Introduction to #redefiningprint – 4 artists, 1 print studio & an open brief – exciting!

Last week I spent a couple of days with the four artists who have been commissioned to work at Double Elephant Print studio in Exeter for the next 18 months and explore the processes on offer there.

The artists are Katy Connor, Bryony Gillard, Mark Leahy and Clare Thornton. They hail from very diverse backgrounds and were selected from an open call.

The first week they spent together allowed for some collaborative work, including drama workshops with Fiona Macbeth at Exeter University Thornlea Drama Department.

Whilst the commission process does not require that the artists work collaboratively, it is possible they will either collaborate with others, either in the print studio or during their research.

My role is to observe and track their journey over the distance. Coming from a print background myself, but not having engaged with it for some time, it is challenging for me to step back and just watch – but I love seeing how people explore and discover processes and the intense discussions that take place.

Will they immerse themselves in the haptic alchemy?

Engage with the performativity of the process?

Baulk at the craft of it all?

Luxuriate in the language?

Rebel at the regimentality of the studio systems?

Explore the exquisiteness of the marks they make?

We shall see in good time, but for now it is wonderful to observe their focus and reflection on what this thing called printmaking embraces.

And embrace it they do…..

I was reminded of Munakata – a Japanese woodcut artist who produced some wonderful work

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review of Mycophilia by Louise Short at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth

Please share this with others, it’s such a wonderful show.

Mycophilia is the first of two shows being presented in the Ceredigion Museum temporary gallery space by Short&Forward and runs from April 17 to May 31st 2014. Alice Forward’s exhibition Swarm Society will run from June 12th till 2nd August and her works resonate well with those of Louise. Both make work that explores our relationship with the natural world and expresses their passion for protecting and conserving it for future generations. They share a love of film, mushrooms, bees and life.

Louise Short’s exhibition, Mycophilia, exhibits exquisite casts of fungi and spore prints as filmic objects. In a temporary space next to the Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth, she has presented a constellation of 3D snapshots of moments in time and place, captured and recorded in plaster, bronze, paper, paint and spore-dust on paper. The title of the installation, Mycophilia, means the love of mushrooms, likewise filmophilia means a love of films. Spore-dust is an evocative phrase that whispers the story of their process in your ear. On entering the gallery to experience Mycophilia viewers are transported into another world. The prints on paper are trapped underneath glasses, lest they should escape like spiders or wasps, and the science-fiction presence of a constellation of plaster casts suspended in a deep blue universe spans the whole back wall. Ian Banks meets Richard Mabey meets Thoreaux. This installation is both 2D and 3D – filmic and sculptural. It hints at mass fields of growth and microscopic detail. Each trace of fungi reveals its own intricacy and uniqueness – together they are a cosmos.

A love of the process of film and a deep understanding of nature is present in all of Louise’s artworks, but not always in an obvious, cinematic way. Mothshadowmovie (1999, 2000) turned an everyday office overhead projector into a screening device in a woodland – attracting and amplifying the ghostly visits of fluttering moths and slimy snails. For Something Else, her one person show at Arnolfini, Bristol in 1997, Louise cast the tender insides of daffodil trumpets, fixing the voids in plaster. In 2001, in the basement of what is now the Exchange Gallery in Penzance, she filmed the walls of the redundant telephone exchange then re-projected the 8mm footage back onto their surface. The projectors shuddered and rattled, returning life to the abandoned architecture. Feeling Faint created a gentle echo on the walls, the images quivered softly like Narcissus’s reflection on water. In Louise’s work solid things are made ephemeral and transient moments solid. Casting is like a 3D camera, the imprint of the brief moment that the fungus manifests itself above ground as solid matter is caught and made tangible.

The spore-dust deposits fine footprints of the mushrooms reproductive potential, they multiply generously but few will survive the process. Their lives are brief, like stars they appear unexpectedly and disappear suddenly, as if by magic. They are indeed other-worldly without consumption – you don’t need to eat them to be enchanted and drawn in by their hallucinatory nature. In the scale of things humans are similarly short-lived. We make art, we write, we create, we procreate, and every moment is to be noted, considered and experienced in our short lifetime. This exhibition of fungi prompts us to be mindful of this and the artwork is the outcome of a very thoughtful and considered process of walking, meandering and being in the moment.

During Louise’s regular forays through the beautiful Welsh landscape, where she lives and works, she was able to immerse herself in her thoughts of the ephemeral, returning with a record of her journey, on that day, of that place. I must let my senses wander as my thought, my eyes see without looking…Be not preoccupied with looking. Go not to the object; let it come to you…What I need is not to look at all, but a true sauntering of the eye. (Thoreau Journal 4:351) Solitude, silence, no signage, wandering aimlessly, like the rhizome of mycelia that appear as fairy-circles below the surface of meadow grass, Louise reflected upon her roots and relationships, walking random routes through the landscape, meandering, thinking and casting her gaze as she foraged, capturing her fragile trophies to keep.

Fungi is corporeal in nature, soft like flesh, but cold to the touch. Love, tenderness, fragility, vulnerability, the human condition are all here in this exhibition.

 

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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

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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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