain ranges the world over. There were many sublime, intense and unforgettable experiences. Yet more anchor points.
And now it is land art. When I think back to what I have created, I can remember each day, each sculpture, how the day felt, what I saw, experience and learnt. Anchor points amore.
And yet the stuff in between? The working, the snoozing, the watching TV. The driving from A to B, the time on the internet, the dreaming of being and doing something else. These all fade soon after the event. These things are not my life, not me, not remembered. And yet? They probably make up the majority of my time alive.
How many questions does this raise? So many, so many...
Can you experience those anchor points without the drudge in between? Can your whole life be anchors, or is it just too much hard work for every one of us who isn't a maverick or an extreme character. The trouble is real life is the thing that is happening while you try and work out these answers. There are no rehearsals.
And so this past week I have been anchored.
I made this sculpture on the day before Christmas Eve and it took a week to prepare. Each night I created six ice discs and in the morning stacked them with layers of snow in between. I would leave each stack to freeze and begin on the next set of six discs. Over the next five nights I ended up with thirty discs made into five ice/snow stacks. One lunchtime I walked to a favourite spot of mine where I knew large icicles grew. In fact the place where I got the icicles for
this and this.
After this long cold snap, the icicles were more plentiful and larger than I have seen them before, so I took one of the longest, finest and most elegant and set about cementing it to a disc with slush for glue.
Each night that I was outside doing this, the air was cold and clear. The sky was a deep, navy blue with pin pricks of sparkling light, the planets and stars perfectly positioned as if never changing and from behind the bank of trees in front of me, the moon would rise turning the navy blue to royal.
I had in mind the Land Art Connections theme for December - Past, Present and Future, or, at least in hindsight I realised that what I was making spanned the winter solstice and how it connected this season to the next. As the shortest day is reached the days begin to lengthen once again and spring seems not so far away.
The more land art I do the more entranced and enchanted with change, cycles and the interconnectedness of all things, I become. Everything seems to be a wave. As daylight hits the bottom of the curve it bounces back up again to life and colour aplenty, until the top of the wave sends it back down again. These things can be seen everywhere in nature. This cold snap is to do with another cycle, a cycle of the movement of the air over the North Atlantic.
If it wasn't for this cold air and this regular cycle I couldn't have made this sculpture. It wouldn't have been below freezing all day and my discs would have melted. It wouldn't have been cold enough at night to completely freeze the discs and to stick ice to ice in time for the morning. If the cold snap wasn't consistent and long lasting I wouldn't have managed to make thirty discs and it wouldn't be as tall.
I've long wondered whether artists are aware of the concept they are trying to convey before they embark on creating something. I cannot speak for others but for me it comes out after the fact as though the simple act of creation opens the mind. I am fully prepared to learn something and have something deep within revealed, when I stand in front of another artist's work. That, to me, seems to be the formula:
- Artist comes up with idea
- Artist creates something with meaning
- Audience views art
- Mind is stimulated
- Meaning is revealed
But it seems it is much, much more complex than that.
I am discovering that when I create something I am as much the audience as I am the artist. Only after I have created something do I look back and see what meaning is there, it is not with conscious effort that I put the meaning into it and yet I find it after the fact. Does that mean there is actually any meaning if I don't put it in with conscious effort? Gawd only knows, but it fascinates me nonetheless.
And there was more meaning in this to be discovered yet.
I took the five barrels of snow and ice to a frozen tarn high up on a moor and stacked them up until it was about six foot tall. Lastly I place the final disc with its unicorn horn on top. The moon was once again rising, first very large and foreshortened as it breached the horizon, gradually lessening as it tracked across the sky. The sentinel stood tall and the sharp icicle pointed directly towards the moon as though connected to the heavenly body. I took pictures before pouring water over it, in the hope it might freeze more solidly overnight. I set off home and a Little Owl spooked from the road perhaps looking for moisture from the gritted road surface.
Before dawn I returned to witness the sunrise after the moonrise hours before. Like a series of interconnected lights, each disc lit up orange one by one as the first of the sun's rays pierced each disc in turn, until finally it was illuminated from top to bottom. It was quite a sight to see. It had developed a quirky lean, much like the tower of Pisa but still remained frozen in place. I was surprised but very pleased that I got to witness it again at sunrise. I left it again hoping to see it intact once more for the sunset.
With trepidation I returned at 3pm to find it had collapsed. The sun had melted its icy bonds and Pisa could lean no more. I stacked up what was left so that I could see the light play across the discs, as the sun dropped behind the horizon. I have to say the hastily erected sculpture, made from the remains, did not have an appealing look. I toyed with entitling it "Christmas Phallus" but I don't think I could avoid accusations of schoolboy humour, even if I pretended that I was trying to remark on both Christian and Pagan symbology!
