sticks in the wind – westward ho! 24113

On a recent visit to my local beach I stuck a stick in the sand.

The various elemental forces in play instantly transfixed me, filling me with a sense of exhilaration – the wind, the weight of the stick, its texture, form and flexibility, the tentative support of the sand and shingle creating a viable tension and suggesting a living, breathing entity through which I might relate to my place within the world.

I have since been playing with this idea using a variety of sticks of different weights, lengths and thicknesses and in different weather conditions. This short film documents some of my initial experimentation…

For me the installation brought to mind David Abram’s analogies of air as the living elemental entity within which our collective thoughts reside, …

“Finally, and most profoundly, this invisible medium, in which we are bodily immersed, is what provides us with the capacity for conscious thought.” from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

… and of fire, being a product of the other elements, as well as the animate nature of all being, a belief in which gives faith and understanding to indigenous cultures around the world …

“With everything having life, with everything having speech, with everything having the power to breathe, with everything having the power to teach and guide, with that in blessing we live.” from the Navajo Blessingway ceremony, recorded by Gary Witherspoon, also from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram[i].

(Coincidentally, I am also presently enjoying a course of acupuncture!?[ii])

P Ward 2013


[i] David Abram, The Spell of The Sensuous (New York; VINTAGE; 1997)

[ii] The principles of acupuncture and holistic healing within the context of art and ecology are presently being explored by American ecoartist Aviva Rahmani in her Trigger Point Theory, whereby interdisciplinary actions are defined and implemented through a range of analytical tools within specific ecologies to catalyze an effect. To find out more visit http://www.avivarahmani.com/. I have also previously written about such ideas on this site https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/art-as-flux/


burning 9 bundles, COURAGE COPSE 9113

a short film documenting the eventual (and ritual) burning of 9 bundles of sticks that have been used in various projects over the last 6 months – from ecological art workshops, community dance performances and contemporary art exhibitions the bundles have been enjoyed by and inspired many people taking on a powerful presence of their own. But the bundles were made to be burnt and so they have come to their fitting end. Many thanks to COURAGE COPSE CREATIVES and HOME GROWN KIDS in North Devon where they were made and to where they were ultimately returned…

“ The ability of each thing or entity to influence the space around it may be viewed as the expressive power of that being. All things, in this sense, are potentially expressive; all things have the power of speech. Most, of course, do not speak in words. But this is also true of ourselves: our own verbal eloquence is but one form of human expression among many others.” from David Abram, Becoming Animal – An Earthly Cosmology.

P Ward 2013


night waves, westward ho! 812013

A simple meditative film of waves breaking in the early evening on the beach at Westward Ho! in North Devon taken on my HTC phone with natural sound. The evening was grey and darkening. I particularly enjoy the colour and image distortion, and hence painterly mood, created by the limitations of the technology. BEST VIEWED IN THE DARK…

The quote at the end of the film is taken from Christopher Spence’s book AIDS – Time to Reclaim Our Power, published in 1986 by LIFESTORY. I have always felt that such intentions are equally important for any situation in our lives when (re)empowerment is needed, although another motivation, especially in this time of global ecological crisis, is maybe just that – necessity

‘The only sound enough motivation for doing anything is joy. All other motivations, such as guilt, compulsion, obligation and duty only lead us to dissatisfaction, tension and resentment. When we are engaged in what truly gives us joy, we lead ourselves inevitably to more and more challenging, powerful lives which affect more and more of the world.’ Christopher Spence

P Ward 2013


rolling stone, watwick bay, pembrokeshire, december 2012

During a recent visit to Dale in Pembrokeshire I rolled a conveniently located large disc-shaped stone across a sandy beach drawing a line. 180 images of the process were taken by Francesca Owen, which were then edited to create this short film using i-movie…

…The quote by Joan Miro that closes the film is one of my favourites:

“If you lack the materials to work with, go to the beach and draw with a stick in the sand, draw on the dry earth with a line of piss, make a drawing of the song of the birds in the emptiness of space, the noise of the water and of the wheel of a cart, and the song of the insects. All of this may be swept away by the wind and the water, but have the conviction that all these pure realizations of my spirit will influence, by magic and miracle, the spirit of other men.” Joan Miro, 1940

P Ward 2013


A BUNDLE OF STICKS a short film

a reflective process towards cultural energetic empowerment

Rough video documentation of some of the practical research towards my MA ART & ENVIRONMENT project A BUNDLE OF STICKS. The majority of the footage was taken at COURAGE COPSE CREATIVES in North Devon while working with site artist Katy Lee as part of a sustainable woodland restoration programme…

PW2012


PEBBLE RIDGE a mini-expedition to explore the evolution of a living landmark

APPLEDORE VISUAL ARTS FESTIVAL 2012 . PROJECT REPORT

The stories of our living landscape are best appreciated through physical engagement with our environment. Join local artist Pete Ward, Geographer Ralph Brayne and BirdLife International Conservationist and artist John Fanshawe for this 10-mile trek along the entire length of the Pebble Ridge on the dramatic North Devon Coast, from its source at The Gore near Bucks Mills to its culmination at the mouth of the Taw and Torridge estuaries.

