Each month one of our Directors chooses an art.earth member to become ‘Artist of the Month’. What follows is a conversation with that artist, together with some examples of his or her work.
Garments, environments, the outdoors
Writing about my work feels like contemplating a landscape of entanglements, made of projects, places lived, qualifications gained. Like in landscape, slowly changing in time, there are some deep lying bedrock veins of persistently felt interests, sometimes unconsciously so. What works its way to the surface facilitates growth in the form of current jobs, practices and opportunities.
In my current practice I work with drawing and installation, both outdoors and in the studio. I am drawn to explore the embodied ways of how we feel in and relate to environments, and drawing is the most essential process of working.
I studied Fashion because I was fascinated by the sculptural aspect of the human figure. As a life-long sufferer of IBS I was always acutely aware of my own physical self, and I questioned how other people might perceive theirs. Garments are the most direct environment that our bodies live in. We in-habit them, they are the feeling of home. I wanted to draw all these sensuous complexities. The Fashion Industry did not suit me. I was more interested in the experimental stages of developing ideas and in the potentialities of processes and materials, rather than their refined marketable versions. (Where does sculpture become garment … become object … become environment … ?)
I turned towards working as an illustrator and a teacher for Drawing. Working with line is for me the most versatile of all creative methods. Fast, simple, spontaneous it allows being in the moment, bringing the past forward as experience, pointing towards the future, living the joy of what will be next. Drawing synchronises my thinking, feeling and being in the here and now. Drawing is phenomenological as writes Deborah Harty (Harty, 2012).
For a long time I used to live in old farmhouses in rural Southern Germany. They offered plenty of space to live, though they were not perfect in a contemporary mod-con sense. The relationships between the indoors and the outdoors become a feature in your life when heating and warmth are not a given. However, imperfections carry potential for dreaming and imagining and ask for experimentation and improvisation. How low could the temperatures drop in the room and you were still able to sew and draw? What else could this vast barn area be used for other than store hay that is long gone? Which kind of garment would best suit living in this place where you needed to cross the outdoor yard every time when going from the lounge to the bathroom? The relationships between self, garment, environment, habitation and the outdoors was part of every day’s lived experience.
I am fascinated how we perceive outdoor environments, about how we deal with these perceptions and what they mean to us. I wonder how our ways about this compare to animals who live outside. They move about and don’t carry tents, backpacks or camping cookers. They carry along bodily adaptations and the experience of their species’ lifetime. Patterns of movement are part of this: Moving to keep warm or cold, moving from place to place, to other continents or underground. Movement to facilitate survival.
Becoming a part of the picture process
After stopping to work as an Illustrator, it felt a huge relief to step into the wide open of what might be called ‘Fine Art’. In this new unknown territory, I started to amble forwards, following my natural instinct to draw. I freehand-stitched line drawings onto transparent fabric, each drawing feeling like a comfortable, slow, long-distance run, step by step, stitch by stitch. Little by little the drawings evolved, creating their own environment. Many artworks and commissions later, I stepped away from the side of these stitched pictures and took many meters of stretchy elastic line up onto the hills of the Peak District. I jogged up to the top, where it was most windy and stretched line from point to point, pegging the lines down only in certain areas. The wind moved the lines, and the movements created a sound, a hum, or chorus, … sometimes sounding angry, or calm, nervous or quiet … (video of ‘moving lines‘)
My current practice
In my current practice I make drawings in the studio, sometimes literally sitting or standing inside them, and I make installations with line outdoors. I take video recordings of these installations and of myself being out there. I also make sound recordings. I am interested in how our physical ways of being ourselves determine our art making and the environment. Drawing is an essential part of each process part: As a physical line, as a planned process drawing for an installation, as a visualization of feelings.
How can we be in different environments, as bodies and selves, in particular when we move around in them? How does the matrix between self, body and environment change, when Drawing becomes an essential part and reason for being there?
The work consists of dialogues of the physical residues of these processes, and of the visual gaps that arise from their differences.
