Liz McGowan

October 2020

Each month one of our Directors chooses an art.earth member to become ‘Artist of the Month’. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.

This month’s featured artist is Liz McGowan, selected by Julia Bond.

What would you say are the primary motivations for your work?

I have always been a close observer of my world. As a child, summer holidays were spent crouched over a single rock pool or scouring the sand for treasures. On my daily walk to school I knew all the patterns of the cracks in the pavement and filled my pockets with the leaves and fruits that fell in the autumn. This attention to the detail and pattern of the land I walked has always been with me, and it is this process of collecting, sorting, playing, transforming that forms the basis of my practice.

My work is born out of an ongoing conversation with the detail, patterns and processes of the North Norfolk landscape – its wide horizons, its wetlands and its shifting coastlines – using local found materials to make temporary interventions and installations that reflect both a particular place and my personal concerns of growth, decay and renewal. My work has evolved from making patterns – from reed, flint, berry, earth – to making work that mimics the processes of landscape – erosion, abrasion, wind, snowmelt – towards my current concerns with the nature of the human relationship with the more-than-human world.

I have always had an interest in awakening people to the experience of the world around them. Early on it was clear that my work, sited in the habitat from which it was made, inspired in viewers an aesthetic appreciation of colour, texture and form that they then applied to the greater landscape. Later on I organised walks where the focus was on encouraging a creative, interactive and multi-sensual conversation with the land we walked.

My recent work has been motivated by the knowledge that we are on the one hand completely immersed in the more than human world that we inhabit – and yet at the same time it’s something that we rarely sense with our being. This body of work, “the spirit wraps around me”, poses the question: What would it be like to wear the landscape like a skin? To be sensuously wrapped in those elements? Supposing we were literally cloaked in our surroundings? As Tim Ingold says:

“Bathed in light, submerged in sound and rapt in feeling, the sentient body, at once both perceiver and producer, traces the paths of the world’s becoming in the very course of contributing to its ongoing renewal. Here, surely, lies the essence of what it means to dwell.” Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description

Cloak is a concept that we usually only apply to our clothes, which we generally regard as an extension of ourselves. In reality we are constantly immersed in a multisensual exchange with our surroundings.

I have been making a series of cloaks, each one made with the materials from a specific Norfolk habitat – tideline, reedbed, barleyfield, saltmarsh.
The cloak mediates between the human body and the landscape it emerges from. It’s an invitation to immerse oneself in the more than human world, like plunging into cold water. More than that, by referencing ritual cloaks, it opens up the possibility of a connection with the genius loci, the deep spirit of the land.

 

the spirit wraps around me (photo: Harry Cory Wright)

the spirit wraps around me (photo: Harry Cory Wright)

What are you currently working on?

For the last 18 months I have been exploring the north Norfolk salt marshes and the slick, shining, liquid mud that forms it. It literally lives in my studio – there are algae in the mud that secrete a gelatinous substance that binds the fine particles, preventing the mud from being swept away by the tides. I have been mixing it, pouring it, dipping things into it, running it over large sheets of paper. The mud has become a vehicle for a deep feeling about the times that we live in, a chthonic roar that pulses through my veins and through the veins of the mud. In many creation stories the first people were made from mud. And for the first time I have made images of humans out of this primordial stuff – crouching figures of mud covered wire, and works on paper where the veins of the poured mud become the veins of a human head. And each figure roars. We are in the mud and the mud is in us.

 

chthon 7 (mud on paper)

chthon 8 (mud on paper)

mud and wire figure – 1

mud and wire figure – 2

All of this mud play is circling around and informing ideas for a cloak to add to “the spirit wraps around me” series. It’s taking a long time to find the form for a landscape that is so liquid! Also in progress is a floor drawing. The drawing is a network of tree roots and when completed the invitation will be for the viewer/participant to walk in and stand at the centre of the root network and be the tree. I am drawing with mud, using roots as the drawing tools.

be the tree (mud on paper)

Artist website

 

lizmcgowan.com

instagram: lizmcgowanart

 

 

 

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