This all-day event will allow participants to appreciate, discuss and consequently express the natural processes that form a unique and constantly evolving naturally sculpted landmark – THE PEBBLE RIDGE. (Not for the faint-hearted.)

mini-expedition 7 june

artists talk and mini-exhibition 8 june

(Entry for festival brochure)[i]

the idea

a personal connection to the pebble ridge

I have now lived in Westward Ho! for nearly three years, five minutes walk from the Pebble Ridge, spending time observing and enjoying its subtle and drastic changes, but through family connections fondly remembering the ridge from childhood holidays. My earliest memories of the ridge are of small plaster models of pebbles with faces and limbs made in the village. I still see the ridge made up of millions of little pebble-people all with their own story to tell …

not a painting, an experience

As a painter and an environmental artist I have become frustrated with the extent to which a painting (or any made object or installation) can communicate the animate experience of being within the landscape and therefore to promote its inherent power and inspiration towards our relationship within nature. This is not to undermine the potential of painting and drawing to become more intimately acquainted with or to enquire further into our environment, but merely to question the efficacy of our skills to embody for others the totality of physical engagement. For me the best installation of all is nature itself. The PEBBLE RIDGE offered a perfect structure within which to creatively examine the principles of process and ecology within our immanent landscape. The mini-expedition was an attempt to ‘paint a picture’ of a place, our relationship to it and its dynamic processes through more than just visual experience.

“Aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment is not simply a matter of looking at objects or ‘views’ from a specific point. Rather, it is being ‘in the midst’ of them, moving in regard to them, looking at them from any and every point and distance and, of course, not only looking, but also smelling, hearing, touching, feeling. It is being in the environment, being a part of the environment, and reacting to it as a part of it. It is such active, involved aesthetic appreciation, rather than the formal mode of appreciation nurtured by the scenery cult and encouraged by photographs, that is appropriate to the natural environment.” Allen Carlson, 2009[ii]

As an artist hoping to promote a deeper relationship with our environment, both as a spiritual commitment and in response to the overwhelming global ecological crisis we are presently facing, I still believe in the power of art to catalyze change and affirm our connection to the planet on which our lives depend. I have therefore continued to explore a more ‘expanded’ concept of art to develop the communicative qualities of my practice …

process

The PEBBLE RIDGE at Westward Ho! did not just suddenly appear. It has not and will not always be there. It is merely a transitory moment within the evolution of the earth. By placing ourselves bodily within that process and exploring some of the factors that contribute to it we may hopefully further appreciate our own relationship within it.

“Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947) departed from traditional philosophy by conceiving of individual entities as series of moments of experience instead of as masses of static substance. Within each moment, an entity is influenced by others, creates its own identity and propels itself into further experiences. Because of the involvement of all moments of experience with each other, Whitehead conceived of the entire cosmos as an organic whole.” Sheela Pawar [iii]

shortcourse/uk

In 2011 I was selected to take part in a series of expeditions around Cornwall, organized by Cape Farewell and RANE, to explore our cultural response to climate change. This rich interdisciplinary experience in which selected artists, writers and environmental scientists shared time at the Eden Project, the Lizard Peninsula and on the Isles of Scilly, has provided the basic, open-ended framework for the PEBBLE RIDGE project. The concept is not exclusive to rural environments and has also been utilised in the Docklands of London – everywhere has a story to tell.[iv]

indigenous intelligence

My own response is very much inspired by a need to remain intimately acquainted with the nature and fellow inhabitants of our local environment. It is hoped that such experience will promote a greater sense of wonder and empathic connection with our environment, and an active sense of responsibility towards its care not only in our own interest but in the interests of all …

“ I have learned from long experience that there is nothing that is not marvelous and that the saying of Aristotle is true – that in every natural phenomenon there is something wonderful, nay, in truth, many wonders. We are born and placed among wonders and surrounded by them, so that to whatever object the eye first turns, the same is wonderful and full of wonders, if only we will examine it for a while.” John Stewart Collis 1973[v]

holistic appreciation

Art and science may be seen as the ways and means through which we examine and make meaning of our world. From such observations and understanding we may develop the technologies to enable our survival. By bringing together practitioners from a variety of disciplines it is hoped to create a cross fertilisation of ideas and a recognition that such disciplines are indeed most alike. Through such interdisciplinary approaches we may learn to better communicate our concerns and wonder of the world.

