Diary of Ingruttati Palermo, Manifesta12

I was delighted to have been selected for the Ingruttati Palermo workshop and exhibition, a collateral 5x5x5 event organised by Hydrocity as part of Manifesta12, the European nomadic arts biennale. Manifesta12 acts as form of ‘urban acupuncture, providing interventions in key city spaces’.  I was kindly supported by Bath Spa University’s Enterprise Showcase Fund.

The aim of our workshop, involving experts and international students in art, architecture and geology, was to work collaboratively, researching the underground qanat (aquaduct) network at territorial and local scales to produce a collective installation and publication. The Manifesta12 theme ‘The Planetary Garden’, a vision where citizens are responsible gardeners caring for their environment, was at the heart of our work.  I was interested in developing the aspect of my practice involving collaborative art projects in the community on an international level.

Palermo’s historical significance (‘gateway between East and West’ leading to numerous invasions, mafia violence, renaissance) and its ancient qanat networks used for garden irrigation make it a fascinating, multicultural city.

DIARY

I made a diary, documenting my research and thought process (now exhibited in the Ingruttati Palermo exhibition):

 19/7/18:  Arrival in Palermo. I was struck by the melange of sights, sounds and smells; wonderful and ironic contrasts of dereliction next to grandeur, the mix of architecture, glimpses of Arabic domes through dark grubby alleys, exotic planting, washing hung out across streets, the heat and humidity. Visited a Manifesta exhibition (tribe ritual film by Yari Antonio in a dark chapel), the splendid Quattro Canti, skirted the seafront of La Cala, and rested in the wonderful gardens of Villa Giulia, surrounded by a cocophany of screeching cicadas.

20/7/18: Introduction at University of Palermo.  Metfellow participants. A series of fascinating talks by specialists revealed the real and symbolic relevance of underground water networksto urban regenerationand community life.  Sara Kamalvand (co-director) explained the qanats’ origins, how they help us understand the city’s archaeology, a potential provision of water in the future. ‘The line can become the figure: a reading device’; I imagined 3-d linear drawings.  Pietro Todaro (geologist, Sicily’s qanat expert) charted the history of qanats, how they spread from Iran. The Conca d’Oro was cultivated with citrus fruits, now overbuilt. Through diagrams and maps he showed us various systems, explaining the physics: water communication, importance of slope and height for energy. Qanats intercept the water table by gravity and hydraulics.  Danisinni farm has been irrigated by the same water for 1000 years.  A narrative of washing and laundry is linked to the area. Fra Mauro (Franciscan priest at Danisinni) described his long term project for Danisinni, an isolated, depressed rural area, his ‘dreams of garden, water flowing all around’.  People didn’t know about Danisinni until recently. Through water, he sees new life, a transformed community.  Fra Mauro’s goals are for art, beauty, engagement, food, peaceful relationships with humans and animals. Danisinni is under threat of being turned into a carpark.He believes this workshop might be important in spreading the word.

Visit to Manifesta12 Research Studios to see the Augmented Palermo Exhibition – beautifully executed projects by local and international architecture students, led by the Dean of Architecture, Maurizio Carta.  Alively archive of city, imagined and real, past, present and future, inspired by the planetary garden and OMA Atlas. Renzo Lecardane gave us an animated explanation about his students’ projects.  I particularly enjoyed the projects that included an element of play.

21/7/18:  Day visiting Manifesta12 events.  Bought the OMA Atlas – a reference gem on Palermo, covering its history, politics, urbanisation; a ‘tool of mediation between the city and Manifesta’.  I loved Chiesa Santa Maria della Spasimo, a stone church bombed in WW2.  A tall tree grows up through the internal structure of the inner courtyard to the open sky. The roof was never built – one of many unfinished buildings.  In the rear garden, ‘Cooking Sections’ is an open-top brick wall installation, which revisits the Jardinu Pantesco: an ancient open-top dry-stone tower invented as a single-tree citrus garden.  ‘Like the church ruins, lacking a roof enables a microclimate through a passive cooling effect… instead of traditional drystone walls it uses… alveolar blocks to allow air flow.’  Following this concept, in the Giardino dei Giusti vast swathes of yellow netting surround and shade citrus trees, echoing the draping laundry above. Trees recur as a symbol.  At Orto Botanica (such diversity of exotic plants) the extravagant aerial roots of ficus trees struck me.  A limestone corridor depicts photographs of ancient fossilised plant forms unearthed from coal-mining sites (Michael Wang, ‘Carboniferous’, 2018).  They highlight the contrast of inorganic modern materials originally created by organic swampy forests. The patterns imitate trees and ferns still growing in the garden.

In Palazzo Butera’s ‘Wishing Trees’, 2018, stories of 3 trees connect human histories and nature: ‘..through contemporary stories of conflict, migration and feminist anti-mafia activism, the roots of these trees reach into the present’.  Films are used to retell the stories.  Pipes also recur. Rayyane Tabet’s ‘Steel Rings’, (2013–ongoing) depicted rolled, engraved steel pipe rings replicating segments of the original Trans Arabian oil pipeline that crosses 5 borders from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon.  I am fascinated by the remnants of ancient clay pipes embedded in the old citywalls. These once provided drinking water to residents.  With reference to the garbage strewed around Palermo, and its history, collections of objects are explored in Khalil Rabah’s ‘Relocation, Among Other Things’, 2018, ‘an archaelogical site of contemporaneity, …the trivial… a research into …Palermo’s poorest material culture’.  Stacks of stuff including utensils, bed frames and cables fill the room, while museum vitrines sit empty.  In another exhibition near Quattro Canti, collected objects are displayed for their value or significance to site. Banners, too, are a strong theme in exhibitions, alongside processions, highlighting use of craft, text, campaign, activism.