Despite its collapse and the hope of seeing it properly for sunset, the most intense part was still to be experienced. As I stood and watched the sun sink down below the frosty horizon, I was overcome with a feeling of vertigo, of tipping backwards, spinning and falling. I know it is obvious to us all that the sun does not rise or set in reality but appears to, as our planet spins. But in this moment instead of knowing that truth, I felt it, deep within the whole of my body.
As the sun disappeared I felt the earth tipping backwards, turning away from the stationary sun. The overpowering vertigo made me feel the rotation of the earth so much more vividly than I have ever before. It was quite strange and intense.
Land art is all these things. It isn't just using nature's materials to create something. It uses natures's cycles and patterns and flows to cast its magic touch on whatever you try to create. Without a week of temperatures constantly below zero, it wouldn't have been possible. Made across the winter solstice, it connected one year of seasons with the next. Early evening moonrise meant that it had time to freeze before dawn so that its lean would not mean its demise, at least not until the sun had melted it slightly. And combination of all these things allowed me to feel something I already knew. As to feel something is so much more powerful than to know it.
And now I feel the rotation of the earth and how I am connected to it a little more than I did before.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
So it seems, even though our climate is warming we still have weather, and we are sure getting some in the UK at the moment. I saw a long term forecast in November and it said December would be colder than average, whilst January and February will be warmer. Unfortunately I am feeling pretty lazy at the mo' so I have not been making the most of the cold to get out and make something. Instead I'm enjoying getting out of bed late and spending all day eating mince pies. Nice work if you can get it.
Anyway back to the weather. It is normally quite mild where I live, as on the west coast we are warmed by the atlantic. It was the coldest I'd seen it here, a few weeks ago, at minus 6 celcius. Nothing in the great scheme of things but if it is that cold here then eleswhere it will be really, really cold. Today it's been -2 all day so far, and I've not seen that before here either.
So is it climate or is it simply weather? Apparently El Nina is having an affect and I wonder whether ash from the Icelandic volcano (I won't try and spell it) is cooling the temperatures over Europe? Even in my little brain there seem to be so many different variables when it comes to modelling our atmosphere and what it may drop upon us. It just brings it home to me even more, how something impossible to predict and understand could push it all out of sync and we might make this place uninhabitable for ourselves, let alone the polution and greed and waste we so palpably do understand and can predict and the affect that is having. I always scoff when I hear the phrase "save the planet." Let's face it if we weren't here at all, the planet would look after itself. We don't want to save the planet, we want to save ourselves.
All this cold weather is not seducing me away from the mince pies though, although I did spend an hour walking around a tree creating a giant spiral in the snow, it was perhaps 100m across, fun but not very photogenic so there's no permanent record after the snow has melted.
So I really should be making the most of the low temperatures. When I was on form making winter sculptures last year, I craved really low temperatures so I could get ice to stick to ice but it wasn't ever cold enough. I am trying to build up a head of steam though, but I do have the feeling once I get into first gear (I'm currently in neutral) that there may be a thaw.
Still the choice is mine and land art and how I try to live my life are the same. It's all about going with the flow. When I create something I use what I find, I am guided by the elements and the temperature, the light and location all play a part. You cannot force it to be something that it isn't. It is the same for each and every one of us. It is always best to follow the line of least resistance. To listen to how you feel inside and accept it as good advice. If you want to run around like a loon then do so! If you want to hibernate surrounded by a circular wall of mince pies then so be it!
So I don't mind feeling lazy, it is just the way it is. When will it change? Perhaps never!
Anyway it is pretty obvious that there isn't much snow and ice in this picture. This was taken before the winter properly arrived.
What the eagle eyed among you may realise is, this is actually this. I'd brought it home and left it in the garden and it had survived heavy rain, frost and gales for 27 days. It had blown around the garden quite a bit and I found it in a heap in one corner . All I wanted to do was recycle the thorns, that is why kept it and I was a bit taken aback to find it nearly intact. So I repaired it as best I could and went looking for a little, low winter sunshine.
I watched as a branch cast a shadow across the leaves, drifting across the whole thing as our planet spun on its axis, like a windscreen wiper in hyper-slow. Everything is a cycle. Some quick, some slow. Everything is interconnected. Snow events, laziness, mince pies, enthusiasm and autumn leaves faded to brown in winter. Where something ends, something begins. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
I watched a fascinating TV program, the other day, about illusions, the inner workings of the brain and perceptual psychology.
