Monday, May 30, 2011

Loch Fyne Seaweed Beacon

This spring seems to be passing me by but if you were to follow the seasons purely on the weather you experience, you would think summer has been and gone and autumn was well underway.

Our weather has been really weird. In April we had two solid weeks of hot and sunny weather, even here in the North west of England and in Scotland too. Two places known for excessive precipitation. Around here, if you fancy getting wet, just wait a while and a rain cloud will grant your wish.

Shortly afterwards it clouded over and rained, and rained, and rained some more. When it wasn't raining it was windy and when it was raining it was even windier. And yet the rest of the country was dry, very dry indeed.

Fruit crops harvested early and two words that often don't go into a sentence together suddenly did. "British wine" doesn't sound right unless you slip the phrase 'people drinking' into the middle but nevertheless in the South the optimum conditions are prevailing to add the word 'quality' into it instead. It seems our weather is changing or at least is altering its regular pattern at least from my short sighted point of view. I can only see things from day to day. I'm not a glacier nor an oak tree so I see simply from the perspective of an organism where an hour feels like quite a long time and a second a fleeting moment. I expect a tree would see things quite differently and a fly would perceive differently again.

A phrase that is phonetically identical is something us Brits do excel at and I warn you I am about to have a 'quality British whine' myself. It probably isn't going to be fun to read or something you would want to listen to but I feel the need to offload in any case.

Sometimes things that you'd rather not be doing take up all of your time, they eat you up and spit you and out and leave nothing left for the scavengers. My get up and go got up and went and I have little or nothing left for anything else except work.

Working weekends, long hours and feeling like I am always on duty has meant I have no energy. There's none left to create anything but also what has evaporated with the tiredness, is any concern that that creative energy is gone. A burning desire to create but no time with which to do so, well that is one thing, but no desire, no time and no energy is another thing altogether. And it's got me thinking...

An animal's natural life span is preordained by a number of heartbeats. The avian, amphibian, reptilian, mammalian and piscine heart will beat 1 billion times before you become toast for someone's breakfast. The speed your heart beats dictates how long you will live. To our eyes a mouse lives at hyperspeed and to it we must be moving in slow motion. Each of our metabolisms dictate how we view our world. As human beings we are fixed to perceive our universe how our physiologies constrain and instruct us. Our world may be full of ideas and dreams and fantastical stories but ultimately only make sense to us because we share a particular way of being. These things may never make sense to something outside of our time, to a fly or to a tree. Whether we like it or not our dreams may transcend this physical plane but our cellular construction root us to what we are. Well at least that's how I see it when I turn inside out to look inwards but many a gifted philosopher will have pondered this conundrum and revealed more hidden truths of humanity than I ever will.

So what of energy, essence and vitality amongst all this?

Being tired and lacking in oomph has made me wonder whether we are born with a box full of energy, just like the heart we are issued with comes with a guarantee of 'good for a billion beats.'

In my dreams I always see myself able to achieve anything, be anyone and cram all those any's into just one day. But when I try I always get much less done, achieve much less, become much less than those high ideals in my dreams. I look at some people and think "where do they get their energy?" How can someone bring up three kids, work all day, study for a degree in the evening and not disappear into a puff of smoke?

I can always use less energy than my maximum but I've never been able to create more. It seems to be pretty fixed and whatever I try I seem to be able to do only so much. And when the needle reaches 'too much' my body retreats not always with my mind tagging along, and it wants to sleep or switch off or do nothing at all. But my ideas want more, and despite their constant high ideals and nagging for more, my energy box seems to decide how much I have and the cabling only allows a certain current to pass through. I'm fitted with a 60 watt bulb which is plenty to be able to see and read and do all the things someone may want to, but pulling off Pink Floyd's laser light show with a single 60 watt bulb just ain't going to happen despite my mind going supernova at the prospect. What my mind wants my body tries to deliver but it needs to be treated fairly. It needs to work regular hours, have regular tea breaks and pay into a pension plan. There's no point for boss brain to demand the application of an Olympic athlete when the staff pool only has 5 mile fun runners available.

