Pandemic writing – giving attention – reflection

The Attention Series

The Attention Series of writings are both disparate and connected. They speak of a particular time in my life, in our lives, that only four months ago were unimaginable. And how I am processing that world through acting, reflecting and writing. It is a rich time for sharing as we self-isolate and reconsider our place in this topsy-turvy world.

I have previously written a blogpost reflecting upon my first experience of live-relay theatre from London into a rural cinema in the Forest of Dean.  More recently, I wrote one about the gratitude I have during lockdown for suddenly having access to cultural resources that previously were too far away, or too expensive, for me to enjoy. These texts are growing into a collection of thoughts that cross reference each other and all relate to how one gives attention to the world, both online and offline. And the differences between those experiences. They are first person observations and the associated thoughts, physical sensations and emotions that arise when one attends to them. It was not my intention to connect them into a collection but is, I feel, a timely thing to do so.

Intention, attention and outtention seem to be a talking point during the Covid19 pandemic.

Intention:

A thing intended; an aim or plan

(In medicine) the healing process of a wound

Attention:

Notice taken of someone or something; the regarding of someone or something as interesting or important.

The action of dealing with or taking special care of someone or something.

things done to express interest in or please someone.

(Military) a position assumed by a soldier, standing very straight with the feet together and the arms straight down the sides of the body.

Outtention: no dictionary definition

Found online, referred to in dialogues about the soul: “…..about levels and layers of our intentions, one of them being “out-tensions” vs. “in-tentions”. An “out-tention” is the first layer of intention that you are projecting externally. This energy serves the exterior version of you, the self that others see, and the one detached from the soul.

I initially added outtention as a term that evolved in my own mind, whilst considering the relationship between attention, intention and the strange wobbly place we are in now. When I searched for outtention online, it was revealed it lacks definition, but is a term used for things relating to the soul.  My experience is that external things presently seem more raw, my senses are uber-alert, my mind stimulated by the effort it takes to simply exist in the context of this pandemic. Or risk falling into the void.

We need to draw on all out senses and discover new ways of seeing and understanding the world. It is both curious and frightening. I find my curiosity is winning most of the time as I reflect and try to understand this new world.

If I were to define my use of the term ‘outtention’ it would be to “pay attention with intention – to deliberate, to attempt to understand something one has never experienced before in life”.

These writings are the best I can do.

And documenting how I experience the pandemic in words and imagery.

 

1st encounter with live-relay theatre, reflection & comparison of 3 forms of audience experience of The Tempest

My first encounter with live-relay theatre. A personal reflection and comparison of three forms of audience experience when watching a play, in this case The Tempest by Shakespeare, depending on where we view it and the delivery method used.

In recent years, new technology has allowed those living a long way from theatres to experience live performances in real-time, which is a wonderful development. Small venues all over the world now present live-relay theatre into cinemas, making it accessible to bigger audiences than ever before. But how does it compare with other experiences?

Live-relay theatre in a cinema is neither stage-play or film. It resides somewhere in between those things, as I recently found out. Which left me feeling a little discombobulated by my first experience. The acting and content of the production is not under discussion here, but the visitor experience is. This text explores how attending a play is affected by the context in which we view it.

The first production I saw being live-relay screened was The Tempest, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I have been to see The Tempest being performed three times in my life – the first when I was about fifteen, with my school. That was at the Nottingham Playhouse and was incredibly engaging and entertaining. It was a traditional production by a touring group. A very memorable moment was when there was a power cut, creating an excitement amongst a full house of schoolchildren. When the lights went out, both on stage and in the house, we were in complete darkness and told to stay in our chairs. To our delight, the young actor playing Ariel entered the stage, using two torches to highlight his presence. He hung from the tree, he flitted across the stage. It was Jonathan Pryce and was a magical thing to behold, very fitting for the flighty character portrayed. Being in the audience was a group experience, shared and discussed at great length after the show with the actors, and later, on the coach going back to school.

The second was only two years ago, when another travelling troupe performed in a woodland near Bristol, outdoors, using an art installation by Luke Jerram, Withdrawn, as the stage set. Withdrawn comprised of five fishing boats seemingly abandoned amongst the trees, on dry land. The play was a promenade performance, with the audience being drawn through the set by the performers. We were part of the action, not passive onlookers. No elevated stage, unless the script required the actors to clamber onto the boats or climb trees. We were literally on a level with the characters. It was a summer evening and the place was green and lush, the smells of verdant leaves and rich mulch heightening the sense of being outdoors, stepping over brambles, ducking branches.

The most recent was merely two weeks ago and was a live-relay theatre production of The Tempest. It wasn’t screened in a huge multiplex cinema, but in a rural film venue in the Forest of Dean. What a fantastic thing to go and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform live for a sixth of the ticket price for the stage show, and no long-distance travelling. It was my first experience of a live-relay show and I had no expectation of what it might be like or how it might differ from the other two visitor experiences. All I can say is that it was very peculiar and I’m not sure I enjoyed it. Here’s why.

There are social protocols and dress codes for going to the cinema, as there are for going to the theatre. As children when our father took us to the theatre it was a very special treat. We had to get dressed up and behave, to respect the privilege that one automatically associates with going to the theatre.  Men wearing ties, women wearing dresses. That behaviour has maybe softened a little now, but for many, it is still part of the tradition of being a theatre attender. Gin and tonics and posh chocolates for the adults, with ice-creams for the children, was standard fare, and still is. It’s a grand night out.

