oh, lucky me!

(leaping from one extreme to another)

how fortunate I do be!

no matter where I do be to

whether inside or out

such sights and smells and sensations do tantalize, entertain and sustain

and I do realize just how fortunate I do be

how privileged I be to be

alive at all

 .

oh, lucky me! london, july (p ward 2013) oh, lucky me! london, july (p ward 2013)

oh, lucky me! westward ho! july (p ward 2013) oh, lucky me! westward ho! july (p ward 2013)

 

for family and friends

P Ward 2013


all stories to retell

 

two ravens rummage through the rubbish

salt marsh shimmering with high-vis glow

the high tide has swept the beach clean at last

a new surface to play upon

all stories to retell

 

the sand that joseph walked upon (p ward 2013)  the sand that joseph walked upon (p ward 2013) 

P Ward 2013


(an) ecological research in the arts

“Perception of the inner substance of things can only be acquired through practice.“  Joseph Beuys *

Some time ago I was invited to give a short presentation to a group of MA students about the nature of arts research, or at least what this (latest buzzword to make the arts more acceptable in a world dominated by science) meant to me as a practising artist. At the time, still somewhat caught up in the arrogantly insular, some might even say Cartesian[ii], world of academia (where much meaning is most often convoluted and detached from any actual everyday presence and hence understood only by its own exclusive membership) I waffled on incoherently but passionately about politics and purpose, about the instrumental and intentional and propagandic value of art to ‘save the world’. Of course, as is often the case, once I had finished I realised what I might have said, what could have more intimately expressed and embodied the nature of (or at least my present conception of the nature of) research within my own vocation as an ecological artist…

some moments, north devon (p ward 2013) some moments, north devon (p ward 2013)

“Play is the highest form of research.” (Albert Einstein)

As an ecological artist (and by this I mean expressing myself as one transient, evolving, sentient and integral perspective within a complex local, global and universal energetically interweaving ecology[iii]) research towards any specific aesthetic goal encompasses…

all I see, all I hear, all I touch, all I taste, all I smell, all I feel, all I sense, all I read, all I watch, all I listen to, all I dream, all I imagine, all I give and all I receive, all I write, all I sing, all I dance, all I draw, all I paint, all I shape and form, every photograph and film I shoot, all I make and attempt to make, all I build and all I knock down, all I move, all I tie together and undo, all I bind, all I burn, extinguish, submerge and freeze, all I cook, all I eat, chew and swallow, all I may drink and smoke, inhale and exhale, all I bury, all I unearth, all I kill, all I nurture, all I waste, all I injure or maim, accidentally or not, all I help, all I hinder, all I block and unblock, all I catalyse, all I inspire, all I look for, all I lose, all I find, all I seek; every process that I perceive in parts and in its entirety, every success, every failure (whatever that means!?), every question, every answer and every question unanswered, every relationship I have had and have observed, consciously and subconsciously, and not just with other humans but with every entity that I have encountered, animate or not; every conversation I have had, every phone call, every email, every tweet, text and letter, every glance and whisper shared, every place I have visited, every step made, every movement, every action taken, every beginning and every end, every journey – by foot, cycle, car, horse, water and air, every mountain climbed, every field crossed and skirted around, every hat worn and every item of clothing ever worn – every sock, shoe and pullover, every joke, every machine I have used and that has been used on me, every situation I have been privy to, every association I have made – in theory and in practice, every judgement I have made and has been made about me, everything I have touched and been touched by…

tadpoles, parsonage pond, nettlecombe court, west somerset (p ward 2013) tadpoles, parsonage pond, nettlecombe court, west somerset (p ward 2013)

Or, more simply…

All I have experienced and am experiencing,

All that I have done and am doing

In relation to others and all

some other moments, north devon (p ward 2013) some other moments, north devon (p ward 2013)

Of course, one cannot be expected to physically collect, record, document, order and catalogue everything[iv], so I must make choices based on emotive impulse, on logic and reason – founded in memory, both personal and cultural, and contemporary misconception; on the availability of resources, including time, which leaves a rather incomplete but superbly imperfect representation of such all-ness

Nor is it pervasively possible within such a worldly remit to reflect objectively from some ridiculous utopian ideal upon such matters, to make decisions to solve any ‘problems’ of the world at a single stroke, to cast some great net of correctness about it all – we are all prone to miss things out it seems