So that's what I've been pondering: are we hard wired to have a certain amount of energy? Are high-flyers full to the brim and preordained to fly high? Perhaps, if true, the answer is, is not to emulate those high flyers but instead to realise how full your energy box is and use that energy only for what you wish to and don't waste it on soul-less energy sapping fripperies.

I guess the real question that needs answering is how to do this while still paying the rent?

Back in mid April when it was high summer I managed a few days away from work to visit a little bit of Scotland. Sometimes things all slot into place and a last minute decision to go somewhere different when only a few minutes from our destination resulted in a trip with each slot slotted.

A wild camp next to a sea loch, sunshine and lapping water rested our souls, and brought calm and peace to all around. Wild dolphins and seals in the water, bobbing, playing and enjoying life. Those moments when time changes, you forget which day it is and don't care whether tomorrow comes tomorrow or in a week's time instead. Pure magic in an experience that lives on and long in the memory.

It took a while for the creativity to kick start, enough for it to get me up from lazing on the beach, letting the ambience lap over me like the salty water of the loch.

Land art is a way of seeing, just like swimming or walking are. If you swim in a river you feel the water, change your perspective and accentuate what you know and what you are. If you walk up a mountain you change rhythms and sense the world anew through your feet.

Land art is at its most challenging in an unfamiliar place. When the materials are foreign and the locations unknown, the time it takes to reveal the essence of those things can be very long and distinctly unguaranteed. Firstly it takes time and concentration to see the nuances of that environment and much more time to conjure up ideas how to reveal those discoveries in a sculpture. With leaves I've spent enough time with them to know what construction techniques I can use to display and reveal their inner properties but with unfamiliar materials I need to fathom out new and different ways to show off what I have discovered.

Its hard, then, to be accomplished, to live up to your own standards, and produce something as intricate and complex as I'd like. But where the process is challenging it is also most rewarding too. It all lies in discovering new things, in learning about something and somewhere when you wouldn't have if you hadn't spent the time.

As I combed up and down the beach I noticed garlands of seaweed, dried and hanging down from washed up driftwood, left high and dry on the edge of the high tide mark. The sun shone strongly through it and it was bright crimson in colour. This triggered me to look at the other seaweed and inspect the colours I might find.

After a break for tea I found a bit of this red seaweed floating in the bottom of the cup, as I'd already drunk it I couldn't spit it out so I had to settle with the idea that the dried hard seaweed had started to soften in the liquid. I could find four colours there, yellow, orange, red and green and all the hues in between, each in a different state of dryness, flexibility and robustness. I tried all I could think off with each coloured material to attempt to bring them all together. Cutting, soaking, drying, sticking together, pulling apart, stripping, twisting, tying together. What I learnt then about all the different types of seaweed on that beach was fascinating. The variety and intricacy of each, and how they changed depending on the height up the beach they were. For me that is the essence of land art but time was quickly passing and soaking and drying seaweed takes more time than I had so this sculpture was not going to culminate into something that would reveal everything I had learnt.

So instead of something that took all those colours of seaweed, I took one single variety and attempted to reveal its properties alone. By attaching them to a large piece of driftwood and backlighting them with the strong, early spring sun I hoped to leave a beacon at that place. A beacon that would signal to the dolphins and seals a truth they already know. That our world is infinite and intricate and interconnected and everyrthing has its very own beauty within, if only we would stop and take the time to look.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Aura Leaf

Aura Leaf, originally uploaded by escher (spring is here).

A Mirbeck's Oak leaf surrounded by thin layers of Paper Birch bark, one white, one orange and positioned to catch the last red rays of the setting winter sun.

I made this back in January and this sculpture has become the cover for my new book Flux. You can read about it here.

Sometimes land art comes easy and sometimes you have to put the work in. I didn't really have any idea what I would do when I arrived in the wood (but that is hardly unusual) so I kept warm by wandering around inspecting the twisted oaks, looking for the right spot to make something. Often this is where the inspiration will come from. A shape, a colour, a particular place, something will trigger an idea. I found a dead branch with a perfectly formed zig-zag that would be perfect to attach leaves to, to make an abstract tree whilst the real ones surrounding it laid dormant waiting for the spring.