Going to the cinema has always been a very different thing. You can wear what you want, no-one will see you and no-one is watching, or evaluating you, in the dark. There’s no posing at the bar, no social niceties to be exchanged. In the dark you can put your feet up on the seats, hold hands, have a snog, guzzle popcorn and sip huge quantities of coca cola through an iceberg of crushed ice in a cardboard bucket.

I mentioned the smells of the woodland during the promenade performance and associate the smell of the theatre with lady’s perfume and men’s aftershave. The first thing I noticed on entering the cinema to see the live-relay was the sweet stench of popcorn. The too-warm air smelled thick with it, making me feel quite nauseous. The seats were half empty, the majority of those occupied well above the half-way-up line, to get a good view. I felt very agitated by the smell and the odd atmosphere. The live relay began with an interview between a presenter and a representative of the company that had created the special stage effects.  Some of the audience continued to chatter, as if the adverts were on for a film. They were shushed by others who were trying to listen. That would have been sacrilege in the theatre.

Gazing at the screen I tried to compute what it was I was watching. The interviews were filmed very close-up, resulting in huge heads on the screen, filling the frame sometimes. The sense of us all being human size was removed, and with it the empathy one has with live actors. That frisson between knowing that we are all alive and present, and at risk of stumbling, or worse, forgetting what to say.

When the play began the stage set looked amazing. The camera shots were managed by the camera operators, disallowing my own eye to travel around the set as it so wanted to do. I became increasingly aware that my choices of viewing were trapped, which is not something I feel when watching a film. On this occasion, the stage provided a fixed frame and the camera moved in and out and around it. We didn’t get to see the theatre interior, or the audiences there. It would have been fun to wave to them like one does in a live-relay conference – to engage in some way. Instead this audience were left in their seats, deprived of the subtle sounds that feet on a stage make, or the smell of the perfume and chocolates. What I am describing is sensory deprivation.

There lies the rub. There was a collision between the live performance and the film not only in the production values, but also in the protocols of cinema and theatre. The promenade performance was fitting for Shakespeare, as many of his plays were designed to be in the round. A film can create a space for the viewer by taking the eye around from place to place. The live relay was almost like a picture hanging on a wall. An aperture into a wider experience that wasn’t on offer. Flat. Or, at its best, two dimensional.

Last summer I experienced virtual reality headsets on several occasions. I think watching The Tempest wearing them would be amazing. I want to control how I look at something, to allow my eyes to dart sideways when I hear footsteps enter the stage, to look up as Ariel swings down from a tree, the scuffing of a shoe on a board. We experience all art through our bodies, our physical presence is part of the overall performance. Immersion in the magic is all and is what keeps us sitting on the edge of our seat in awe.

b6575-tempest_review_hub_1440x1368_v3-tmb-wo-720Mark Quartley as Ariel, RSC website

I would absolutely recommend that people go and see this live if they can – it is avbsolutely wonderful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last chance to see Blackrock in The Forest of Dean

oreilly-panoramic

Note: This review is a personal one. I write to commission professionally, I write here, on my blog, because I enjoy the freedom of voice it offers me. (C) Carolyn Black

The Blackrock Residency Programme 2016 is a partnership between Matt’s Gallery, London and Lydney Park Estate on the edge of the Forest of dean, Gloucestershire. This is an art project – which needs to be stated clearly – whilst BlackRock (the investment company) is hitting the news big-time at the moment.

It is, of course, tempting to riff on this coincidence, but that will come later when I write an article for CCQ Magazine later this year.

The background to the development of Matts Gallery + Blackrock is very relevant to any critical analysis of both the exhibitions and the works they contain. Roy Voss, an artist and lecturer at Bristol UWE is also part of the founding group of Blackrock, along with Robin Klassnik (Matt’s Gallery, London) and Rupert Bathurst (Lydney Park Estate, Forest of Dean). It is very tempting to refer to them as the three R’s. In conversation, Klassnik referred to the group as a ‘triage’˚. A triage is defined as the process of ‘examining problems in order to decide which ones are the most serious and must be dealt with first’. It fits nicely and is an excellent way to describe what they have put into action together.

The first outcome was developed in 2015, when 4 artists were selected to take up residence on the Bathurst estate to develop new works for an exhibition, which was hosted that September. There was also a Susan Hiller work shown in a hall in Aylburton, a sleepy little place on the A48. It was wonderful walking into that space to witness a massive wall of TV monitors flickering in the dark. I wrote about it last year.

This years exhibits have moved further out into the landscape, utilising several spaces that are workplaces to those who work and live on the estate. Alison Turnbull’s beautiful notations overlaid onto historical accounts ledgers can be seen in the Estate Office. The relationship between the mark-making and the patterns found in and around the space create their own rhythm. I imagine if they had a sound, it would be that of pen on paper, accompanied by the clicking noise that Spirograph makes when cogs interlock.

Sound is quite high up on the programme this year, alongside natural selection and the theme of Us & Them. The BBC voice that narrates the found-footage about an experiment and enquiry into the survival rates of black moths, compared to white, was poetic, nestled as it was next to the Bathurst family museum that houses many finds from the estate. Artist Alison Turnbull has also scattered small images around the walls of the Collections Room, of the moths showing their varying levels of camouflage. The white ones were survivors.