Yet through a certain degree of collectively inspired intuition one may make a well-considered step, one beat of a butterfly’s wing within the tumultuous turning[v], one series of gentle actions[vi] that may sensually ripple the pulsating fabric and pull a radiant flower of specific resonant truth from a metaphorical hat, to share an occasional mutually identifiable mystery, and hope our subtle intervention doesn’t go pear-shaped, that our careful gesture does not create a hurricane of sorts

So, it is the rigour with which I observe, evaluate, manipulate, put together and apply such experience (my life) within this interactive and reciprocal sense of dynamic communication wherein the magic may lie, where the healing may occur, where the enrichment can exist and where the art is, that allow me to call myself an artist at all…

or not.

logic and reason, north devon (p ward 2013) logic and reason, north devon (p ward 2013)

“My idea of research is to take a walk in the bush and watch the birds fly past, and I am exhilarated by every meteoric movement.” (Lars Knudsen) 

P Ward 2013


[*] from WHAT IS ART? Conversation with Joseph Beuys, Edited with Essays by Volker Harlan (Forest Row; Clairview; 2004)

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian_dualism

[iii] Indeed it is questionable whether the term ‘ecological artist’ is at all pertinent by the very inclusive nature of Nature

[iv] Such physical documentation certainly hasn’t been necessary for the multitude of indigenous people throughout our evolution who have employed a more oral and humanly self reliant means of memory, recall and expression…

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

[vi] F David Peat, GENTLE ACTIONS bringing creative change to a turbulent world (Italy; PARI PUBLISHING; 2008)


black sheep 3513

an intimate response to a local practice

In preparation for a forthcoming exhibition celebrating the unique earth pigment Bideford Black with four other North Devon artists at the white moose gallery in Barnstaple[i], I have been playing with an idea based on the recollection of a Bideford shopkeeper who used to sell bags of the pigment from his hardware store until as recently as 1996 – the pigment mines closed in 1969[ii]. According to the gentleman, who I met at a presentation I did about North Devon earth pigments for the Torridge U3A, the rich black pigment along with other locally sourced ochres were used by sheep farmers to paint on the bellies of rams at breeding time to mark any ewes they covered.

black sheep I (bideford black; p ward 2013) black sheep I (bideford black print; p ward 2013)

black sheep - fleece, northam (p ward 2013) black sheep – fleece, northam (p ward 2013)

Inspired by his story, and its fertile connotations, I am collecting fleece naturally shed by sheep grazing on an area of common land near my home as the temperature rises for springtime[iii]. With the generous assistance of fellow artist and natural dye specialist Francesca Owen[iv] the fleece was washed gently in cold water to remove any dung and plant matter embroiled in its woolly mass but to retain its greasy and somewhat smelly lanolin coating. The discarded remnants of tangled fleece – dung, sticks and all (waste not want not!?) – were then soaked in a mixture of Bideford Black and sea water (sea water having a traditional use as a dye mordant) and used as a printing pad, rhythmically pressing and dragging and dripping the pungent spongy mass into a variety of papers and surfaces to produce abstract shapes and patterns, the pigment mixture providing a sensual depth of tone and texture, and finally leaving us with a ball of stiffly dyed wool – a splendid creative residue from the process akin to the symbolic signature felts of Joseph Beuys. We will be continuing our experimentation with a variety of other local pigments.

black sheep process (p ward:f owen 2013) black sheep process (p ward/f owen 2013)

black sheep - prints and residues (p ward:f owen 2013) black sheep – prints and residues (p ward/f owen 2013)

Not surprisingly, my obsessive foraging for ‘stuff’ has caused much amusement to local residents in this age of consumerism and science – politely enquiring if I would be using the filthy fleece for spinning, an obviously much respected craft; I reply, “No, it is for an art project exploring the possibilities of dyeing with earth pigments.” “Oh really!?…” they reply, looking somewhat blank and a little concerned, and moving away promptly. Maybe at least a little joy was shared, a small creative spark ignited and a rudiment of aboriginal connection recognised. In the words of playwright Bertoldt Brecht we must ‘make strange’ to ‘knock upon the imagination’ through our art. With each simple step I take may I enrich and inspire, fertilise and empower, and may I be amply supported on my journey…

prayer for a peaceful journey (found materials; p ward 2013) prayer for a peaceful journey (found materials; p ward 2013)

P Ward 2013


[i] http://bidefordblack.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-bideford-black-five-goes-to.html

[ii] There is presently a resurgence in interest about the pigment garnered by a project I am leading with the Burton Gallery, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Friends of the Burton, which is hoping to gather memories and artefacts about the industry before they fade forever for a permanent display for the Burton museum. For more information see www.bidefordblack.blogspot.co.uk.

