ESRC Festival of Social Science, 10th November 2018
I met Dr Joanie Willett at a ‘Melting Pot’ event at Exeter University’s Environmental Sustainability Institute at Penryn Campus in Falmouth, Cornwall. The purpose of the event was to provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations. Dr Willett was fascinated by aspects of the geology behind earth pigments, particularly of those connected with mining waste, and of the potential for public engagement that my workshops provided. I was intrigued by Dr Willett’s studies around Parish Councils and how to promote public engagement in the political process, reminding me of conversations I had in Australia around the ecological basis of Aboriginal tribal councils.
After a further meeting, held as a walk along the ‘Tin Coast’ in West Penwith between Pendeen and Botallack, we decided to organize a public workshop exploring these principles. Funding was obtained from the Economic and Social Research Council and Exeter University as part of the Festival of Social Science, a national event making Social research accessible to the general public.
where the personal becomes POLITICAL: the idea
Our personal experiences, knowledge and perceptions of the places we live are all valid contributory factors to the cultural truth of a place. In Western democracies the starting point for policy decisions are ideally based in such cultural truths. Parish councils, of which there are some 10,000 in the UK, are the gathering places for the diverse cultural perception of our local communities. Beyond this such cultural perceptions are strongly influenced, if not determined, by the geographical identity, the physical ecology and resources, of a place.
painting a parish future offers a creative space to cultivate and share personal experience, knowledge and future visions of the places that we live.
It is hoped that the creation of such a space within a working Parish may encourage a spirit of commonality and cooperation within groups that may too easily become competitive and detached from the truth of a regions imminent ecology, in respect of all its inhabitants.
painting a parish futureis a collaborative research project led by politics lecturer Dr Joanie Willett and ecological artist Peter Ward in association with Exeter University’s Environmental Sustainability Institute. The project will utilize a shared knowledge of local political process and creative environmental engagement.
An initial enquiry will gather local people, parish councilors and experts to walk and share experiences and knowledge in a reflective process in the Parish of St Just in west Cornwall. The daylong event will culminate in a communal painting using gathered materials to express a shared vision of the future. The painting and further documentation of the event will be exhibited at the ESI at Penryn Campus and at a local venue in St Just Parish.
painting a parish futurewill run alongside ongoing national and local initiatives ‘Going Wild’ with Cornwall Council and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the St Just and Pendeen Neighbourhood Development Plan.
The project will provide a model for further actions in local communities across the UK, international research with Indigenous communities in Australia and the basis for an academic paper in relation to such activities, as well as a real focus for community action in the place it is performed.
The event was advertised locally in the Parish ‘Outreach’ magazine, through flyers in local shops and on notice boards and through personal invitation to relevant experts. It was hoped that we would have a group of about 20 people for the event. In practice, we were fortunate that a County Councilor expressed her interest from an early stage, inviting a simple presentation at a Town Council meeting in St Just to further promote the event. On the day, 2 people who had signed up did not show leaving us with a group of 7, including Dr Willett and myself. While the response was a little disappointing, and indeed raised a very important discussion regarding public engagement, the small number did allow for more focused time and intimate space for discussion and sharing and better engagement with the process.
Part of my personal motivation for the event was to begin to learn more about the place that I live. Both my own background research about the area and the process of organizing the event provided interesting insights into the present social dynamic and historical roots of the parish. Another part was to establish contacts within the community and with relevant organizations for future projects.
Participants included an artist, a politics lecturer, an environmental educator and project manager, a childminder, County Councilor, Town Councilor and a geologist, providing the basis for lively, diverse and informed discussion throughout the day with many thoughts for positive action being shared.
The morning walk took us through the village of Pendeen to the recently restored leat (a community project initiated by a member of the group), through the historic mining community of Lower Boscaswell, to the medieval ‘holy’ well and then through remains of Geevor Tin Mine and ancient field networks down to the coast, before heading back to the Parish Hall for lunch. Conversation within the group flowed easily between the whole group and individuals and covered topics from local planning policy, local history and geology, the influence of the environment on agriculture, national environmental and political attitudes, interspersed with a shared appreciation of the natural world, and in particular the local environment. Lunch was a homemade vegetable soup, made using exclusively local produce from the community farm, along with local cheese and bread and a splendid array of cake.