I've seen plenty of optical illusions before but presented here were also auditory and touch illusions too. There was even something about the development of wholy new senses.
Since I was small I've been fascinated by perception and would ponder to myself about riddles like "how do you know what colours others see?" We use language as a way of communicating an idea, thought or feeling from one person to another. But in order to do that you need to reach an agreement on what those words mean. Through education and reinforcement from the moment you are born everyone is telling you how the world is. We must start off as a relative open book but everyone we come in contact with teaches us the shared world view of our culture. This is a table, that is a chair, this is how to behave, that isn't acceptable and so on.
Whenever any of us encounter a baby we get eye contact and talk to them. First of all with simple language (cue silly baby voice) 'hello baby, hello baby!' - "you are a cute one, aren't you? Yes!" Every person an infant comes in contact with is reinforcing how the world is, taking a mass of jumbled, interconnected neurons and weaving them into a map that describes the world as we know it. It happens to us and now we do it to others, its how we keep our culture and community together.
So when I see red I have no idea whether you will see blue but call it red. Agreement was reached when you were young that the word red is used when you see a particular colour so that we can communicate and agree regardless of what you actually "see" in your mind. But then perhaps that is the crux of it. How much of what we believe, know and see is our culture that is taught to us and how much is actual reality? Well , we perceive a very narrow part of the electromagnetic spectrum and in quite a narrow way too. Blue or red light isn't actually blue or red, it is made up of photons travelling at extremely high speeds but our visual cortexes see red and blue and we have designed words for these perceptions so that we can agree on what they are. It is this agreement that is reality, it is all of us reinforcing what we agree and what we perceive, through talking and education and learning. That is what our reality actually is.
Some people think that babies actually have a much wider perception than we have and that through this constant reinforcing, that perception is gradually narrowed until they see the world as it has been described to you.
I read somewhere once, about the differences between western and eastern culture and how important language is. Western languages are very object based but Chinese, for instance, is much more about actions and events. This colours how we see the world. Westerners predominately understand the world as made up of things, whereas the Chinese see it as movements from one state to another.
I don't know how true that is, as I am a product of my western upbringing. I can't step out of my worldview to see how others see things but the concept is fascinating nonetheless.
So on this TV programme, I watched, there was this blind guy who loved riding his bike. He had been blind from birth and quite remarkably he had developed the ability to echo locate. He would use his tongue to send out a flurry of clicks and bounce them off things just like a bat or a dolphin. He had honed this skill so he could cycle around and not crash into anything. He said that his brain created a picture in his head and he could 'see' where he was going.
At a university they devised an experiment where they created a belt that would detect the direction of north and give you a little nudge in your midriff whereever it was pointing. After a few weeks of wearing the belt volunteers brains had adpated to use this information, without being aware of how it was happening, to navigate blindfold around a maze.
So it seems the brain can adapt to new types of sensory input, and it uses this information to create models of the world outside without us having to try.
A clip was shown where someone said the word "bah." After seeing him say this the moving image was replaced with the same person saying "fah" but the audio continued to be "bah" but whilst you are watching him speak it sounds like "fah", as soon as you close your eyes (and am not seeing him say "fah" anymore) then you hear "bah" again. It seems your eyes override what you hear with what you see. It is called the McGurk effect. Look it up on Youtube to see what I mean.
They asked the question "is seeing believing?" And the answer came back as "you don't believe what you see, in fact, you see what you believe."
Only 10% of what our brains receive through the eyes makes up what we see. The other 90% is made up of other parts of our brain which are creating a model of what we think the world to be. Illusions fool us because we are unable to get past What is in our heads, how we believe the world to be. The 10% of optical information that reaches us is just that, a small part of what we think we see. So an illusion cannot override what we believe the world to be. Even when we know how an illusion works we are still unable to stop seeing that illusion.
When we dream we can create fantastical worlds and universes full of life and colour and mythical creatures. Every bit as real to us, as our wakeful world, when we are in the midst of the dream. This is that 90% of our visual brain creating a world just for us. There is no light passing through our eyes and yet the world is as rich and as complex as when we are awake.
So where do we get our wakeful world from? Well I come back to my starting point, how that world is described to us by everyone we encounter whilst we are infants.
Belief is a very powerful thing. We are quite convinced that how we see the world is actually how the world is. But with the brain filling in so many of the gaps how can it be. And yet without our strong belief we would likely be insane, unable to piece together our perceptions into a world that it is possible to live in. This strong belief is something we all share, it is just the details of what we believe that leads us to differ.