[iii] Northam Burrows Country Park maintains a policy of free livestock grazing for local residents

[iv] www.dancingwithdyes.wordpress.com


AWFUL CLUMSY CREATURES

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?

making off with treasure (pward 2013) making off with treasure (pward 2013)

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…

a gurt dollop of muck! (orange clay, fremington quay; p ward 2013) a gurt dollop of muck! (orange clay, fremington quay; p ward 2013)

“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


Socially-engaged-practice is a dirty word it seems…

 

Socially-engaged-practice is a dirty word it seems;

A troublesome meddling in a cynical society.

To think that art might be instrumental for social change

Leaves the aloof aghast that art’s purity may be undermined for political purpose as mere propaganda.

ecological exploration, alice holt (p ward 2012)ecological exploration, alice holt forest research station, surrey (p ward 2012)

But propaganda or not,

If it be for the good of all,

What harm may come of well meaning rhetoric or aesthetic deliberation in the name of love?

.

From the start we have toyed with function and form,

Seeking resolutions for our everyday needs –

We artfully explore our nature to further celebrate our existence as nature.

.

We  learn lessons from this sensory experience,

Sharing trials and errors with our world,

Skillfully expressing our dreams and desires with what is at hand.

.

We engage, not disengage, with the means of our subsistence,

Simply understanding what it means to take our place within it all,

Nurturing for future generation’s sake, for our own survival.

.

So, I will continue to dig in the dirt for somewhere to call home

I will light fires in prayer with the wood that I have gathered

And intelligently interfere whenever I can, knowing that it is my right to do so.

.

P Ward 2013

nurture, farnham and westward ho! (p ward 2012)nurture, farnham and westward ho! (p ward 2012)


a simple introduction to ECOLOGICAL ART

(Through the development of potential ecological art projects with fellow arts practitoners and environmental development agencies I have become increasingly aware of the lack of understanding about the unique and radical nature of this contemporary practice. In order to engage more fully with such prospective collaborators I have written this introduction to hopefully express my meaning in more tangible terms…)                                                     

“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

Ecological art, or ecoart, may be seen as a cultural response to the often-overwhelming contemporary environmental issues that are threatening our survival within the earth’s biosphere. With roots in the Land Art, Arte Povera and Conceptual Art movements of the 1960’s its aims are to actively and communally investigate, through arts-based, interdisciplinary means issues such as climate change, land use, pollution, sustainability, resource management, health, biodiversity to name but a few, and to find resolutions appropriate to the nature of ecological principles.

Such work is founded on an understanding of art and culture as an active and functional process within society and the broader ecology. While much ecological art may not be instantly recognisable as the ‘object-based art’ represented within our education or the media, its practice is based in the principles of investigation (drawing), composition (ecology), juxtaposition (relationship), making (technology) and communication with which we are more familiar.

 L-R: Joseph Beuys – 7000 oaks, Kessel, Germany, 1982 – present; Ackroyd & Harvey – Beuys’ Acorns, 2007 – present; Shelley Sacks – The University of the Trees; Mel Chin – Revival field, 1990 – present; Platform – protest against BP funding the Tate 2011.

Ecological art is created in response and as a response to the needs and dynamics of specific communities, ecological or otherwise. It is based very much in an ongoing reciprocal process of consultation and modification to accommodate the vast array of evolving influences and information acting within any specific situation. It may simply take the form of awareness raising, experiential education or knowledge transfer within pre-existing environmental projects, enable holistic and transformative arts experience, or more ambitiously initiate community-based ecological remediation and reconciliation projects through interdisciplinary collaboration. It may even take the form of direct environmental activism…

art as a means towards ecological understanding and environmental action …

Art may be utilised as a service to community …

• To stimulate thinking and action

• To reach and communicate 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

The basis of ecological art 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…

ecological art in practice      

Ecological art may take a number of forms. Here is some more specific information to help identify what they actually are. While each may be exercised in isolation it is generally through a combination of a few or all over a prolonged period of time that the most effective results may be developed and produced. Most actions may also be seen as both output and research to facilitate further, more informed interventions within an overall development programme.

