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!…:-))
On a recent visit to the ‘long island’ of Dugi Otok on the Adriatic coast of Croatia I was taken by the unfamiliar marks of paint daubed on walls and buildings. Not graffiti as such or even nonsensical paintbrush cleansing ablutions but intentional spots and splashes of household paint. We thought they were maybe way markers or boundary signs. Whatever their purpose I enjoyed how they honed my vision both to the unfamiliar in such a rich but alien culture and also to another sense of painting in and of the environment.rocks and soil I + II, framed; dugi otok, croatia © p ward 2017
Wherever we travel it is the unfamiliar colours, patterns, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes and materials that inspire and refresh our imaginations and remind us of the richness, diversity and potential of this planet that we share while also refreshing the ‘familiar’ in our own backyards. It only leaves us, as creative people, to show our gratuitude through sharing our vision and inspiration with others, hopefully continuing the cycle.
With thanks to the people, animals, plants and places of Croatia for a most inspiring experience and to Francesca, Noah and Agnes for sharing it with me.
© P Ward 2017
i really do not get Art
its place in my life
or the wider world around me
seemingly superfluous pedantic intellectual bickering
over aesthetic form and function
for some fashion or other
in the face of pressing global issues
not quite big enough
or loud enough
specific or far reaching enough
to make a difference
(although every whisper counts, I know)
without it (some will argue)
life would be just an incessant instinctive struggle and movement
towards food, shelter and a mate
for nurture within our own nature
to survive within this wildness
for everybody else
this is quite enough
our innate beauty
our diverse evolving nature
our ecologically defined behaviour
in such abundant splendour
and complex contradiction
humbly seeking our place
within the heave and flow
of ever shifting forces
I do not get art
but thank it once again
for bringing me to these conclusions
© p ward 2016
Geumgang Nature Art Pre-biennale 2015, South Korea
7 October – 30 November 2015
I was invited to contribute photographic documentation of 3 works to highlight aspects of my practice (below) and a project proposal (A BUNDLE OF STICKS) to this international environmental art residency programme and exhibition organised by YATOOI in South Korea. The proposal will hopefully lead to a 3-week fully paid residency in South Korea in 2016.
The Geumgang Nature Art Biennale is an international Nature Art exhibition planned by Yatoo, the Korean Nature Art Association firstly established in 1981. Yatoo spreads Nature Art around Gongju in Chungnam Province. Based on Yatoo’s experience of planning and hosting international nature art events since the early 1990s, the first Biennale was held in 2004, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the South Chungcheong Province and Gongju City. Throughout three weeks the artists from around the world live together and create their works. An introductive session for the nature art project and other programs are conducted in parallel. There are two programs for foreign artists and IWO campers. The first is introducing the Korean culture, the second is a project created together with children and other citizens. The works of the artists are displayed at Ssangshin Park allowing the visitors to observe how they interact with the natural context.
expressions of an intimate ecology:
I came upon this large driftwood log during a walk along a beach in North Devon and painted it with locally gathered earth pigments. After a few weeks the log disappeared from the beach, taken back by the sea. Six months later it reappeared on the same beach, still painted but altered by its journey, wherever it may have been.
Work is often made spontaneously, in response to and with the environment, using gathered materials and elemental forces to shape its evolution. For me, ART and making are means through which I may learn about the world both practically and imaginatively.
“Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible” Paul Klee
Two works relating to animals: ‘1 hour of feathers’ is made from feathers collected during a short coastal walk; ‘birdsong’ aims to capture some of the varied intonations of sound expressed by our feathered friends through simple drawing. My relationship to wildlife, to the other life forms with whom we share this earth, has been a constant source of inspiration and wonder.
“I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing – not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of.” From H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
painting with earth / painting together:
An action performed as part of an artists’ residency expedition on the Isles of Scilly to explore creative responses to climate change. Participants were invited to make marks with earth pigments on a small, round granite boulder found on a nearby beach while bringing to mind an act they may contribute to earth’s wellbeing. One pigment had been gathered from my home and brought with me. Another collected that morning from the shore. The painted stone remained as a talisman within the space throughout the meeting, then left as a gift to the space.
Painting with locally gathered earth pigments has become an important and integral part of my art practice, offering insights into geology, social history, art and our relationships with earth’s resources. Making has been enriched through a deeper understanding of the materials I use. Beyond observation and a simple response to materials, painting may offer a space for investigation of environment and even ritual. Painting with others may bring together all these as well as a sense of communication beyond self.