Elsewhere on the Estate, the sound coming from a strange arrangement of floral curtains standing in a huge, otherwise empty, glasshouse, draws the viewer in. This random collection of drapes is not unlike a refugee tent, cobbled together for shelter in this leaky botanical incubator. The film it contains reporting on social issues of vulnerablity and loss of home while the rain beats down on the glass.

Walking through ancient scowles in the woodlands down to a field, you find two huge words built by Patrick Goddard, with timber from the Estate. Shouting across the field to each other, US retreats to the edge, whilst THEM is set up to burn and flame, roaring loud and clear. THEM is to be destroyed and feared. US watches quietly from a safe distance. It reminds me of American sci-fi films, in which aliens are usually the enemy and to be feared.

In the barns nearby are two films by Goddard, one a virtual garden and the other a film from a go-pro camera attached to an Alsation dogs head. It rushes through empty industrial units, the voiceover referring to the disenfranchised – more us and them. Back in Aylburton, in the Barn Hall which has been reconstructed and reborn as a gallery, photos by Willie Doherty are shown. The majority are of the troubles in Belfast from the late 70’s, early 80’s. Whilst they could be read as historical, they resonate with the now too. Some things don’t change. Someone commented that they could be photos taken from the Forest of Dean. They were right – it’s a poor area, burnt out cars, barriers and poverty. The images of roadblocks bring back thoughts about refugees….this is still happening…not so much in Belfast now, but in other places, worldwide, every day.

Whilst this all sounds like gloom and doom, it’s most definitely not. It is provocative. It makes people think. And ask questions of the art.

This is the final weekend to catch it. The first weekend delivered a brilliant performance, twice, written by Sally O’Reilly and performed by Rosie Thomson. More here about that. Sorry, you won’t get to see that again, but believe me, it was fab.

Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September. 11.00am-5.00pm

 

 

 

 

 

Blackrock 2016 US & THEM

US & THEM is one of the artworks by Patrick Goddard.

Residency artists:
Patrick Goddard
Sally O’Reilly
Alison Turnbull

In the newly converted gallery at Lydney Park Estate, Matt’s Gallery + BLACKROCK is also showing the work of Willie Doherty

Last year Blackrock launched at Lydney Park in the Forest of Dean, so this years second offer was something to look forward to. I wrote about it from a personal perspective last year. This year the project feels more consolidating, more like  Harvest Festival, whereby the artists have gathered their thinking from the land and its history and shared it with others on the Estate . More mapped. More grounded in place.

That’s not to say the artworks last year weren’t grounded in place – indeed they were, very much so. That’s the good thing about residencies, the artists have time…..something very important when expecting artists to work in somewhere so far from a city.

As Robin Klassnik, of Matt’s Gallery said “Blackrock is national and international”, and is emphatic that it shouldn’t “pander to the locals”. It doesn’t, but it does bring excellent art to the area to be enjoyed at a local level for those that are interested, as I am.

And this year I have time to assimilate, to think and reflect, to consider what these artworks are collectively sharing with the viewers. And what they say about both Blackrock and the wider world.

Thankfully, there is another weekend coming up when the artworks can be revisited to inform my thinking. That’s on 24th & 25th September. Look out for information online, Facebook , or visit their website.

The first weekend included a performance by, or written by, Sally O’Reilly, which will not be repeated the second weekend. It was absolutely brilliant and what she refers to in her introduction speaks of the core curatorial concepts that all the artists have investigated and, duly,  responded too. A harvest festival with rich pickings and excellent produce.

Anticipation, expectation and delivery – a post-referendum interpretation of the visitor experience of the Berlin Biennial 2016

I recently attended the 2016 Berlin Bienniale, alongside ten other arts professionals from the region, with the support of a bursary provided by Visual Arts South West. Prior to going we read some of the reviews of the Biennial which were not very promising. The article in the Guardian by Jason Farago had the headline “In the hands of New York fashion collective DIS, one of Europe’s biggest exhibitions is now a feeble blancmange of ads and avatars – where is the art?” Written on 13th June, following the opening, Farago began with a reference to drowning refugees, before stating “this show does not argue for a better art world; it argues for giving up on art entirely.”

Despite the negative review, as someone who has a history of interest in the virtual world and wrote my MA Fine Art thesis about the Virtual Body, I looked forward to making up my own  mind. I set off in anticipation of enjoying some of the works and was not disappointed. But I’d be lying if I said his comments hadn’t impacted on my expectations. I sought to keep my attention on an exploration of the visitor experience, in this case, my own, in the company others to discuss it with. The conversations were, as anticipated, very informative and revealed some useful learning.

Our visit to Berlin was only one month after Farago wrote his piece, during which time a referendum was held to decide whether the UK would remain in the European Union, or not. The result was to leave. As was one of the 48% that voted to remain, I arrived feeling like giving up, not just on art, but on the UK too. I was not alone. Since Brexit, the world seems to have become untethered, not only might the UK split from the EU, but it too has come under threat of collapse. A country divided. With no-one holding the reins, those responsible walked away, leaving no forward plan in sight. So the Bienniale was experienced through the lens of Brexit and shrouded by the emotional sensitivity that it had aroused. We entered a world that no curators could have predicted. The science fiction novel Bold As Love by Gwyneth Jones, written in 2011, is a book about that very possibility, but I haven’t finished reading it yet. I can’t help wondering whether the DIS team had.

