Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring Revolution ~ Liberation

Not so many years ago the human world changed. It changed for you and it changed for me. It changed for almost everyone.

Individuals, throughout the world, quite suddenly had a way to take a step into the outside world.

Warhol predicted it in the sixties. Everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps we didn't understand his message, or he got it slightly wrong but each of our fifteen minutes consist of a blog, a flickr stream, a facebook page, a tweet, a digg, a viral video. So many of us who would have never got to bare our souls, or to connect and meet in our virtual would, are able to do that every single day.

The compassion, the creativity, the connections we can make, the internet has made this all possible. Of course it is not all good, nothing in human endeavour ever is but where it is good it is very, very good.

As a species we are more alike than we are different, and the ordinary people that inhabit this planet just wish to get on with their lives in peace and freedom.

The threads of this have been spreading like a mycellium, unseen by the overlords, a creeping network connecting the like-minded.

Things were about to change...

Tragically and symbolically the flame that ignited the fire was the plight of a poor man in Tunisia. A man who couldn't even live his life in dignity and in utter desperation he burned himself to death.

This became the catalyst for disaffected youth across the region. Already they had been talking of the future they desired and were organising themselves into active groups. But now, with the desperate actions of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunusia and his brutal death at his own hands, an idea spread through the collective unconscious "if he can lay his life down for us, then what can we do?"

And this is how revolution begins. The people lose their fear and one more day of repression is too high a price to pay. Ordinary people become willing to lay down their lives so that others can live in freedom.

One must have a heart of stone not to feel profoundly moved by the images on our TV sets and the passion and joy of the voices of unified, down-trodden peoples. To see them risk all to be free after so many years of brutal oppression brings home what a cossetted and privileged life we lead in the free world. Can we truly understand what it means to be free if we have not had to live under the rule of some psychopathic nutter or another? I guess we are lucky not to have to know what we take for granted.

First the Tunisians, then the Egyptians and now the Libyans. I can only sit back in awe and total admiration to witness their utter bravery. I don't think I would have the moral courage to do what they are doing, in fact I know I wouldn't. In the face of utter terror and brutality, they continue to make their stand. Godspeed to them all.

I just wish that any and all oppressed peoples throughout the Middle East, the Bahrainis, Saudis, Syrians, Iranians and everyone else can find their liberation too. Everyone on this planet deserves to live in peace and freedom. I also wish that we in the free West find the moral courage to do the right thing by these people and stop selling arms to oppressive regimes and propping up whomever suits our aims in the so-called name of "stability" or too feed our addiction to oil. I count myself in that too.

So what of land art amongst all these things? Well, spring is an auspicious time. Something stirs within us all
. It is in our genetic makeups, deep within our souls. We are creatures of nature and all born of this shared planet.

That may be why spring is the season of revolution. The French and Russian revolutions began in spring. Czechoslovakia began a period of liberalisation in 1968, known as the Prague spring. The fall of the Eastern bloc begun in autumn 1988 but gathered apace in the spring of 1989 when Solidarity was made legal in Poland in April and they won an overwhelming 99% of seats in the parliamentary elections. And there are many more too.

I am touched deeply by spring as I am sure all that are experiencing it right now, are too. I am also deeply touched by the struggle and bravery of the people of the Middle East. The internet is an example and a symbol combined, of the power of the interconnectedness of all things. Where oppression and brutality seek to divide and conquer. The seasons, the natural world and the power of information and communication brings us all back together again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tendrils for Spring

I thought it would be a good idea to laze about in bed this morning so that I could make my land art excursion even more frantic than usual. The weather people had said that the sun would come out today. I am sure it was up the somewhere but there was still a blanket of cloud between me and it. I suppose I could grow really tall and go find it but it might just be easier to wait for the clouds to clear.

I've been reading a book at Meso-American art, it's been a long time interest of mine, and my mind was full of the ancient peoples icons and designs. As I ran about getting together my camera gear I started to think about what I read about the Olmecs and the way they depict clouds and smoke. I really liked how they did this and thought, that perhaps today I would incorporate some of that into what I would do.

The components I would need would be mud, bark and stone. Now how could I make this much more difficult than it needed to be?

First the stone. I would need a slab and my favourites are nowhere near the mud. Off I trudged with my 80 litre rucksack to select a shapely stone. And I would most definitely need to make sure it was damn heavy. That would come in handy later. As I looked through the slabs of stone I tried to imagine in my minds eye how the design would fit onto each one. None of them looked right but I selected one anyway and then tried to carry it back down the hill. Where's Fred Flinstone when you need him.

Even though it had rained all night I thought it was a good idea to wear cotton trousers and leaky trainers. When I finally got back to the car I was quite a sight. Pink faced and sweaty, my trousers wet-through from the knees down so that they looked like I had two colour trews on. My trainers weren't left out, they squeaked as though they enjoyed the moistness.

It was several miles to destination mud and it was also on the other side of a river. I had forgotten my wellies again, so I convinced myself that my day would truly be land art rich, as I would need to ford the river without any shoes. Grrr, and mountaineers think they're tough.

The place we were going to go after collecting, was yet another few miles away but at this rate we weren't going to finish until midnight and at least a little daylight is helpful with photography. So against my best of intentions I relented and went home to get the aforementioned wellingtons and instead would make something where the mud was. Of course, I would have much rather had waded across in bare feet and been soggy most of the day but sometimes circumstances go against you and you just have to be warm and happy all day. Ho-hum, maybe next time.

