chapel wood 19914[i]
a local woodland, newly discovered, a sense of the sacred and a poignant reminder that our work can reach beyond our own immediate realm of influence. yet how and why must we (humankind) consider and demarcate some areas of land over others? does this then allow us to abuse those not considered quite so ‘sacred’ or special?
in some ways such an argument reminds me of the concept of ‘ecopornography’[ii] that identifies how the selective/discriminatory practice of the visual arts and popular media, especially with regards environment, often mask and hence proliferate ecocidal abuses through denial of its continued existence. maybe it is one task to find beauty in all, to celebrate, embrace and value the mundane and commonplace – the often ‘dirty’, messy side rather than the idealized, pristine, ‘perfect’ and virtually impossible version of reality that inspires our continued dislocation from this dynamic emerging world!?
this said, it is hard to deny the restorative powers of an ancient woodland filled with birdsong at dusk, traces of other mingling with the moist resonant scent of regenerative earth…
“DON’T GO TO NATURE, LET NATURE COME TO YOU.”[iii]
© p ward 2014 [i] http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/seenature/reserves/guide/c/chapelwood/about.aspx [ii] http://ecoartfilm.com/2012/07/09/ecopornography-slow-violence-and-the-deep-slow-art-of-place/ [iii] from bench in chapel woods, author unknown.
as we make way
accumulating and assimilating
it is often hard to fully appreciate
what and who and where we have become
so as we grow
it is in everyone’s interest
to allow some space to grow apart
like the water and air around us
a breathing space
some elbow room
to stretch and flex
to test our boundaries
to assess our newly found wisdom
our freedoms and limitations
our sensory shell
like a root in the earth
following the worm’s way
or a branch reaching for the sun
we must each find our own path to grow and share and heal
The photographs above were taken on a midwinter visit to some youthful haunts on the South Downs in southern England. It was brilliant to see and feel the difference of light and rolling ambience of chalk bedrock and sandy Surrey soils in contrast to my local wet culm grassland and beaches of northern Devon. Harting Hill, on the newly attributed South Downs National Park, exhibits a rueful example of soils degraded by overgrazing despite the obvious rural beauty of the area, while Kingley Vale, nestled in the dip slopes of the Downs near Chichester, has some of the oldest living yew trees in the United Kingdom estimated at about 2000 years old. It is utterly awe inspiring to share space and time with such incredibly ancient beings.
© P Ward 2014
yarner wood, east dartmoor 121113
how exciting to feel the hair on my neck stand on end
to shiver at an invisible presence stalking me
to engage with a realm beyond my everyday world
neither necessarily malicious or benevolent, human or otherwise
is it time playing marvelous tricks
invigorating me to feel so alive
in relation to all that has been and will be
right here now?
the trees and beasts and birds
the place where many more have trod
stretching resonant filaments through earth and air and fire and water
holding memories to share
as matter decays and reforms
leaving a remnant
a trace of what has been
and a gesture towards what may be
it is not a matter of belief, of evidence or proof
but an acknowledgement of possibility
an opening to potential
a sense of place
(The rich orange pigment shown above and below was collected from a drainage adit running from an historic copper mine at Yarner Wood Nature Reserve, near Bovey Tracey in South Devon[i]. I had originally been shown the source during an art event in November 2012 (Assemblage – Narrative for a Managed Landscape, organised by Karen Pearson and Natural England) and had returned specifically to gather more. The colour is created as iron salts and rust from the underlying geology and is both in the soil and as an unctuous ‘slime’. Despite wearing waterproof clothing and plastic gloves I still managed to get the colour half way up my arms and in my hair – the staining power of the pigment is magnificent![ii])
© P Ward 2013
birdhill, west somerset, 81113
at this time of day,
at this time of year,
as sun sinks – loosing strength and warmth;
nighttime fills shadow with shifting mutable presence
the rich autumnal rainbow of wet slippery leaves glow upwards,
permeating the visual with resonant fungal scents,
silver light pervading, filling all with luminescence;
even the dead and decaying give their own light,
dark forms shifting as we walk
catching eye and ear and all between,
bark from black to mossy green to grey
it is often said that we may commune more readily with other realms at this time,
with spirits of the dead and intelligences seldom seen;
it is easy to see why.
But how to capture, beyond personal memory, such total experience within which we do immerse?
My camera, despite its advanced technology, struggles.
