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!

Collaboration

'Flock in Flight' All Hallows Prep School group work

Each project brings with it new challenges. Sometimes several projects run alongside each other and the art of juggling can be a challenge in itself. Some of my roles overlap or interlink. This can be a good way to function, ‘killing 2 birds with 1 stone’ (though I hate killing), easing the problem of having too many things on the go, but isn’t so straightforward if you don’t want to compromise the work, and it can create a bottleneck time-wise, amongst other complications. I’ve enjoyed working alongside other artists/makers of all ages. I like collaboration – at its best, combined effort multiplies output and result, it’s more fun and creatively, one can learn so much from working with others.

The past month has been full-on. With a bit of time to reflect now, here’s a look at what went on in my little creative world (in the bigger world – all I can say in a nutshell is PLEASE CAN WE UNITE AND STOP KILLING).

Teaching, Workshops, Talks, Demonstrations

On 12 June I spent a day at the Hidden Garden Art Show (Maureen Michaelson Gallery, Hampstead), part of Chelsea Fringe Festival where my sculptures were on show with other selected artists, demonstrating my work process, running a drop-in workshop and giving a talk about my work to visitors.  Although it poured with rain all morning, the sun brought a magical shimmer and quite a crowd in the afternoon, including Tim Richardson – founder of Chelsea Fringe.

Drop-in workshop at Hidden Garden Art ShowWorkshop participant's beetleMe talking to Tim Richardson (leads Chelsea Fringe)

I teach 2 evenings a week at All Hallows Prep School and as I’ve been involved in the Secret Swans Art Trail (one of Black Swan Arts’ 30th anniversary events and part of Frome Festival), I devised a project to involve the children in the Trail.   We created a flock of flying swans in wire, which were installed on the exterior wall of Black Swan’s historic Round Tower.  Inspired by my recent trip to Sophie Ryder’s exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral, we used her ‘scribbly’ technique to add more black areas.  It was an effective solution given time constraints.  The final lessons getting the work completed was a mission as some children were absent due to end-of-term activities.  Thankfully others stood in (special mention: Ellie West and Nick Somerville!). The swans looked like faint drawings, quite lovely and ethereal, though visitors had to look hard to see them.

Student's work in progress - making the All Halllows swansStudent's work in progress - making the All Halllows swansMy contribution to 'Flock in Flight'Installation on Round Tower, Black Swan Arts Centre

Preparations for Priddy Festival included some ‘birdy notes’ as we called them.  A team of Mendip Creatives made them from wire and paper, for marquee decor.  A large willow hog was also made, led by Angela Morley.

I worked with a couple of schools recently (Bishops Wordsworth & North Town) making wire figures and mini creatures.  Bishops Wordsworth was a 2 day slog over to Salisbury in a hire car (my truck was broken) giving 4 x powerpoints/making sessions to 128 children in fairly swift succession. The short sessions of 2 hours per group had limitations, but it’s amazing what children can do when focused!

North Town Primary students making Giacometti-inspired figureNorth Town Primary student making Giacometti-inspired figureGiacometti-inspired figureGiacometti-inspired figureGiacometti-inspired figureWire Fish by Yr 7 pupil - Bishops Wordsworth School Wire Dragonfly by Yr 7 pupil - Bishops Wordsworth School Wire Seahorse by Yr 7 pupil - Bishops Wordsworth School Wire Crane by Yr 7 pupil - Bishops Wordsworth School Wire Woodlouse by Yr 13 helper - Bishops Wordsworth School

Volunteering Roles

Secret Swans badge (illustration by Belinda Brownlee)

I continue to be very involved in the Black Swan Arts centre as a trustee, especially this year, with its 30th anniversary.  We have held several special exhibitions/events to mark the occasion, which have so far been a ‘resounding success’ (Christina Oswin), with great feedback, overwhelming support from the public, serious funds raised, heightened the BSA profile and engaged the community.
1000 Postcards attracted over 1000 postcard-sized artworks (including 2 of mine) for a massively popular exhibition with over £10,000 of sales so far and visitors galore.  Unsold postcards can still be bought online.  Preparations for the Secret Swans Art Trail, which followed straight after, grew more intensive.  30 artists in 30 venues around Frome.  I made a piece, ‘Resurrection’, (using reclaimed steel, copper wire, tar, rope and scrim) and sited it by the river.  It only recieved slight damage, easily rectified and many positive comments, so am grateful to most Frome residents for their respect!  In addition I worked on the All Hallows piece, helped Nick Weaver with the organisation and was largely involved in the PR for these events.  They are great examples of a huge team effort by Black Swan volunteers.