Numerous exhibitions are set in the faded elegance of old churches and palaces, providing a rich contrast to contemporary artworks.  After the group dispersed, I made a beeline for Chiesa di Santa Venera to see work by an artist I’ve been studying: Berlinde de Bruyckere.  Hidden away, the church has been restored after a century of abandonment, like many buildings in Palermo.  In the cool interior, after the blazing heat, I was offered a chair to peacefully view Mantel I and II – a homage to Francis of Assisi, referencing Christian symbolism and the core of human existence. Layers of wax built up on torn blankets that form a crucifix pose, with open scars as wounds on a slashed wooden backdrop.  In her work, blankets once represented the genocide in Rwanda. In Mantel I and II, they are deteriorated, worn thin, referring to the habit of San Francesco.  I was given a sample of her work to feel, such a privilege!  It seemed serendipitous that her work references the Fransiscan order, and our local focus was Danisinni, run by a Franciscan priest.

 

In the evening we introduced ourselves and discussed our thoughts for the project.  I’ve been thinking about: vertical/horizontal; communication through sounds; collaboration/public participation; qanat as mycelium, part of nature; Franciscan community; scars; garbage, which reflects an attitude of waste.

22/7/18:  Visit to Danisinni, our local case study, where a wonderful social projectlinking water source,community and sustainable farm has developed under the wing of Fra Mauro, bringing everyone together.  Here, time slows down. Situated just beyond the old city gate, a turning downfrom the busy main road leads you into a basin, where you immediately feel calmer, as though time has done a u-turn.  Local expert Enzo Patti and Pietro Todaro showed us 3 water sources demarcating the journey of water.  2 (now dried) rivers surrounded Palermo – likened to 2 brothers with opposite characters – one fast, prone to flooding, 1 slow, associated with disease and pestilence.  Both gave life and benefits, but also had their dangers.  Danisinni was built in a swamp basin created by an ancientquarry. The laundry industry developed there and as papyrus grew, so did their paper industry.

We discussed keywords: water, life, production, human, urban. Also: narrative/message, poetry, layers, investigation, metaphor/symbolism, washing/laundry, sounds, trees/roots, lines, networks, pipes, flow, fracture, archive, communication, walking.

Visited bell tower and caves of Beati Paoli – grim!

In the evening, co-director Paulo Cascone (Co Design Lab) gave a talk about his sustainable design projects.  In Mali, a building made of adobe became part of the landscape.  Each year the rain destroys it so the people get together and reconstruct it, in favour of a permanent building – the community gathering is important to them. Fabrizio Vatieri showed his archive cabinet idea for our fabrication.  He suggested we give each other tasks to open up the collective dialogue.  My thoughts: water is the source of life; soil is also a critical resource. Clay could be dug up from3 levels, systematically comparing them, linked to terracotta pipes.  Possibly combine with paper (papyrus).  The blockage of the qanat is a metaphor for the severage of links with the natural world. The precariousness of Danisinni reminds me of a book I’ve read ‘Planet of Slums’, by Mike Davis.

We sensed that some residents, understandably, are resentful of us.  A bottle of water was thrown at us as we left Danisinni by a lad on a bike. This later became a prompt for my final idea.

23/7/18:  Fieldwork/research trip to the Timpone di Sirocco mountains and Gabriele qanat in a convoy of cars to see water sources that flow from the mountains.  Fabulous views across Palermo, nestling between mountains and Conca d’Oro (now mostly covered by poorly planned concrete urban expansion) and the sea.  It was awesome to climb inside the Gabriele underground cavern and see pure water bubbling up from the ground.  Outside the Gabriele water source are examples of different widths of terracotta pipes used inmedieval households. At the water plant, pipes and papyrus seem an interesting poetic contrast. Water is extracted from an electric pump.  I collected specimens of rock, silt (from qanat), an abandoned nest made from papyrus, a plastic pipe.  Mapping with found objects linked to site.  Are all my collected objects about decay?  Trying to retain the concept of collaborative work but the project seems to be veering towards individual projects.  Visited the Capuccino Catacombs, where I had time to sit and draw.

24/7/18: Love the free bus, saves my aching feet. Group session indexing with keywords to devise categories.  My words: linear networks, roots, cycle, pipes, community.  After discussion, I went in search of a vessel on wheels for my work.  I was hoping to use found and recycled objects. I found a man who offered me his home-made wooden trolley for 10 euros!  Found string and wire to pull the trolley and some trashed old books, one with incredible human anatomical illustrations, the topological layers of veins and organs reminded me of qanat networks.  Did a rubbing on the pavement of an amazing crack (it looked like Palermo set between the 2 old rivers).  Final idea: to pull my trolley around Danisinni neighbourhood, collecting discarded plastic water bottles.  Then fill them up at top water source (filmed), take them (in a crate) to residents (communication network) and offer to them for watering their plants/gardens (aka Planetary Garden).  Also, make collection of objects from significant sites.  We visited an exhibition High Series & Walls and Experimental Jetset at Ore 18 Gallery space.  A thoughtfully conceived presentation of the art of typeface alongside prints and photographs.

25/7/18:  Some visited the Scribene qanat and Sirocco room, while a few of us remained at Danisinni to work on our project.  Renzo suggested we look at the church crypt as a possible venue for our exhibition.  It’s perfect – a beautiful, atmospheric space, with a highly relevant backstory.   Clay relics and mosaics are displayed, and human skeletons found in the ground are kept in a carefully dug out cavity under the centre of the crypt floor.  You can look down onto them through a glass window!  Legend has it that a young girl fell into the swamp.  The whole community prayed in anguish to the holy family for her life. As she was resurrected from the water, a pillar was erected at that exact place to honour the miracle. Life revealed through water.  I performed the first half of my ‘Gift of Water’ piece, with Nick filming. Deadlines are upon us and a panic has taken hold.

