(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
for family and friends
P Ward 2013
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
P Ward 2013
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.
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.
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…
P Ward 2013
[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
fleetingly perturbed and somewhat upset by the insensitivity of fellow fumblers on the foreshore I did begin to question the ethics behind sharing my work of gathering local earth pigments. others too have noticed the sense of protectiveness felt when asked the whereabouts of the sites and sources of our gatherings and creative resources. whether this is through a sense of selfish ownership, or of local pride, or more in recognition of the damage that has and may be wrought by our species and to which we might endeavour not to contribute, is difficult to discern.
must we simply trust in the power of the earth to protect itself, to provide its own dynamic mechanisms of regulation, its own ethics, enforced in roundabout ways, through subtle and profound and sometimes earth shattering consequences? or must we trust more in the respons-ability of others and the intentions of our own actions – as artists to provide an open and creative space within which we may engage the physical and energetic fabric of our brief residence and hence to make our own observations and conclusions?
we live and learn amidst this abundance. our arrogance, that we may in some way determine earth’s destiny, constantly diminishing our power to do so. we are only little clumsy creatures scattered about this place, etching our hopes and dreams into its richly diverse surface, impressing upon ourselves, entertaining our own right to be. to live in joy as we breathe our perfectly prescribed time here. of course my petty miniscule procurement of pigment with which to paint and explore the natural processes to which we are prone are somewhat insignificant when compared to the age and the ocean that formed and continues to re-form this precious present.
but still to see the wasteful scattering and shattering of this immanent perfection by others and myself is enough to make me stop and think – how much may I take? is what I do contributing adversely to any destruction that is naturally taking place? are my actions unfairly undermining others enjoyment of this existence and place? or is there justification in my purposeful plundering for all? whether our actions do or not, such questions seem important to dwell upon as we weave our way within and amongst and upon this earth. maybe without them we have no sense, no compassion, no ethos and no love…
“Re-engaging with the raw materials from which our lives are shaped is a potent reminder of the difference between what is real and what is only illusory” Anna Konig, Resurgence Magazine
P Ward 2013
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.
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’?
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 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
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.
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