Good morning Monday! I have had a gloriously eventful and wonderful weekend, when finally the two things I love – the Forest of Dean and contemporary art – collided headlong. And people too – lots of them – old and new friends.
Of course I live in the forest and deal with contemporary art every day of my life, but rarely do the two collide with such a burst! I shall explain.
I moved to the Forest in 2006, when I was working for the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust. I learnt a huge amount there about commissioning work in woodlands, about audiences navigating outdoor spaces, partnership working, fundraising, blue light meetings – the lot. I even started a PhD about it, but gave it up. I had to, because it was spoiling my love of writing, and art, and giving me too many sleepless nights. I am more interested in how we experience artworks in rural places than whether those works are deemed good or bad in academic circles. I also gave up the job – 5 years in one place is enough, it was time to move on.
Most of my work since then has been done outside, coast paths and beaches, barns and lighthouses…the list goes on. That’s all in the past, I’m more interested in the weekend.
Working in the arts for so long I have got to know some amazing people over the years, so imagine how lovely it was when I bumped into them this weekend unexpectedly, in the beautiful landscape of Lydney Park.
All I knew about Lydney Park before Saturday was that the Bathurst Lido belonged to the estate, and I swim there daily in the summer. While I cruised up the pool, I occasionally glimpsed a big house on the hill, but presumed it was private (which it is.)
This weekend it was open, to host a show of works by 5 artists, commissioned and managed by Matts Gallery in London. I heard about this residency scheme – BlackRock – a few weeks ago. So of course I went along – a little baffled as to what its status was – was it public? Was it invite only? Who funded it? Why now? What are the future plans? How will they manage it as an event?
I know – I shouldn’t work at weekends. But it’s hard to take the visual arts producer hat off sometimes.
So I went along on Saturday and loved it. Really loved it. Here are some very brief notes on the works.
David Cheeseman’s works – Standing Still, falling short – Plan(c)k – had humour and locale in them. They played on history and the now. The River Severn. The eternal viewpoint across the landscape. Neither here nor there also by Cheeseman, comprised of an OHP projection onto a blackboard, which was also chalked up to appear as a window looking out to a huge moon. A rather ambiguous bench structure, with its top filled with neat rows of thick, black and white felts, stood at an angle, with its top a bit squiffy….like a coffin lid….
Bronwen Buckeridge’s fantastic audio work – What would happen if I wasn’t here? – up in the woods did the same – raising questions about land ownership, the rural, about life in the forest in times gone by. Visitors tromped about through the brambles with headphones on, listening to the directional audio that genuinely provided a form of time-travel for the listener. Mesmerizing. I enjoyed that so much I even went up the ladder to the hunter’s seat the next day – those who know me will understand my fears around that experience. I kept thinking about Simon Schama’s book – Landscape and Memory. There’s a whole chapter in the about the Forest of Dean and how rebellious it has always been. I hope it stays that way.
Rebecca Birch’s two part work was called How the miner looks – a view point and a tunnel. It connected deeply with how miners look and how we look too. One part was up high in the woods, that took visitors on a slippery journey along tracks of iron-ore reddened earth. What they viewed were the scowles in this ancient landscape, where Freeminers have worked below the surface for centuries. Her performance in nearby Aylburton, presented in a Potato Barn, which contained black conical heaps of rapeseed (a bit like poppy seeds) reminded us of the coal spoil in the forest, remnants of the industrial past. She performed using projectors, drawings, temporary screens of paper and card, taking the audience into her head and down into the mines below. The barn was a perfect location.
Roy Voss had a work in the rhododendron garden – the word HIDE created from timber struts. Stood against dense foliage, a great place for kids to hide inside. In the spring when the flowers bloom it will be rotated and rearranged to declare RIOT. Nice. My biggest delight was Susan Hiller’s work Channels. Installed at Cross Barn in Aylburton, a huge wall made of various size and types of TV monitors, set up so perfectly a spider couldn’t crawl between them, on the screens mysterious crackles and tales of near death experiences.
The location should not be ignored here. The works all relate to the place and the history. The house and estate are fascinating, there’s even a Roman Temple in the grounds. And the Bathurst museum collection is like a little snippet of the Pitt Rivers!
So that’s the work – then there were the people, old friends and new. Lovely. No names needed here.
Add to that my first experience of sleeping on a canal boat all cosy and comfortable (my only other experience resulted in a panic attack due to claustrophobia), and relishing the peacefulness of the scene. All was perfect. And strangely the boat was moored on the other side of the Severn – I could just make out the Lydney Park estate from the canal. Beautiful.
I have much, much, more to say, questions to ask, answers to find, but no time to do that now. I look forward to hearing more about BlackRock – welcome to the forest and thanks to Matts Gallery and Lydney Park Estate for doing it.