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…

Diatoms

I’ve been a bit obsessed with Diatoms of late.  Sucked into their microcosmic world, it’s become a running theme – versions of diatoms floating and not floating – made of recycled steel, wire, plastic, twine, bottle tops and other found materials.  I was thinking about an interesting form for a prototype I wanted to make for a Scraptors project late last year.  I had also been previously donated some beautiful large pink glass baubles – cast offs by Sonja Klinger (a glass artist I know) and was looking to incorporate these in a set of work.   Something nest-like, primal and related.   I was looking at some Ernst Haeckel illustrations I’ve always loved, together with old sketchbook drawings.  Haeckel’s intricate drawings of strange and fantastical plant forms and microscopic creatures have inspired me in the past in my own work and art teaching projects with children, though I hadn’t fully investigated their scientific content.  The diatom illustrations struck me more than ever before – colourful, ephemeral, sculptural, primal and reminiscent of so many simple life forms and my growing collection of scrap bicycle wheels, tyres and bottle tops etc – a perfect union.  After researching the topic, I was hooked – endless possibilities of woven, kaleidoscopic forms.  Diatoms live up to their name, with diametrically opposed characteristics and dichotomies that are fascinating.  They have inspired others, but still more have never heard of them.

Diatoms are microscopic organisms living in aquatic environments, now sadly becoming endangered, yet essential to our survival as they provide over 35% of our oxygen.  Beautiful, primal structures hailing back to the Jurassic era, if not earlier, they are symbols of nature’s cyclical persistence, though threatened by man’s intervention.  Just yellowish algae to the human eye, close up they are living glass sculptures, coated in iridescent silicate shells, similar to glass.   Shaped mainly as circular, ribbons, zig zags or stellates, their shells display the most incredible range of raised frustules and cavities.  They are single celled, yet multiply by splitting in two.  Because their shells are heavy, there’s a risk of sinking, yet they need to be on the surface to photosynthesise, so they blow themselves up like helium balloons, to counteract this and to float.  Some can move via flagellation.  They provide food directly or indirectly to numerous animals.  When they die, their shells float to the bottom and become diatomaceous earth – forming a major part of the earth’s limestone, and used by us as diatomite (and here’s another twist – this is used as insecticide and a component of dynamite).  We use diatoms to monitor environmental conditions…

I offered a diatom-based design, amongst other drawings/ideas of cocoons, nests and eggs, to our Scraptors group as one of a set of prints to try to raise funds for a planned ‘Scraptorzoic Era’ eco sculpture installation at The Magdalen Project.  This led to more diatom drawings and sculpture designs incorporating the pink glass baubles.  The first floating diatom prototype sculpture I made (using recycled materials) had a tractor inner tyre tube as its basis for floating.  However, the Magdalen Project felt it wasn’t appropriate as it contained friable plastic  – not condusive to their eco farm – and the tyre would need maintenance in future years.  Having taken several days to make it and with the agreement of Rachel Macleay (fellow Scraptor who’d added some wire & plastic tentacles as a collaborative piece) and her partner Paul (Scraptor) I put it forward for Bristol’s Big Green Week, rather than let it lie listless and wasted in my garden, together with newer alternative designs utilising recycled materials.  Accepted as a Capital Green Week Artist, I was kindly offered several orange life rings by Bristol’s Harbour Master and ended up making 8 more floating Diatoms and 1 non-floating (with glass bauble) for part of my exhibition, amongst other new work.  Initially exhibited on the harbour by the Arnolfini, these Diatoms are now floating in London’s various Canal Festivals this summer as part of the Rubbish Art Project – being moved to each site in turn.  I’ve just made 2 more Diatoms (a little sketchy due to time limitations) to complete a set of 3 non-floating ones – each with a central pink glass bauble for the Devon Recycled Sculpture Trail – showing at Teignmouth seafront until September.  I may build on these in the future.  The glass baubles seem appropriate – silica being in intrinsic element of diatoms.  I will hopefully be making others – different and exclusively suitable for the Magdalen Project requirements (with no plastic content) – later this year for the Scraptors’ project.


Nature’s cyclical persistence

A solo exhibition of my work is dawning soon at Casespace, Bruton Museum.  An intimate space enclosed in a glass case and one corner of the Museum, the exhibition ‘Precious and Primal’ will show some of my smaller pieces – including cocoons and new work I’m making at present:  New Beginnings is a series of egg forms with tentacles sprouting upwards.  I’m experimenting with the kinds of media I used years ago – bandage, wax, bristles etc… to achieve the textures I’m after.  

My ideas have been developing for a proposed show, for which I’d like to create a massive piece as the main focus.   Concepts of  ‘a network of threads weaving through all things’ and Nature’s cyclical persistence keep re-emerging.  Although one changes, develops and adapts in life – it’s strange how one keeps returning to old ideas.  It’s that ‘cyclical nature of things’ concept again (or I’m like a goldfish swimming around.. and around….)

Sonja Klinger (glass artist) kindly gave me some beautiful large pink glass baubles, which she considered scrap.  As I collect recycled materials she thought I could use them in my work.  In a way, I’d like to keep them just as they are – objects d’art in themselves.  They have been sitting decoratively in my garden over the winter, mulling over their next destiny.  But I have a plan for them now.  My Diatom drawings show the baubles encased as the heart within these sculptures.  Diatoms are phytoplankton from the Jurassic Era.  Significantly endangered, they’re responsible for over 40% of the ocean’s primary production – without which we all die.  When I recently learnt that information, my obsession with these fascinating microscopic phenomenon grew all the stronger.  We mustn’t kill them just as we mustn’t slaughter whales!  

My work with the Scraptors sculpture group is accelerating once more.  We are about to launch our IndieGoGo bid to help fund our next venture at the Magdalen Project and filming continues tomorrow to get our message across.  See our blog for details: scraptors.blogspot.com   S-J of Whitespace Productions has kindly made a shorter film version of our Scraptors’ Sculpture Trail at Stourhead to help with our IndieGoGo fund-raising launch.