Ended up in the depths of the Gesuitico di Casa Micciulla qanat, out of the city, with Karolina, Pierangelo, Renzo, Lucas, Lisa Wade from Manifesta and others.  Clad in wellies, waterproof jackets, trousers and helmet with head torch we descended a vertical shaft ladder about 15ms into a horizontal qanat. Water was calf height, the sound of pouring water overpowering.  Wonderful limestone/sandstone formations.  Some sandstone blocks carved to fit together as arches. Built around 16thC. Amazing to walk through underground watertunnelsmade by man.  Imagining the people who spent endless hours, days, weeks, months, years in the dark digging these out.  How did they navigate in the dark underground, how did they know which way to go and dig such a gently ever-decreasing slope down?  Families passed on skills/knowledge generation to generation.  We walked for a long time through narrow, winding tunnels, water dripping, gigantic mosquitos, shell fossils and clay.  Saw vertical wells, rectangular (for water wheel) and circular (for collecting debris). Climbed down into a lower well, water level up to knees/thighs, got very wet!  Terracotta pipes carry water and there’s an upper level.  Evidence of digging marks on the ceiling. Thanks to Renzo Lecardane for the car lifts.  Finished 9.45pm – long day!

26/7/18:  Met at 9am to finish performing/filming my piece ‘A Gift of Water‘ (see stills below). Enrica (translator) and Nick (filming) collaborated with me.  We explained the concept and offered them a bottle of water for their plants. Loved the way they engaged, played along, appreciating the manner in which it was intended.  Enrica’s charming manner really helped.  It was a success, we gave away most of the bottles and managed to reach different demographics in age and gender, some at work, some at home. Karolina did a great job patiently editing the film. Difficult as it was taken in both landscape and portrait format. Late dinner in city. Looking forward to the Opening!

I was pleased with the film, apart from the poor sound quality (should have used mic).  The homemade style adds to its charm as a spontaneous social gesture.

27/7/18:  The exhibition came together after some hairy moments when we realised we had no working TV or cables for the project.  Nick Weaver (friend) helped with sanding, sawing and signage.  I used part of a reclaimed trashed wood bed for my shelf of found objects and diary, sanded and fitted into one of the crypt enclaves matching the other exhibits.

Other works by fellow participants include a video of water, stamps and banner, conceptual and underworld mapping, library of waters, curtain of video stills, booklet, study of commons, playful study of cracks.  Together, these balance research with strong creative concepts.

7.30pm: ‘Ingruttati Palermo’ opened in the Crypt of Chiesa Parrocchiale SantaAgnese, Piazza Danisinni, 90134 Palermo, Sicily with a feast from the biblical garden (thanks to the Danisinni community) and a full red moon.  It was a wonderful evening celebrating our intensive workshop,a good reception to our show, a huge success after some wobbly moments in the week.  My film made people smile.

The show runs throughout Manifesta12, 27 July – 4 November 2018

28/7/18  Morning off to explore Palermo.  Visited Ballaro market, Palatino Chapel, Palazzo Reale and Royal Gardens. The chapel is awesome, never seen anything like it. An overwhelming palette of glistening gold Byzantine mosaics fill the flamboyant space depicting biblical stories, fused with an immensely intricate Arabic carved ceiling. Floor and wall panels inlaid with marble and mosaic. Carved totem pillars.  Exceptional example of the cultural synthesis between Norman, Byzantine and Islamic cultures.

Later we compiled documentation for our website, going live soon.

In the evening we visited a Manifesta12 collateral event Soundwalk Collective, an otherworldlyexperience consisting of overlaid echoing soundsfrom 8 speakers with UV light casting the church in a blue/purple glow, based on Ulysses. Recordings, slices of conversations, menacing voices, seemingly disembodied.  Also came across an installation by Roberta Baraja outside Chiesa di Santa Catarina d’Alessandria, using fabric and wrapping to suggest fertility and abundance of plant life- right up my street!

29/7/18:  After a clear up in Danisinni, we all went for a fancy lunch in central Palermo and then dispersed.  Went up Chiesa di Santa Catarina d’Alessandria, amazing view of Palermo, domes, roofs, mountains, and drew. Best view of the city!  Our final goodbyes were on the beach later that evening – the end of a shared adventure!

It’s been fantastic working with the other participants: Karolina Majewska, Enrica Consiglio, Pierangelo Scravaglieri, Andreas Mallouris, Mariana Mañon Sepulveda, Manolo Larrosa, Félix de Rosen, Elke Reinhuber, Lucas Bartholl, Deborah Westmancoat, Anne Arnbjerg, Dario Annolino, Chiara Buscemi, Sefy Calcaterra, Rosy Marino, Gabriele Lupo and Sara Kamalvand, director of HydroCity who initiated the project.  Many thanks also to Pietro Todaro and Renzo Lecardane for their enthusiastic sharing of expert knowledge, the invaluable translations by fellow Italian students, the artistic input from Paulo Cascone and Fabrizio Vatieri, and support from Nick Weaver.

To produce an exhibition of new work in 10 days in a foreign city with strangers on a relatively unknown topic was an exciting challenge. The project was about so much more than an outcome.  Working collectively alongside participants from across the globe and from different disciplines, broadened my experience, outlook and methodology. It was helpful to discuss ideas with experienced professionals in art and architecture.  I gained an insight into alternative ways of viewing, researching, gathering, debating, mapping, sharing and displaying.  We learnt from each other, a generous way of creating a collective intelligence.

My work took an unexpected turn.  From my natural leaning towards 3d work, it became time-based and interactive. My interest in public participation and concerns over waste led me to explore the nature of gesture as a way to connect with local Danisinni residents.  ’A Gift of Water’ is a performative piece, documented as a short film, using locally sourced recycled objects and water from the Danisinni source. It evolved into a collaboration between myself, participants, and some of the Danisinni community.