  • Awareness raising/sharing: interdisciplinary conferences, symposiums, exhibitions; media coverage/attention; public events/exhibitions and information leaflets – Wide Open Space Conference, Sturminster Newton, Dorset 2011 was organized by Alex Murdin to explore public attitudes towards, and the environmental impact of, newly implemented planning laws in the UK; Biosphere Action Week the value of trees event in Barnstaple Town Square, October 2011 with RANE , NDBR and Beaford Arts.
  • Knowledge transfer: data interpretation and documentation of projects and research through publications, displays and presentations
  • Ecological remediation: site-specific interdisciplinary research, creative resolution and appropriate application to identify and address environmental/social issues – (‘Trigger Point Theory’ is being developed by American artist Aviva Rahmani, involving ecologically and socially sensitive interdisciplinary mapping and analysis, creative resolution and intervention into damaged ecosystems – http://www.ghostnets.com; Living Landscapes – environmental consultation service offered to communities by Wildlife Trusts recognizing the lack of respect for local knowledge and hence antagonism caused by top-down environmental intervention; ‘Revival Field’ by Mel Chin – interdisciplinary art work to develop a creative de-pollution strategy for an area of post-industrial land; Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison – interdisciplinary mapping and assessment of ecosystems for strategic ecological interventions – http://www.theharrisonstudio.net.
  • Ecological reconciliation: participatory events to facilitate recognition of shared community interest and respect for individual knowledge and interests, based in ethical implications of ecological understanding/for the good of all – Shelley Sacks ‘earth forum’ invites interested parties from all sections of society, from policy makers, priests and business people to children and indigenous inhabitants to share perspectives within an environmental situation. The process is facilitated through art activities.
  • Community creation/affirmation/networking: events, actions and digital media sharing to facilitate communication between prospective participants in project – The efficacy and uses of social media and blogsites to raise awareness and network is a relatively new but highly potent means of communication within projects, for example NDBR’s photo sharing and facebook pages; ‘7000 oaks’ Kessel, Germany, 1980-present – Social Sculptor Joseph Beuys initiated the planting of 7000 oak trees alongside 7000 limestone boulders in a city decimated during WWII. The action aimed to reinstate a sense of community through widespread participation. Acorns from the original trees are now being planted around the world to initiate similar community building work; ‘Touch Sanitation’ – between 1970 and 1980 American feminist artist, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, personally shook the hand of every garbage worker in New York in recognition and respect, and to highlight, their essential work.
  • Activism: awareness raising, creative demonstration/celebration events to highlight environmental issues. Such actions do not need to be confrontational and are often fun events to consolidate links within a community while gently questioning behaviour and policy that inhibits social and ecological cohesion and healing – for example the ‘Big Lunch’ organized annually by The Eden Project. Quantum physicist and social philanthropist F David Peat amply describes such principles in his book ‘Gentle Actions bringing creative change to a turbulent world’.

“A fundamental aspect of this developing practice was exploring the possibility of making things happen rather than making things.” Mary-Lou Barratt

further information

www.rane-research.org . greenmuseum.org . www.ecoartnetwork.org ecoartspace.org . www.universityofthetrees.org . www.social-sculpture.org . www.eartharteducation.com . www.naturearteducation.org

(PW2012)


ART AS GIFT

 4 cordyline parcels (pward 2011)

an artful case for altruistic embodiment within the ecozoic era

In an age of ecological insecurity many believe we should be exploring what art has to offer as a means for positive societal change rather than personal discovery. If seen from a certain perspective art is an intrinsic function of any human society and a gift to the world. So with this understanding how might we utilize the diversity of disciplines and practices art has to offer to catalyse changes in our perception, relationships and behaviour? How might we work with the world, with other sectors of society and other elements of the natural world to achieve an evolutionary transformation based not on destruction and overconsumption, but in mutual respect and emergent understanding?

Our actions may be large and wilful or small and gentle, but the subtle ramifications of any intentional intervention within the global ecology will surely, by its very nature, be felt by all. We cannot avoid our implicit responsibility within this interconnected web of our existential experience, whereby all our actions affect the whole, so how might we judge the deep resonance that any of our actions might presume? If we do nothing, the powers that are steadily leading us to eventual mass extinction, will have their misguided and unbelievable way. So how might we act, both in response to this ‘progress’ and as integral and symbiotic agents in an exquisitely animate world? We maybe cannot realistically expect to be materially reimbursed for such radically orientated, authority-questioning work that ultimately seeks to undermine and deconstruct a whole societal paradigm whose chief motivation and tendency has been to maintain order and itself; a status quo based entirely in the disembodying proliferation of violence, ignorance and fear for personal gain.