When we had our meeting with two of the DIS curators, Lauren Boyle and Marco Rosso, they began their talk by making reference to the Guardian article. It was still a sore point for them, but I already felt that Farago’s diatribe was no longer relevant because the context for the exhibition had shifted so far since he wrote it. He experienced the show in a different world, the old world. The curators explained that the Bienniale had evolved around the concept of an ‘incomprehensible present’. Many of the works connected across the showing spaces as part of a hyperlinked landscape, bridging the city and the locations. The works themselves were mostly very fast, very virtual, very surreal, yet oddly a little bit like retro sci-fi. The now we are confronted with is not looking good, the present we are living in is, or should I say was, because it moves so very fast, both incomprehensible and unimaginable.

When DIS initially set out to provide a mix of contemporary works that would represent, and illustrate, a sense of loss of future, it was a good premise to work towards, as a theory. Three years ago when they took up post as the curatorial team, no-one could have imagined the impact of Brexit. Little did they anticipate that a sense of loss of future would become the norm for millions of people.

The ‘futures’ they shared were pretty tame and unimaginative, based mostly on 1960’s/70’s science fiction narratives which didn‘t get close to foreseeing the events of the present. The world that they imagined as so intangible has proved to be real. No artworks could hold up through a period of such a constantly-shifting timeline of daily unanticipated change. When DIS planned their show they did not know that a referendum would be called, nor that Brexit could occur; or that the refugee crisis would be as damaging to the world as it is now; the devastation of the war in Syria or, while we were present in Berlin, a truck ploughing down people in Nice and a military coup in Turkey.  Every day brings more twists and turns which flash up daily on my iPad. Every morning brought something more shocking than the previous one. Racism, violence, suicide attacks, mass slaughtering. A little like what science fiction films are made of.

So, returning to my intention to write about the visitor experience, I will reference just one work that encapsulated the overall sense of disorientation that the Berlin experience evoked in me. And I believe in others too. And it sums up how anticipation, expectation and delivery can impact on our experience of art, and can be very different for each visitor, depending on their own unique encounter.

The work that sticks in my head most is View of Pariser Platz, 2016 by Jon Rafman, which involved wearing an Oculus Rift headset.IMG_6015

As a group, following the curators talk, we were excited to try out this new experience and only one of us had ever worn an Oculus Rift headset before. Being English, we politely queued (see above) in an orderly line to await our turn. From the balcony of the Akademie der Kunste, we looked out at the Brandenburg Gate to the left and across to the French Embassy, on the other side of Pariser Platz. It was the morning after the truck drove through people on the streets of Nice. To don an Oculus Rift headset that merged the virtual and the real was more potent due to the events of the previous night. On the balcony were placed some strange, monstrous creatures and the white tent-like structures (see photo) were outside the Embassy where people were leaving flowers, and high security surrounded the area.

According to the Bienniale website the programme offered a situation whereby “The intangible becomes real, and the real becomes incomprehensible”. The experience of the Rafman work would need reframing, it is more a case of the real becomes intangible and the intangible becomes placebo. The film we all experienced was, to my knowledge, the same one. It began by locating us where we actually stood or sat, on that balcony. Then the surreal imagery was layered over the ‘real’ place and became immersive. From conversations after the event, it soon became clear that we all had different experiences, so much so that we began to wonder whether there were various versions of the film, not just one.

What intrigued me was to what degree our place in the queue, near the front or the back, and the conversations we had with those before us, influenced our reception of the experience, not just emotionally, but physically too.

When the first people wore the headset they mostly decided to stand up. Some stood stock still and gently turned their head around, as if watching quietly, whilst others became very animated, twisting their bodies, leaping back as, we later understood, images approached them or threatened them. The more active the early experiencers became, the more nervous those of us queuing felt. When people took off the headset they often looked disorientated, confused, startled and a little dizzy. At first we asked people about their visual experience, but we soon became increasingly concerned with the physical impacts. The steward was asked if anyone had thrown up during the experience. “Yes, several people have done so” was the reply. Therefore those of us who suffer from vertigo decided to sit in a chair rather than stand. The longer we queued, the more anxious we became.

The thought of public vomiting did not appeal to me. I sat down, as did others. The presence and absence of the people on the balcony was punctuated by people reading their mobile phones, snatching the wifi moment. Even the steward read hers while each person took their turn. We were physically a group together, but were worlds apart in our heads. It is slighly ironic to consider that the player here is not looking at the people, who are looking a their phones, but at something else entirely, quite possibly a virtual rendering of the rhino-creature behind him swimming past…….

IMG_6018

Later conversations revealed that those who enjoyed gaming were more animated, those of us who don’t were more likely to take a seat. There were varying levels of comfort with the virtual experience. But the truth is, the biggest discomfort from my perspective was the horror of the real world unravelling outside. The massive development of the area, the new buildings on the horizon, the private mourning of the families that had been devastated the night before in Nice. All those things, alongside my fear of feeling sick or dizzy, prevented me from immersing myself fully in the experience. I was distracted by the world. It appears that those who were most fulfilled by the experience were those that succumbed to it fully – mind and body.

Going to the Bienniale in the middle of Brexit created a fracture, indeed a rift, in my body and my thinking. It has informed the way I experience art and life. With a raised awareness of the impact of prior knowledge and experience of audiences and the thinking about the present speed of social change, it raises challenges for curators and producers in terms of time. These huge, scattered site shows take years to plan and prepare. What I learnt is that you cannot foresee a future, so to deliver against a futuristic agenda is to make oneself vulnerable to failure. Just as the experience of the Oculus Rift disappointed those that possibly had time, by queuing, to build up an emotional armour, likewise Biennials will always put themselves in the firing line unless they choose their theme wisely. Preferably one that won’t disappear down a black hole of social instability.