Sketches for my Secret Swans work'Resurrection' - ‘Black Swan’ is a metaphor for the impossible becoming possible. This piece is about hope, endeavour, yearning, striving for truth, purity (‘we will never know everything’), freedom from constraints, environmental pollution. Swans represent love, which ‘conquers all’, symbolised by the crucifix. 'Resurrection' - ‘Black Swan’ is a metaphor for the impossible becoming possible. This piece is about hope, endeavour, yearning, striving for truth, purity (‘we will never know everything’), freedom from constraints, environmental pollution. Swans represent love, which ‘conquers all’, symbolised by the crucifix. 'Resurrection' - ‘Black Swan’ is a metaphor for the impossible becoming possible. This piece is about hope, endeavour, yearning, striving for truth, purity (‘we will never know everything’), freedom from constraints, environmental pollution. Swans represent love, which ‘conquers all’, symbolised by the crucifix. 'Resurrection' detail 'Resurrection' detail Secret Swans piece (detail) by Edgar PhillipsSecret Swans piece by Tessa Farmer (detail) Secret Swans piece by Alicia Merret Secret Swans piece by Angela Morley - detail Secret Swans piece by Annie Fry

I’ve been involved in various Somerset Art Works meetings, a couple for an exciting new project that might come off next year with Anna Best, and for Somerset Open Studios ’16 (17 Sept – 2 Oct).  As Rep for East Mendip, I’m keen to make sure we do Somerset proud.  I’m part of a cluster group in my area called The Mendip Triangle; we have a specially designed map (by Michel Linthorst) to help direct SAW visitors to our lovely rural Studios in September.  Looking forward to seeing this year’s SAW guides being delivered next week!

SAW flyer 'The Mendip Triangle' by Michel LinthorstSAW flyer (back) 'The Mendip Triangle' by Michel Linthorst

New Work, Exhibitions

I made a new Nest and Mini Dung Beetle & Ball for the Maureen Michaelson Show, in addition to existing work.  ‘Resurrection’ will be sited at the Devon Recycled Sculpture Trail, Teignmouth seafront from 23 July – 4 Sept, and I am now curating our forthcoming step in stone exhibition touring to Salisbury Art Centre (18 Aug – 24 Sept), with Amanda Wallwork’s help. 2 of my main outdoor pieces will be on show.  If you missed any step in stone artscapes last year, try to visit!

Nest detail'Cirri' created for step in stone, installed at Westdown Quarry, found and reclaimed steel, copper, aluminium, twine, wool, netting, rope, plastic. Photo by Duncan Simey

The garden and studio get quite a battering after big projects, so it’s time to tidy up!   My good intention of simplifying life, with less to clutter the brain is still in the development stage – I hope it will happen one day.  In the meantime, the juggling continues!

Sense of achievement

Around this time I normally write a winter newsletter, but it feels like I’ve only just finished the autumn one!  Time has really flown by.  It’s been a very intense and challenging few months for me, full of achievements and not quite burnt out yet!  ‘step in stone’ – an ambitious art in quarries project I organised – took over my life for many months and is now over.  It was incredible seeing it through to fruition, and so fulfilling working with quality artists whose work I admire.

Overall, ‘step in stone’ was a tremendous success, very well received by an extremely varied and broadly based audience.  Combining the role of project manager and curator with that of being a participating artist was demanding.  Considering time constraints and my other roles, I feel I achieved a great deal, though disappointed that I could not fully explore more possibilities with my commissioned artwork for the project. ‘Cirri’ was intended to be more numerous, (based on Fossilised remains of ancient sea life forms).  I relished the opportunity to explore new concepts and media in my piece ‘Eviscerated Earth’ installed at Fairy Cave Quarry – recycled wax, cloth, scrim, paper and wire combined with found, rusty scrap steel collected from quarries.  It linked to the story of Fairy Cave: destruction of caves and beautiful (speleothem) formations within.  I would have liked to create more work for our Black Swan Exhibition – a beautiful show – but management of the project took over and time ran out.

step in stone catalogue pageEviscerated Earth recycled wax, cloth, scrim, paper and wire combined with found, rusty scrap steel

Now that the excitement is over, and I’ve reached the end of the arduous (but revealing) evaluation process for it, I’m starting to look forward to new ventures and getting inspired.

I visited Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy, London recently.  It’s not often art brings tears to my eyes, but his work is so powerful, I was deeply moved.  The cell depictions of his sordid incarceration by Chinese authorities made me feel voyeuristic, angry and amazed at the brilliance of them.

