of a place in time
we look we see we touch
breathing just beneath the surface
I fall in love
to climb out
again and again and again
© P Ward 2017
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!…:-))
soil culture[i] at the national soil symposium, @bristol 131113
“Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no more than a potted plant in his house or carriage till he has established communication with the soil by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it.” John Burroughs
During a series of fascinating presentations, workshops and discussions among soil scientists, farmers and other interested parties at a recent Soil Association conference[ii] it became apparent that within contemporary ecological thinking the relevance and importance of the specific conditions and circumstance of any entity or system are paramount in any action or intervention we may deem necessary for its’ sustained well-being. Whether it is the health, condition or resilience of the soil for the production of food for human consumption[iii] or the empowerment of our children and fellow beings through education and experience, it is our understanding of the intrinsic and individual nature within a unique and particular dynamic environment that may enable suitable decisions to be made and implemented. The age-old principles of nurturing, of allowing and encouraging each to exist and flourish according to its’ own nature with respect for all, are as relevant today as ever. Indeed, it may be said that strict adherence to such principles are the only way we may challenge a currently accelerating and diabolical ecological crisis.
However, the virtual impossibility of adequate comprehensive empirical certainty (science[iv]) within the holistic complexity of this ever-changing world may only lead us to seriously question our ability to consciously or correctly intervene at all. As experience continues to show, often in the most alarming and catastrophic ways, human arrogance, our we-will-know-it-all tendency, seldom does get it right – the long-term implications of our well-meaning actions, in the name of progress or survival, leading to further unpredicted and unpredictable complications that adversely impact the diverse and subtle dimensions of this wondrous and profound universe. As I have written before[v], the unintentional but all-pervading intrusive resonance of our becoming is our nature, our unavoidable presence within this emerging world, and thus must be wholeheartedly embraced for any sense of understanding to evolve; neither denied and discarded as the fault of another or else employed as an excuse for apathy and inactivity, but maybe seen as the ‘funny side’ of being, the irony of and purpose for it all, without which we would not bother to be at all (or otherwise act despicably without due respect for what we have been generously granted). Likewise the necessity of intuition, its development and our ability to base decisions and act on them according to inter-sensory experience and contemplation, is essential if any positive shift is to be made both in our perceptions of this world and also as our behaviour within it.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
Personally, my own innate and inherent intuitive ecological abilities, or the power to observe, perceive and manipulate a range of sensory, emotive and energetic materials within specific or predefined but shifting natural and manmade systems, for both personal and political, aesthetic or altruistic intentions, have been greatly developed and further understood (in relation to intimate experience) by the practice of art. Irrespective of whatever media, material or discipline we may choose to employ, whether the bias may be object or process based or with what audience, human or otherwise, we wish to interact, it is the energetic relational concepts of space, composition, juxtaposition, environment and movement, combined with an empirical and intuitive appreciation of the nature of the entities and processes involved that create the foundation for an artist’s work. The refinement of such aptitudes and their investment, especially within more specific environments, may obviously be greatly enhanced through the familiarity gained by prolonged and disciplined research and practice within that space and the materials that it consists of, with a similarly diligent awareness of the broader picture and the spaces that lie within its close proximity, for these are by its very nature of equal relevance to the whole – ‘no man is an island’ after all, as the saying goes.
So, how may such long-sentenced and wordy expression manifest in this world? Does the theory become the practice? At this time, art and its soul-mates of sentiment, spirit and communal good sense have become such threats to the deceptions of Cartesian science and the politics of capital and greed it upholds, that its rightful integration is too often subjugated to hedonistic consumerism and investment or meaningless modernism, trapped within the rhetoric of its own contemptuous intellect. But as arts’ worth is pitifully suppressed through ignorance and fear, so its’ power is more widely recognized, utilized and amplified by those in need, its voice speaking with eloquence, compassion, humour and grace through acts of disguise, defiance and defence, invisible in its own magic, often unrecognizable but determined by its own perpetual presence within the nature of life itself. Art is healing and revealing all at once.