Pendeen Parish Hall, photo courtesy J Willett
The process of painting (interesting for my part for the lack of ‘artists’ in the group) took participants a little out of their comfort zones but allowed us to ground our thoughts in a meaningful and enjoyable way. The pigments themselves offered further insights into the local environment, as well as paint making. The painting itself was structured through an approximation of the evolutionary process, starting with imagery around geology, then land use and flora and fauna and lastly human intervention. Despite the initial discomfort, participants recognized the value of the process, at whatever level individuals felt able to contribute, and enjoyed the end result.
painting a parish future – Pendeen in St Just, photos courtesy J Willett and M Ward
conclusion and further action
Despite the somewhat disappointing public response to the event, it was agreed that it had been a useful and inspiring day with everyone feeling they would use what they had learnt in some way. Some said they ‘had never participated in anything like it before’ and that it had revealed a new way of working in the public sphere. I was personally encouraged by how everyone got involved with the process and in particular how the act of painting with local pigments was enjoyed and valued.
As a facilitator, whenever I approach an event such as this I will necessarily fill my mind with any relevant information I wish to share and a structure I aim to run the day through. In practice, especially when working with adults, it is essential that such plans are held merely as guidelines and that the process and dynamic of the group are allowed to express themselves for a satisfactory outcome to be achieved. Indeed, it is inherent to the process that the day is allowed to progress organically within any practical limitations, such as time, space, numbers and sustenance, to be true to itself. What is exciting about such a process is exactly those surprises or unknowns that arise, leading us to new ideas and future actions.
Through contacts made at the Town Council presentation, it is hoped that the painting and research will be exhibited at St Just Library, while also being shared with the Town Council and Local Neighbourhood Development Plan as an example of public engagement. Discussion has already begun regarding further collaboration with Dr Willett with the possibility of developing the event in other areas. Business and public groups in the area have also approached me to run similar workshops for upcoming events.
painting a parish future– Pendeen in St Just, communal painting, earth pigments on board © p ward 2018
Thank you to everyone who participated in the event, for the support and interest of the local community and especially to Joanie for her contributions and collaborative insights.
© P Ward 2018
february – march 2018
In February I was most fortunate to enjoy a holidayin southeastern Australia, although like all ‘holidays’ for artists it became an excellent and inescapable opportunity for some research. I travelled with my partner and two young children, adding a beautiful dimension to an already very special journey.
From childhood I have had a fascination with Aboriginal culture and part of our visit was to meet up with friend and elder Noel Butler of the Budawang people from the Yuin Nation (http://nuragunyu.com.au). Noel generously welcomed us to his land and shared some memorable, and not always comfortable, insights into native and contemporary culture that strongly influenced my sense of Australia during my visit. Spending time with Noel, in his own land, also inspired much creative ecological experience and thought that I aim to explore more deeply over the coming years.
Being the furthest I have ever travelled I was not sure what to expect. I am quite new to international travel, spending my life so far enjoying and celebrating the wealth of experience and life present closer to home. I carried with me a glut of preconceptions of Australia that didn’t take too long to be completely pulled apart. Having spent a few days exploring (and recovering from Jetlag) in Sydney – on first impressions a fascinating, vibrant and multicultural city – we set off in a small, and somewhat temperamental, hired camper van.
Even before leaving the city the wealth and diversity of unfamiliar flora and fauna had sent my senses reeling. What struck me first was that I did not see one species of bird that I may have seen in Europe and as we travelled this became more and more apparent. Added to the wonderful heat and climate the flora cloaking the immense Pacific coast landscape brought me to realise how different this place was. The sun was in the North!? The wind was coming from the ‘wrong’ direction. The weather patterns were beyond my comprehension…
From Sydney we headed south along the Pacific coast as far as Bateman’s Bay before heading inland to Australia’s new and strange administrative capital, Canberra. From there we drove further south and up into the Kosiosko Mountain range where temperatures dropped to as low as 6C (in contrast to a pleasant 32C in the city). Staying with friends and family and then becoming familiar with the ‘free’ camping grounds in the country’s National Parks our travel was relatively inexpensive. It was so refreshing to be in a place that actively encouraged outdoor experience, with excellent facilities such as gas barbecues and compost toilets provided in the most remote places, although the road surfaces often shook us to our very cores.
To fully articulate or describe the depth and insights of the whole experience would need a book, with a great many pictures, even more than I have shared here, so I will spare you that for now. However, I know that over the coming years such experience will become evident in my work both in terms of further travel, sensitivity to my own cultural and ecological identity, and participation in Australian culture and the understanding communicated through it. I have already been invited back to explore local pigments and art with Noel and hope to take up that offer as soon as I am able.
With many thanks to Martin for making the journey possible and to Francesca, Noah and Agnes, Sally and Miles, Noel and Trish and Alex for making it such a rich and beautiful experience.
