the River Severn and it’s influence on Flow Contemporary Arts

Flow was named after the River Severn and the wonders of the Severn Bore. Every now and again I need to remind myself of that – and the best way is to trot down to the riverbank and witness the Bore. It’s magical.

Flow is the psychological condition of ‘Optimal Experience’ as defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.

The concept of Flow is deeply fascinating. Ants are good example to borrow from nature as a living demonstration of flow and collective intelligence. Another is the Severn Bore, which, when it occurs, is because the sea flows inland and the river flows downriver. The Bore is a physical example of two-directional flow, like knowledge exchange, traffic flow and dialogue.

And that is how Flow Contemporary began, a germ of an idea inspired by the power of the sea forcing a river back upstream.

As my early notes stated:

Flow projects are positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand

It continues to be the case, a wave of energy bouncing off the riverbanks/other people/places, revisiting things again and again until they are truly understood.

Flows first project goes public soon – exciting!!!!

The Cabinet of Local Change is a pilot for a future collection of ‘cabinets’ that will be commissioned specifically with touring in mind. This one is specifically for Forest of Dean residents.

Artist Simon Ryder (artNucleus) was commissioned by Flow Contemporary Arts to create a ‘cabinet’ in some form that could be used to reflect upon changes in the nature of the Forest of Dean, inspired by his own research in this forest and through engagement with local Community Library users. A key part of this process was for it to be made public via blogging.

The cabinet will make its first appearance on Thursday 29th August 2013 – Mitcheldean Library at 2.30pm and Newnham on Severn Library at 6pm.

Simon is concerned with peeling back the narratives from places, people and objects, then weaves  them together into new configurations in the form of sculptures, videos, texts and artefacts. Working together at Mitcheldean and Newnham community libraries, Simon and Carolyn opened up new ways of thinking about how libraries might operate. They shared blogging skills and how technology can provide opportunities for artists to reveal their working methods, as well as inform the making of art – technology and nature combining in the creative process.

Inspired by the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi in the forest, the outcome is fascinating. It is a unique storage system that appears to grow through the books on a shelf, like an organic extension, with partially enclosed spaces to contain ‘items that signal change’. Modular in its construction and open source (with the 3D templates freely available for download from the internet), Simon worked with the designer-makers at Millar Howard Workshop to produce a cabinet that can be flat-packed down for storage and touring. The cabinet is a portable work – it will make appearances at scheduled times, providing a beautiful and original focus for local discussions about change. To start the ball rolling, the first items to be placed in this cabinet will be printed copies of Simon’s blog, some books that informed his thinking, and a vial of water from St Antony’s well; the remaining spaces are empty, awaiting library users to add their own artefacts.

Flow Contemporary Arts works with both arts and non-arts partners to initiate produce and present contemporary art in unusual locations. Founded by Carolyn Black in 2012, Flow specialises in making things happen through the unique approach of commissioning artworks that respond to place, yet can also adapt to other contexts. If you wish to host or support the work in the future, contact Carolyn@flowprojects.org.uk

The project was supported by the Forest of Dean Local Action Group and the Forestry Commission.

scanning branches with X-Box, photo Chris Morris
scanning branches with X-Box, photo Chris Morris

press image Cabinet on shelf small

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Supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas

and Forestry Commission FC logo_eng_linear_col

The Barbican, Welcome Trust, Helen Chadwick & sunshine

Some days you just have to go and see some art. When a friend asked me what would I recommend he saw when in London I decided to join him, and it was fab.

The main show at Barbican is Cage, Johns, Rauschenburg, Duchamp and Cunningham, which was enjoyable, though the atmosphere there is always a bit dark and dungeony. But that worked quite well with the theatrical sense of the show.

The highlight for me though was the Geoffrey Farmer in the Curve Gallery – what a wonderful piece of work. I first saw Farmer at Documenta last year, when he showed Leaves of Grass, and this one was equally as mesmerising. The Surgeon and the Photographer was poetic, picasso-esque, python-esque (as in Monty!), Dali-esque and the narrative like a strange detective-esque experience.

It was wonderful, and I found myself reading it like a book, considering how some of the puppets were on pedestals addressing groups of people, some engaged with nature, balancing butterflies on their fingers whilst cut-out birds flew overhead. Some carried weapons, so looked like military rows of soldiers, some seemed free of hierarchy or order. Multi-cultural, the film element morphed people heads from one into another, or showed sequences of stills of war, of clothing etc.

After that, a quick dash around Welcome Trust – outside art from Japan, well worth a visit, some real gems in there. Then a whizz to catch Helen Chadwick before it closed. Piss Flowers in the window alongside an evocative text were pleasing, but the majority of work didn’t excite me the way it used to. But it did make me think of Next Nature and how she juxtaposed flowers and flesh together and played around the edges of the erotic by alluding to genitals. She was a very special artist and the way she portrayed meat and flesh as equal is carried on by contemporary artists like Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva. Elpida is representing Macedonia at Venice this year, so check it out and see if you can see the relationship.