I like to use running a lot as a particularly engaged way of relating physically to the environment. The interactive relationship between ourselves and environments is facilitated through movement. ‘To live is to move. How we move embodies our past and creates our future’ says Anna Brazier, a clinical psychologist and Alexander Technique teacher (Brazier, 2018).
I like to think of the experience of moving outdoors as an act similar to two inter-actors playing music, but based on movement and touch: As the feet touch the ground or the hair brushes past branches, agents start to resonate from each other. They come together in a ‘co-sounding’ and a new togetherness is created. A lot of practical artwork and theoretical research is done in the context of this understanding between materials and how we engage with them (Bennett, 2010).
Sometimes I find it difficult to know what to do next in my practice. I try to trust my instinct for the next step ahead by following that tickle of interest and curiosity. Maxine Bristow argues that the aesthetic experience is valuable enough to carry intelligent meaning and to be understood and sensed by others (Bristow, 2016). I find it takes a lot of courage to step away from familiar ways, and often I am quite doubtful if I am doing the right thing.
Methods: endurance, exposure, slow changes and some improvisation
Many of the methods I use in my work have elements of duration and physical exposure. I have stood and sat on a piece of paper for hours, drawing one “momentary marker dot” after the other, until mind and body were ‘marked’ by the task. The strain and exposure to this process made me experience unexpected physical and sensual boundaries and at the same time opened awareness and views beyond them. I experienced the sensuous qualities of the environment and my own inner self in new dimensions. It felt I had learnt something from and for life but struggled to express it in words.
In another durational exercise, I sat in a field for two hours with the task not to do anything other than sit and experience. Within a short time I started to perceive things from a relational or conditional point of view: the green colours of vegetation to the left seemed related to the sound of the car from the road nearby … the large bird on the far away tree and myself developed an interesting connection to each other … . I wonder if this kind of relationship between self, environment and what we perceive might be similar to those lived by communities with lives less dominated by science and rational thinking.
I like practices that continue. Writing a journal, practicing guitar, going for runs, drawing. Small changes each time allow us to train our senses and observational skills. Accumulated practice ultimately facilitates its opposite, improvisation. I need to improvise a lot when I want to make installations outside as I never manage to fully pre-think the prevailing conditions.
I see my drawing practices indoors and the installation work outside both as emergent landscapes and as part of the wider site of my overarching arts practice. I think that the cuts, gaps and shifts that seem to visually appear between visual elements from different sites are a realistic expression of our world full of broken connections, displacement, multiple roles and shifting reference frameworks.
What I am currently working on
There are three projects I am currently working on, two of which are practical ones. Firstly, I am working on a response to the theme Routes/Roots which is the theme of Macclesfield’s biennial Barnaby Festival. I am part of a group of five studio artists in town and each of us develops our own individual response. My response will mean that I will create a ‘weave of images, movements and engagements’ based on information given to me by all other studio artists. I have started this by giving each the task to fill out a questionnaire that asks for answers that are in the realms of geographical, emotional, and social register of their lives. The answers will feature as nodal points for creating an abstract net of connections that I will ‘root’ out by running, visualizing and drawing and exhibit the residue of the processes at the festival.
The second project that I am preparing features as the last practical element of my work practice as part of my MA in Fine Art at the University of Chester. For the duration of about four weeks, my work will balance between the outdoor spaces of the Isle of Tiree and my indoor studio space in Macclesfield. The Isle of Tiree is part of the Inner Hebrides where I will spend some time in the summer. Both environments contrast in many ways with each other’s history and current natural and man-made environment. I am working on a ‘take-away kit for mobile drawing’ that I can experiment with outside and indoors. Rather than just take long lengths of line, I want to take many short wooden sticks, each about half the length of my body and partially attach line to them. The sticks and their line connectors will allow me to place them in connection to each other and in environments. I can become an exemplar human element as part of these stick-line-drawings. Depending on where and how they are placed, I assume that they will lead to different visual statements and meanings.
My third project has to do with my plans to continue my studies after the MA in the context of a practice-based PhD studentship. I have written a proposal draft asking: How can embodied drawing practices negotiate inter-relativity between self, body and environment? I am refining this research draft and evaluating options where I might study.