Another critique of the delivery of the exhibition is that the content of the 9th Berlin Bienniale was so heavily dependent on the virtual it was destined to be defunct even before it was installed. Because that is the nature of the virtual, it can override the real. On this occasion, it was upstaged by it.

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Commodity Exhibition: part of Forest & Wye Valley Open Studios 

I was invited to select work made by the Forest and Valleys Open Studio membership on the theme of ‘Commodity’. I’ve lived here for ten years and in that time I have learned more and more about how many artists live here. And there are a lot of them, understandably, because it’s a very beautiful place that has inspired writers and artists and musicians for many years. It also has a long history of commoners rights and anarchic behaviour, and that political fervour has contributed to the feisty behaviour of people here, who love this unique landscape and defend it to the hilt. Recent threats include being sold off, and now there’s the threat of fracking.

‘Commodity’ seeks to reveal both sides of the coin – the beauty and the beast – by suggesting artists share work that explores the natural resources through the lens of landownership and the natural resources. Those industrial materials – timber, stone, coal, ochre and iron ore, were the backbone of local industries. There were also wire works, brick works and Rank Xerox. Those industries have been replaced by tourism.

Come to see the Commodity Exhibition in the Garden Cafe, nestled next to the River Wye in Lower Lydbrook, and you will witness both the beauty of the place and the demise of the industrial heritage.  Wander to the river side and walk a little way and you will see redundant manufacturing plants and warehouses. A disused railway line. There used to be a viaduct that ran over the Cafe rooftops, long gone.

The artworks in the exhibition may, at first sight, be yet another mixed show of works with no connecting thread. But they are deeply linked, they each respond to the forest in some way, whether in terms of environmental threat; the history of hunting that shaped the landscape (and continues to do so with boar in the forest); traditional fishing methods that are disappearing; free roaming sheep; soundscapes and meditations on the fragility of this place.

11am – 4pm Saturday 9th July 2016 – Sunday 24th July (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

Private view 6-9pm Friday 8th July

DOWNLOAD FULL OPEN STUDIOS PROGRAMME BELOW

FANDVOS OPEN STUDIOS 2016 Brochure

There’ll be another blogpost over the coming days, looking more deeply into our relationship with art in rural places, including what we mean, or presume, by the term rural.

But firstly, there’s a show to install!

 

Novvy Allan
Tom Cousins
Lizzie Godden
Rob Olins
Kathy Priddis
Claire Robinson
Sally Stafford
Frances Warren

 

 

 

 

Forest & Valleys Open Studios – Commodity, a selected exhibition

ARE THE NATURAL RESOURCES OF THE AREA MERELY A COMMODITY?

PRIVATE VIEW & LAUNCH OF OPEN STUDIOS: 6-9PM ON FRIDAY 8TH JULY AT THE GARDEN CAFE, (Facebook), LOWER LYDBROOK, FOREST OF DEAN, GLOUCESTERSHIRE.

Keep up to speed on FandVos Facebook page

Congratulations to all the artists selected for this years special exhibition. Each artist will be awarded a sum of £100 to thank them for their participation.

This year is the first time FandVOS has hosted a special exhibition curated by a guest curatorial team, led by myself and supported by Keith Baugh, Adam Cairn and Carina Greenwood. Developing the Commodity exhibition with the artists has been an absolute pleasure. A great thing about forests and valley landscapes is they offer wonderful hidey-holes for creative people to live and work in. Artists and writers have celebrated this place for centuries through their creativity and have gained quite a reputation for doing so.

It is fitting to exhibit these ‘Commodity’ artworks in the Garden Café. What is now a tranquil homestead, tucked into a hill near the River Wye, was once a thriving industrial area. With wire factories across the road and a viaduct that actually ran over the house! If you want to know more chat to Paul Hayes, the owner of the Garden Café – he has many stories to tell and is a fantastic host.

The works have been selected to provide an entry point into an enquiry about the Forest and Wye Valleys specifically in terms of ‘Commodity’. They are not commissions – FandVos does not yet have the financial means to commission new work, but they hope in the future that will change. Some of the artists have, however, created new works for this show, motivated by the opportunity to stretch their practice, which is fantastic.

I mention the hidey-holes above, because as someone who moved to this area ten years ago, I am constantly amazed by the number of new artists I encounter who are working the area. And it’s great to see young artists moving here too, adding to the mix.

Living here is very special. Some local artists work in far-flung places, while others choose to work primarily in this area. It’s a privilege to see the range of work made here and exciting to install it in such a beautiful building and garden.

Thank you

Carolyn Black

Novvy Allan

Novvy is showing three prints, unframed, that respond to three natural materials found in the area – water, wood and wool. She is also showing some associated materials, including a piece of knitting made with wool dyed with local natural resources, which was used to create the Wool print. The print of the putchers is concerned with the traditional method of salmon fishing used in the River Severn but now in sad decline. The wood represents the wrangling and landownership battles that have gone on forever in the Forest of Dean, and continue to this day.

Lizzie Godden

Lizzie’s work is made with textiles dyed from local materials and stitched tenderly by hand. Each thread has its own colour nuances that when overlaid across the other pieces of fabric create a sense of rhythm through the work. Lizzie walks the forest and the riversides constantly, meditating on the land, praying for its safekeeping. Fracking threatens to fracture this landscape beyond redemption. This work is a meditation on that fear.

