At a second attempt, a motley crew of eight interested and involved parties mustered opposite the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford for a day of exploration into the blacker than black, the dirty sticky stuff, the pigment pride of North Devon[i]. To lead the party were myself, an artist by most accounts who has previously dabbled creatively most deeply into this unctuous substance, and Dr Chris Cornford, director of IGI Ltd[ii], who has conducted personal but extensive geological research into the pockets of vitrinite (coal measures) that punctuate the underworld between Greencliff on the coast and Umberleigh on the River Taw 12 miles inland.
Having chosen vehicles we headed to ‘the source’ at Greencliff to start the day. Dr Cornford settled into his rhythm, spinning geological tales, tales over hundreds of millions of years, tales of light and colour and structure and form, of crushing heat and weight, of forests and mountains before our imagination. For all we knew he could have been making it all up but science has a funny way of drawing us in – of describing our observations and imaginations with such doubtlessness that our questions seem trivial. Just let the waters flow over with the words and I’ll see you on the other side. The story wrapped up for another day. Given to permutations and evolutions in its dreams before it is unearthed on another.
Thus we enjoyed the magnificence of the coast, the seam and its company for a while, taking our fair share as others had evidently done before us – mini mines punctuating the 70-degree cliff-face smudge, a puddle of paint appearing at its base, art and science happily wandering hand in hand, not adulterated pseudo-science or wishy-washy art-fangled nonsense, but ART & SCIENCE, making no excuses for their individual natures but co-existing and complementing, enriching experience in their own ways for whoever may have an ear, or an eye or a sense at all.
So after a most generous lunch and perusal of past work in the Burton Art Gallery & Museum, the afternoon was spent in the inspiring presence and environment of the Sandy Brown Museum in Appledore, a starting point for my own earthy adventure. And armed with the morning’s preamble and a few buckets of black thick gritty carboniferous clay, we set to work in our own ways, exploring our own relationships, surprising our presumptuous preconceptions, being frustrated by a lack of colour and a dull ache for more. This is BLACK. I am BLACK! Do with me what you will and I will do as much as I can muster. I will sink in deeply, drawing light from this most pleasant day until we learn to play in joy and recognition of our own natures. Light and shadow arm in arm…
Many thanks to all those who participated; to Sandy[iii] for sharing her space, to Chris for giving of his time, knowledge and enthusiasm and to beautiful Nature for sharing her abundance so generously.
© P Ward 2014
a short essay for the NAFSO Journal 2014*
Art is the means through which we may investigate, appreciate and express our relationships within the world. Contrary to popular opinion it is not just the production of art ‘objects’ for public consumption but more an intimate and personal process through which we test and apply our powers of observation and analysis. Such powers are not limited to empirical measurement but encompass and encourage multisensory and intuitive evaluation whose open-ended outcomes and expression may utilize a combination of disciplines from painting and sculpture to movement, film, writing and music. Quite simply Art, in whatever form, offers a space and structure to experience and create a deeper sense of the energies, material or otherwise, that animate this world.
In the opening keynote speech at the NAFSO annual conference at Skern Lodge in North Devon, Leszek Iwaskow (OFSTED inspector and HMI National Curriculum advisor for geography) stated how experiencing ‘a sense of place’ was possibly one of the most important motivations for contemporary education, especially in respect of the current trends towards the virtual classroom and shifts away from real and tactile engagement with the outdoor environment. This ‘sense of place’ based in personal experience and encouraged by geographical processes such as map reading and making, Leszek enthusiastically explained, is what allows us to connect to and make sense of our world, and our role within it. For me this all sounded very familiar!
While recently studying for an MA Art & Environment at Falmouth University, the phrase ‘a sense of place’ was associated with an American artist Lucy R Lippard whose book, LURE OF THE LOCAL senses of place in a multi-centered society, expounded ideas of the social, ecological and political importance of engagement with the local environment. The book combines artistic and geographic methods of research and presentation. Many contemporary artists have adopted this form of interdisciplinary practice. Indeed collaboration between artists and scientists, from whatever discipline, has increased as the inability of science to both communicate its findings and acknowledge the more than empirical nature of the world has become increasingly apparent. Until recently Art and Science have been inextricably linked, both utilizing observation as a means to learn about the world. Scientists throughout history have often employed and displayed excellent drawing skills to record and document their research.