“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
© p ward 2015
One week on the Isle of Man, 2015
It is nearly thirty years since I last visited Ellan Vannin – the Manx name for the Isle of Man. Situated in the middle of the emerald waters of the Irish Sea, within sight of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Heaven, so it is said, this self-governed commonwealth nation is probably best known for the yearly motorcycle TT race. For me, as an idealistic teenager surrounded by radical older students, it became a place of great significance in my own spiritual development. For the Celts it was the centre of the Faerie Empire, the royal thrones sitting atop the second highest mountain, South Barrule. Even today, respect for the other realms is still very much in evidence. Beyond this the island, once you have accepted the proliferation of lycra-clad outdoor pursuits, the squeals of cliff-leaping coasteerers and the constant stream of motorcyclists, is still a peaceful haven with stunning views and coastline, a place of folklore, local heritage and marine and avian wildlife.
Thank you to my family for treating us to this short holiday and this time to restore my connection to those things that inspire my living.
© P Ward 2015
I do not recall the moment
The shift in feeling
From love to nothing
From excitement and anticipation
To no sense
Nor what event or action caused such change
A switch switched off silently
A light that goes out
And turning away from
But towards nowhere and no one
I do not know what to say or do
(Everything is the same as ever)
How to create new life without a care
To breach a gulf of non-misunderstanding
For a tide to rise again for the first time
And carry me
© P Ward 2015
of black and white i have become acquainted
shifting material tonality contextually alighting itself in emotion
the falcons’ tumbling play from the high hill cliff top nearby
between myself and the evening sun, i became blind
your overarching display tantamount to simple exquisite perfection
as well timed as it was
there is black
and there is black
there is white
a way to describe
a fleeting perception of this place and that
of an occurrence personally experienced
a mere scribble by comparison
a fumbling juxtaposition
in the face of complexity
it will just have to do
it is all i have
beyond itself here
i do not wish to be spoon-fed
the spoon is soiled with black
a black arches awaits nightfall on white bathroom tiles
i have had another 5 minutes of fame
when will it end?
© P Ward 2015
Today I let a Peacock butterfly out of the window of my house. It is mid December but the weather is mild.
We have a number of butterflies – mainly Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and Peacock (Aglais io) – who appear to hibernate in our house. When the weather is mild they wake up. I am never sure whether to let them out or not. Would staying in the house mean further hibernation or slow starvation as they flap helplessly against the windowpane? Letting them out into the changing weather can only mean certain death as their life force is drained by the cold and lack of nutrients from their natural food sources.
From childhood I was taught that a butterfly’s life lasts but one day, as it emerges from its chrysalis with shimmering wings, drinking briefly from its chosen flowery nectar, choosing a mate and exhausting itself in procreative fervour. This seems not so or at least not entirely accurate. I have read that the Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) reaches British shores after a migratory flight from northern Africa and Spain, while obviously the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell often spend a winter, at least, in dry dark sheltered roof spaces and cupboards before embarking on life once more.
As this butterfly flew out into the dim blustery day I wonder on how much more misinformation I have been fed during my formative years, and if this brief liberation, caused by my own puzzled intervention, was truly for the best…
© P Ward 2014
A soft rain beneath grey skies
Doing nothing to subdue this radiance
This resonance of photosynthesis singing in the low-lying vegetation
Moisture percolating and gathering in the soil
Refilling the reservoirs
Cleaning the capillaries
The essential arteries
The root tunnels, the worm halls, the mole ways
Making ready for the frost-thaw-plough
Breaking the sodden firmament apart again
Rejuvenating and replenishing the mineral microbial composition
Offering sustenance in elemental complexity
Willfully perpetuating an existential flow
I welcome this water of the skies
I thank the ice and sun
I cherish the earth at my feet
As in this life itself
© P Ward 2013
* This piece of writing was inspired by a fascinating day of presentations and workshops examining the beauty, importance and nature of soil in support of human survival at the Soil Association National Soil Symposium in Bristol in November where I was representing the Soil Culture project for the Centre for Contemporary Arts & The Natural World (CCANW), 2013-17 (http://www.ccanw.co.uk/assets/files/Uploads/Soil_4pg.pdf)
One magpie flies roadside to a tentative roost upon a barn roof
But on coming closer
The sorrowful bird
Has transformed itself in my sight
To peace and sustenance
A plump woodpigeon sitting calm in its place
(Photographs taken near my home in North Devon during December 2013 using my phone camera.)
© P Ward 2013