So, how might we further maintain and perform such work without the support of institutions that brazenly perpetuate and disregard this ‘march’ toward self-destruction? And how might we offer and embody our holistic services within a society that has systematically undermined our powers to determine our own destinies and means to personal sustenance? Maybe we must first transform our own perception and behaviour toward the means of our own payment, our tendencies for material reward, for financial gain, and start to seek and employ some way to exist in the world without such automatic recompense? Any attempt will, without doubt, encourage degrees of scrupulous intelligence and adept versatility that have not been required within the relative comfort and security of our conditional paradigm, but that will lead us to experience an order in the universe founded more in reciprocal energetic exchange, in humility and sharing, in acts of altruism and a sense of belonging in nature, and of faith in the symbiotic support provided by our immanent potential in this world.

 rectangle of cordyline parcels (pward 2011)

Within the context of contemporary art, such principles are presently being explored by Sam Bower and associates of greenmuseum.org who have begun pioneering a new approach to sustainability as an organization by adopting a gift economy model, and so the entire organization is now run by volunteers and focuses on service with no fundraising. By comparison, in the majority of our long-existing indigenous cultures very little is owned, it is simply shared as part of the universal abundance, of which we are also an integral part. Phenomenologically, there is no separation. What belongs to one belongs to all. All our reasonable and necessary resources are available and close to hand, and we are all responsible for our well being and proliferation. Likewise under such circumstances nature has a tendency to look after its own. This world may not be one of eternal happiness or one without suffering, nor may it offer eternal abundance and wealth but exists within a dynamic response to the universal emergent reality of which we are an integral but not essential part. It is maybe time to begin to really know our place.

Obviously such extreme leaps in consciousness might not occur overnight and may fill our minds with a multitude of fears and excuses, exceptions and arguments based on our conditioned response to the dysfunctional society in which we presently reside. But if we allow ourselves to step aside slightly and calmly observe the patterns and consequences of our actions, from a perspective based on need rather than perpetual material insecurity and an obsessively deluded desire for power and control, we will most likely determine a dynamic of provision and exchange in line with a mutually supportive universe, rather than one of commercially inspired competition and greed.

So as artists how might we best communicate this underlying reality, this shift away from animosity, mistrust and self-perpetuating destructiveness? And how might we embody such belief? How may we offer opportunity for consequential transformation and empowerment without the financial or material backing of our esteemed and established institution; an institution based in the perpetuation of fear to maintain its fictitiously fuelled power over all? What actions might we instinctively employ to gently, subtly and mindfully reinforce that which lies just beneath our feet, in the air that we breathe, and so tantalisingly beyond our reach? And how might we entice others to step outside such contemporary postmodern illusion, to experience a world not struggling for survival or fighting over property and wealth, but one that has always been, that exists with or without our involvement or observation, that breathes in the reality of continuous symbiosis, beyond self – not an ethereal world of disembodied spirit but one of practical and mutual belonging, of which we are becoming? How might we ‘become the change we wish to see in the world’?

  pigments on stone, fremington quay (pward 2011)

I offer you a gift.

This gift is my art.

 

My aim is to simply intrigue.

To beguile our mutual senses;

To entice such thoughts to wonder,

‘To scratch imagination’;

To create a space to walk right into, in body and in mind;

To sensually engage and thus embody another place entirely

(Although really there is only one);

 

To spend time,

To play a little,

To reflect,

To unpack and repack

And go gently on our way.

 

I expect nothing from this participation,

It is simply another step upon a journey

In time but not in linear progress.

 

May we share such lithe abundance,

And embrace this animate belonging

In respect of all our relations

Of soil and clay and sky,

Of bird and beast mutating.

 

I do not mean to change you

Nor change myself before you;

But maybe broaden our horizons,

To look around a corner,

Transforming brief perception

In this age of our becoming,

Or to sweep aside the spurious veil of disempowerment,

Jogging our memory to do what comes so naturally

After all.

 

We are enough already.

We have enough already.

We must now simply find the most fitting way.

 

I offer you a gift.

This gift is my art.

 razor clam bundle (pward 2011)  

Bibliography

 

i) Giftism & Generosity – Sam Bower, www.greenmuseum.org, ii) ‘Scratching the imagination’ – Joseph Beuys, iii) ‘Becoming Animal’ – David Abrams, iv)  ‘The Re-enchantment of Art’ – Suzi Gablik, v) Artists of the Invisible – Allan Kaplan, vi) ‘Gentle Actions’ – F David Peat, vii) ‘Phenomenology of Perception’ – Maurice Merleau-Ponty, viii) Ecozoic era – Thomas Berry, ix)  ‘…become the change we wish to see in the world’ – Mahatma K Ghandhi