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.

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