We are hoping Ingruttati Palermo will tour to the prestigious A/D/O Gallery in Brooklyn, New York as part of Water Futures.

Palermo is an enthralling city; I would love to return, even work there again!

 

June Projects

June flew by for me with a host of projects on the go in tandem, allowing only snatched moments in our fantastic tropical weather – one of the best summers I’ve known in UK.

Art in the community

I spent 4 days with PRU teenagers in a short residency at Bridgwater and Taunton College as part of Somerset Art Works Young ProspectUs Project.  We created mutant creatures inspired by insects and sea creatures, experimenting with reclaimed and found materials including aluminium cans, bottle tops, copper pipe, wire, found plastic and metal objects. It was a unique experience, great fun working with the PRU staff and students and hugely rewarding to see the youngsters lose their inhibitions to master skills like soldering.  ‘…turning down a mountain biking trip to do a second session soldering metal was what this project is all about: creating great artefacts with a professional artist … within an environment they felt safe, providing an experience that strengthens their resilience as they move on from school to college’ (Lisa Robertson, Deputy Head of PRU Centre).  The work will go on display to Taunton Flower Show in August.

My last project with All Hallows students involved making headdresses for an exhibition ‘All the Fun’ at Silk Mill, Frome.  The theme was carnival and circus.  I worked with students in Years 4-8, making the sculptures from found, reclaimed and discarded materials, based on endangered wildlife, particularly sea creatures.  The project was inspired by the issue of waste, our plastic oceans, and the plight of creatures such as albatrosses and turtles who are suffering from the effects of our rubbish, ‘a stand against plastic pollution so we can see our sea creatures thrive once again’ (Tia West, Year 8). ‘Making my headdress was great fun!’ (Louis Roberts, Year 6).

I was involved in a recent Up Late event ‘Drawn to the Museum’ at the Holburne Museum (29/6) – a collaboration with Bath Spa University.  The event involved MA students, artists and speakers engaging with the public at the museum.   We set up pop up exhibitions of our work, focusing on drawing.  I attended an inspiring talk by Tania Kovats who makes drawings, casts trees, and explores water as her subject.  I also ran a life drawing session with a clothed model doing quick poses in the grounds, where members of the public and students joined in, it was fun!

I worked with The Rubbish Art Project and members of the Shepton Mallet community making a sheep out of reclaimed steel, chicken wire and various ‘trash’ materials as a community project for the town.

Plans are afoot for a Halloween Harvest Scrap Sculpture Community Project, based on harvest and the cycle of life.  I hope to created 3 large-scale metal sculptural works for a public event on Halloween, to be installed at Shepton Mallet market cross. The work may be filmed by a TV series Scrap Kings for Discovery.

Inspiring exhibitions

A couple of intense research trips to London were inspirational.  As part of my MA Degree course, a tour de force trip led by Andrea Medjesi-Jones (Bath Spa Uni MA course leader) introduced us to several new galleries including the smart spacious Marian Goodman Gallery.  An installation by Leonor Antunes (Portuguese) consisted of suspended ‘wormlike forms’ made of immaculately stitched leather, wrapped rope and brass tubing, interspersed with sculptural glass lights hung close to the ground.  The organic linear forms are repeated on both gallery levels, interrupted by reflective screens – all based on work by Anni Albers and Mary Martin.  Amongst others we visited Hauser & Wirth, Alison Jacques Gallery (Michelle Stuart: The Nature of Time), Herald Street Gallery and Maureen Paley (Oscar Tuazon: Fire).

I returned to London to see the results of the Tate Exchange project ‘Inventory of Behaviours’ at Tate Modern, a project in which I was invited to take part with a set of ‘instructions’.  While there, I visited Lee Bul’s, ‘Crashing’ at the Hayward – a mix of sculpture, installation, sound, film, and performances from the ‘80s.

Theatrical hybrids and fictional landscapes combining industrial and organic materials fill the spaces in a dramatic show.  Bul, from South Korea, confronts political persecution in her country, references disasters, questions cultural attitudes to the female body, and the pursuit of perfection through her re-appropriation of architecture and bodily forms.  She explores our ‘fear and fascination with… the uncanny’.   It was all fascinating, though I felt more affinity with her less glitzy other worldly soft sculptural monster works, especially ‘Monster Pink’, a reconstruction of a 1998 piece, and her stitched cocoons, made from various fabric.  In Scale of Tongue (2017-18) a hidden fan created a gentle motion in the fabric.

Sarah Sze’s ‘Image in Debris’ installation at Victoria Miro is extraordinary.  The darkened room is lit by a mesmerizing set of flickering moving images – luminescent blue satellite images of cities at night, reminiscent of bio-luminescent microorganisms, celestial imagery, a cheetah running in slow motion, the elements – layered on the wall and on small torn paper fragments supported by a delicate framework of thin rods.   Drips of dried paint catch the light. Everyday objects, particularly office supplies, are placed around the installation. This is all accompanied by sounds of clunks, gentle whirring, drips, clicks. The magnitude of our universe becomes a mad invention.

Berlinde de Bruyckere’s sculpture ‘Quan’, 2010, in Bumped Bodies at the Whitechapel Gallery is a contorted, bruised human figure buried in a cushion, built up from several layers of wax over an iron structure.  It makes one feel uncomfortable, even repulsed, but I was in captivated by the wax skin tones and powerful form she has created.

Closer to home, at Hauser & Wirth Somerset ‘Alexander Calder: From the Stony River to the Sky’, is a beautifully curated exhibition.  His delicate balanced mobiles and stabiles and their shadows fully occupy the space. Conversations between artworks, recurring forms and his upcycled jewelry, some seen in UK for the first time, offer scope for new ideas.