“At the heart of today’s ecological crisis lies a terrible failure to understand the essence of our relationship with the natural world. One can of course address that failure rationally and empirically; but the arts (particularly the visual arts) offer different insights into that relationship, and touch people in ways that conventional education and advocacy can rarely do.” Jonathon Porritt, Director, Forum for the Future, UK.[vi]

nature as a practical, creative resource

As an artist-led expedition, the intention was to engage with the process of the ridge more fully through the materials and resources it provided in creative activities, as well as a general awareness of the physicality of moving bodily through its environment. The weather conditions on the day completely altered any preconceptions of what these activities might entail but more than adequately evoked a sense of the process with which we were engaged. (Thoughts of Turner strapped to his mast frequently coming to mind!?) I had previously walked a section of the ridge with an Aboriginal Australian friend and elder. His response to the materials of the environment was extremely refreshing – rather than just being struck by their sublime ‘beauty’ he instantly perceived a practical application. This sense of a practical and ethical aesthetic has created a lasting impression on me.

“If you lack the materials to work with, go to the beach and draw with a stick in the sand, draw on the dry earth with a line of piss, make a drawing of the song of the birds in the emptiness of space, the noise of the water and of the wheel of a cart, and the song of the insects. All of this may be swept away by the wind and the water, but have the conviction that all these pure realizations of my spirit will influence, by magic and miracle, the spirit of other men.” Joan Miro, 1940

walking talking making becoming

As we walk our landscape over and over and over, we become more of it and it becomes more of us. This connection, this relationship, this reciprocation is our indigenous inheritance, our animate belonging, our human emergence. Walking, and movement, through our environment may be seen as one of the primary means through which we learn about our place within the world. From an artistic perspective it may be seen as a form of drawing, a sensory mapping of tactile experience. The PEBBLE RIDGE provided a diverse range of surfaces, gradients, weather conditions and textures to negotiate and observe such sense of movement and experience.

“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles…when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.” Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

in the company of …

The PEBBLE RIDGE mini-expedition team consisted of five (hardy) invited guests and myself …

ralph brayne geographer (and surfer) conducting Phd research project on pebble transportation along the PEBBLE RIDGE, in association with Exeter University and North Devon Biosphere Reserve

john fanshawe artist and conservationist, currently employed by BirdLife International

katy lee site artist and woodlander, currently Dance in Devon Ambassador for North Devon

pete yeo networking philanthropist and photographer for Appledore Arts Festival

warren collum plein-air wildlife illustrator and exhibitions manager at The Burton Gallery & Museum

the PEBBLE RIDGE

background

The PEBBLE RIDGE is part of a storm beach running along the North Devon coast in Southwest England, between Hartland Point and the mouth of the Taw and Torridge Estuaries. Geologically the dramatically folded and faulted cliffs that form the coast are Carboniferous (360-290 million years old) sedimentary shales, sandstones and siltstones, with a Permo-Triassic intrusion of iron rich sandstone at Peppercombe (280 million years old). The coastline is evidence of constant and massive processes of climate and sea level change, and tectonic plate movement involving unimaginable pressures and temperatures. The ridge is predominantly eroded material from these ‘active’ cliffs, the rocks changing colour from rich yellows and browns through a process of attrition to become the grey pebbles or ‘greywacke’ that characterises the ridge.

The area is part of the Southwest Coast Path, and is managed by the National Trust (NT)[vii] and the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)[viii]. It is within North Devon’s UNESCO Biosphere (NDBR)[ix] designation and contains a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).[x]  It has historic industrial and geological connections with South Wales, importing lime and coal for agricultural quick lime production and exporting timber from the ancient woodlands that hug its steep slopes. The Ridge has also provided a constant source of creative inspiration for its many visitors and inhabitants, including artists such as Turner, Charles Kingsley (after whose book Westward Ho! was named), Rudyard Kipling and Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards[xi] who used the small cabin at the top of the slipway at Bucks Mills as their studio between 1913 and 1965.

the mini-expedition

“Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.” Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust – A History of Walking

The day was originally to be spent walking the length of the ridge, taking time to appreciate the land and its other inhabitants, gathering and exploring the resources it provides and reflecting upon the experiences and issues it suggested. It was hoped that participants would feel inspired to contribute to the proceedings with whatever skills and knowledge they enjoyed. However due to the bad weather, rendering the coast path dangerous and the experience rather too wet and uncomfortable, we decided to do what we could by visiting parts of the route and finding whatever shelter was available to reflect upon our findings.