Yet, whatever impression it does record, accidental or not,
whether ‘correct’ or ‘accurate’ or ‘technically proficient’,
may still find a way to communicate and convey a sense of elemental moment.
Not just through abstract digital process, as clever as this may be,
but through consensual associative creative and imaginal interaction with life itself –
we fill in the gaps with whatever meaning we need…
© P Ward 2013
five go to hawkridge woods 19813
As part of continuing research for the upcoming exhibition at White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, I accompanied four other artists to Hawkridge Woods on the River Taw for a day of experimentation, conversation and play with the locally significant earth pigment Bideford Black. The woods lie at the easternmost end of seams of pigment and coal that run across the region, or at least the end of their known extent. Some time in the last 200 years the woods were the site of a mine extracting anthracite that runs alongside the paint seam, evidence of which may be seen by the adit, or drainage tunnel, near the river banks. Paths and banks in the woods reveal similar geology to that on the coast near the Greencliff paint seam but we have as yet to discover any pigment in the soil of the woods. We therefore took our own, along with other materials and used whatever was at hand to respond to both the materials and the environment. The images that follow show some of my own experiments with the group from the day.
Having made an exploratory visit to the site alongside the beautiful River Taw, which runs north from Dartmoor to its estuary mouth in Barnstaple Bay, and found the mine adit, I had determined to work with materials found along the paths that run through the woods. My actions have been greatly influenced by working with printmakers and by the incidental results of such processes. While initial experiments often didn’t quite work out they did lead onto other ideas contributing to group ideas. It is often simply having the confidence to act that leads to spontaneous creative work and the experience to appreciate and reflect upon the results that lead the way to further and more informed possibilities, so just do it and be ready to enjoy the process…
It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with such a diverse and accomplished group of artists, providing exciting and inspiring material and possibilities for future projects and collaborations, so many thanks to Merlyn Chesterman, Griz Luttman-Johnson, Sue Plummer and Judith Westcott. We are now looking forward to bringing our work together for the show. To accompany the exhibition I will be leading a public presentation and discussion about the project on Wednesday 11th September at the White Moose for North Devon Arts[i]. And many thanks to Stella and Julie at White Moose for their enthusiasm and support, and for providing a great space for the project and exhibition[ii].
P Ward 2013
“All things start on the land – not least the townsman and most surely the mechanic.”
John Stewart Collis, The Worm Forgives the Plough
having volunteered to help with some bramble clearance at courage copse – a local woodland restoration project in north devon returning a larch and fir plantation to a sustainable oak and hazel coppice enterprise – expecting a quiet day usefully connecting with nature, i was called to reflect on the ever present necessity and reliance on modern technology even within the most well-meaning projects, being accompanied all day by the sound of chainsaws felling and trimming trees nearby. this selection of stills and sounds from the day were captured with a kodak HD camera and edited using i-movie…
P Ward 2013
still working (together) to unearth a sense of ecologic expression
Despite prolonged respite from the imbalance of intellectual restraint and academic conceptualisation it is with some regret we must announce that this most personable aesthetic conversation is struggling to reveal the treasures that such shared passions have promised. It is certainly not a matter of lack of talent, or lack of desire for that matter – we have bucket loads of both. Nor is it through misunderstanding or dishonest perception of our circumstantial condition – we can see our world with all four eyes, looking outside and in. But practically speaking the economic, or at least financial climate within which we currently reside, and our own malingering downtrodden sense of poverty has temporarily overwhelmed any sense of optimism that henceforth breathed and pulsed within our eloquent evocations of spirit and love…
So then what shall we do, if not buckle beneath the oppressive dominance of capital and self-imposed slavery and familial media negativity? We shall dig in the dirt and walk in the rain and relish decay and be awestruck by beauty and age and kick shit in the faces of those who would wish us ill through greed, ignorance, pity and petty law making.
We touch the earth and sense the power that is held within.
We hold the earth and listen to the wisdom of its age.
We shape the earth and share its stories with the wind…
Or more simply we shall give ourselves the time and space to spend doing those things that give us joy, that make our hearts and minds sing and that make life so special and full of love.
