The Forest of Dean selects a new Verderer, Rich Daniels, at Gloucester Cathedral

This morning I attended an event in Gloucester Cathedral that harks right back to 1216. You can read more about the history here.

The Verderer’s are the sole remnant of the organisational structure developed after Norman times to administer Forest Law – introduced to provide for beasts of the forest, in particular deer and boar, and for the protection of their habitat.

A notice calling for candidates to become the fourth Verderer was published in January by Countess Bathurst, the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, on the order of Her Majesty the Queen. She wore an amazing hat, a huge white feathery nest fluttering away in the draught as she passed by us on her way to speak to “the people.”

The nave was full to the brim of Gloucestershire landowners, there to vote with a show of hands. It was a wonderful feeling to be there to witness this tradition being honoured, even if it was loaded with pomp, colonialism and patriarchal traditions! The Duchess had been invited by the Queen to oversee proceedings and there was much talk about the Crown and country.

Three men were nominated for election.  Traditionally, Freeminers have to be men over the age of 21, be born and bred in the Forest of Dean and have worked for a year and a day in a mine within the Hundred. The Hundred was based on the area from which 100 fighting men could be found to fight for the crown. In the Forest’s case, this was within the realm of St Briavels castle. This is why Lydney etc. is not within the St Briavels’ Hundred, even though it is closer than Cinderford, for example, since Lydney was part of the Bledisloe Hundred.[corrected from initial description]

This changed in 2010, when  “male” was interpreted to mean ‘”male and female” by the Gaveller of the Forest of Dean (a Crown appointment currently vested in the Forestry Commissioners as a body), when they made a decision to accept an application from Mrs Elaine Morman, who became the first ever female Freeminer to be registered.” Today there were no female nominations.

Monument Mine, a working free mine in the Forest of Dean

Rich Daniels won his seat in the Court today. The mine shown in the image above, from the  Wyedean Tourism website, belongs to Rich and he still hauls up coal every day. He’s a very lovely man whose heart really is carved into the forest, he will be an effective Verderer and will keep traditions alive, as well as respect contemporary needs of the people who live here.

Many of his supporters were in the Cathedral and he has a local reputation for fighting authority, in particular for fending off the sale of the Forest via HOOF, which he led. There’s a long history of commoners rights in the forest, many of which are still active today. Simon Schama talks about them in his excellent book Landscape & Memory. It includes some great stories about Lords being chased out of the forest by the Foresters (meaning local residents, not forest managers).

The Forest is a very special place to live. Family roots run very deep, as deep as the ochre mines and the scowles, the coal seams and the ancient trees. As a place to find culture it seems to bloom constantly with new findings for an incomer like me. This year, when John Berger died, I found out he had lived here and written A Fortunate Man. Reading it feels like a time warp, but only a little one, a blip of time, as so little has changed since the 1960’s.  Dennis Potter lived here too. I still have so much to learn about this place.

But for now, congratulations to Rich, the forest is in safe hands with the Verderer’s – it’s what they are there for.

Story of Objects update – film collage & callout

The Story of Objects represents a return to practice, not in making objects, but in discussing them. SOO has evolved both from my work as a visual arts producer and my thinking as an artist, accompanied by a deep interest in how we engage with art.

I am intrigued by how visitors encounter art in non-gallery locations so have mostly worked in the public realm. How we talk to people about art both inside and outside galleries is imperative to our understanding of it. Yet ask someone to talk about something they keep and love they will talk endlessly, and very coherently, about it.

I became fascinated in how the term ‘curate’ is so loosely used these days – we curate essays, poems, websites, plants. And many TV programmes tell us how to display our objects in our homes – how to ‘curate’ things. So I started asking people about their objects in their homes, why are they grouped like that? Where did they get them from? What did these things mean to them? Most importantly, why do they keep it?

I found myself deeply absorbed in material culture – Daniel Miller’s books allowed me to step into another discipline, as did conversations with contemporary archaeologists. The idea for the Story of Objects began to take shape. I’ve talked to lots of people, from several disciplines:

  • Contemporary archaeologists
  • Museum specialist
  • Curators
  • Artists
  • Health providers
  • Members of the public
  • Producers – for arts and radio
  • Digital providers and app developers
  • Academics

Most recently I have hosted a number of trans-faculty conversations at De Montfort University, and thank them for their support and input.

Two years later I am still developing my thinking. I’ve collated a number of 30-second films together, which you can see below and on my YouTube Channel. It’s great to see them collated like this and I am now motivated to put out another call for films.

I’m also working towards producing a scattered-site exhibition, commissioning artists who will be invited to stories of the objects that they keep and gain inspiration from. As always, don’t expect to see these artworks in a gallery space, they will be somewhere deemed appropriate for the work and the concept.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

The Forest of Dean, the rural & the arts

I’m delighted to hear that Arts Council England and The Forestry Commission have signed an MOU to work together to support contemporary arts in woodland areas. Some of you may be aware I worked for the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust for several years as their Project Director – I enjoyed every minute of it. At the time, whilst there were already many art projects hosted on Forestry Commission land, they weren’t particularly regarded as an important part of the FC offer. Don’t get me wrong, FC were incredibly supportive, but their visitor surveys didn’t even ask about whether or not people came to see the art at their sites. But that’s all changed now.

The appointment of Hayley Skipper up at Grizedale a few years ago marked a wind-change for FC and their relationship with art. Since then, Hayley has worked very effectively towards this moment, which is very exciting to see. Excellent leadership and patience has paid off. And Cathy Mager on a local level is doing some great work too.

This MOU is a turning point for arts in the Forest of Dean too. I’ve blogged before about how things are happening here – Blackrock last year; new works on the Sculpture Trail; a selected show for Forest of Dean and Valleys Open Studios group; and artists migrating to live here. New groups are forming too, Forest Arts Action Group, around the Postcard Exhibitions which fundraise for refugee projects.

One thing about the Forest is the reliance on word of mouth to spread the news. Facebook is increasingly used and is cheaper than setting up web pages, and easier to update and share. Checkout a few of these links and find out what is going on (or has recently):

Forest of Dean and Wye Valleys Open Studios

Cinderford Artspace

Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust

Taurus Crafts

Blackrock (last year) review

Difference Screen (last year, continuing)

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fandvos flyer commodity image.jpg

 

 

 

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