some things I have seen, done and made that have made me think, feel and smile over the last few months…
“Reading true literature [Nan Shepherd] reflected, ‘it’s as though you are standing experiencing and suddenly the work is there, bursting out of its own ripeness . . . life has exploded, sticky and rich and smelling oh so good. And . . . that makes the ordinary world magical – that reverberates/illuminates.’ ” taken from Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.
drawing a line, coast to coast with skedge 13916 © eARTh 2016
with special thanks to francesca, noah, agnes, family and friends for your love, support and companionship 🙂
© p ward/eARTh 2016
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
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
Two ravens haunch apart against the rain.
I have cleverly scattered the contents of the dog-foul bin,
Cast about the human detritus in their so-called-civilized guise,
Now what to do but sit and honk singularly
I shall watch the innocent foals fumble
Greeted by the rest of the tribe
Nibbling at each others shoulder
And fly to meet you, massively black and shiny,
In the thick wet warm grey air
Where we shall plan our next great mischief together
Safe in our immanent ever-knowing.
P Ward 2013
in here I feel safe.
in here I may look out and see the world
without touching and without being touched.
in here I may even assume a position of power
without reprisal or physical confrontation,
without influence or affect in the world.
I am inert, albeit temporarily…
but without, I am assured,
is the world that furnishes within
within which I do presently reside.
and without is somehow an echo
but more full of pleasure,
of touch and smell and taste,
with more depth and more possibilities,
with more potential to embrace life
in all its detail and complexity.
nevertheless, within I am alone;
if I get lost then no one will find me
beyond the spectral manifestations of my imagination,
the inhabitants of a landscape of dreams,
neither spirit or form.
and when I awake they will be gone.
but this is merely one perspective,
literary conjecture founded in time already spent,
reflections upon inside and out.
and without doubt,
I may reach you
from wherever I am…
P Ward 2013
it is not that I do not
wish the world well
or see a future without fear
it is not that I am not big enough and ugly enough
to be brave enough to speak out
in the face of adversity
nor that I cannot live without
a sense of my own
beauty and love and diversity
I have simply become impatient
with this lack of sense of commonality
with this lack of obvious simplicity
with too much waste and indulgence
with too much frivolous denial
and too much cynical self reproach
for power and integrity
for love and humour and joy
for all that is not negative
P Ward 2013
Alongside my current projects with the historically significant North Devon earth pigment Bideford Black[i], I have also taken the opportunity to show some work locally. There is something comforting for me about the simplicity of making work and then showing it, of putting together and being part of a show, whether for commercial or artistic reasons or a combination of both, with no preconceptions or expectations of outcome beyond that – the pleasure of making and sharing. Thankfully I have moved beyond the desperate worries of acceptance (or not) – I make what I make, I do what I do, and am confident and happy about my process and conceptual motivation – and despite my youthfully optimistic but so far unfounded hopes that I may make a living by simply selling any carefully crafted objects I produce, there is still a great pleasure when one does (and for the more money the better of course – we can’t all happily live on the crumbs and scraps so often and gratefully tossed our way!)
Recently I have sold a few paintings through workshops, connections and presentations I have given about earth pigments and some have been sold for charity events[ii]. I am exhibiting locally in the studio of ethical jeweller April Doubleday[iii], as well as a small display (initially as part of the Bideford Bay Creatives ‘Culture Show’[iv]) in the window of internationally renowned eco architects Gale & Snowden[v] and also as part of the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society Summer Exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford[vi].
While for some showing work within the acceptable, accepted and traditional arena of the art world might seriously diminish any political or conceptual integrity the work might hold, for me it is simply another opportunity to share, to show off and even to push the boundaries a little with work that I hope communicates the spirit and joy of being within this world. I am playing my part with the skills and aptitudes I have developed and been granted in this lifetime. I am empowering myself (and hopefully others) through action, through exhibiting not only my work but my passion and freedom to do so…
paddling in the surf (pen and pencil on handmade paper, 2010); storyteller 2 (earth pigments on canvas, 2009); 4 colours, river umber (earth pigments on paper, 2008); real geology, map reading – folds (folded paper, 2010) on show at wh!&bidarts summer exhibition, bideford 2013
P Ward 2013
[iii] http://www.aprildoubleday.com/ – April is a British, Ethical & Fairtrade Designer/Jeweller, making Contemporary Jewellery in her studio on the North Coast of Devon. She uses the coastline, rock formations and the sea as inspiration for her designs. Creating jewellery of beauty is just as important to her as her ethical standards. Her commitment to sourcing conflict free diamonds and Fairtrade gold is paramount. April’s work is modern and contemporary. Each piece of ethical jewellery is individual and unique and can be made bespoke for you, using certified 18ct & 24ct Fairtrade gold, recycled silver wherever possible and the added service of recycling your gold, the possibilities are endless.