P Ward 2013
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
MA ART & ENVIRONMENT SHOW 2012
4-8 September, Woodlane Campus, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 4RH
For my final MA ART & ENVIRONMENT exhibition at University College Falmouth, as well as a selection of BUNDLES OF STICKS and indigenously gathered materials within a workshop/studio installation and a show reel of videos completed during the course (https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/anim8/), I continued my work with COURAGE COPSE CREATIVES by appropriating a single larch tree. The following statement accompanied the exhibition…
As part of our daily lives we are faced with the constant dilemma of taking life and utilizing resources for the purpose of our own survival. In this age of environmental and economic crisis it is not just a matter of whether we should or whether we have the right to continue to interact within the universal ecology, but rather how and how much we choose to do so and also the respect with which we treat the resources that are provided.
The 20 year old, 15-metre Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi) presented here was felled as part of a woodland restoration project in North Devon – Courage Copse Creatives is based on a PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site). The dense crop of Larch and Douglas Fir was originally planted in the 1930’s as part of the Forestry Commission’s drive to supply timber for building and agricultural purposes. In this particular instance such fast growing hardy species were imposed onto oak and hazel coppices dating back at least 400 years. The intensive nature of planting of inappropriate species of the region has led to soil degradation and a decrease in the rich biodiversity associated with manually sustained woodlands of this kind.
Courage Copse Creatives intends to restore (to a certain extent) the previous coppice through the implementation of small scale, low impact initiatives and enterprises as part of the woodland including charcoal and biochar production, firewood, building timber, forest hens and ecological art projects. Within previous planning and land use laws to pursue what would seem a perfectly reasonable and sensible endeavour has revealed an incredibly complex bureaucracy to negotiate. While often protecting the environment and people’s livelihoods such laws may also act as a barrier to creative and appropriate resolution of our present ecological difficulties, simply maintaining the power dynamic that undermines an individual’s ability to act freely for the good of all – yet another dilemma of our current crisis.
As an ecological artist, involvement with such projects has provided opportunities to experience and share such dilemmas and dichotomies first hand.
Residency and Workshops for ART TREK 2012
An ongoing collaboration with site-artist and dancer Katy Lee has most recently led to a 3-weekend residency exploring the possibilities of creative ecological engagement with a 15.5-acre woodland in North Devon. COURAGE COPSE[i] is a PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site) that Katy and her partner are attempting to restore to a more diverse managed woodland, involving hazel and oak coppicing, charcoal burning, firewood and woodland hens, as well as ecological art courses. Following my previous excursion along the Pebble Ridge[ii] I was keen to explore the narrative possibilities associated with such a process and to find activities to engage a range of participants with the issues surrounding the project.
The residency was promoted as part of ART TREK 2012[iii], an open studios event organized by North Devon Theatres. My own motivation was to provide an ecological art event within the otherwise ‘object-based’ programme, while exploring the potential of COURAGE COPSE CREATIVES as an ecological art project and developing some ideas for my forthcoming MA show in Falmouth. The residency was also proposed to research ideas for a future collaboration with Freddie Opoku-Addaie, associate choreographer with the Royal Opera House, as part of Dance in Devon’s Devon Dance Compass[iv] project later in the year. Freddie will be helping develop a community based dance project around my current practice – A BUNDLE OF STICKS.
After a period of practical research and experimentation around the site, combined with Katy’s intimate and growing understanding of it’s ecology, a number of workshops were held. The first involved a group of children; the second adults and the third invited fellow artists. Each was introduced to the idea of the woodland as a long-term sculptural work while being reminded that Nature is not simply something pretty to look at but the practical means of our survival and part of ourselves. While Katy told the story of the woodland, people were invited to respond creatively to it through using the materials at hand and exploring the various possibilities of art as both a means of investigation and expression. Activities were geared particularly towards practical aspects of woodland management, such as gathering wood and stacking and moving timber. We looked at some of the difficulties that working with Nature may evoke, such as the amount of hard work it would be without a certain degree of modern technology and the destructive behaviour of grey squirrels in respect of our own aspirations.
Each activity was accompanied by much constructive and interested conversation and followed by structured reflection. The workshops provoked a diverse range of outcomes and responses and have led to a number of interesting future proposals within the area, including work sharing, skills networking and an ecopsychology/healing project. In terms of my own hopes the residency consolidated my belief in considered, process-based, guided narrative structures to promote ecological dialogue and action, as well as confirming the healing and inspirational quality of locally gathered natural materials. It is hoped the residency will be repeated in future years both as an example of ecological art within the event and as a means to engage with the temporal and seasonal dimensions of such an ambitious project[v].