Participation in Manifesta12

I am very excited to have been selected to take part in a 10 day workshop in Palermo soon as part of Manifesta12, supported by Bath Spa University Enterprise Showcase Fund. The project ‘Ingruttati Palermo Planetary Garden’ research and fabrication workshop will involve a group of international artists, geographers, urban landscape architects and students who will be exploring the extraordinary hidden underground networks of the qanat waterways.  Metaphorically similar to the mysterious powers of mycelium – also an underground system, which can stretch thousands of miles within one organism, the waterways reflect science’s recent discovery of vast reservoirs of water contained hundreds of miles beneath earth’s surface.   This will be a wonderful opportunity for me to take part in the prestigious international art event, and to develop the aspect of my practice involving collaborative art projects in the community on an international level.

My website will be undergoing some changes in the next couple of months – look out for the rebrand!

 

 

Glut

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on ‘Glut’, a set of wrapped, woven and sutured forms made from found and recycled materials (fabric, plastic, sponge, twine, sisal, foam, copper wire, linseed oil, wax).   It’s first public showing will be at an exhibition ‘Continuum’, part of Fringe Arts Bath, an arts festival coming up soon.  The work relates to issues of waste, our relationship with matter, nature and ourselves.  Its labour-intensive process and use of recycled materials is an important element in the work. 

‘Continuum’ will showcase artwork by MA students from Bath Spa University.  Varied practices including sculpture, painting, installation and performance.  The exhibition addresses the issue of change.  During the exhibition, I will continue to make elements for the work in situ.

6 New Bond Street Place; 25 May (opening night) – 10 June;11am – 6pm daily.

I have also been making some small, temporary artworks for a curated environmental art project in Bath. ‘ABC Bath’ (Art Breeds Conscience) runs from 11 – 31 May in the Walcot area of Bath;  Initiated by MA Curatorial Practice student Beatriz Nogueira, the project aims to bring environmentally friendly art onto the streets and parks of Bath, in the hope that it will encourage its audience to question current issues – waste, factory farming, pollution of our air, land and seas.  Instagram – @abcbath; Twitter – @AbcBath; Website – bathabc.wordpress.com

‘Glut (ii)’ is made from recycled materials.  I dyed cotton, silk & linen naturally using avocado pits.  Other materials include sponge, twine, copper wire, wax.  I am concerned with factory-farming methods and animal welfare.  Animals are treated as commodities, over-crammed and over-produced.   I have been affected by reading ‘Planet of Slums’ (Mike Davis), and the film ‘Our Daily Bread’ (Nikolaus Geyrhalter).  

Do visit!

Spring News

Now that the cold spell is over, I feel a Spring update is due.

In my week’s residency at Walcot Chapel, Bath last month as part of my MA, I made a piece (image above) in response to the site, current waste issues, and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  It was inspired by the plight of 1000’s of albatross chicks dying from stomachs filled with plastic.  Entitled ‘Instead of a Cross, an Albatross’, it is a kind of altarpiece. The steel and copper components echoed the trees and shadows through the window.  Later this year I’m hoping to make work involving some participatory interaction with the public using waste materials.

Ongoing work is also being influenced by a book I’ve just read Planet of Slums by Mike Davis, which reveals horrific realities as a result of our rapidly growing worldwide poverty, rich/poor divide – cruel slumlords, neglect and harrowing deaths.  Factory farming (particularly a film ‘Our Daily Bread’) is also affecting my thoughts, and the loss of Tilly, our beloved boxer dog, who died at the weekend.  These experimental process pieces are all made from scrap materials.

On a lighter note, I continue to teach All Hallows Prep School students extra-curricular art.  I’m proud to see some of their work selected for the Black Swan Young Open, starting this Saturday.  Last week I ran a workshop with several groups of children Years 4-8 at Hazlegrove Prep School, making a 1.75m flying albatross sculpture out of recycled plastic and wire.

This Saturday, I’ll be running a collaborative workshop with Aya Kobayashi and Stephen Ives as part of BBC’s Get Creative event and Black Swan Arts Young Open exhibition, sponsored by Visual Arts South West.  It will explore the creative process – how to shape an idea into form – experimenting with sculpture and sound technology, combining found/reclaimed materials.

Book soon via Eventbrite (https://goo.gl/SNdgny) – spaces are filling up!

This season, I’ll be showing 2 of my sculptures in the The Cotswold Sculpture Park, The Paddock, Somerford Keynes, Cirencester GL7 6FE http://www.elementalsculpturepark.com/ from 1 April – 30th September, 10.30am-5pm (closed Tues and Wed),  admission £5.

I’ve visited a few exhibitions locally including Messums Museum’s ‘Myth, Material & Metamorphosis’ (that’s a mouthful!) – fantastical sculpture by Kate McCgwire and Ann Carrington (image below), ceramics and narrative paintings with many surprising gems.  It’s always a joy to visit the wonderful tithe barn showing consistently high quality, exciting contemporary art.

At The Edge, Bath, the Jerwood Drawing Prize comprises some great pieces.  Amongst others, I loved the thick roll of paper covered in pencil – like a gleaming sheet of metal.

I’ve been invigilating at Hauser & Wirth Somerset for ‘The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind’.  It’s been good to be able to keep returning to study the exhibits (numerous artworks/artefacts of interest).  I’ve also managed to sell a couple of small pieces through the Honest Shop – part of the show.  I’m doing a talk for Hauser & Wirth’s Sound Bites programme on Beatrix Potter’s drawing of fungal spores entitled ‘Absidia’, Thursday 29 March, 2pm. Come along, it’s free!

Happy springtime!

