Tentacular

At the start of this month, I went to a Somerset Art Weeks Symposium in Taunton ‘Prospecting: new directions and territories for artists’ practice’.  It was an invigorating day, albeit condensed, making connections and thinking laterally.  I particularly enjoyed catching up with SAW artists and meeting new practitioners. One of our tasks to bring to the event was a ‘This is Me’ profile for a group wall display.  Mine (below) reflects on the tentacular nature of my practice:

The talks highlighted inspiring examples of socially engaged practice and collaboration.  In workshops with Kerry Harker and Lydia Catterall we discussed the imperative for resilience, forging artist-led initiatives, and finding interesting spaces to show our work.  With this in mind, I’ve been planning a few interesting ventures for next year.  Two happen to involve prison cells.

I’m excited to be mulling over ideas for a residency culminating in a solo exhibition in the basement cells at Town Hall Arts, Trowbridge, in the Spring.  Alongside the show, I’ll be delivering some related workshops with the young and elderly.  I am also in early stages of organising a joint art project and exhibition with Luminara Star and the Rubbish Art Project in Shepton Prison (the oldest UK working prison – now vacant until it gets developed into residential homes).  The cells are still in tact.  Both sites are unique, intriguing spaces for site-specific work, full of dark, sad histories, appropriate for creative responses to current society and environmental issues.  On a sunny day, light through the windows, steel bars and grids casts dramatic linear shadows. The prison, now silent, has great acoustics – one can only imagine the sounds of its past. We hope to include other artists, possibly sound, film, performance and installation and will engage the community in the making process.

A recent tweet about a bull elephant being shot because it broke out of its fenced enclosure in South Africa made me fume.  Almost as bad as poaching and trophy hunting.  It turns out they did not maintain the fences adequately, and all he was doing was naturally pushing boundaries, exploring, roaming beyond barriers – human imposed after all.  Why shoot him? Because he wasn’t towing the line we impose for our own humancentric logic.

Inky the Octopus, a hero in 2016, broke out of his aquarium tank in New Zealand National Aquarium, slid/crawled across the floor and down a drainpipe to the ocean.  Amazing intelligence and agility, but as this article points out, for many reasons beyond our own intelligence. Octopuses are so very different to us – ‘aliens’ apparently.  What’s fascinating is that ‘octopus literature is full of such flights to freedom’. The escape and how he did it remains a mystery. I was in awe watching an octopus in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet (Green Seas episode) trick a shark and escape by very cunningly and swiftly covering itself with a coat of shells. Picasso and his contemporaries were intrigued by ‘The Octopus’, 1928, a film by Jean Painleve, which led to Picasso’s octopus-like women.  Octopuses also remind me of the interconnectedness of life:

The tentacular are… fingery beings like humans… squid, jellyfish, neural extravaganzas, fibrous entities, flagellated beings… swelling roots… The tentacular are also nets and networks… Tentacularity is about life lived along lines… a series of interlaced trails’ (Donna Haraway, 2016)

So, this creature – a symbol of our great and mysterious oceans- inspired my design for a giant octopus lantern to lead 2018 Shepton Lantern Parade (see top).  I am making the chicken-wire structure, then working on it with the community and the Rubbish art project in workshops at the Art Bank,Shepton Mallet, using recycled materials, especially plastic.  Workshop dates: Sat 24 Nov 11am-1pm, Mon 26 11-1, Mon 3 Dec 7-9pm, Thur 6 Dec 4-6pm + more… To take part in a workshop email lucy@therubbishartproject.co.uk   The Octopus will be lit by led lights and paraded on 22 December with the Shepton Lantern Parade. Please come along!

Creature and environmental concerns continue to engage me, as does the blurring of boundaries.  My thoughts are currently meandering around concepts of confinement, caged animals/humans, factory farming, obstruction, barriers, walls within walls.. and I’m sure there will be an element of the tentacular.

Other news:

I received the official results of my Masters in Fine Art this week and delighted to have passed with distinction!

In between tidying up my studio so it’s fit for purpose, I’ve started working on a 1 metre Great Crested Newt as a commission for Carymoor Environmental Centre in memory of Hamish Craig, whose amazing contribution to Carymoor was instigated by great crested newts found there.

Last week I ran my first workshop as part of the Holburne Museum education team.  It was an A’Level life-drawing session linked to ‘Rodin: rethinking the fragment’. It encouraged me to do some of my own life-drawing beforehand and prep on Rodin’s link with the Pantheon sculptures, which all helped.

The class did some fabulous drawings:

Forthcoming exhibitions include: Residency and Solo Exhibiiton (title TBC), The Cells, Town Hall Arts, Trowbridge, April – May; Incendiary, Landsdown Gallery and SVA, Stroud, 4-10 February 2019; Marks Hall Sculpture, Essex, 20 July – 1 September 2019; Reformation, Bishops Palace, Wells, July – October 2019.  More info to follow.

 

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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!