Through personal involvement with an Australian Aboriginal Elder it also became apparent how this exploration of the local or ‘sense of place’ also resonates deeply with the indigenous processes of learning utilized by tribal people around the world, as children are encouraged to explore their own skills and aptitudes in relation to their environment and the materials it provides. Rather than dictating an outcome within a narrowly prescribed set of options, tribal education provides space for individuals to reach an understanding of their own creativity and purpose within society. Children are ideally allowed to grow into an intimate understanding of their aptitudes, limitations and possibilities. Such methods have more recently been adopted by exponents of experiential learning techniques, while the benefits of learning in the outdoors through more tactile and sensory participation has been championed by the likes of Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) and the principles of Ecopsychology.
So how does Art differ from other methods of engagement with the world and why is it important that we consider its inclusion within outdoor education? Art provides a space and structure for learners (of all ages, abilities and experience) to participate within and creatively reflect upon actions and materials on a multitude of basic and complex sensory levels. It offers opportunity to explore the ways and means we may communicate our findings and, more simply, how we may express ourselves within a specific environment. Through its very nature, concerned as it is with the practical application of materials, composition, colour, light, juxtaposition, observation and relationship, Art explores an ecological and interrelated perception of the world and therefore encourages a sense of personal and social responsibility.
On another level funding for the Arts within the national curriculum has been drastically cut. This is maybe based on ignorance about the specific nature of learning and experience that it offers not only from curriculum advisors but also from practicing artists themselves. In recent history Art, like many other areas of study, has been conceptually detached from the world in which it exists, creating a seemingly vacuous and purposeless aura to its study – we are all familiar with the phrase ‘Art for art’s sake’ with its roots in the Modernist art movement. However, in a society suffering so drastically from such a lack of cohesion and respect for the world a return to the basics of study through first hand observation and manual dexterity are in my opinion essential. Art offers a space for this, leading to an understanding of the principles of technology as well as primal sensibilities.
My own work as an environmental artist, as some of you may have experienced at the NAFSO conference in North Devon in January, looks at our relationships with locally gathered materials, such as earth pigments, in a variety of ways including painting and paint-making workshops, walks, participatory art and art in the environment. For me an essential aspect of this work is creating a relaxed and open space for participants to explore and then reflect upon our actions. It is a place to play and to feel through the medium of our own sensory experience. However, while basic art activities are often utilized within outdoor education the implementation of more specific art methods by specialist artists may increase their impact. Whatever forms the art making takes, whether it is painting, drawing, sculpture, singing, dancing or writing, the process relies on intimate personal response to materials and place through the plethora of senses available to us but also the skills to facilitate a deep appreciation of those processes and the possibilities they may offer.
If we are to be open to a sense of place, as Leszek Iwaskow suggests, then the process of Art allows us to do just that – sense a place, to experience it with all our senses and thus to make those experiences more memorable, more pertinent and practicable and more enjoyable on a very personal level. But then surely this is the intention of good education from whatever discipline we come from?!
*In January 2014 I was invited to run a Painting with the Earth Workshop for the NAFSO (National Association of Field Studies Officers) Annual Conference just up the road from me in North Devon at Skern Lodge Outdoor Activity and Education Centre (www.skernlodge.co.uk). It was a refreshing and inspiring experience to work alongside other outdoor education specialists from a variety of different organisations, backgrounds and disciplines and to share ideas and approaches to a common goal – to provide memorable, meaningful and enjoyable outdoor experience for all. As the only practising artist present it became a good opportunity to impress the relevance and importance of art within this arena. I was subsequently invited to write a short piece for the NAFSO Journal to expand upon my ideas to a broader audience. Many thanks to Skern Lodge for inviting me along.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIELD STUDIES OFFICERS – http://www.nafso.org.uk/
RESEARCH IN ART-BASED ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION (www.naturearteducation.org)
RESEARCH IN ART, NATURE & ENVIRONMENT (www.rane.falmouth.ac.uk)
CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART & THE NATURAL WORLD (www.ccanw.co.uk)
© Peter Ward 2014
At long last I got it together to visit the site of another local pigment and historically significant natural resource in North Devon – the ‘ball clay’ pits around Peters Marland and Petrockstowe. I had been told that the clay could be accessed via the Tarka Trail – a cycle way based on an old railway line that was originally built to transport the clay to Fremington Quay on the Taw Estuary (another of my pigment collecting sites close to the Fremington clay beds utilized by Brannam and Bideford Potteries). And so, having studied the map, with buckets and trowels in hand, we headed out. I was accompanied by my daughter Megan, who got thoroughly and messily involved, and my partner-in-art Francesca[i], whose work with natural dyeing techniques always adds a different dimension to this ongoing research.