Tom Cousins

Tom is a political activist and a muralist and the work shown here is a very clever way of marketing both of those things. It raises our awareness, through wit and humour, about the concerns communities have about fracking. The twist is, of course, that Tom can earn his living from these political issues, at the same time as making sure that his own concerns by others, who amplify their worries by shouting them out loud on their house walls. He does this work exceedingly well and his film plays on the irony of that. Do take a leaflet if you want to be heard.

Rob Olins

Rob is a sculptor renowned for public art work, which he has been delivering widely for many years. The acoustic mirrors and their associated narratives have been a focus for him for some five years. Big, bold and colourful, they draw the viewer towards them so the more subtle nuances can be enjoyed. Only when close up can you hear the sounds emanating from them and listen to the soundscape. They create a place within a space, bright and calling with a reward at the end – like being drawn towards a rose and bending down to smell it.

Kathy Priddis

Kathy’s 3 Hunting Pots were especially inspired by ‘Commodity’ and represent different animals traditionally hunted in the Forest, always a source of food for foresters. Commoners’ rights for grazing were often high on the local agenda, and hunting with dogs represents both nature and the rural culture of Foresters’ resistance to the power of an overlord. The pots are richly glazed with local clay slips and iron ochres from Clearwell Caves; wax resist between the slip and the glaze reveals the original clay, which spontaneously interacts with the glaze to give both earthy and vivid colours. Her usual pots are more functional, made to be used.

Utilising Clearwell Caves ochres as pastels, Cinderford Stream uses a similar palette, harmonising with her pots, and revealing her love of complementary colours as found in Nature.

Claire Robinson

Claire is a landscape painter and has shown work in several exhibitions that explore themes of environment and conservation, exhibiting with organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Raleigh International, at venues as diverse as car show rooms, London Zoo, ecology centres and hospitals. For this show she has chosen to further explore her methods of making work that can be shown outside, in the place that inspires it. Using robust materials means that she has to make very clear marks, as opposed to the subtler ones she can achieve in watercolours. These works have a very physical existence and straddle the worlds of painting and sculpture.

Sally Stafford

Sally makes very beautiful paintings that often celebrate flowers and landscapes in a dreamlike way. At first sight, you may consider these works to be doing just that, but they were informed not so much by a celebration of place but as a sadness that an area of land near Cinderford, called the Northern Quarter is to be developed – putting all of the plants and wildlife at risk.

In the Northern Quarter of The Forest of Dean the land is to be scraped off and reused. This work is a fleeting record of a brief moment in its long history.  Made when it was a liminal place recovering from industrialisation; the haunt of dog walkers and anglers. A place in the process of rewilding. Once again the land is being pressed into service of man. This is my fragile record of an alternative.

Sally collected leaves, water and found iron from the site, eco printed the leaves onto paper and coated the results in beeswax.

Frances Warren

Frances comes from a history of working in the social housing sector and now creates art (which she finds hard to name as such) from found materials and upcycled waste. She paints, nails and ties these things together to create fascinating structures which welcome insects and other creatures to dwell in them. She paints them with colours which attract insects and the frames are not dissimilar to those Mondrian created in his later works. They provide miniature ecosystems that have been created from the rubbish that ruins our landscape we claim to love.

 

 

Art in Gloucestershire – is it our turn? Drones in Cheltenham?

There was  a launch for ‘Surveillance’, a new work by Patrick Lowry, at the HardwIck Gallery in Cheltenham yesterday.  There was a great reading by Clare Thornton and talks by Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars and Theo Price of COBRA.

This is the second exhibition I’ve been to see in 2016 (I did sneak in Localism at MIMA on the cusp!). Both have been in Cheltenham  – the other was the Artist Rooms on Tour show of three works by Bill Viola at The Wilson, along with the Jerwood Drawing Show.

It’s tempting to present a critical review of these shows, they certainly merit one as they are excellent, but that’s not what motivates me to write today – I’m more interested in the rise of visual arts activity in my county. Gloucestershire has always been a poor neighbour to Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham – stuck in the middle with poor rail networks and bridge crossing charges for the many that have to drive to get here.

So seeing Localism in Middlesbrough (5.5 hours on a train to get there!!!) prompted me to make more effort to see local work – whizzing off to Venice, London, Oxford, Bruton etc. is great, but it is even more special when things locally get exciting. And in the past year there’s definitely been a lift.

Is Gloucestershire finally getting a rich mix of input, layered on top of an already buzzing community of artists that often worked under the radar (probably because there were no places to see work so they show elsewhere- they have to)? Stroud has SVA, and Prema up in the Cotswolds is fab, but Gloucester, Forest of Dean and Cheltenham are poorly served in terms of venues.Last summer Blackrock rolled into town – a Matts Gallery show hosted in Lydney. Bruce Allen from Blakeney has been touring Difference Screen a fantastic mix of international films for 2 years, literally worldwide. There are many more individuals I could mention, this is the tip of the iceberg.

I live here, I want to see things happen within driving distance. Gloucester has always lacked visual arts presence, there are several  Open Studios happening around the county too – we need to join forces more, connect up, amplify big time.

So go and see what we have, celebrate it as I am doing , make living here just as exciting as the cities – rural is good too – I’d say better – we don’t need parking permits to visit and we get to breathe fresh air and peacefulness!