© P Ward 2018
new works of a more temporary nature…
“Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” Bertolt Brecht
what does one do when one is in transit, on the move, between stations, so to speak?
just how does one occupy oneself in a meaningful and creative manner when one’s foundations are all asunder, albeit temporarily?
it is a most unsettling situation indeed (quite literally), this moving about, this uprooting and replanting, this altering of, well, almost everything…
I am making ready for change
but unwilling to predict or control just how such changes may manifest.
they will more than likely simply emerge quite naturally,
not without a struggle perhaps,
but in an organic way.
in the meantime
there is the matter of packing away stuff,
clearing space for the new
both physically and emotionally,
and simply getting rid of that which no longer serves a purpose.
then there is of course the more mundane,
taking advantage of a lull or space to administer and catch up with paperwork and websites etc
and, of course, the constant reflection upon where one has been, where one is now and where one might like to go…
the studio, my place of creative refuge for two years is already dismantled
neatly stowed in a safe space, a strange sensation, a sense of detachment from my life vocation.
and yet all this has been done before.
and we adapt,
we make the most of what we have,
we continue to create, to cast our influence in the world
and the new situation inspires newness in all
it is rather exciting
this nomadic nuance
so here’s to new life
to new possibilities
to uncertain futures
isn’t it always this way after all…
with many thanks to family and friends, new and old…
© P Ward 2017
** Les Trois Galets de Marc Averly is a project by French artist Marc Averly (https://www.facebook.com/marc.averly) . He asks friends to photograph his hand formed wooden ‘galets’ in different places around the world and is compiling a fascinating and entertaining compendium of the images. Much of Marc’s work focuses on wood and trees, and he has a massive knowledge around the subject that he shares at interdisciplinary symposiums and workshops.
(a new leaf did turn)
paintings after GNAP France 2017
My time in France as part of the GNAP residency has left me inspired in many ways – through the people I met and energy exchanged, the places visited and the scale and scope of work achieved.
Only just more than a fortnight has passed since my return and it has been quite a journey finding my way back to life ‘above the surface’, to ‘normal’ life. I have missed the people, the fun and sharing on such a multicultural, multilingual level, the singsong chatter, the banter, the partial misunderstandings and the poetry of ‘pigeon’ language. I have bemoaned the romance of life in another country and the space to create so utterly supported by the structure of the residency – we were very spoilt. My wings did truly spread. My hair did get utterly let down and shaken.
But what is the meaning of experience if it cannot be carried forward in life, if we do not learn from it or use it in some way? On a personal and professional level the residency allowed me the confidence to see myself fully as an artist again, capable of working in an international arena. It provided me with the confidence to travel and communicate with others beyond my own cultural ecology. Through contact with other artists, more experienced or simply with different approaches and goals, I began to understand principles and pathways within my own practice (and that of others) that will help my work evolve and grow.
I now aspire to make and show my work internationally as I begin to appreciate more fully the social and ecological significance of what I do, as well as the desire within myself to create and share my work as part of the global art network. The experience offered me new perspectives on my work in terms of materials, context and application, as well as a feast of new imagery, ideas and stories to share. Through language limitations I started to learn to describe my work more simply and universally.
Here is a selection of paintings completed since returning home inspired by my time on GNAP France 2017. I have included titles in four European languages (via Google Translate) to acknowledge and celebrate my geographical and shared cultural identity.
sorriso dentro/innen lächeln/sourire à l’intérieur/smile inside, reclaimed wood and rock © p ward 2017; una capra in turbolenza/eine Ziege in Aufruhr/une chèvre dans la tourmente/a goat in turmoil, earth pigments on board © p ward 2017
Thank you again to everyone involved. I hope that the friendships and professional relationships created will enable many new adventures in the future.
© P Ward 2017
musing upon the muse 91017
you warm me
encouraging and invigorating
my muscles, mind and breath
you are so close
yet not here
I long to share a meal, a drink, a show
a long slow walk home
sometimes in life we encounter people
to whom we feel a deep attraction and connection –
a zap between the eyes
an undeniable pull towards,
unwarranted and unthought-of,
an often beautiful but emotionally inconvenient surprise.
yet circumstances mean our relationships are curtailed
or must take forms different from those we conventionally recognize.