“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
My own life is about to change – soon I will be a father again and another living breathing being will enter the dynamic hubbub of perpetual decision-making. I am both utterly overjoyed and somewhat afraid. How can I truly know what further changes this new life will bring? It is the most natural event in the world, but in a world that is collapsing in our hands. While it may be impossible to deny the underlying implications of our behaviours within this world, I will endeavour to constitute a personal policy of postive, guilt-free intuitive holistic action with each new breath, whether it is in my art, my parenting and every relationship I am able to maintain or through a basic integrity to the soil on which I continue to stand. I will continue to do. I will touch the soil and learn. I will breathe its scent, speak its language, shape it and form it in its own image, as the soil itself stretches and breathes its life-giving life for all, an ebullient interface between earth, air, fire and water. We may know beauty and beauty may know us…
© P Ward 2014
[iii] At least at this conference there was no pretense otherwise, that as humans we are somehow aloof from the very physical needs and implications of our actions. Of course, we are motivated by our desire to survive, but not necessarily always to the detriment of others.
[iv] This is not to disregard entirely the practice of science but to question its ability to realistically and finitely take into account all the factors that may lead to our decisions or policies in relation to the world. Indeed, if science, or even science in measured or logical combination with other disciplines such as art and religion, did present the incontrovertible Truth to policy makers, as many are hoping and striving, would we be in the illogical, ridiculous and catastrophic predicament we are currently facing?
Red is the colour of my home –
It is the rocks and soil that support me,
It is blood coursing through my veins,
Sap rising in the tree from the rich moist earth,
The colour of iron and oxygen mixed.
Red is the colour of my life –
My hands as they dig,
My feet as I walk,
My lips as I smile,
My tongue as I taste the sunset.
Red is the colour of warmth –
It is joy and love around me,
It is generosity and anger at injustice,
It is the feeling inside my eyes as I dream,
The pulsing heartbeat within your flesh…
Red is the colour of my life.
Many thanks again to Mark for the use of his beautiful cottage in West Somerset and to Francesca for some delicious hot chocolate…
P Ward 2013
after some years of research into other dimensions of my art practice, i have given myself a small space to paint again. while a greater part of my work promotes an understanding and connection of the places we live through gathering, geological interpretation and creative uses of earth pigments through workshops and presentations, i rarely give myself the chance to explore them myself. for the last 20 years painting has performed a number of functions within my practice, not least an opportunity to connect to the subconscious, bringing forth images and symbols locked within myself, often in response to the materials and landscape i inhabit.
a quiet and meditative afternoon spent in the company of the 350 million year old seam of ‘bideford black’ (about which i am presently leading a project with a local public gallery – www.bidefordblackblog.blogspot.co.uk) prompted the collection of a range of colours and a time to feel deeper emotions. a pair of peregrines flew overhead, announcing their courtship and their power. the sun appeared and reappeared from behind a cloud as we sat in its growing warmth sheltered from the unseasonal icy wind. full moon waves gently rolling the pebbles below us at the base of the ridge…
“Aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment is not simply a matter of looking at objects or ‘views’ from a specific point. Rather, it is being ‘in the midst’ of them, moving in regard to them, looking at them from any and every point and distance and, of course, not only looking, but also smelling, hearing, touching, feeling. It is being in the environment, being a part of the environment, and reacting to it as a part of it. It is such active, involved aesthetic appreciation, rather than the formal mode of appreciation nurtured by the scenery cult and encouraged by photographs, that is appropriate to the natural environment.” Allen Carlson, 2009
If you would like to see more of my earlier work and earth pigment paintings please visit www.peterward-artist-illustrator.co.uk …
P Ward 2013
two sticks suspended between two posts in the wind by a car park on the north devon coast near appledore – simple but most satisfying! i am presently really enjoying the immediacy and subtle expressiveness of the medium of short film and natural sound abstracted by contemporary technology (and certainly far more than many of the apparently artful, endless and somewhat overly pricey ‘conversations’ relished in some circles!)
P Ward 2013