The creamy kaolinitic sedimentary white clay, formed in the semi-tropical Tertiary and Eocene geological ages[ii], has been, and continues to be, dug for its use as a slip for ceramics and for the production of the locally distinctive hard ‘white’ bricks – the yellow staining coming from the leaching of iron oxides into the clay from the topsoil. I have been using a similar material as a paint, collected in small quantities from seams at Fremington, since my research into earth pigments began in 2007 but had never visited this other site of local historical, industrial and geological interest before. The clay is utterly smooth and surprisingly white. We carefully dug a small amount from the drainage ditches alongside the cycle way, enjoying both the white clay and the orange/iron stained clay that lay above.
Of course, I ended up smearing some on my face, but that’s another story…
P Ward 2013
i am without time and without form with you
a friend from hereafter
this, my home
as often mentioned, the importance of connecting with the more-than-human, the land and fellow beings about my home, to just spend time here, to allow time to feel, to see and to heal and to be consequently open to inspiration, is an essential element of my arts practice, and arguably of any healthy participation in this miraculous existence. this short film and set of images documents one such circuit, one small journey, one mindful walk around my home – northam country park and westward ho! in north devon.
while I feel privileged to enjoy my time with nature – others are not so fortunate to live within easy reach of such obvious beauty – a classically grounded education in the arts has deeply enriched my everyday experience, helping me see more clearly, to observe more rigorously, to feel more deeply and to appreciate and enjoy the wonder of life as a whole. it may not be for everyone to paint or to become what has been traditionally known as an ‘artist’, but the skills, insights and experience that the arts give, combined with an informed respect for the natural world, will most often make us more contented and creative beings in every aspect of our lives. on days such as these when all I see and everything I do becomes a thing of immense beauty, an intricate part of this rich complex tapestry of life, I am more than grateful to be alive. my only desire is to share such joy with others, to enrich lives as mine has been enriched and to continue to do so…
P Ward 2013
INNOVATIONS IN MARINE EDUCATION Workshop
FSC Dale Fort, Pembrokeshire 15-17313
I was recently invited to take part in a 3-day workshop organized by the Field Studies Council at one of their fantastic field centres at Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire, South Wales to explore the possibilities and potential of teaching about the sea and seashore. The event, funded by the British Ecological Society and the Field Studies Council, brought together teachers from a variety of institutions, conservation groups, environmental bodies and even an environmental artist(!?), to provide an opportunity to share ideas and skills, make contacts and to promote new thinking about ways to engage and inform learners with the seashore and the contemporary issues surrounding it! Activities ranged from PowerPoint presentations, rocky shore ecology lessons, Seashore School activities, plankton sampling and identification with microscopes, to an exhilarating rib (boat) ride around the bay and of course plenty of time to chat and play with the ideas. For myself, it was really refreshing to be amongst such a wealth of knowledge and experience about the natural world and exciting ways of engaging with it, and also excellent to be able to provide a more creative and open space within the sometimes heady and more empirical methodologies present, to maybe bring out the art lying just under the surface of science. Hopefully the open-mindedness of the organizers to include artists in such a conference is a growing trend…
My own involvement was an impromptu presentation looking at how art may support and inform environmental education and a participatory workshop on the final afternoon. The workshop involved a silent walk for half a mile from the field centre to castle beach; a silent breathing/listening/grounding circle on the beach; group foot circle drawing on the beach to create a working space; sharing a single word or object that sums up individual connection to the seashore environment; 20 minute silent, individual and mindful collection of objects from the beach focusing on why, how and any imaginative responses to process; placing collections in circular space; sharing of individual experience and reflection upon process; affirmation of new insights; washing hands in sea to close. I think it is important to note the workshop was developed over the course of the weekend as a response to the event as a whole, trying to create activities that would fit best. It was thankfully very well received and seen as a valuable element of the weekend generally producing some surprising and interesting results and insights for those who participated, in particular the necessity to give ourselves time to simply be in the natural environment, without the pressure of work or specific outcomes, and to revisit those activities that may have inspired us in the first place. Personally it was empowering to allow ideas for the workshop to evolve during the weekend and to then have the confidence to lead. Many thanks to all who took part.