 

 

 

Instead of a Cross, an Albatross

I am relieved that the research-based module 4 of my MA is now over.   I read alot of books – ‘Materiality: Documents of Contemporay Art’ is a brilliant eye-opener to concepts on matter and process.  I now have a fairly clear run until September to work through ideas and create for my final MA show.  I have been working outside for the first time since last summer in the February sunshine. Though cold, it has been wonderful to spread out and get on with new work.

I have become fixated by the plight of sea creatures, dying in large numbers from trash heap gyres in our oceans. I am particularly disturbed by images of Albatross chicks taken by Chris Jordan, a photography initiative at Midway, USA. Their stomachs get bloated full of plastic objects – sharp shards, lighters and bottle tops, fed by their parents mistaking the floating objects for morsels of fish. Their insides reveal a microscopic view of our trash.  My new piece is a response to this terrible reality, to be shown in a residency at Walcot Chapel, Bath, later this month (12-18 Feb).  I am linking the myth of the albatross in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (‘instead of a cross, the albatross’) with ideas of the crucifixion, using found objects including old steel nails, rope and plastic.

I had to make a 2 minute video of an artist between 1900-49 to present as part of Dexter Dalwood seminars at Bath Spa Uni.  I decided to make one about Graham Sutherland’s Green Tree Form: Interior of Woods.  For a first film, it turned out ok, thanks to my son Jack for his technical help putting it together.  Sutherland’s thorn series brought to mind the association of nails/thorns with the crucifixion for my new piece.

A couple of my pieces (below) will be shown at the Elemental Sculpture Park near Cirencester, Gloucestershire (The Paddocks, Somerford Keynes, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 6FE from 1st April to 30th September, 10:30 – 17:00, closed Tuesday and Wednesday, last admission 16:00).  Do visit if you are in the area.

I have started invigilating at Hauser & Wirth’s The Land we Live in – The Land We Left Behind.  The exhibition is a narrative about our relationship with the rural, featuring an incredible selection of artists including Archimboldo, Beatrix Potter (a lovely drawing of fungal spores which prompted me to investigate her innovative work on lichen and fungi), Samuel Palmer, Henry Moore, Mark Dion.  An intriguing show and so comprehensive, it is worth several visits.  As part of the exhibition there is an Honest Shop where local artisans can sell their work (£20 max).  I have some small copper items for sale – enameled lichen forms, keyrings, incense holder, balls and hearts!

Yesterday I visited Dorothy Cross’s Glance exhibition at The New Art Centre, Roche Court, near Salisbury. I was amazed by her carved marble Bed with its gently creased sheets and soft-looking pillow hollowed by an absent head. She manages to turn a traditional medium into something very contemporary.  Her body fragments – dangling feet and hand casts are also very beautiful.

Here’s to more February sunshine!

 

 

 

 

Material experiments, exhibitions and open studios

Hello to Winter and the festive season!

I am now in my second (and final) year of my MA Fine Art course at Bath Spa Uni.  It has been a great opportunity to reflect on previous work, find new ways of working and research.  I am still expanding and refining ideas, while continuing the thread of using reclaimed materials. This aspect relates partly to the issue of waste and energy – utilising and recycling.  It belongs to a wider subject of our relationship with matter, nature, and ourselves.  In the series ‘Wonders of Life’ Brian Cox explains that energy is eternal, transforming from one thing to another. There is a connection between everything that has ever lived, and an impact, as in the Chaos theory, or Butterfly Effect.  I see Vitalism as energy in all things, although in Science it is the vital force peculiar to only living organisms.

A mass of frass (insect excretions) appeared around tiny entry points in a piece of found wood (above) in which I had inserted glass tendrils as growths. The frass resemble decaying matter on a holdfast I studied. I find them intriguing, referencing life’s recycling, organic matter as bodily forms. These phenomena have been starting points to further investigations. They led to microscopic studies of frass. Microscopic hidden structures vital to our being reflecting the magnitude of life. These images could easily be rock formations – even meteors.

I have since experimented with annealing and beating copper over molds I carved in wood, based on frass forms. My copper project – exploring the materiality of copper and what happens to it under different conditions – included an experiment with copper electrolysis. The alchemic process is fascinating, I have learnt a little more chemistry and made copper hydroxide as a pigment. Two scrap pieces of copper were connected to a low voltage battery charger, with opposite charges. The electricity splits the ions in salty water. A complex chemical process ensues, involving copper hydroxide, chlorine and hydrogen bubbles. The effects of disintegration and patination are wonderful. The harnessing of elemental energy could become an artwork.

I recently visited the exhibition ‘Italian Influences, British Responses’ at Estorick, London. It was interesting to see current artworks alongside the anti-consumerist 60’s group Arte Povera, who broke with tradition believing art should be inclusive.  In their resolution to fuse life and art, nature and culture, they used everyday materials, often incongruous juxtapositions of mundane manufactured with organic. Their work was about energy and the elements. The exhibition included a piece by Mona Hatoum.  She uses everyday objects arranged to signify displacement and confinement.  In her work domesticity becomes ‘menacing’ (Van Assche).  In a Youtube film she explains her intuitive response to materials. She incorporates body parts eg nails, skin, hair, creating modest hair balls, or hair grids. Through these bodily excretions she transforms materials and meaning.

I also saw Damian Ortega at White Cube Gallery and watched him online. He playfully takes apart and re-assembles components, dealing with fragmentation of objects, time, materiality.  It is a philosophical discourse involving material and message.   I like his encyclopaedic geodes made from old maps, which he layers as shells, suggesting geological time, and his visual essays, which question truth, mass media’s effect on our perceptions and judgements. ‘Learning Scheme’ indexes small thumbnail clay pieces according to their similarities. Some forms are similar in different groups/lines. Like convergent evolution, they seem to morph, some are organic, others more mechanical.  Since then I have been working in clay a little.