A fortnight ago I sold my Nestling Cocoon to Mark Owen of Take That for an anniversary present to his wife Emma.  I drove from Somerset to North London to collect the piece from Maureen Michaelson (Gallerist), then to Sussex where I delivered it, then back to Somerset, in time to teach my evening art classes… all in a day!

I’m currently working on a life-size steel Bishop commissioned for the gardens at Bishops Palace, Wells, and will then start on a new commission for garden designer Sarah Eberle’s Artisan Garden at Chelsea Flower Show 2016, to create a 4 metre square woven canopy.

Bishop design

Other opportunities in the pipeline include showing with Maureen Michaelson again next year for Chelsea Fringe.  In the immediate future, I have been selected to show at the The Grant Bradley Gallery, (1 St Peters Ct, Bedminster Parade, Bristol BS3 4AQ) as part of a mixed show entitled ‘Bristol Green Capital in the Frame’. Celebrating and reflecting on the year that Bristol was voted The European Green Capital, it embodies a green theme: recycling, the importance of green spaces and wildlife.  The exhibition runs from 5 Dec ’15 – 2 Jan ’16.  You’re welcome to come along to the Private View: Fri 4 Dec 6-9pm!

In case you’ve tried viewing my website gallery pages – apologies!  There is a plug-in issue due to server updates, so some images are failing to open.  Hopefully it will be sorted soon!

 

Curating, making and installing for Step 2 – step in stone

It’s been an incredible few weeks, unleashing inner reserves of energy I didn’t know I had! Thank goodness for the unyielding patience and support of partner Nick Weaver, helping me to pull off the installation of Step 2 for ‘step in stone’ (a project I’m running), while finishing off artwork, getting signage done for 2 venues and co-ordinating it all.  In between, I have been keeping things going at Somerset Earth Science Centre (our Step 1 venue), and maintaining my diatoms, which have been taken over by birdlife and getting mucky in the process!

Halecombe and Westdown/Asham quarries are now open daily for all to visit – see Duncan Simey’s wonderful selection of pics from a very rainy Friday.  Jack Offord filmed us for the project documentary – looking forward to seeing the results of that at our Preview evening, 2nd October at Black Swan Arts, Frome.

Below is a selection from our Step 2 installation days and a couple of photoshoots by Duncan Simey taken since.

Signage step in stone groupSuzie Gutteridge with Felted RockDeciding on Christina White's photographsArtmusic birdbox speakers being installed by AlastairJack Offord - our filmmakerNick Weaver helping Bronwen install her etched plateMe at work on 'Cirri'Filling Sally Kidall's mini tents on a rain deluged dayChristina White installing at HalecombeNick Weaver installing our collaborative 'Ligna' (stick) pieces at Halecombe

Finished work by some of the artists at both venues:

Amanda Wallwork Deep Time Portals in the Eastern MendipStuart Frost - Pavimentum - limestone dustTessa Farmer Out of the Earth (ii) (detail)Christina White Carboniferous Timeline Photograph at Halecombe

My work:

Fiona Campbell, Vertical III, reclaimed steel copper wire and nitrate (detail). Photo Duncan SimeyFiona Campbell 'Cirri' recycled and found materialsCirri'Cirri'Cirri at Westdown/Asham quarry

My main pieces – ‘Cirri’ (last images above) are based on crinoids (see the making process)!   These are ancient sea creatures whose fossilised remains are common in carboniferous limestone and whose descendants can still be found living today. Crinoid tentacles (cirri) are reminiscent of branches, tendrils, feathers or the microscopic pattern of neurons. They cling to the seabed (some now vertical rock faces) by long spiny stems, others are without a stalk but have tentacle legs or long arms, which enable them to drag themselves along.  I’m inspired by the tenacity and diversity of life and similarities of form that occur in different organisms.

Sadly a couple of heavy steel springs (components of my work) have gone missing and other parts tampered with at Westdown – if anybody spots these lurking in the bushes there, do contact me, they might be from my work!

The past fortnight was filled with our workshops, guided walks and talks, held at SESC, Westdown and Halecombe Quarries.  The guided walks, in collaboration with Rosie and Pippa from Somerset Wildlife Trust, were really well attended and greatly enjoyed.  Workshop participants of all ages explored a range of creative approaches related to the project, Sally Kidall’s talk was much appreciated and I was chuffed that my talk for 27 Active Living members received a wonderfully receptive and enthusiastic response.