- Field Studies Council
- British Ecological Society
- The Wildlife Trusts (Cheshire, Ulster, Sussex, Hampshire & IOW)
- Marine Conservation Society
- Seashore Schools
- The National Trust
- Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
- Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum
- Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation
- Independent teachers, trainers and practitioners
Further accounts of the weekend workshop may be found at…
P Ward 2013
fleetingly perturbed and somewhat upset by the insensitivity of fellow fumblers on the foreshore I did begin to question the ethics behind sharing my work of gathering local earth pigments. others too have noticed the sense of protectiveness felt when asked the whereabouts of the sites and sources of our gatherings and creative resources. whether this is through a sense of selfish ownership, or of local pride, or more in recognition of the damage that has and may be wrought by our species and to which we might endeavour not to contribute, is difficult to discern.
must we simply trust in the power of the earth to protect itself, to provide its own dynamic mechanisms of regulation, its own ethics, enforced in roundabout ways, through subtle and profound and sometimes earth shattering consequences? or must we trust more in the respons-ability of others and the intentions of our own actions – as artists to provide an open and creative space within which we may engage the physical and energetic fabric of our brief residence and hence to make our own observations and conclusions?
we live and learn amidst this abundance. our arrogance, that we may in some way determine earth’s destiny, constantly diminishing our power to do so. we are only little clumsy creatures scattered about this place, etching our hopes and dreams into its richly diverse surface, impressing upon ourselves, entertaining our own right to be. to live in joy as we breathe our perfectly prescribed time here. of course my petty miniscule procurement of pigment with which to paint and explore the natural processes to which we are prone are somewhat insignificant when compared to the age and the ocean that formed and continues to re-form this precious present.
but still to see the wasteful scattering and shattering of this immanent perfection by others and myself is enough to make me stop and think – how much may I take? is what I do contributing adversely to any destruction that is naturally taking place? are my actions unfairly undermining others enjoyment of this existence and place? or is there justification in my purposeful plundering for all? whether our actions do or not, such questions seem important to dwell upon as we weave our way within and amongst and upon this earth. maybe without them we have no sense, no compassion, no ethos and no love…
“Re-engaging with the raw materials from which our lives are shaped is a potent reminder of the difference between what is real and what is only illusory” Anna Konig, Resurgence Magazine
P Ward 2013
a collaboration with freddie opoku-addaie (jagged antics) and katy lee (dance in devon)
On a wet and stormy evening in November at Chulmleigh Community College in North Devon members of U3A South Molton, Home Grown Kids and the college along with myself and dancers Hugh Stainer and Hian Ruth Voon of Jagged Antics Dance Company, performed BESPOKE/A BUNDLE OF STICKS in front of an audience of 90 people. The 45-minute piece was the culmination of many months research and exploration together with dance artist Katy Lee and Royal Oprea House Associate choreographer Freddie Opoku-Addaie around my arts practice, A BUNDLE OF STICKS, as already documented on this site (see a-bundle-of-sticks-courage-copse-creatives/). The project had been organized and coordinated by DANCE IN DEVON as a means to bring contemporary dance to rural communities across Devon, along with Freddie’s interest in the place of craft in society and movements associated with them…
“I’m interested in working mechanisms of traditional craft techniques and what this says about the value of human creativity and manual skills in an age that is dominated by technological advances.” Freddie explains, “With this I do not want to arrive at a nostalgic view of a pre-technology era, but looking at notions of manual precision, clear work processes and how design and patterns leads to production.” Freddie Opoku-Addaie, http://dancecompass.blogspot.co.uk/
For myself with a holistic interest in how our bodies interact physically, spatially and spiritually within our environment, combined with the physical nature of A BUNDLE OF STICKS, I relished the prospect of working alongside artists from different disciplines and to see how others might interpret such a simple and primitive concept – gathering and carrying sticks. Under Katy’s enthusiastic and intelligent guidance community groups of all ages creatively engaged with the idea to produce phrases and movements which were then taken by Freddie and woven openly and cooperatively with all members of the project to produce the final performance.
While the piece itself had a mixed reception – contemporary dance is not often seen in rural North Devon – the process led to a rich and enjoyable experience for all involved. I was personally overwhelmed by the wealth of possibilities, both physical and narrative, that A BUNDLE OF STICKS inspired – the basis of the project being catalytic rather than an end in itself. It was also a massive pleasure to work closely with others, especially Katy, Freddie, Hugh and Ruth, and to experience such diverse and collusive ways of making and experiencing the creative process. I very much look forward to more opportunities such as this and seriously hope to work with Freddie and the others again in the future.
Many thanks to all…
P Ward 2013
(Further images and a video of the performance will be posted when available)