Saturday, January 22, 2011

Melted Ice Imprint

What's art about if it isn't about learning something? Well I learnt something. Several things actually. Will I use what I've learnt to grow and become wiser? That seems unlikely. So what did I learn?

1) Ice is very cold.

2) Icy water feels even colder.

3) Even kneeling on ice might not spread your weight enough to prevent it cracking.

4) Don't ever admit to doing something stupid. Especially not on the internet. You'll never know who might read it.

I've resigned myself to the fact that I won't ever feel confident enough in my creativity to know what it is I will make ahead of time, and I won't know how, whatever it is, will turn out. It was never an issue when noone ever saw what I make but now, a little self doubt lurks in the back of my mind, that I must make something interesting otherwise I shouldn't have bothered. Often, as I wander around some wild place somewhere (no not a bar in Blackpool on a Saturday night), I am thinking about future land art projects and the potential of different places. But always lurking there is the thought that it better be good when I get round to doing it.

On the face of it, this voice at the back of the room would seem to be a help, always encouraging me to try harder. But the weird thing is, this voice actually seems to be a hindrance. There is a subtle but important difference between "it better be good" and "I wonder if it'll be any good?"

When I listen to those words it seems to be an extra burden, a burden that makes it harder to tap into any creativity. I have no idea what creativity actually is, where it lives or how it operates. But what I do know is that you can plug into it directly if you would just relax and go with the flow. A sense of expectation of how something should be, how it ought to be, if only you tried hard enough is not where it's at. I think this is what I love about land art. As I start, the distractions, the so called "encouraging" voices just fade away and all that matters is the moment. And when enough moments join together, I often end up exactly where I wanted to be had I been thinking about it in the first place. I've said it before but it seems it is a hard lesson to learn. It's about the doing. The thinking, the planning, the expectations. None of this really helps.

So I set off, the frost crunching under my feet and doubting/encouraging voices in my head struggling to help me think of what I could do. I went to a small pool of dark water and tried to chop out some ice. Fun though that was, it didn't inspire me, so I continued to trudge up the hill. On the slopes either side of me, camo jacketed plonkers with shotguns and dogs attempted to shoot, stupid and inbred pheasants. A fitting challenge for the Saturday shotgun warriors. We haven't quite gone to the lengths of fencing in animals for rich (and fat) obnoxious clients to shoot but it isn't far off.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not hypocritical enough to suggest that shooting is completely wrong. I could only occupy the moral highground if I didn't eat industrially farmed animals and didn't ignore the fact that I couldn't kill, what I eat, myself. But I do wonder at the mentality of people who shoot animals for a hobby, as a way to relax, to let off steam on a Saturday morning. Does it make you feel manly to outwit a pheasant with a bunch of beaters, dogs and high powered weaponry? Is it simply target practice and honing a skill?

I always wonder whether they have something missing in their lives and their neuroses drive them to show off, inaudibly shouting "look at me, look at me, LOOK AT ME! I'm really, really important! I demand your attention!" Because what seems to be common amongst this activities is noise. Lots of it and the seemingly willfull need to pee off as many people as possible. Especially people who like peace and quiet!

How many examples can you think of? Here's a few for starters: riding big, powerful motorbikes around country lanes in the summer, riding jet skis across lakes and off shore, off roading on green lanes and shooting things for fun. Why oh why do all these things have to be so loud? And why do you have to do them in beautiful and quiet places and spoil the peace and quiet for so many others? Are you so lacking in empathy that you have no idea how you are spoiling it for everyone else? Or do you have a pathological need to take over places and claim them as yours to make up for your inadaquecies? I think this is one of the biggest splits in our species. The sensitive and the not sensitive. The noisy and the quiet. The considerate and inconsiderate.

So the soundtrack to my sculpturing went like this "hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!" As the beaters flushed the doomed birds from the undergrowth and "KABOOM! KABOOM!" as another pheasant bit the dust. I expect that if I ever go mad that that will be the soundtrack to my insanity too. I wanted to stand on a rock and shout out "shut the hell up you noisy idiots!" to try and get rid of my frustrated feeling. But I don't think they were going to see the error of their ways so I went back to what I was doing with the frustrated feeling still present.

So what was a I doing I hear you ask?

A bank of fog was sliding in from the south, leaving the tips of the mountains poking through the sea of moisture. Unusually for an inversion, a layer of cloud lay above us too (me and the mountains) and gradually the temperature began to warm.

On another small dark pool I begun to lay out sections of frosted bracken, to make a pattern on the ice. When I leant back I noticed I had left hand prints where my body heat had melted the surface and I liked them and decided to do something along those lines instead. On all fours, I kneeled on the ice, positioning my hands to make prints in the surface, when suddenly cracks spread across the surface like fractured glass and I was about to become more acquainted with this medium than I originally planned. I had one of those Wiley Coyote moments like when he ran over the cliffs edge, only to be found pedalling in mid air. Just for a splity second gravity did not grab me and then all at once the icey water and me became intimate. I managed to extricate myself after immersing only one leg and fortunately I was wearing two pairs of trousers for warmth and had some spare socks, so pretty quickly I was dry again. I smirked to myself at being such a fool but soon found that the broken ice was fantastically clear and square edged so my foolishness had served a purpose and revealed to me the beauty of this ice.

I took a section and rounded the edges before trying to melt my hand print into it. I could only manage a little at a time before I had to rewarm my hand, so I challenged myself to count to fifty before I would put on a glove to warm up, only to try and melt some more for another count to fifty.

As the handprint begun to form I started to think about how I would be able to photograph it. The imprint was like a ghost, difficult to pin down, like a fleeting image in the corner of your eye. I put the ice back in the water but the image disappeared so I went searching for another way.

I found a slab with thick frost on it, so I melted another handprint onto it and placed the ice on top, in an effort to put a black background behind the imprint. This didn't work either. I then picked some holly berries thinking that I would squish them up and fill in the mould but that was also a failure. And then it dawned on me, bubbles underwater are very bright, especially against the dark, peaty water!

I went back to the little pool and to its twin with the unbroken ice. I put my handprint on top of it, face down so that air would be trapped and then started to ladle (I didn't actually use a ladle - who carries around a ladle?!) water from the broken pool onto the ice of the intact one. Soon effect was working and I had learnt something new about contrast and ice.

After taking some more pictures of it set against the sky, I collected my gear and head off downhill. The cretins were still shooting at anything that moved and the irritation at the noisy buggers still dwelled in the pit of my stomach.

At the bottom of the hill I sat and watched two Buzzards sitting in adjacent trees, one of which kept calling and flying to the other one, perhaps with spring on her mind. For a few minutes I watched transfixed and thought what magnificent creatures they were. As I set off again towards home I noticed that the feeling in my stomach had gone and a few quiet moments observing the wonder of nature had calmed and comforted me. That is all that is required for peace. An open mind and a moment to fill it. Perhaps the Saturday shotgunners should try it one day. They might actually like it and discover that there is another way.


TropaTrop said...

Just dropped in to say I like your works of art and your blog!

Richard Shilling said...

Well, thanks for dropping by and I am glad you like what you see!