It is wonderful to see work that questions drone activity in war zones in the same city as GCHQ – why weren’t there more people there? This art is raising important conversations in a city that employs military specialists – how can we invite them to come?

Local MP’s, Councillors, human rights activists – PLEASE come and see this show.

And add Visual Arts South West (VASW) to your favourite websites, join their mailing list, find out what is happening here on your doorstep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 6pm performance artist Clare Thornton will be reading from drone operator transcripts.

 

 

 

The art commissioning journey from the inside – research-led works developed for The Burton Art Gallery & Museum – getting to grips with Bideford Black pigment

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film still by Liberty Smith

The Burton Art Gallery & Museum began the commissioning process for the Bideford Black: Next Generation show in 2014, when we – Carolyn Black of Flow Contemporary Arts and independent arts consultant Claire Gulliver – were appointed to project manage the process. Between the selection of the artists in the autumn of 2014 and the launch on Saturday 3rd October, the journey has been both fascinating and intriguing, with all of the team taking on their roles with gusto and passion.

The brief given to the artists was to make new works for the collection and develop ways of using Bideford Black as a medium or an inspiration – an expanded field of this black earth pigment. The film maker was tasked with documenting the project process and outcomes. This project was not the first, and will not be the last, to have Bideford Black at it’s heart.

The commissioning process was new to the Burton Gallery – never before had they commissioned contemporary art from scratch – so we were all aware there would be challenges along the way. And there were, starting with the huge response to our call for applications, with over 165 expressions of interest for only 8 artist commissions and one film maker contract.

It was a hard decision to make but the selected artists are: Tabatha Andrews, ATOI, Luce Choules, Corinne Felgate, Neville and Joan Gabie in collaboration with Dr. Ian Cook, Littlewhitehead, Lizzie Ridout, Sam Treadaway and Liberty Smith. And what they have produced is like a 360 degree survey of the pigment and its history.

As more and more museums begin the process of commissioning contemporary art, sometimes for the very first time in their history, the learning curve is sometimes a bit twisty and wobbly. There is still much work to be done in creating a model for good practice so sharing the process is a useful thing to do. It’s not easy for organisations that have historically been guardians of wonderful things that are in their possession, to also consider commissioning new items for their archives that will continue the cycle of making and collecting. New becomes old, past becomes present and indeed future. Acorns –> oak trees.

As the only purpose-built venue in the area, on the north coast between Bristol and St Ives, the Burton is an accredited museum and art gallery, making it a leading cultural venue in SW England. It collects, safeguards and displays artefacts of cultural, historical and industrial significance, in particular related to the North Devon area and Bideford specifically. It also initiates and brings exhibitions and artists of national and international standing to the region, working with national institutions including Tate, The Royal Academy, Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), The Barbican, alongside community or heritage focus exhibitions. And it now commissions new work too.

So the research process began a year ago, with a getting-to-know everyone session. With most of the artists in attendance, alongside other interested parties – notably the National Trust and Ian Cook, a cultural geographer from Exeter University – we shared our own histories and interests. A field trip to the beach where the pigment is found was the introduction to both the material and to each other. Stomping along cliff paths, wobbling along rocky beaches in wellies, grinding sticky black stuff between our fingertips, we were a picture to behold! Few left the beach without black smudges on their face, as they wiped their hair from their faces in the wild wind and salty spume.

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So, to keep Bideford Black, this rich black earth pigment, at the centre of this narrative, what happened over the coming months was that each of the artists entered their own private explorations. Like the miners that went before them, they manipulated the clay, mixed it with others things, sniffed it, cast it, crushed it and even listened to it. Some locked themselves in their studios to grind and mould it, others returned again and again to the beach or to the museum while they tried to find their own relationship with the black clay through time and place.

During that time Liberty Smith, the film maker, was despatched around the country to film them. She documented their early enquiries, listened to their stories of excitement and joy, fascination and frustration. Liberty was tenacious; she even travelled to Scotland, France and Spain to conduct her filming. Her footage, as rushes were shared, were clearly going to be an important part of the process. Indeed they were so wonderful we asked Liberty to create a trailer for the main exhibition and film, which you can see here – it is beautifully filmed, capturing the research far better than words could ever do.

At the time of writing, she is editing the final film, which will share the entire journey with audiences and be shown in the gallery when it opens at 2pm on 3rd October 2015. From the rushes I’ve seen to date, the film gives visitors privileged access to the artists studios and thought processes – a very valuable document for the archive.

Whilst Liberty caught developments on film, Claire, me and the gallery curator Warren Collum, had conversations and made notes. Due to the dispersed nature of the artists geographically, updates were often by phone, email or Skype. We had staged reviews, to make sure the artists had what they needed from the right people.

The film trailer gives you some flavour of that journey. This text explores the record keeping – the recorded notes on the development of the artists thinking. Being a private journey, I have collated some anonymous comments recorded during the artists’ process of discovery, relating to what they were finding out about Bideford Black:

The comments below were in response to the question “how will this [your work] relate to Bideford Black?” I’ve blocked them together, because as a whole they feel like an image of the pigment – considered from every perspective, touched in every way possible.