contemporary communications may allow a frustratingly superficial contact,
hand written letters and gifts another, maybe more real,
sometimes even these are not possible
when we honestly crave a wholly physical means –
eye contact and the subtle nuance of body language
the time and space to freely exchange the energetic dynamic
that common interests and diverse histories reveal,
to share a meal, a drink and a long walk home
as an artist, such desire may act as muse:
a light in the darkness, a spark of imagination
exploring the unknown undiscovered spaces,
a chance to meet the familiar through another’s eyes,
or identify and examine new aspects of ourselves –
dreams undreamt , fears as yet unconfronted, renewed aspirations,
detaching oneself from the mundane,
an illusion or delusion
but inspiration all the same;
or fuel to intention
to communicate more wholly
through pathways beyond the visible
and for those of us who entertain such fantasies about a subtle sense –
who honour a telepathic connection,
like that between a mother and child
then the distance between may become an ethereal whisper
a breath, a feeling, a warmth, a glow
a longing acceptance of fate
still not manifest
so maybe this is ‘hope’
or merely wishful thinking
a means to find strength and courage in isolation
to believe in another way
(with love and thanks to those who are not here)
© P Ward 2017
In early September I was fortunate to be among 22 international artists (from as far afield as South Korea, USA, India, New Zealand, Iran, Australia, Germany, Italy and France) warmly invited to Doué en Anjou in the Saumur Region of the Loire, France, to live and work amongst the plethora of caves that sit just beneath the surface. During the 10 day residency we were taken to troglodyte habitations, sarcophagus workshops, a zoo, a farm, a quarry, a woodland lake, art galleries, champagne cellars, vineyards and restaurants as well as sites along the Loire to create site-specific nature-based works. Final installations and video works were presented to an audience of 900 sponsors, local school children, press, dignitaries and the general public at Les Perrieres cave centre as part of the national Heritage celebrations. The residency, part of a series throughout Europe organized by YATOOi during 2017, was a wonderfully rich and playful cultural exchange supported by local generosity and inspiring an outstanding depth and variety of work reflecting the diverse backgrounds and environments shared.
Despite the difficulties of language good friendships were established through common acts of work and play, through the joyful sharing of cultural peculiarities and through shared experience, all helped by a plentiful supply of local wine and champagne – we were in France after all! The generosity and openness of the local people, businesses and sponsors to a group of unknown artists descending into the area was quite remarkable. All events within the residency – openings, introductions, public presentations and the final exhibition – were all well and enthusiastically attended. Much credit should of course be given to the residency organizers (Olivier Huet and Magrit) who brought such bounty to the group and facilitated the residency in a wonderfully warm, relaxed and friendly manner. As you can see from the program we were kept very busy during the residency adding an enjoyable intensity to proceedings.
The work, framed within the residency as ‘Nature’ or ‘Land’ Art, was created during short ’workshops’ (visits) to places of interest or relevance to the theme of ‘Art Underground’. It was hoped that through simple introductions to the history, ecology and geology of the places we would build up a sense of the extraordinary dual (underground/surface) character of the region. Throughout the first week we all developed a better relationship to and sense of the materials prevalent and formative to the area. This knowledge allowed us to slowly form ideas for a final piece to be installed or shown within or near the cave complex at Les Perrieres where we were so comfortably accommodated. The cave complex is a fantastic attraction in itself, catering for public and school groups, having employed artists to interpret and enrich the network of caves carved from the earth for building materials over the last 500 years. The experience of spending such a lot of time underground, to emerge intermittently into the ‘light’, was at once quite disorientating and somehow reassuring, and also hard to describe. (Returning home to a small house in the English countryside, with windows overlooking a valley, certainly felt very strange.)
As an artist (maybe overly) academically acquainted with the various forms and history of environmental art it was fantastically refreshing to simply make – to spend time with others in an environment, to explore new and familiar materials in a different context and to enjoy the varied processes employed by the other artists. The care and attention both in making, recording and documenting that was adopted by many was an inspiration. An amazing skill for choosing sites for installations where they may be viewed and documented best was also apparent, as was an enviable dexterity with digital editing and animation among the group.
The lack of academic analysis and critique, whether by design or through language difficulties, was simply refreshing. While Land Art or Nature Art may be acknowledged within an art historical context it is often totally dismissed (for which I have been guilty) as a relevant form or practice by more ecologically/socially engaged contemporary artists. For example, Richard Long is often criticized for simply taking formal and conceptual ideas out of the gallery or bringing ‘natural’ materials back in, while Andy Goldsworthy overly-aestheticizing Nature, without acknowledgement of any political issues relevant to subject, material or space, and Robert Smithson for the use of massively macho machinery to make vast changes to a landscape without consideration for ecological consequences. I now personally appreciate all as parallel and historical aspects to all work of and about the environment – Art does not always have to be so overtly political after all, working intrinsically and subliminally within culture as a whole.