As with any workshop experience the day was based upon a structure of looking at where we already are, what has brought us to this point and what we hope to achieve through an experience, participating in activities of some kind and then reflecting upon those experiences to establish where they may take us. The PEBBLE RIDGE mini-expedition was designed to provide experiences determined by its own nature such as

• walking/movement

• gathering (information and materials)

• making paint/painting

• conversation/sharing

• play

From a contemporary art perspective all these activities may be seen as drawing – that is, as a means to explore and examine the world …

fulmar (John Fanshawe 2012)

permissive signs, or not!? (Pete Yeo 2012)

ragged robin and red valerian – biodiversity, ‘non-native’ species and climate change (Pete Yeo 2012)

 bucks mills cabin (Pete Yeo 2012)

 ‘how nature shelters us’ (Pete Yeo 2012)  

 worthygate wood (John Fanshawe 2012) 

conversations (Pete Yeo 2012) 

 peppercombe red (Pete Yeo 2012)

  a sense of place (Pete Yeo 2012) 

 creative response (Pete Yeo 2012) 

 stones (John Fanshawe 2012) 

 from greencliff (Pete Yeo 2012) 

 carboniferous fractals (Pete Yeo 2012) 

  ‎’walking with me, myself and I… and I and I…’ (Pete Yeo 2012)

On the day, the mini expedition provided a rich experimental space to explore the conceptual potential of such an activity, the ways it may be altered and improved for the future, and a stimulating and satisfying experience through which to share a diverse range of knowledge and perspectives, despite the inclement conditions. From a more personal perspective it was an opportunity to share my artistic practice and inspiration with others. In terms of what it had set out to achieve it was a great success and has led to a many new ideas to explore. The possibilities of different environments and processes, different participants and outcomes, and different structures and timeframes are know being discussed within the context of local environmental and arts groups.

so, how was this art?

Art may be utilised as a service to community …

• To stimulate thinking and action

• To reach new understandings of the world

• To enrich our lives through creative expression and learning

• To affirm our connection to the animate world

• To celebrate our creativity and sense of community through action

… and does it actually matter?!

For me, art’s basis lies in reciprocal communication, in relationship and in enquiry, not just between an artist and an audience but between an artist and the material world – it is about intelligent participation in this immanent, wonderful existence…

We have walked

We have talked

We have gathered

And listened with all our senses

 

We have a drawn a line together to reveal our world

 

And shared our thanks for this experience…

What more can we do?

________________

the issues

The mini-expedition and the environment surrounding the PEBBLE RIDGE evoked conversations about a number of issues. While we cannot expect to change the world with our talk, and to not all agree, it is only by actually engaging with the subjects that are seriously affecting the future of our planet that we may hope to maintain any sense of our survival within it …

AONB/NT/NDBR/SSSI

What’s so special about these ‘special’ places? Within an intimately interconnected world, why are they considered any more important than any other, and can we sensibly and realistically manage the natural world for the good of all? How do such assignations affect our behaviour in other areas?

natural resources

During this mini-expedition we have freely and responsibly enjoyed the creative potential of material, both physical and more ethereal, provided by the natural world. However, as we are all aware, on a global scale we are behaving as if the resources of the planet are infinite – they are not! How may we as artists and scientists examine, determine and promote how we may live within the evolving limitations of this animate world?

rural graffiti

Is it OK to paint on SSSI rocks with soluble, locally sourced earth pigments?

renewable energy

RWE Innogy is presently proposing to install 118 wind turbines in the Bristol Channel. The landfall site to connect the project to the national grid is to be at Cornborough on the Pebble Ridge. RWE are making every effort to minimize the environmental impact of the proposed project by using pre-existing pipes to bring the cables ashore.[xii]

While many of us are happy to protest against the unsightly intrusion of wind farms in our ‘unspoilt’ landscape – a landscape created predominantly by human behaviour, by agricultural and industrial activity, past and present, by our transport ‘needs’ and by our dependence on fossil fuels – without offering realistic alternatives, how many are willing to questions the multinational corporations who control our power supply and consumer choices and to make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure a future without such dependency?

coastal defences / northam landfill

As sea levels rise, the Pebble Ridge at Northam Burrows and the buried landfill site at Greysands Hill, along with the Historic Royal North Devon Golf Course and valuable grazing land it protects are increasingly under threat. Do we continue to spend vast amounts of money creating superficial sea defences in our vain attempt to hold back the tide (like good old King Canute) or do we accept the processes of nature and start to clean up the landfill site before it is too late?

plastic pollution

How do we tackle this massive problem both personally and globally?[xiii]

what can art contribute to environmental projects? 

As we have already discussed ‘art’ and ‘culture’ are increasingly recognized as important factors within any social or environmental action, but beyond awareness raising and ‘knowledge transfer’ how may artists collaborate with other disciplines to encourage sustainable practice and behaviour change?