Guided Walk in Westdown QuarryBronwen's bookmaking workshop - I took part and loved it!Tanya Josham's stone carving workshopChristina White's Cyanotype/Van Dyke photograph workshop at HalecombeMy Guided Walk at Westdown

Last week culminated in a very inspirational performance at Westdown/Asham: Artmusic’s ‘ECHO’ sculpture and sound installation on Saturday 22nd August was animated by live performances of Artmusic’s ‘BLAST’ – a theatrical response to the rock and mechanics of quarrying, with specially composed trumpet music being played from locations which echoed around the quarry.  We had a great turn out and the audience seemed to really enjoy the unique show and setting. “A delightful melange of live and recorded fluttering trumpets grab our attention this way and that while butterflies flit among the stones…. As they move slowly up the valley from stone to stone, always edging closer to melody, we begin to follow, or not, or meander above and below. ..”  Caroline Radcliffe

People brought picnics, dogs, cameras, sketchbooks and the sun was scorching all day!

Trumpeter Jack Vincent by Cirri Artmusic's BLAST at Westdown Quarry Artmusic's BLAST with trumpeters John Plaxton and Jack Vincent, photo by Christina White Artmusic's BLAST, trumpet John Plaxton

Can’t wait to download Ralph Hoyte’s GPS Soundwalk ‘ANTICLINE‘ – now available for your smartphone before visiting Westdown.

Ralph Hoyte with his GPS smartphone app

 

I’m now working on the next stage for Step 3, which opens on 3rd October at Black Swan Arts, Fairy Cave Quarry and Frome Museum.  Hope you can visit step in stone soon (www.stepinstone-somerset.co.uk)!

Tentacle making

After months of collecting and creating, I’m now in the final stages of my step in stone work for Step 2 at Westdown/Asham Quarry – with just a few more tentacles to make.  Time is short and tentacles are long but I think I’ll get there!  Ideally, I would have liked to have made more work but time has constrained.

Seeds were my starting point.  Just as they have blown in to fertilise these ancient deserted rocky environments I envisaged large tumbleweed-like structures rolling around, like old man’s beard seed heads growing there. Thoughts have evolved around life’s energy force, neurons, repeat forms in nature, nature’s persistence,  sea creatures (see previous post on Crinoids)…

Rusting machinery and discarded mattress springs left in the quarries, old horseshoes (thanks to Luke Ellis) and other scrap found locally and donated – fossils of the modern era, remnants of past, have provided most of my material to make the work.

Scrap donated by Chris Lee Crinoid fossil Old Man's Beard in foreground at Westdown Quarry Tumbleweed/neuron design Scrap Scrap for fossilMaking tentacles'Cirri' in the making Pile of tentacles Cirri structure'Cirri' half made. Photo by Duncan SimeyGathering tentacles in studio Colour sorting Making the Crinoid structureSkeletal structure Skeletal structure

Convergent Evolution

The New Year often brings with it an awakening of new (and old) ideas.  Having always been interested in the way life forms so often repeat themselves throughout the macro and micro natural world, I was interested to recently discover the term ‘convergent evolution’.  This describes the independent evolution of similar features in different species – structures that have a similar form or function.  The ability, over time, of insects, birds, reptiles and some mammals to fly is one example.  David Attenborough’s new “Conquest of the Skies” series illustrates this beautifully.

I’m fascinated by certain primal structures, which are echoed everywhere, from tiny microbes to nervous and planetary systems.  Lately I’ve been focusing on spheres, branch-like forms and ‘cirri’ (tentacles, tendrils, hairy filaments..).  Many natural forms combine all these in varying degrees.  Through my recent investigation into quarry environments for step in stone, I have been discovering more about ancient sea life forms that existed over 350 million years ago.  Locally, in the Mendips, the most dominant rock is carboniferous limestone, which is full of fossiled skeletons, particularly an abundance of crinoids (sea lilies) and corals (e.g. rugose).  Although both marine creatures, they are from completely different families, yet have strong similarities, as do diatoms (marine micro-organisms).

Nature’s tenacity and persistence is reflected in disused quarry sites.  Silver Birch seeds blow in and take root almost immediately and in no time at all, vast cavities of scooped out rock are covered with a multitude of life forms.  In addition to fundraising, I’ve been doing some drawing and thinking about possible site-specific work to install in these spaces for step in stone later this year (see below).  At the moment, I like the idea of making 2 metre tumbleweed-like forms that relate to crinoids and rugose corals. They will entail a great deal of work, but an exciting prospect!

Crinoids and Coral Rugose Coral Tumbleweed ideaErnst Haeckel's Rugose Coral Sea Pen - Ernst Haeckel

We received well over our crowdfunding target for ‘step in stone‘, have received more funds from a local trust since and now awaiting news from the Arts Council bid – fingers crossed!

Happy New Year!