The river was quite high and the water very cold. "Damn you" I said to my wellies, "am I going to be doomed to this cosy life?" How I wished that I could feel the icey water through my toes and the delicious, accompanying pain. I sat down and drank my freshly brewed tea that seconds earlier had sat atop my camping stove and looked with disdain at my sandwich. Just what had happened to me? Where had those days gone where I felt weak from the bloodloss to midges or I had to snap off my own frostbitten toes. One must suffer for one's art and this sandwich, though delicious, wasn't helping.

I was soon up to my elbows in mud and searching for slivers of paper birch and in a flash (well an hour or two really) I was done with the Olmec inspired design. Is it the first tendrils of spring or the wisps of smoke from a fire?

Birch bark glows in the sun, so I scanned all around for a tree upon which I could position my slab. There was one nearby but on this side of the river so I dashed over to it carrying the slab.I soon realised this wasn't such a good idea. The slab weighed a ton and as it was covered in dark mud, I couldn't rest it against me and had to take all the weight on my arms. Between me and the tree was a bog and I very nearly catapulted over as my wellies went several inches in. I carried on regardless and muttered to myself "cripes this is heavy." Just as I got to the tree the sun went in again and my bog trotting, slab dash suddenly seemed as mad as it must have appeared to someone watching.

The next trick would have to be trying to wobble across the river carrying the slab, the trick being not to fall in. Fortunately the level had dropped a bit so it was easier but I still let in some over the top of my wellies. All that was left was to find a magnificent tree and in this particular place that's as easy as falling off a log.

I made this sculpture yesterday and the above is the account from then. I had left it propped up against a magnificent beech tree next to the road through the Trough of Bowland. I went back again today to see what had happened to it. The overnight rain had smeared itself across the surface but it was pretty much intact. I wonder whether anyone had noticed it, as it is easily visible if going past there, or better yet if someone had got out of their vehicle to take a look. I hope that it stays dry for a while as I'd like to go back to see how it changes, dries and cracks up. If it survives that long.


I am on the lookout for some particular plants and trees so if there are any locals who can help I'd be most grateful. Paper Birch is the first, I know of four trees but would like to find more. Anyone have any ideas? And lastly different varieties of Dogwood. I can find the green and red varieties but I am also looking for the yellow and orange, anyone know of any in north Lancashire. Cheers for any replies.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Holly Leaf Sun Star

The first shoots of spring are poking through the soft earth and the sun is beginning to strengthen and the days starting to lengthen.

There really isn't a more special time of year, the air is different, the light is different, the feeling inside is different. I feel it in the pit of my stomach, like a tickle that brings a smile.

Despite our modern trappings, we are natural creatures at the mercy of natural cycles. You can hide from them behind dark glasses but the spring light will find its way around the sides of the frames. You can't ignore it, your insides want to do a jig. Unless it's raining of course, then you'll think "bloody winter, when is spring coming?!"

Well, here's my contribution for those with a sunny disposition and those without. A holly leaf sun clock, forever ticking as the cusp of a season is reached. As the globe tilts once again and our corner of the planet is bathed in lengthening light, the sun will awaken the earth and the waiting seeds within.

Well that's all very lyrical and all that, innit. But what of really clever and deep artistic things.

Art attempts to peel back the layers and reveal something unseen. I and a myriad of other artists are trying to uncover and answer all the important questions facing mankind:-

- Why will you spend ten minutes looking for the TV remote when it'll take you 10 seconds to get off your sorry arse and switch it over the old way?

- Why when someone says "say when" do we say 'when'?

- Why are lost things always in the last place you look?

- Why when the hoover won't suck something up do you pick it up and look at it, put it back on the floor and insist that it really does suck it up by running over it again and again?

- Why do we say things like "cor, the sun's really bright"?

- Why do all phone numbers in films start with 555?

I'll admit I am exhausted thinking about all these profundities. It's not all pretty leaves, sunshine and spring lambs in fields you know. It's bloody hard work and I am going stand here with my arms folded until you bloomin' well appreciate the hassles I have to go through.

Wibbly, wobbly, wibbly, wobbly (bear with me, that's a flashback TV effect, I'll have you know).

I went again to the David Nash exhibition, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, this week. And inspiring is not the word. Such evident skill and life in his sculptures, I was absolutely enthralled. I feel like branching out into living sculptures. Watch this space.

I pondered on making something at the Sculpture Park, but didn't take anything with me so that I could. When we arrived at the car park I kicked myself, as the most amazing yellow and orange dogwood was growing between all the rows. The colours were so vibrant and strong that I immediately wanted to make something but couldn't. After re-experiencing the Underground Gallery and the texture and smell of the wood, the incredible sculpting skills of Mr Nash and a pounding heart and mind we stepped out into the fresh air to be greeted by warming sunshine. In front of us was a Holly tree, which for some reason was almost entirely yellow and pale green. With the sun shining through it, it was quite a sight and not one I had seen before. I just had to collect some of its leaves, to take home to use later.

On the day after that visit and a long day at work, I quickly made a circle from Dogwood, as mess about doodle and assembled twelve leaves onto its circumference, one for each hour of half a day. The sun was needed to finish it off so I waited until today to find it.

This wasn't the main thing I made today but as I needed to wait for the sun to make an appearance I took it along with me to photograph it. Sounds like an easy job but the clouds were not playing ball. The sun would only come out for two minutes, not long enough to set it up, point the camera in the right place and get a photo. Fortunately with more daylight to play with I had longer to get it in the can.

I am waiting to show you what else I made today, as I have left it at a popular beauty spot near Lancaster. It is easily visible from the road so I'll be interested to see if anyone chances upon it. That said, it being a beauty spot, it is also popular with people who like to leave drinks cans, smash bottles and create fires. So when I do go back there, myself, I expect it to have "Barry woz 'ere" scrawled across it or for it to wear a take away pizza box as a hat. After all, everyone's a critic.