While artists are often happy to work with scientists what do we really offer and in what form, and how can we impress upon people from other disciplines the relevance of our contribution?

many thanks to …

peter keene  (www.thematic-trails.org)

justin seedhouse (head ranger, north devon national trust)

andy bell (north devon biosphere reserve)

alison thomas and natasha bacon (RWE Innogy – the atlantic array)

daro montag (university college falmouth, RANE)

and many thanks also  to appledore arts festival for their continuing support

and to the sticks and stones, winds, trees and tides that have ultimately inspired my actions …

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot[xiv]

(PW 2012)


[i] http://www.appledorearts.org/

[ii] from Allen Carlson to Richard Long: The Art-Based Appreciation of Nature, by Marta Tafalla, Autonomous University of Barcelona

[iii] from A Synopsis of Process Thought by Sheela Pawar, Center For Process Studies, http://www.ctr4process.org (taken from www.rane-research.org)

[iv] http://www.shortcourseuk.org/

[v] from THE WORM FORGIVES THE PLOUGH – John Stewart Collis (LONDON; Vintage; 1973)

[vi] from http://www.universityofthetrees.org/about/instruments-of-consciousness.html

[vii] http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/local-to-you/south-west/things-to-see-and-do/north-devon/

[viii] http://www.northdevon-aonb.org.uk/

[ix] http://www.northdevonbiosphere.org.uk/welcome-to-a-very-special-place/

[x] http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/Special/sssi/index.cfm

[xi] http://www.burtonartgallery.co.uk/index.php/collections/702

[xii] http://www.rwe.com/web/cms/mediablob/en/1066448/data/969472/2/rwe-innogy/sites/wind-offshore/developing-sites/atlantic-array-offshore-wind-farm/consultation/Non-Technical-Summary-English.pdf

[xiii] http://5gyres.org/

[xiv] from Four Quartets 4: Little Gidding, written c.1942


in defence of SHAMANISM

Q: How many shamans does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None – the light bulb is perfectly capable of changing itself!

In further response to Andy Webster’s Phd presentation and the fearfully limited and dismissive conception of the shaman as artist – one held within the dominant hierarchical power structures of the ‘first world’, rather than one of channelled energy, altruistic ego, communal balance and understanding; universal, ephemeral, communication and animate world appreciation, and affirmation of purposeful perfection in nature and power from within – he seemed not well versed with such spiritual concepts or indigenous process, trapped as his argument appears within the postmodern post-structure of empirical truth, logical thought and meaningless meaningfulness.

bundle of sticks – pine bound with rushes; mount edgecombe (pward 2011)

Despite such modernist opinion the power of the shaman is not determined or exhibited by her separateness, distance or aloofness from society but from the opportunity of holistic understanding and integrity created from a position within the ecological community of which they are a part. The traditional shaman is an artist, a scientist, a doctor, a healer, a hunter, a pasturalist, a gardener, a performer, a keeper of records, a psychologist and a counsellor; their power comes from their broad and implicate understanding, knowledge and perception of the relative dynamic of the immanent ecology of which they are an integral part. They are appointed and elected through an individual aptitude and sensible responsibility exhibited through an attitude of communal behaviour, rather than through any acts of dominance or peculiarly competitive rights of passage. In a sense, the community as a whole entity is its own ‘shaman’, guided by an openess and integrity of communication and trust, allowing for a harmoniously symbiotic relationship with itself as its own environment. The dedicated shaman is simply an empathic mouthpiece, an ecological choreographer appointed to reflect, maintain and affirm a community’s harmonious continuity and fluid evolutionary form.

The role of the shaman is not to correct or criticise from a mythical place of assumed perfection and power, but to suggest, remind and affirm and hence align their audience more fully as relational individuals and ecological communities, to the bioregion within which they exist, and about which the shaman’s opportunities, aptitudes and developed skills have made him or her privy. This is not to say that such gifts are exclusive or particularly special, akin to a Christian priest, for example, or that these perceptions are always right (this would after all be an ecological anomaly) but that the bravery and wisdom of shamanic energetic interventions may assert and engender an open-ended variety of appropriate actions to a given situation, and that the celebration and empowerment of thought itself may inspire a resolution. The humble shaman merely exhibits an ability to listen, empathise and communicate within the elegy of animate form.

On a recent visit to the Embercombe Community in South Devon (www.embercombe.co.uk) I was informed of a rotating position designated within the dynamic of their holistic lifestyle – that being the role of ‘dreamer’ who will spend the day ‘listening’ to the land of which they are a part and reporting back their ‘observations’, which are then taken into account toward the further practical applications of working within their environment. This adoption of the shamanic role of listening to the animate world within a communal structure clearly admits to and affirms the latent abilities within us all to respond to our sensual and sympathetic connection, while also affirming the importance of such relations. So if we are all willing to accept the responsibilities of power within our communities – to listen as well as share, to dig and carry as well as create – and to exhibit attitudes of holistic altruism and animate egalitarianism, then maybe the role of shaman as artist is not such a threat.