[v] http://www.ecodesign.co.uk/ – Gale & Snowden Architects, based in Bideford and Exeter, are an internationally renowned company specializing in energy efficient design for private and public commissions. Their ecologically inspired, award winning work is founded in the principles of permaculture, employing appropriate technologies and locally sourced skills and materials wherever possible. Most appropriately for this exhibition this office sits almost directly above the seam of historically mined Bideford Black running through the town that I use in my paintings.
(a problematic statement of transmutable intent)
A close friend and fellow artist was recently asked about her feelings towards the current eco-art movement which among other things aims to engage audiences with the current ecological crisis we are experiencing and attempt to resolve such issues through creative activism and artful intervention…
“In answer to your question I do not see myself as an eco-artist, I am simply me, creating work as I am part of the environment. I collaborate with it as a source of inspiration, sometimes to connect with and sometimes to aid a deeper appreciation of it. But my work is much broader and most of my working hours at the moment are spent as a Learning Facilitator for adults with Autism. This is part of my art too. It’s a different form and I use this time to help them to enjoy and see that they are part of the environment. So I am not an eco-artist, I just work with many aspects of the environment because it inspires me, reconnects me and is important to me. I do not want to save the world for I do not know if it is broken, nor if such a massive responsibility should be placed upon my shoulders. I do what I can and I enjoy what I do out of love for creativity.” Francesca Owen[i]
Since completing and during our MA in Art & Environment at University College Falmouth in 2012 we have continually questioned how such political motivations forwarded by the course and the excessive focus on crisis may have undermined any spontaneous creative expression we previously benefitted from and enjoyed. We both chose the course because of our love for Nature as the source of our inspiration, hoping to further cultivate this creative link, rather than through any interest in the abuses which are presently being acted out upon the world. For many the relationship between art, in its many forms, and the environment is one integral to human creativity rather than a contemporary response to crisis. It may similarly be argued that such ministrations of putting the world to rights are beyond the realm of human influence and indeed unhealthy to any sense of wellbeing necessary for such aims, and further that focusing attention on such issues merely serves to exasperate and aggravate them rather than resolving them in any way.
For many years my own art practice has been strongly motivated by environmentalism (having been brought up with a deep respect for the natural world it is an obvious response to try to protect what is essential to my being through my work). However, continued participation and involvement with other similarly engaged artists and groups has brought to light an underlying frustration and discontent with such forms of creative activism and propaganda, coming as it frequently does from an ill-informed position, from political antagonism and a fearfully romantic perception of the human condition. The work produced is often and typically intellectually and conceptually distanced from any emotional or spiritual communication that I believe is the essence of ‘good’ art, as well as energetically divorced from the community in which it is employed. Thankfully my own practice is animated more by integrity to personal experience and reflection than a need for identification with any peer group and so has gradually allowed evolution towards one inspired by our intrinsic creativity as sentient beings within the cosmos. The following statements attempt to redefine my evolving practice, albeit within the limitations of this contemporary linguistic form (rather than through the preferred potency offered by poetic license to express such matters).
As an artist in an age of ecological understanding I see my respons-ability[ii] to explore and express my own nature in relation with Nature. It is not my place to judge this relationship or manipulate any response to it but to simply present what I am privileged enough to observe. Seeing Nature as an energetic interdependent evolving totality within which a plethora of transient entities act with and upon one another implies an inclusivity of intention and becoming. Such inclusivity may often be undermined by a pervading human predilection for arrogance and domination, exhibited and employed by capitalist corporations and didactic fundamentalism alike – whether in the name of profit and technological progress or environmental rescue. Such inclusivity may be similarly undermined through the desire to make definitive an academic movement or concept, rather than allowing that movement to do just that – move and flow and evolve in response to a constantly changing world. To believe that our actions as artists may ‘save the world’ (from our own and others’ actions) or change it for the ‘better’ (or at least in our own favour) is merely another way of ‘playing God’ – an attitude that arguably has led to the seemingly complex condition we presently face.