The development of my current practice has been influenced a lot by the work of dance practitioner Paula Kramer. I first saw Paula perform as part of the symposium Rock/Body at Exeter University in 2016. Paula performed movements in response to the geology of rock and the embodied social geography of working with stone. Whilst she was dancing, another person was working with chisel and hammer on a large piece of rock. Her movements echoed the stone mason’s, but also, at a deeper level, connected with the materiality of stone, ground, earth and environment. I find her somatic approach to the contexts of body, materiality and environments very evocative and an important contribution to our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Here are two examples of her movement practice:
I am much interested in comparing visual arts with the world of sound. As a hobby guitar player, I often jam with friends. Though I am interested in a wide range of musical styles, I find that improvised music offers a lot of experiences and insight to human relationships based on non-verbal ways of communicating. Sound as a willful form of expression but also as part of the environment functions so differently from the visual. Here is a short documentary with interviews with sound artists Jez Riley French, Dawn Wilson and Angus Carlyle who talk about sound and the differences to photography:
Publications to share
I read a lot of academic literature and enjoy to find out how different disciplines work within their own abstract frameworks. It helps me to understand where my own work might be placed. Once that kind of thinking is done, you can let go of it, for a while, and return to your practice to feel your way forwards.
I have found publications around the themes of sport as a practice very interesting as they contribute to my understanding of embodiment and movement in my work. Sarah Nettleton, a sociologist, has researched the lived experience of fell running in the Lake District. She argues that the experience of being ‘out there’ with the wind, rain mud and the physical challenge gives the runners ‘existential capital’, a quality that the practitioners value for what it is right there in the moment (Savage, Silva & Nettleton, 2013). Her writing made me value my own observations so much more.
The notion of embodiment and how it manifests itself in different forms of artistic expression is the theme of Artistic Research: Strategies for Embodiment edited by Christine Fentz and Tom McGuirk (Fentz & McGuirk, 2015). It contains accounts of practitioners from Dance, Performance and Visual Arts and how they reflect about their own practice.
There are two books which I value particularly for their description of the lived experience of landscape. Firstly, Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain (Shepherd & Macfarlane, 2011) about the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland. The second book is Kirsty Gunn’s The Big Music (Gunn, 2013). It tells the story of the last days of a Scottish bagpipe master. The format of the narrative is taken after the musical format of the Scottish piobaireachd piping music. As the story unfolds, music, landscape and literature come together as one. The book’s format is as unique as is the music and landscape it refers to.
And yet another reference to sound: I find On Listening (Carlyle & Lane, 2013) an extremely interesting and approachable anthology of the many dimensions of encountering sound in our lives.
Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.
Brazier, A. (2018). Talk for Plymouth Symposium. Conference paper presented at ‘The embodied experience of Drawing’, symposium at Royal Williams Yard, Plymouth, on 13th April 2018.
Bristow, M. (2016). Pragmatics of attachment and detachment: medium (un)specificity as material agency in contemporary art (phd). Norwich University of the Arts. Retrieved from http://ualresearchonline.arts.uk/12033/
Carlyle, A. & Lane, C. (Eds.). (2013). On Listening. Axminster, Devon: Uniformbooks.
Fentz, C. & McGuirk, T. (Eds.). (2015). Artistic Research: Strategies for Embodiment. København, Danmark: NSU Press.
Gunn, K. (2013). The Big Music (Main edition). London: Faber & Faber.
Harty, D. (2012). drawing//phenomenology//drawing: an exploration of the phenomenological potential of repetitive processes. Retrieved from https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/handle/2134/18259
Savage, M., Silva, E. B. & Nettleton, S. (2013). Cementing Relations within a Sporting Field: Fell Running in the English Lake District and the Acquisition of Existential Capital. Cultural Sociology, 7(2), 196–210. https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975512473749
Shepherd, N. & Macfarlane, R. (2011). The Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland (Main-Canons Imprint Re-issue edition). Edinburgh: Canongate Canons.