“By affirming that other animals have their own languages, and that even the rustling of leaves in an oak tree or an aspen grove is itself a kind of voice, oral peoples bind their senses to the shifting sounds and gestures of the local earth, and thus ensure that their own ways of speaking remain informed by the life of the land. Still, the membrane enacted by their language is felt, and is acknowledged as a margin of danger and magic, a place where the relations between the human and more-than-human worlds must be continually negotiated. The shamans common to oral cultures dwell precisely on this margin or edge; the primary role of such magicians, …, is to act as intermediaries between the human and more-than-human realms. By regularly shedding the sensory constraints induced by common language, periodically dissolving the perceptual boundary in order to directly encounter, converse, and bargain with various nonhuman intelligences – with otter, or owl, or eland – and then rejoining the common discourse, the shaman keeps the perceptual membrane fluid and porous, ensuring the greatest possible attunement between the human community and the animate earth, between the familiar and the fathomless” from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abbram

So to return briefly to Frederick Sommer’s statement…

“Some speak of a return to nature.

 I wonder where they could have been?”

 

Shopping maybe??!!

(pw 2011)


problematically purposeless? absolutely not!

last of 7; blue tit, westward ho! 2 (pward 2011)

“With everything having life, with everything having speech, with everything having the power to breathe, with everything having the power to teach and guide, with that in blessing we live.”

from the Navajo Blessingway ceremony, recorded by Gary Witherspoon

Recently I was treated to a presentation of the Phd Research of Andy Webster, previously course leader for the Fine Art: Contemporary Practice program at UCF. It was with great interest and pleasure that I listened to the enthusiastic dissemination of Andy’s thesis in the dark and dingy Seminar Room C, but it was with even greater joy that I appreciated the revelatory (for me) pitfall in his approach that had brought him to the realisation of its shortcomings. Such reflection has allowed me to grow in the understanding of my own practice and methodology, and hopefully in my perception of the function and appreciation of art as a whole.

While Andy’s practice and purpose to explore and discover “A Fluid Form: A process aesthetic as a means to engage with the prevailing ‘entitative’ model of thinking in ecological art” filled me with excitement at the humour and good sense of his argument and artful manifestations, it was with great disappointment that I received his conclusory statement that despite his good intentions he still saw art, both process-led and ‘entitative’ as essentially ‘purposeless’ – an attitude not in contradiction of Clement Greenberg’s original modernist manifesto of the 1950’s.

 

” Of course, actual experience, not the limited abstractions of science, matters most in the conduct of our lives. It is our entire experience, including our cultural heritage, that links us to the world in which we live, not just the artificially limited aspects of experience that constitute an experiment or a scientific observation. If we are not to live double lives, split between an ‘objective’, impersonal, mechanistic reality and the ‘subjective’ world of personal experience, we need to find a way of bridging these two realms.”

 from ‘The Rebirth of Nature – The Greening of Science and God’ by Rupert Sheldrake

 dead heads – rose; westward ho! 1 (pward 2011)

So as I struggled sadly with this perusal of renewed futility, in contradiction of my own belief in art as an agent, medium and vehicle for social and ecological transformation and cultural challenge, I glimpsed the flaw of Andy’s meaningful methodology. By means of introduction to the process of examination he had stated that his ideological roots originated within an attitude of eco-socialism, a viewpoint that until now I would confess to intellectually share. However this ‘socialism’ is ultimately a modernist construct, a reaction and response to a capitalist and technologically materialist world view; a place ideologically exempt from the concepts of spirit and soul, from mystery and magic; entrenched within the rationalist age of empirical science where if it cannot be reasonably measured it does not rightfully exist, or is of no pertinence at least. And as Andy continued within the dualistic summation of the symbiosis between process and entity I wondered upon such scientifically reductionist over-simplification, that there might just be a third element, and even a fourth, beyond or within what our narrowed concept of reality has recently allowed. Thankfully with the progression of scientific understanding within the concept of evolution we have now come to realise that its practice has finite limitations; that it is not after all as omnipotent as originally hoped; that it does not hold all the answers at all, at all! We are beginning to hopefully believe in the power of the invisible, the un-measurable immeasurable, the place of the other view, the third point in the dualistic paradigm which melds all existence into a tangible, tactile and experiential whole…

“Finally, and most profoundly, this invisible medium, in which we are bodily immersed, is what provides us with the capacity for conscious thought.” 

from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

So where might this argument have gone if we had approached from a place of ‘Deep Ecology’, a perspective (and truth) that embraces the animate aspect of all our existences? To approach an ecological question from a modernist place of departure can maybe only lead to heartache, to futility and nonsense – to ‘purposelessness’ as Andy so eruditely construed – but to use the multidimensional perception of a truthfully ecological standpoint, interweaving elements from a plethora of place may, I believe, open our discussions about the efficacy and role of art to a place of intrinsic and inherent symbiotic power from which it evidently and experientially might come.

dead heads – rose; westward ho! 2 (pward 2011)

“Deep ecology is a contemporary ecological philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of other beings, aside from their utility. The philosophy emphasizes the interdependent nature of human and non-human life as well as the importance of the ecosystem and natural processes. It provides a foundation for the environmental, ecology and green movements and has fostered a new system of environmental ethics.