Is blogging like whittling a wooden spoon – using words to hone the form? or just stirring things up?

In a BBC video, woodcarver Barnaby Carder talks about his passion for whittling spoons. I love this video and have revisited it many times. Barnaby talks of ‘honing’ his skill and tells the story of how he came to be whittling in London; how he had travelled and then decided to settle into a shop, indeed a shop window, where he whittles his spoons and people watch him doing so.

 When people see you make it, they like that

He refers to people seeing him making spoons from passing buses and they crave what he is doing. And they buy the spoons too. He is highly aware of the fact that his personal story is the context of his work, that they are intertwined. The timber he uses is harvested from the nearby Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and that local-ness is key to him, it is part of his process:

It’s important to be around living trees, you can’t separate them from the finished product

He’s really considered in the way he talks about what he does, how he lives, and refers to the act of whittling spoons in a shop window as a performance. He reflects upon to his previous simple life and how complex it has become. The way he discusses each spoon is beautiful, his relationship with the object, the feel of whittling the wood and how, whilst creating them, he may say to himself oh, I’m not sure about that spoon and then someone else comes along and says they love it.

So why might this be like blogging?

What if the blog = the shop window?

What if the whittling process = writing?

What if the wood = the content?

What if the spoon = words?

Imagine this blog is my shop window, it is where I share my ideas, experiences and reflections. It is where I hone my thoughts by writing them down, whittling them, shaping them, trying to hold onto the initial thing that made me think about them. Be it the local woods, or the art I see, or the books I read, the places I go. They are my timber.

Sometimes it all comes together, and I am happy with what I have made, and other times I think oh, I’m not sure about that spoon [art I have just seen]. Or the words I just wrote. Just as Barnaby might sand and smooth, and think back to the tree, the wood, the texture, the grain, and attempt to analyse why the spoon doesn’t feel right to him, I do that after seeing exhibitions, reading books, going places. And if I blog, that process is public, because I am doing it in my shop window. And maybe sometimes there are sharp bits, splinters, rough edges, that are uncomfortable for both me, and the end-user.

It happens, none of us can get it right every time. Honing is an ongoing thing, thinking and reflecting is cyclical, and there will always be a risk of splinters and rough edges. Material is like that.

Do watch the video, it is so fascinating.

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at risk of being a groupie for Thinking Practice, great paper on ‘being plural’

There is little I can say about Mark Robinson’s latest blog, “We have come here today to be plural” other than you must read it if you wish to read a balanced and considered reflection upon the impact austerity is having on the arts. He uses some wonderful images as illustrations of how people can work together, let’s call them benchmarks, to whet your appetite.

I hold another image in my mind after reading it – A Sudden Gust of Wind by Jeff Wall.

jeff wall a sudden gust of wind

new links to things that I think about a lot lately, technospheres, nature and flow

So many things have inspired my work, it’s difficult to find the space for them all!

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

Nextnature.net raises some good questions about nature and technology in a non-judgemental way. I like that, no preaching.

This website will radically shift your notion of nature. Our image of nature as static, balanced and harmonic is naive and up for reconsideration. Where technology and nature are traditionally seen as opposed, they now appear to merge or even trade places.

On the nextnature app I found the film Pimp my Planet by Studio Smack. A true inspiration! I find it very powerful – some find it scary, some depressing, but I find it thought provoking. Do we really believe that humans are all powerful? If the planet is badly damaged by us, are we the right people to fix it? Are the countries shifting politically, or maybe physically, as they did when the tectonic plates slipped around? Or during the Ice Age? Are we so detached from the place we live in, that it is no more than a virtual concept? Have we forgotten what it feels like to put our hands in soil, in the ocean, or gaze at the clouds? And importantly, can art in unusual places help us to re-consider the thing we call nature and think of these things in a different way?

Can nature still bring about a state of flow?

And then there’s Technobiophilia by Sue Thomas.

The New Natural Symposium
SemiconductorProf. Sue Thomas and Squidsoup
Saturday 25th May 10.30am-5pm
SVA, 4 John St, Stroud GL5 2HA
Installation Friday 24th-Sunday 26th May 11am-4pm Goods Shed, Stroud GL5 3AP

Modern technology and the natural world are often seen in opposition, the former perceived as either destroying or at least disconnecting us from the latter. So what of a new relationship, a new approach towards the natural world that reconnects us in ways only possible through the use of technology? The New Natural will bring together three people whose work explores different aspects of this question. A day of presentations at 4 John Street, a film installation in the Brunel Goods Shed, interwoven with good food and finishing with an open discussion led by Rob la Frenais of The Arts Catalyst.

The New Natural is presented by Heart of Wonder in collaboration with SVA, and supported by Alias.

Tickets £12 including lunch and refreshments £20 for weekend inclusive of evening events. Booking is essential as places are limited 01453 751440 or email office@sva.org.uk

 

‘Intercourse’ event (love that title!) – “I’m not sitting at the front” last weekend. It was in the Elbow Room in Cardiff.