Responses January 2015:
It’s about transformation of material from one thing to another. The fighters [represent] tectonic plates grinding and marking. Locating the production of the work at Bucks Mills will transform the fabrication into a live event….become where a myriad of personal and collective histories are collaged over one another….drawing on the cabin as a site of both industrial and artistic production as well as a place of retreat. Drawing on the decline and resurrection of Bideford Black mining twice over the 20th century, the factory imagines a third and final revival of the industry that never was, as well as focusing on individual endeavours to work with Bideford black, outside of the mainstream industry like Mr G Philips’ Bideford soaps produced in his home laboratory, that reeked of carbolic in addition to using it to make all of his paint. BB will be the main material in the work. Words and texts will relate to it; ink will employ BB; Vanta could make comparisons to BB. We also discussed the possibility of a thesaurus of BB. It’s about dynamic movement. BB will always be the material and the concept at the centre. The scent itself will be created from the genus of Tree Fern most closely related to those existing in the South West of England 300 – 350 million years ago. The scent therefore references the origins of the mineral black material. Made with BB pastels, smeared onto paper, about immersion in dark places, how light is taken away, darkness and its emotional implications.

Responses June 2015:
We have pushed the past uses of BB in industry and warfare, the connotations of mining and all its associations, and we have also taken into account the geological and physical properties that were endured to create BB….we have brought the pigment into the future by playing on its raw associations of mined materials, by creating a polished finished product [a diamond]. We have employed the most advanced modern day technologies which nod to its history and the politics and poetics of working with this material. The ceramic slabs appear almost fossil like, becoming relics of Bideford Blacks Jurassic-esque history when it was mined out of the grounds as the mascara rods highlight our  disconnect from this in contemporary society. The mascara rods also have the initial appearance of tools used in early industry, paying homage to the miners and other industrial workers who worked in and around Bideford. Developing on from the mines, the Bidi Black make-up range draws on its history for commercial production and the swathes of industry and commodities that have come out of Bideford over the last millenuia, notably the cosmetics of Max Factor who adopted the pigment. We have used BB to try and tell its own story, by creating audio tracks. Black is inherent in the social, economic and cultural narrative of Bideford through the town’s connection with Bideford Black. A Polychromy in Black seeks to examine Bideford Black through an investigation into light, dark and colour via the use of tone and texture in archival material gathered in The Burton Art Gallery & Museum. It also cross-references Bideford Black within the broader cultural story of black by considering specifically ink and printing press production and the role of the engraver. It was the engraver’s role to translate colour, form, chiaroscuro and texture from real-life or paintings, through the use of line, cross-hatch and dot; regular/irregular, thick/thin, curved/straight, continuous/discontinuous, vertical/horizontal/diagonal, in multiple as bunches or alone. Based on an ongoing dialogue between artists and a geographer, we present parallel approaches to one material, based on our shared conversations, but with differing outcomes. Exploring the possibilities of the substance that is affectionately known as Biddiblack we are making a series of drawings and films to explore its nature – its unpredictabilitys – its uses and performance as a drawing tool. The dialogue will be central to the final outcome of the work. The artwork reinterprets Bideford Black via the medium of smell. Through its presentation the work also references the historical commodification of the Bideford Black material (and commodification, commercialisation and transportation of generic raw materials in general) with a contemporary twist. These works reverse western traditional representation – rather than being looked at, they come out at you, are looking at you, sensing you. It’s about experiencing in situ. BB looking at you.

The artists have given their consent for me to publish their comments, which reflects their generosity throughout the project. The words provide a glimpse into the minds of the artists and reflect their thinking processes, as well as their making. When we write about artists and their work we summarise, take little pieces, recontextualise their words, model their language to fit the readers expectations. By quoting the above, the reader gains access to private thinking. As Joseph Kosuth explored in his work “One and Three Chairs”:

But is this art? And which representation of the chair is most “accurate”? These open-ended questions are exactly what Kosuth wanted us to think about when he said that “art is making meaning.” By assembling these three alternative representations, Kosuth turns a simple wooden chair into an object of debate and even consternation, a platform for exploring new meanings.

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One and Three Chairs

Joseph Kosuth
(American, born 1945)

1965. Wood folding chair, mounted photograph of a chair, and mounted photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of “chair”, Chair 32 3/8 x 14 7/8 x 20 7/8″ (82 x 37.8 x 53 cm), photographic panel 36 x 24 1/8″ (91.5 x 61.1 cm), text panel 24 x 30″ (61 x 76.2 cm)    (MOMA website)

Kosuth reminds us that art, photographs and texts are not the ‘real’ thing, they are alternative representations. I interpret that the ‘one’ chair he refers to as the one I have in my mind – but maybe he is referring to the thing itself. No matter, it is the fact that these works evoke debate and offer a platform for exploring new meanings that is the imperative.

Do come and see the real thing yourself and let us know if you agree. We’d love your feedback. Send comments to bidefordblackblog@gmail.com

*****

THE BURTON ART GALLERY & MUSEUM, Kingsley Road, Bideford EX39 2QQ, UK
(e) burtonartgallery@torridge.gov.uk   (t) 01237 471455 (w) www.burtonartgallery.co.uk

Opens 2pm on 3rd October – runs until 13th November 2015

Opening Hours:

Monday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm.

Sunday 10.30am – 4pm.

Article about The Promise and PARADISE in new edition of CCQ

CCQ is an arts journal published in Wales. My first article is in this edition, available from all good gallery bookstores. It’s a quality publication and a great read.

My piece is a preview of Arnolfini show The Promise and Trust New Art show at Tyntesfield, called PARADISE.

More next month too.

See http://ccqmagazine.com/

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