Deep ecology’s core principle is the belief that, like humanity, the living environment as a whole has the same right to live and flourish. Deep ecology describes itself as “deep” because it persists in asking deeper questions concerning “why” and “how” and thus is concerned with the fundamental philosophical questions about the impacts of human life as one part of the ecosphere, rather than with a narrow view of ecology as a branch of biological science, and aims to avoid merely anthropocentric environmentalism, which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by and for humans purposes, which excludes the fundamental philosophy of deep ecology. Deep ecology seeks a more holistic view of the world humans live in and seeks to apply to life the understanding that separate parts of the ecosystem (including humans) function as a whole.”

definition from Wikipedia

So, can there realistically ever be a marriage between such fixed political ideologies as socialism, capitalism and communism, as humanly attractive and logical as they may immediately seem with in our contemporary ‘entitative’ reality, and the ever evolving, miraculously mutating conceptual aura of ecologically deep thought? Or is such animate appreciation of our existential and experiential truth leading us to a totally new, appropriately agile, shifting sea of ‘synaesthetic’ political paradigms for all? Indeed, whether it is possible to conclude at all an ambient efficacy of art within the strict, linear and ultimately dualistic entity that is alphabetic language without the intrinsic inclusion of the invisible, the unfathomable and the ethereal, and the contextual complication of ultimate truth, is another question that may be raised. If we were to begin all our appraisals and analysis from an attitude of wholeness rather than that of fragmentation and conflict how might that affect our results?

last of 7; blue tit, westward ho! 1 (pward 2011)

 Long gone and thankfully so, is the time of superstition and manipulation by magical means (science has just put paid to that!) but now we might allude to invite a new place of mystery which acknowledges the non-quantifiable invisible, the energetically elusive threads which intermingle our imaginative dynamic, which might inspire resilience and resolution in the face of ever-changing obstacles and revolution. We forever are the instinctive power within the soil that tunes the trees, that knocks the seeds, that jumps the deer and swims the oceans; never disconnected nor disenchanted; never lost but found within an ambivalent fluid form.

“Some speak of a return to nature.

I wonder where they could have been.”

Frederick Sommer

(PW2011)


SHORTCOURSE/UK/Cornwall I

SHORTCOURSE/UK/CORNWALL – CAPEFAREWELL

eden project 5/6511

‘The landscape around the Eden Project forms the setting for the first day’s programme; the drained clay pits of St Austell plays host to shamanistic rituals, sweat lodges, a conjuring of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, a walking tour foraging a new kind of eco-literacy, and a black, sweltering night in a bug-filled biome…’  

video : searching for the spirit of eden http://vimeo.com/23526120

spirit of eden 1 (digital photo; pward 2011)

art & POLITICS

an initial response 

Firstly, I must say what a fantastic and exciting privilege it has been to share the ecological intimacy of a day and night with everyone as part of the SHORTCOURSE/UK project at Eden. For myself the importance and necessity of conversation, community and connection between like-minded people is essential in the face of the social and environmental challenges we are presently facing, as of course they are at any time. The mutually invigorating experiences of eating, listening and sleeping in the tropical BIOME, the gentle intensity and beauty of the sweat lodge and the fun and frivolity of the expedition all powerfully affirming our connections not only to each other as humans but also to “all our relations” in the abundant ecology which we gratefully and harmoniously inhabit with the earth, the air, the plants and birds and beasts. I wholeheartedly and eagerly anticipate our continuing capitulations toward understanding and earthly transformation.

spirit of eden 2 (digital photo; pward 2011)

In light of the frustratingly brief discussion that was ventured upon in the Quarry-with-No-Name after lunch on Friday, I would like to raise some further points, and repeat others, with regards the role artists might play in relation to the question of political action and involvement in state instigated community development projects. Of course, the issue of the ECOBOS venture in the ‘redundant’ clay pits near St. Austell is a case of individual complexity, the perceptions of failure and success within our contemporary, materially-biased society are food for continual contemplation, and the institutional adoption of the ‘sustainable’ trademark for the justification of any corporate action is well-known, but the implications of such issues maybe have broader ramifications. I hope that such surreptitiously unsolicited soliloquies may provoke and precipitate a deliberately open-ended dialogue of decisiveness and obligingly inconclusive inventivity for performative prowess and empowerment. I, you and we are all well able to speak our minds in the silence of soporific egality – or we may, of course, just respond…

Primarily, we are human beings (or becomings) as part of the universal community before we are artists (and despite Joseph Beuys’ observations)…

 “Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives”