I really enjoyed the ‘Intercourse’ event (love that title!) – “I’m not sitting at the front” last weekend. It made me think – a lot.

The focus was participatory visual arts practice and involved great talks by Gill Nicol and Sophie Hope, interspersed with actions created by artists, which, as a member of the audience, I participated in.

I sat at the front.

There was quite a lot of writing going on, writing stories, writing lists, writing postits. And stickers. Stickers were distributed to categorize us, as a means of creating roles that, if one wished, could be subverted. But few did so. We listened quite a lot too. Sometimes I felt I was being instructed and directed, I complied rather than participated. On reflection, I find myself wondering about where the participatory element was.

By my very presence, was it assumed that I would passively do as I was told?

Was the purpose to antagonize?

Or stimulate a response?

Were we expected to intervene?

There were instructions, but in many ways we were all passive and politely conformed to the traditions we are familiar with – that of speaker and listener. The rules were unstated, because we already knew them, the context provided them.

Emma read lists

Paul made lists

I made lists

My lists were in response to their lists

This is a list

When I contemplated writing this, I was going to share my lists with you. But I decided not to. The Flow Contemporary arts logo implies bi-directional movement – exchange, reciprocity, true partnership working. That is important to me. I make no call to action. I seek dialogue, resolution and harmony, not antagonism. Might this be an age thing?

photo of Emma Gee, by me……during our silent walk through Cardiff

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Flow likes a challenge, but what does Flow do? who do we work with? where do we do it?

I realised that whilst I’ve been busy having meetings, making plans and thinking forward, I haven’t really shared on my website what I actually DO. Typical, one gets busy doing and forgets to spread the word. And what is my ‘normal’ may not be yours! So here goes, in a nutshell, this is what I/Flow does:

Flow specialises in producing visual arts projects in partnership with major stakeholders, presenting new art in unusual places. Think artworks on beaches, exhibitions in Coastwatch buildings, films in historic stone barns on coastpaths, soundworks emanating from industrial cranes (having a conversation!), performance artists concealed under bridges, casts of quarry walls in forests – anything is possible outside the constraints of the gallery walls.

We work with acoustic specialists, geologists, archaeologists, zoologists, foresters and librarians – opening up visual art to new audiences and innovative ways of perceiving the world around us.

Flow has two key areas of delivery – FCA Projects initiates and delivers scattered-site visual art projects in non-gallery locations with partners, and FCA Advice supports others to do so – either by mentoring artists at ground-level, or by guiding organisations in the processes necessary to develop sound partnerships. Everything Flow does is about collaboration and dialogue and research is at the core of what we do.

We specialise in working with both art and non-art partners to achieve this and can provide a bespoke team to respond to particular requirements of any project. We also have experience of touring, working with strategic partners to tour both existing and newly commissioned contemporary visual artworks. For example, thanks to a grant from Arts Council England, we’re presently in consultation with the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and the Canal & River Trust about a touring programme, which will begin with a  period of action research.

We’re always on the lookout for new partners – current conversations include talking with an ethnozoologist; digital locative media producers; land-management organisations, Community Libraries and a writer whose subject area is technobiophilia. We love a challenge!

my first Flow post – time to explore concepts and thoughts – starting with nesting

I usually post from my carolyn-black.co.uk website so this is a first for Flow Contemporary Arts.

I want to explore nesting – what does it mean to people? It’s one of those concepts that has a myriad of interpretations. Russian dolls. Birds. Mammals. Parents. Stacking things. Incubation. Settling.

Wiki offers a few ideas – some I have not seen before. Today I will start with the most obvious one, just to ease my mind into the theme:

A nest is a place of refuge to hold an animal’s eggs or provide a place to live or raise offspring. They are usually made of some organic material such as twigs, grass, and leaves; or may simply be a depression in the ground, or a hole in a tree, rock or building. Human-made materials, such as string, plastic, cloth, hair or paper, may also be used.

It’s easy to think about nesting today – working from home, in a warm house, heavy frost outside. Winter is a good time to think towards the spring, when nesting is easier to conceive of.

A search for the words nesting and flow together comes up with an intriguing article by Ben J. Rushbrook & Megan L. Head &
Ioanna Katsiadaki & Iain Barber:

Flow regime affects building behaviour and nest structure in sticklebacks

I have no knowledge of sticklebacks and their breeding habits. But some of the information in the article really makes me think, such as this:

Within flowing water treatments, we find that males select nesting sites with lower than average flow. We also find that nests built in flowing water are smaller and more streamlined than those built in still water.

Are people the same? I live by the River Severn, I find the constant ebb and flow of the tidal estuary calms me, excites me, I feel engaged with the landscape. My sister has moved to live by the sea.  We have no need to nest for breeding purposes, but we do appreciate streamlining our nests.

Flow and nesting are upmost in my mind. I welcome your thoughts on them too – literally, poetically, madly, deeply, metaphorically……..

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