Our belief feels so strong to us that we feel it is easily possible to get someone else to believe what we believe. "What I believe IS reality, so surely when I tell you about it you will see reality too?" But if what you believe is different to the person you are telling then there reality is different to yours and they think you are the one that has it wrong.
So much energy is expended in this world trying to convince others of the true reality of the world, whilst missing the fact that your reality is only what you believe. If we spent more time worrying about ourselves and not trying to put the world to rights then I think what we share would be a better place. The downfall of the human race is the "I am right" attitude, and the need to educate all others as to where they are going wrong.
Land art, for me, steps outside of all this. I simply sit down and make something without caring whether it is right or correct or is it how it should be. It just is.
Several times I have had it said to me, that a stack like this one is faked: stuck with glue, photoshopped or whatever. This says much more about the people that say that than it does about me. They are unable to believe something may be possible, their assumptions limit what they can achieve, they are held back by the limits they place around themselves. This is their reality, what they believe. Through this belief then that is what they see. A fake picture. But it strikes me that it is an issue of trust that colours everything they do, a sense of entitlement to attention from the world, leads them to assume that if someone achieves something then they must have cheated in some way. A sad way to be, I think. Isn't it much better to believe that anything may be possible? Even if that can't be the case, isn't life sweeter if you at least open your mind to the possibilities? How sad is your world if you have already decided what is and isn't possible before you have even tried? And yet this is the reality for many people.
I believe that everything that's worthwhile in the world should be about just being. Making something, taking a walk, tending to the garden or just watching clouds float by. If you put your energy into trying to convince the world that you have all the answers and if only they would listen a moment, then you could explain it to them and they would understand, then I think you are missing the point.
Which I guess is quite ironic, seeing as I am sitting here doing just that. But then I guess I am lucky that my upbringing allows me to try and see the magic in the world and not to believe that everyone is taking you for a ride and cheating you out of what you deserve. Or even more insiduously, not being a person who has already decided what is and isn't worthwhile to be spending your time doing without having even tried my hand at any of it.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
3 Ice Leaf Circles (3 Little Inuit in a Row), originally uploaded by escher (hibernating)...but out of my cave.
I couldn't think of a decent title. But to me these look like three little Inuit, shoulders and heads sticking out of the snow. Faces peering from a fur-rimmed hood, protected from the icy elements.
What would you like to do on a fine winter's day?
Just recently (like the last few years) I've found it tough to get out of bed at anything like an early hour. I used to leave for work at six am and was always going out on some adventure or another at dawn. But these days the cosiness of my bed is hard to tear myself away from and now I have cotton wool between my ears. That probably was already the way, but the new batch is much fluffier and full of air than before.
So what's up? Laziness, age, hibernating tendencies, a phase or just enjoying my life? I have no idea. Will it pass? Perhaps, perhaps not. It seems we change throughout our lives and we never stay the same person. Maybe I'll be even more lazy in the future or start to get up at 4am every day.
The reason I am writing about this is because today was a good day. I've just had two mid-week days off and been very lazy. But I remarked to my partner earlier, that despite lazing about in bed all morning that we still got a lot done. She said that she had been thinking the same half an hour before. This was as we trudged back down the hill, rosey-cheeked and contented after a few hours skiing and sculpture making.
Yesterday we visited a place called Dallam Tower Park, walked though the snow, gazed across to the mountains plastered white with an arctic coat and watched the Fallow Deer shelter beneath the trees. Whilst children sledged the slopes, we fell silent as the meditation of a beautiful walk sunk through to our souls. It didn't matter that we didn't walk for too long, it felt timeless nonetheless and a bowl of tomato soup, bread and fresh basil was a fitting rejoinder.
Today we went back again and took skis, and leaf discs of ice. Whilst I carved circles from the snow, Julia zig-zagged down the slope with a big grin on her face.
When it began to snow quite heavily once again, skiied out and sculpture in the can, we headed home again for tea and chocolate biscuits (it is a hard life), happy and contented once again.
I guess the moral of this story is that I hate to waste a day doing nothing. But then again, I like doing nothing sometimes. But doing nowt, may leave you feeling guilty that you achieved nowt. So how enjoyable it is to get up late, have a leisurely breakfast, take your time and relax into the day. Only then to go out make a sculpture, ski the slopes and still return home early so that another relaxing evening can be squeezed in before work comes around once again.
Perhaps it's luck, perhaps the wintry conditions bring out my happy soul within, but when it feels right, having a lazy day where you achieve something just feels the best of all worlds. Now if only I could do that everyday. Now where did I put my lottery ticket?