Last week we opened our MA studios to the public.  I created an installation for it inspired by the organic forms I have been studying, using found and reclaimed materials, some transformed by me. It was a great gathering and the deadline helped me focus on one thing for a while.

On a more commercial note, to make ends meet, I have just updated my Etsy page: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/FionaCampbellArt. Do have a look – there are some possible gifts for Christmas!

Have a lovely one!

 

Exhibitions – Judy Pfaff, Frieze and more

In September I attended Judy Pfaff’s talk and the launch of her new site-specific installation ‘Roots Up’ at Messums, Wiltshire.  Having previously researched her online as an artist of great interest to me, it was a real thrill to see her work in reality.  Pfaff sees her installations as ‘painting in 3d’.  ‘Roots Up’ fills the length and height of the huge tithe barn.  On entering, I was taken aback by the immensity of two extraordinary entwined tree root balls, which have naturally melded together clasping man-made stone blocks between their roots.  Monumental in scale, nature’s power is unequivocal.  Steel rods wiggle and writhe – their man-altered forms communing with the architecture and nature. Colourful concentric rings are encircled by 12 hovering vessels, a fantastical mix of green to pink sinuous melted plastic and expanded foam spilling out.  I was reminded of sundials, crop circles, the solar system and celtic patterns. The recognisable influence of Salisbury Cathedral is represented in a fluted architectural column reaching to the ceiling.  Pfaff’s work oozes, spews and flows with energy and vitality, which I love.

Earlier this month I visited Frieze London.  I was overwhelmed by the scale of it; seemingly endless compartmentalised spaces filled with art and hoards of people, which made me quite dizzy by the end!  Gallery Pillar Corrias created an incredible theatrical show of Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley’s work. The floor is integrated into the work as a stage set.  Floor, wall-mounted lightbox portaits and sculptural installations are all treated with the same black and white stylisation of a fictional narrative based on American World War II sailors’ lives on a submarine.  I found it compelling.

Lee Bul’s ‘Untitled (Mekamelencolia – Velvet #3 DDRG29AC) incorporates human hair, paint, dried flowers and silk velvet.  Strands of hair furrow through the velvet pile as a drawing, particles of dried flowers embedded in the surface.  I’ve noticed human hair featured in several artworks lately.  There are so many everyday materials under our noses which we can utilise.  I like the unexpected mix.  I am experimenting with grass juice, feathers and ground coal, though hair may be added to the list!

Do Ho Suh’s ‘Main Entrance, 388 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903, USA’ is a beautiful, ethereal walk-through sculpture about memory of place.  Made from blue polyester fabric over thin steel pipes, it is immaculately crafted, simple and elegant.  Sarah Sze’s intricate maquette is a miniature version of her planetary installation ‘Triple Point (Planetarium)’.  ‘Her work challenges the static nature of sculpture.  She draws from Modernist traditions of the found object, dismantling their authority with dynamic constellations of materials that are charged with flux, transformation and fragility’ (Victoria Miro).

I’ve compiled a slideshow of the stages of my interim MA Show installation ‘Matter in Flux’ (which explored connections between line, growth and energy inspired by webs – see ‘Spider Web Safari’ – and other micro phenomena).  A short film taken by Nick Weaver also gives a flavour of the work.  I’m now working on research for my 4th module.

‘Anthill I’ is now happily installed in its new home, purchased at ‘Form and Fascination’, The Courts Garden, where I showed alongside Ian Turnock.  It was a joy to exhibit in such a National Trust gem.

When it came to taking down ‘Cirri’ from ‘Summer Sculptures’ at Glastonbury Abbey, I was delighted to find a lady absorbed in drawing the pieces. Julia from Edinburgh had been with my work two days in a row, finding them a great source of inspiration.

As part of our collaborative exhibition ‘Ephemeral and Eternal’ during Somerset Art Weeks Festival ’17 at Black Swan Arts, Angela Morley and I ran some workshops.  Mine involved participants ranging in age from 3 to adult making pieces using found and reclaimed materials.

1173 visitors came to see our exhibition, and we received some wonderful feedback. If you missed it, our collaborative piece ‘Life Form’ is still mounted on the Round Tower wall. There were 4 exhibitions at Black Swan Arts, including the beautiful and incredibly moving ‘Hinterland’ show by Gladys Paulus, so it was buzzing.   My ‘Cocoon’, exhibited during SAW Festival at Clayhill Arts, Bridgwater, is still on show to those who visit the centre by appointment.

I managed to visit a few other SAW venues.  I was particularly inspired by SAW’s Muse project (artist responses to South West museum collections).  At Wells Museum Sean Harris’ revealing, clever animation machines respond to the collection of ancient bones found in local caves including the Hyena Den.  Dorcas Casey’s elevated crocodile at Bruton Museum is an amusing take on the collection’s animal shaped jelly moulds. ‘Gather-ing’, Somerset Rural Life Museum and Cotley Barn made use of the history and architecture of tithe barns.  They are such evocative spaces.

I am delighted that my Log Cast has been selected for the Black Swan Open, Frome, starting next week.

Time to move forwards with new ideas for my final MA year!

Autumn news

My part-time MFA course at Bath Spa Uni continues to challenge and broaden my art practice, taking it in new directions which I am finding exciting!  Recent work has resulted in an immersive installation piece (images above) for the MA Degree ShowBath School of Art & Design, Sion Hill, Bath, BA1 5SF, 23 – 27 Sept, 10am-5pm.  Private View 22 Sept 6-9pm.  This will be an interim show for me, being my first year of two.