The experience of GNAP France has given me a fresh perspective on my own prejudices, reiterating the value of personal tactile experience and expression within an environment, offering the opportunity to celebrate and share aspects of nature that may often go unobserved on both a minute and architectural scale, as well as space to develop a deeper sense of oneself within Nature. It is all a learning process. The residency offered such a space to the artists with little pressure to produce but simply to participate – to make contacts, to observe and to share within an international setting: something many of us seldom have the chance to enjoy. In the words of Italian artist, Valeria Codara, “It is only when we open ourselves to others that new ideas can emerge” (one of the few political sentiments expressed towards any of the work during the residency). Whether the individual works had ‘value’ in a social or ecological sense beyond the artists’ experience is always debatable, but it cannot be denied that the creation and participation in the whole experience was a rich and deeply transformative process.
The group of artists came from quite different creative backgrounds, culturally and professionally. We were also at various stages in our careers, the GNAP France residency offering differing possibilities for each of us. International networking, including the chance to really meet people we were otherwise only aware of online, was a key element as well as an international flavour to add to our profiles. Work-wise, while many of us approached each site afresh, many brought signature themes and forms to their responses. French artist Pierre Guilloteau brought along his deconstructed ‘wooden ball’ to reconstruct at various sites to great affect as part of his ongoing Longitude 0° project. Others created simple animations or filmed and produced performance pieces – quite a feat in such short periods of time. Some work was monumental in scale some definitely quite ethereal. Some worked with others, some alone. Thankfully there was a fair share of humour too.
Despite a renewed appreciation of the craft, delicacy and aesthetic appeal of some of the more ethereal sculptural pieces my own work remained closely linked to a sense of our contemporary global situation. I certainly played within the aesthetics of unfamiliar materials but feel my stronger works expressed Nature not as a pristine, balanced, elemental world but as a turbulent shifting ecology within which humankind plays an often provocative and sometimes frivolous role (if we are willing to get the joke!?). During the week I began to recognize patterns emerging in my practice. Ways in which I become attuned to a landscape, such as gathering sticks or forming balls from soil, from which the work would develop. There was often a sense of ritual to my process, acknowledging elemental forces within each installation. There was a sense of passing to the final pieces, suggestions of something that had happened to which others were witness, often tinged with sadness and destitution, sometimes with joy. I started to understand the importance of narrative within my work (thank you Sally).
For my own final piece, en passant par (passing through), I secured a large cave between two quarries. I was personally drawn to the combination of contemporary objects, surfaces and detritus as well as an abundance of usable natural materials in the space. My intention was to create an immersive experience using pigments, objects, imagery and ideas I had gathered throughout the residency. As an artist working with natural materials and pigments I am often forced to question or recognize the connection between cave art and graffiti. The space and residency offered an excellent opportunity to explore this more fully. I hoped to create a sense of the ‘artist’ passing through, a ‘nomad’, using the cave as a temporary habitation and workspace. Also to highlight the imaginative possibilities of the shapes, textures and structures already evident in the space through a minimal intervention of mark-making and objects. For me it was the largest and most ambitious project I have attempted to date. Thankfully it was well received by fellow artists and the public.
en passant par, cave installation (detail), objets trouvé and earth pigments, GNAP France © peter ward 2017en passant par, cave installation (detail), objets trouvé and earth pigments, GNAP France © peter ward 2017
GNAP France is certainly an event I will never forget: as a time of learning, living and working on many new levels and having loads of fun with some beautiful new friends, rejuvenating my confidence, ambition and motivation as an artist. I can only thank all those involved – artists, organizers and sponsors – for their generosity in creating such an incredible encounter.
Thank you all for welcoming me so wholeheartedly to the GNAP family.
© P Ward 2017
GNAP France 2017 was curated by Olivier Huet (association Cranberry) www.gnap-france.fr
List of artists: Isabelle Aubry (France), Marc Averly (France), Claudette Besnard (France), Donald Buglass (New Zealand), Karin Chopin (France), Valeria Codara (Italy), Pierre Guilloteau (France), Atefeh Khas (Iran), Sally Kidall (Australia), Kim Soon-im (South Korea), Lee Sun-ju (South Korea), Ahmad Nadalian (Iran), Pascale Planche (France), Joël Thépault (France), Roger Rigorth (Germany), Ute Ritschel (Germany), Cherie Sampson (USA), Patrick Tagoe-Turkson (Ghana), Gunjan Tyagi (India), Peter Ward (UK), Aarti Zaveri (India), Majid Ziaee (Iran).
sponsors, GNAP France 2017
(Images are from my own collection or made available to me by request or through Yatoo Gnab Facebook pages. All images and works retain copyright to the artist and Yatoo GNAP. I hope I have mentioned everybody? Apologies for so many pictures of my work but hey!…:-))