However, ART is integral to any and every human society as a manifestation of its creative potential. In western society ART is predominantly considered or seen as a separate entity and it is maybe this ‘visibility’, this ‘Cartesian dis-integration’ from the flow of mainstream society that undermines the political and transformative powers that it may offer…

ART is inherently political in nature through its power to transform and question perception both physically and intellectually (if such existential concepts are indeed separable?), but essentially through its practical and experientially engaged participation in the creative process. However, to use ART for purposes of secular political or corporate manipulation is, in my opinion, a contradiction of the integrity of the artistic process. As I understand it, this process is one that celebrates, enriches and affirms our intelligences and sensibilities as universal beings, rather than one that undermines, suppresses or dictates such gifts…

As humans and ecologically-implied responsible beings we all have the power and right to act politically on behalf of ourselves and the earth community of which we are a symbiotically and harmoniously engaged part. Any action, artistic or otherwise, that contravenes such freedoms should be treated with suspicion and great caution…

“ecology expresses the interdependence of this existence; how the action of a part affects the whole”

As artists we do not need to define our political actions artistically – if we feel strongly that there is injustice, or corporate deception with the intent of secular profit or violence, or behaviour that is both ecologically inappropriate and destructive, then we have the ability and freedom to respond in whatever way we see fit…

For example, in relation to the ECOBOS project, if I decided as an individual to deposit 40 tonnes of cattle excrement and slurry on the doorstep of the development office (in the spirit of my continental cousins) accompanied by a banner politely proclaiming “I would rather not have your shit on my doorstep either!!” – then of course such an action could be analysed and justified artistically, but essentially its ramifications are political. The action would obviously raise awareness of the issue to the broader public, but continuation of the action from the security of a prison cell may be somewhat difficult!? If, alternatively, I chose to write an erudite missive to influential people outlining and explaining why I felt the development was not sustainable or ecologically appropriate to the area both socially and environmentally, and how it might in fact create a massive drain on its already depleted and undeveloped natural resources, despite the aesthetically satisfying design of the proposal, and that their efforts may be better applied thus… then, if well recorded, documented and framed this action too could be regarded as ART. It would however raise little awareness of the issue amongst my neighbours as it would probably be swiftly made familiar with the wastepaper bin, or if lucky the recycling pile. If, I was to maybe communicate my thoughts, feelings and misgivings to my neighbours in an unpretentious, sensible and understandable way and then later to maybe ask them to add their names to a petition of support against the development or to attend a meeting to further discuss the feelings of the broader community to the development plan, and the actions were again well documented and presented within an ART context, then such activity could also be construed as ART. I could of course continue this line of argument ad infinitum, but think that maybe the points have been made – as artists we do not have to constantly justify or present our art or actions politically, that ‘Gentle Actions’ may be as effective as noisy ones, both having energetically amplifying implications, and that politics may sometimes be artful as well as aesthetically representative…

“Yet the power we sense in a seed, in the growth of a child, the power we feel writing, weaving, working, creating, making choices, has nothing to do with annihilation. It has more to do with the root meaning of the word power, from the (late popular) Latin, podere (“to be able”). It is power that comes from within.”

from DREAMING THE DARK by STARHAWK (Unwin Hyman Ltd; LONDON;1990)

Personally, I feel it more important that we develop ourselves as humans above our artistic development, but also realise and appreciate that art in itself is an extremely potent instrument for our individual and societal political and spiritual evolution…

  spirit of eden 3 (digital photo; pward 2011)

If we live in a place, breathe its air, drink its water, walk on its earth and engage with a place in relation to others then we are essentially a part of that community irrespective of our birthplace, our class or our political or spiritual sensibilities, or the opinions of those who have lived there longer than ourselves. It is important to remember, and remind others, that our successful and continued evolution as a race has involved constant movement and migration in search of resources, comfort and safety, and in the spirit of our determinate inquisitiveness. If people do not accept us or support our actions as humans, or artists, within a community then either it is their problem or we are behaving in a way unbefitting the ecologically determined bioregion in which we exist – it is simply for us to determine the integrity of our actions, to listen to ourselves and ‘all our relations’, to adjust and adapt, and to continue. We must face the fears and paranoias that disempower our creative action and embody the beauty and intelligence that is our individual birthright in harmonious communion with this infinite universal reality of which we are an integral part…

I hope that the points raised are sensitive to the spirit of the SHORTCOURSE/UK and that they inspire further engagement and dialogue of the issues with which we are involved.(pw 7511)

…more photos may be seen at

http://www.flickr.com/photos/selfcontained/sets/72157626556455877/with/5702527521/


film: the respectful decapitation of a wood PIGEON

the respectful decapitation of a wood PIGEON – peter ward 29411 from Peter Ward on Vimeo.

a simple document to record the investigative process of de-breasting a wood pigeon for the purpose of human consumption.

(Some may find this film disturbing)