I have been installing several other exhibitions that run simultaneously this autumn in very different venues.  I was invited to show a selection of my outdoor sculptural pieces in ‘Form and Fascination’ at Courts Garden National Trust alongside Ian Turnock’s work.  Both inspired by structures in nature, our work is set in the beautiful gardens that feature water, intimate, formal and wild areas:  Holt, Nr Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA14 6RR, 9 September – 15 October (closed Wednesdays; last entry to garden 5pm).

Somerset Art Weeks Festival is coming up soon, this year themed ‘Prospect’.  I am showing with Angela Morley in 2 venues spanning East and West Somerset.  We have transformed the Round Tower Gallery, both inside and out, for ‘Ephemeral and Eternal’ (Venue 3), Black Swan Arts, 2 Bridge St, Frome, Somerset BA11 1BB.  Our exhibition has already started (a week earlier than SAW): 16 September – 7 October, 10am–4pm, Mon to Sat, (open Sun 1 Oct); Preview Fri 22 Sept 6-8pm.  At Clayhill Arts, Clayhill Farm, Charlynch Lane, Bridgwater TA5 2PH our large outdoor sculptures will be on display in the landscape to launch their new centre, 23 September – 8 October, 11am-6pm, Wed-Sun.

As part of Somerset Art Weeks we will be running workshops:

Black Swan Arts: ‘Organic Forms’: Wed 4 Oct, 1-3pm (Angela Morley); Sat 7 Oct, 10am-12noon or 1-3pm (me); book via www.eventbrite.co.uk

Clayhill Arts: ‘Organic Forms Found Materials’ Sun 8 Oct, half day or full day (me); or ‘Organic Forms Willow Weaving Sun 8 Oct, half day or full day (Angela Morley), or combination of each: book via www.eventbrite.co.uk

Summer Sculptures, Glastonbury Abbey grounds, Somerset, BA6 9EL, continues until 1 October (normal admission applies)

I hope you can visit some of these exhibitions!

Playing With Space

I visited the Venice Biennale last month and loved it.   Of course, Venice is beautiful: the canals, bridges, crumbling textured walls, astonishing architectural details.. and so much art.  The Arsenale is an awesome building.  Originally a naval dockyard, it is now filled with international contemporary installations, some more impressive than others.  My favourites are Yee Sookyung’s huge ceramic sculpture and Ernesto Neto’s woven tent with hanging pods, both filling vast spaces.  At the Giardini, Phyllida Barlow’s ‘Folly’ for the UK Pavilion greets you with huge bauble/lollipops, monumental towers jostle inside like gigantic elephant legs stretching upwards and pushing out of the building confines. ‘Folly’ is a playful maze challenging our perceptions of art.  I also loved Geoffrey Farmer’s water piece.  The Canadian Pavilion is unfinished, so his work utilises the space with a refreshing outdoor piece.  Steel structures camouflaged as wood planks with holes spray water into the air, playfully catching sunlight and casting rainbows.  In the Japanese Pavilion Takahiro Iwasaki has created incredible tiny 3d thread architectural constructions in unexpected places within the room.

I have been making my own glass tendrils with Sonja Klinger’s help.  I hope to use them within an ongoing installation (see bottom – work in progress).  My new interest in glass led me to the Glasstress Exhibition, also in Venice.  Ai Weiwei’s ‘Blossom Chandelier’ dominates one room with white glass swirling forms, a fusion of exotic flowers and his anti-authoritarian motifs.  In contrast, Josepha Gasch-Muche’s ‘T.30/12/07’ comprises fine slivers of transparent glass packed into a box-like structure.  Jagged but delicate, the edges become abstract drawings.

I’ve been inspired by Judy Pfaff’s work, which ‘seems to zoom into the organic then zoom out to the planetary.’ (Tim Higgins).  She creates installations and assemblages that fuse collage, drawing, painting and sculpture, a flamboyant mix of glass, tree branches, fluorescent lights, tar, melted plastic, expanded foam, plexiglas, steel, styrofoam, plaster and resin.  A recent TV series ‘The Art of Japanese Life‘ touched on the use of Ma in Japan: the spaces and lulls between things are as important as positives, often suggesting peace, silence.

Now in a temporary new massive studio at Sion Hill, Bath Spa Uni, as part of my MFA, I am enjoying the liberating space and opportunity to really go for it in my quest to explore line as form on a larger scale, drawing in space, treating line as object, taking lines ‘for a walk’ (Klee).  While still referring to the connection between line, growth and energy, I am trying to allow the work to unfold, working in a more immediate way and introducing unfamiliar materials to see what happens…

Exhibitions: Black Swan Arts, Fresh Air and 50 Bees

Just a brief update on a few exhibitions and events that I’m taking part in this Spring.  I hope you will be able to visit some of them.

‘The Future Can’t Wait’, recently opened in the Long Gallery, Black Swan Arts Centre, 2 Bridge St, Frome, Somerset BA11 1BB, 18 March – 5 April (see attached poster/invite).  A show of exhibits from 30 Bath Spa MA postgraduate students across four disciplines – ceramics, fashion and textiles, fine art and visual communication.

I’ve been involved in linking this up with BBC’s get-creative-weekend.  On Saturday 8 April, from 2-4pm, Black Swan artisans will be offering drop-in taster workshops for adults and children over ten years old, and MA artists will work with young people offering activities for children of all ages, exploring concepts of their current exhibition.  I will be doing one of the workshops.

I’m still working on my piece for Fresh Air ’17.  Too large now for my studio, I am making it outdoors.  Spring weather is helping a lot!  Quenington Old Rectory, Quenington, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 5BN, 11 June – 2 July, open daily 10am-5pm, (£5 Adults, children free).

I’m also making a small sculpture for Fifty BEES: The Interconnectedness of All Things, at ACEarts, Somerton, 1-22 July, open Tues – Sat, 10am-5pm.  The topic is close to my heart.

Have a lovely Spring!