I had found some nice, thin layers of Paper Birch bark earlier, translucent and glowing when held up to the light. So I decided to layer them onto oak leaves to see if the light would catch the edges.

I made seven of these layered leaves and attached them with thorns to the dead branch to create a surreal, abstract, electric tree. But one of those leaves was more shapely and brighter than the rest. The layer of white bark was almost perfect and didn't have any lentincels lentincels to break up the colour, so it appeared to be pure white, like paper. The orange layer was very similar. Since making that leaf I have searched and searched and searched for more bark with unbroken colour. I have not found a single piece such as that first one and at that time, luck would have it, that I had attached the best bark to the best leaf and put that leaf at the top of my abstract tree. The other leaves were not the same, the colours not as strong and the graphic representation not as striking.

I only found this out after a few hours spent freezing my brass monkeys off. The air was cold and frosty (this was back in January) and the wind strong and cut right through to the bone. I cocooned myself in my bivvy bag to try and retain some warmth, the nylon flapping around my face, my breath condensing on it making me damp and colder all over. To try and wake my bum from its slumber and to keep the rest of me from freezing solid I had to jump up and run around every ten minutes to get my, now thickening blood, to take warmth back down to my extremities. But, nevertheless, I cowered back under my bivvy bag, back on my perch on the rock to fashion more pieces of bark and pin them to another leaf.

It would be times like that that I question my sanity. It isn't like I know whether what I am doing will turn out any good or not but despite all that I seemed to carry on. I still don't know why I do, when I do, but I guess the times when I have given up have nothing to remember them by so I am glad that I can be persistent some of the time.

Anyway, when I got home to look at the pictures of my Aura Tree. I saw the leaf sitting on top and was taken by its form and colour. The low winter sun was strongly red and brought out the most amazing colours from the bark. So I went back the next evening to find that leaf and to single it out for a photo shoot all of its own. The golden hour, that evening, went through every hue of gold, orange, purple and red and lit up that leaf and its bark as though it was on fire, or painted or somehow made in a computer program.

I've not found a leaf or a bit of bark like it since. Everything came together to make it all that it could be without any volition from me. Sometimes land art is like that, just like moments in life can be. All the elements slot together to make your experience timeless and special, whether or not you are freezing your butt off wrapped up in giant plastic bag!

This sculpture became the cover for my all new book Flux, none of its contents ever seen before in print. You can read all about it here.

New Book: Flux

New Book: Flux, originally uploaded by escher (spring is here).

Via Flickr:
I've been holding back many of my images, including quite a few of my best and most recent sculptures. I'd been experimenting, trying new things, new materials, new ideas and I've put these all together into my new book entitled Flux. None of the photos have been published in print before and 101 of them have never been seen in print or online.

Flux has:-

257 Photos
160 Pages
101 New Unseen Photos
12 New Unseen Sculptures

I've just spent a fabulous few days in Scotland where I was very lucky to see wild Dolphins and Seals swimming in Loch Fyne and a Red Squirrel in a tree next to where my tent was pitched. All exciting firsts for me and it has really opened my eyes to the wonders of Scotland. The joy of nature just makes my soul sing, there is nothing more I need to feel content with myself and the world.

I made some sculptures whilst I was there but the virus I've had for nearly a month is clinging on by its fingernails, lingering much longer than it should. And it means I am lacking the energy to show you those, just now, and to tell you about the fun and adventures I had. So I thought I would tell you about my new book today and save my tale of Scotland and the accompanying sculptures for another day.

Thanks for stopping by!

Ps. Carry on to the next pictures and I'll tell you a little about the cover photograph. It may look drawn or painted by it is not and the colours are real too.

Aura Leaf, originally uploaded by escher (spring is here).

Aura Leaf, originally uploaded by escher (spring is here).