As an individual I do not always necessarily respond solely or consciously to any apparent ecological crisis but tend more to make tentative and aesthetic investigations of the world in which I live, a world that inspires every waking and dreaming moment of my life, through decisions based on intuition and personal need rather than rational thought and duty to some abstract ideal. Hopefully such intimate expression may communicate the sensory depth of my relationship within Nature, striking a resonant chord of recognition with others, human or otherwise. To celebrate and honour the wonder and beauty of Nature through investigations of our own nature maybe has more power and integrity than any political response that an individual or group may wish to pursue. The principle of Ecology, by its own nature and embodied within the process of art, includes both and all as valid expressions of Nature but most importantly expresses a sense of how actions may affect (individuals within) the dynamic of any immanent environment.
When I seek to understand my own nature as a human being, to find peace within myself, to find balance and health and happiness and harmony, I often do not like or am unable to easily accept what I see. Evidently humans are, among other things, warmongers, abusers and murderers; we can be violent, cruel, impatient, insecure and greedy as well as peace-bringers, menders, carers and nurturers, able to be brave and selfless and to appreciate beauty and to create culture with humour and joy. There is life and death, sickness and health and every subtle hue, tone and colour in between. We make mistakes. Without a comprehensive acceptance and assimilation of such diversity into my conscious being I may not be able to function effectively within the dynamic and constantly changing world. This is not to say that we should adopt or enact all and every behaviour but that we might evaluate and accept our potential and susceptibility to do so.
“It is never too late to give up your prejudices” Henry David Thoreau
Traditional shamans and healers often do not share the new age romantic vision of an ideal world sometime in the past, of a garden from which our kind has been cast and upon which the ministrations of many contemporary psychologists are based, but upon a world where all entities, animate and inanimate, artificial and natural, ethereal and corporeal, act according to their own (evolving and transient) nature. They are not looking for something or someone to blame for our suffering, but more a way to accept and assimilate change into the flow of life. If art may do anything within society it could maybe encourage fluidity of perception and being, to question any pervading, persistent and stultifying status quo and to celebrate and encourage a deep and residing respect for the world of which we are an integral but essentially transient part.[iii]
Yet within a world of cynicism, of over-analysis and lack of faith, and despite the prevalence of such ageless wisdom, where is the simple voice of love upon which all healing and sound human behaviour rests – where is acceptance and understanding? Where is joy and compassion? Where is the sharing and celebration of our sublime and miraculous existence? If art, in whatever form, does not exult and uphold the spirit of life at its very core then what place does it have in this world? What use does it have to society other than to subdue and undermine the sanctity of experience? It is so often easier to point the finger – to blame and despise whatever or whoever for our dis-ease, for our inner and outer dissatisfaction and frustration with existence – than to embrace its wholeness – its dirt and grime and lack of symmetry, its sadness, disparity and dirge, its resonant beauty and power – and our humble place within it and to speak with a voice of love for all…
P Ward 2013
[ii] “If the aesthetic is seen in contrast to the anaesthetic – or numbness, it can be understood more correctly as ‘enlivened being’. Reclaiming the aesthetic in this way enables us to understand the link between the aesthetic and responsibility: response-ability not as a moral imperative, but as the ability to respond.” (Shelley Sacks, UN Summit on Culture and Development, Stockholm 1998) from http://www.universityofthetrees.org
expressions of an intimate ecology 1
whatever impression we make
whatever mark or intervention into the world
that we add or subtract from our immediate environment
in the grand scheme of things
it is merely a pin prick
a rudimentary breath of life, in and out,
a statement of our own nature
a purposeful manifestation of our own individual spirit
our essence in relation with all
we pick up matter along the way and cast it aside as we process it
as we use it, enjoy it, ingest, digest and excrete it
sometimes affecting us deeply
and other times hardly touching the sides
i was recently informed by a most learned colleague
referring to a prehistoric trace of worm movement in a sample of carboniferous mudstone
that all our actions may be divided into three basic categories:
and to escape
how true this is i have not yet had time to process
but it does beg me to wonder “so what is art?!”
and further, for example, “what are politics and science and faith?!”
into what category may such cultural realizations, exploratory or not, fall?
may our fundamental actions be likened to that of a most simple invertebrate
or do we really embody, within our large brained bipedal opposing-thumb-ness, something more?
more power perhaps
more understanding or more rights to annihilate and create?
and do we really have it in us to make amends
to unravel and undo the complexity
of our previously, largely subconscious, peripheral interference in this earthly dynamic?
for one i fear not
so as i draw giddy circles in the sand
or piece one word against another word most joyfully
expressing myself within this intimate ecology that we share,
i may only ponder what my true intentions are…
am i prancing like a peacock, all full and feathery, to ultimately impress some mate or other?
or aiming to provide nutrition of some kind, putting bread upon the table for myself (or not)?
or am i more reasonably aiming to find another world beyond this everyday world
this world of miraculous mistakes?
P Ward 2013