at times of loss and grief
we may turn to Nature for solace,
to water, wind, fire and earth
to rocks, soil, fungi and trees
to insects, animals and birds
we may immerse ourselves
in the mundane, in the everyday
in routine and simplicity
not to avoid the pain
but to live with it
to feel it without distraction
we may assimilate our feelings and thoughts
through our work
through creative activity
through cathartic acts
I sit in the flowing river
the cool water moves around my stationary working form
touching my legs, ankles and hips, hands and forearms,
I feel connected to life
or through physical activity
where the rhythm of movement,
of muscles and breath and heart working in time,
lift us to an alternate state
to see our situation anew
in a different light
not with mind
but with body
and in fantasy and dreams
the world becomes larger
not illusionary but more real
past present future revealed
through our actions we may sense
the wonder of each passing moment
of being alive with our pain
of feeling at all
and with thanks
we can move forward
and in love
© P Ward 2017
Falmouth University, 2-5 July 2014
The first major event of the Soil Culture[i] programme organized by CCANW[ii] and RANE[iii] at Falmouth University took place over the last week. The event brought together talks, workshops, social gatherings and exhibitions of artwork and posters from local and international artists, soil scientists and agriculturalists to celebrate and investigate how the arts may contribute to shifts in attitudes and understanding of a matter we take very much for granted – soil.
My own contribution included the forum logo, a small display of soil inspired work with Francesca Owen in the Woodlane Campus Library, a poster commissioned and printed for the 20th World Congress of Soil Science in South Korea by Alex Toland[iv], a Painting with Earth workshop and a number of art works in a pop-up exhibition on site. It was good to meet, hear and see the rich and varied work of those of like minds and inspirations, and especially to hear the no-nonsense common sense of Graham Harvey, author of one of my favourite books, The Carbon Fields[v]…
“Why, she wondered, were Indian peasants being pushed into debt and penury by a system of agriculture that was supposed to bring prosperity to rural communities? And why did monocultures, which were intrinsically of low productivity, come to be accepted as highly productive though they required huge inputs of chemicals and fossil fuels, and then produced less food than traditional, diverse farming systems?” from The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey, p.100
“Organic milk, for example, is a blend of the good and not so good. Organic standards require that at least 60 per cent of the ratio must be in the form of grass and forage. In terms of its nutrient content, milk produced to this minimum standard won’t compare in quality with milk of cows getting 80 per cent of their feed in the form of grazed pasture, organic or not. And, as on conventional farms, milk produced to higher standards will be diluted with milk produced to the bare minimum standard.” from The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey, p.136
It is always exciting how participation in such events can provide the space to create new work and to make and renew contacts. Let’s hope that the forum will lead to increased future awareness, projects and collaborations towards our need for changes in attitude and policy around issues of our care and relationship with soil, a living substance upon which our and all life depends. Also thank you to Daro Montag for all his hard work organizing and raising funds[vi] for this event.
© P Ward 2014
[v]THE CARBON FIELDS – GRAHAM HARVEY (Bridgewater UK; GRASSROOTS; 2008)
[vi] Funding for the Forum was provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
i am utterly magnificent,
resplendent in my omnipresence,
as old as the hills and as fresh as a daisy,
feet deep in moist fertile soil,
head in the clouds
and joy in my heart.
my eyes sparkle with a million stars,
feet dance to the breaking waves
oscillating to the rhythm of the cosmic spheres
and time in all her many guises.
i sneeze with all my might –
laughing, laughing, laughing…
powerful beyond measure,
knowing all that is
(The images above have been taken from ‘an antidote to grieving’ a body of work completed in 2009 while recovering from the passing of my father, grandmother and aunt, their relevance as pertinent today as when first created. The use of art as a process of healing, acceptance, understanding and empowerment should never be underestimated…)
P Ward 2013
bIDEFORD bLACK meets the cREMASTER cYCLE
Since creating the black wool balls with Bideford Black and locally gathered, seasonally molted sheep fleece[i], for some inexplicable reason I have had a strong urge to tie the wool to my head!? Its resemblance to a toupee or wig as it lay not-quite-passively upon the table was animatedly uncanny[ii]. So, having collected some white clay[iii], and following on from my recent facial investigations with Bideford Black[iv], it only seemed right to cover my head with the stuff and place the offending article of fashionable esteem quite reasonably on the top.
Francesca kindly agreed to photograph me, and to add more paint. The attendant lively conversation rendered a gamut of imaginative eventualities and furtherences – Old Mother Riley[v] (my mother said), French clowns, transvestitism, eighteenth century courtly wigs, tribal face painting and regalia with references to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, and then just plain daft! Again the process of obliterating my features with colour from the earth and its transformative inferences, both during painting, photographing and the resulting photo editing was invigorating and filled with power. When applying the clay in the mirror it is similar to painting a self-portrait but I am the canvas – thicker clay obliterating some features but highlighting others. There is definitely a physical as well as a metaphysical quality to the process. How much of this is due to the nature of the materials and the locale of their gathering, and how much due to the visual mutations and intensity of tactile and visual observation I am not sure, but it is an avenue I will continue to explore…
A selection of the resulting images and materials will be displayed in the forthcoming BIDEFORD BLACK exhibition at the white moose gallery[vi] in Barnstaple from September 6th. Many thanks again to Francesca for her patience, good humour and sensitivity[vii]. All materials have been gathered locally and responsibly in North Devon.
P Ward 2013
[v] Old Mother Riley was a music hall act which originally ran from about 1934 to 1954 played by Arthur Lucan, then from 1954 to 1977 by Roy Rolland. (Wikipedia)
Continuing my research and experimentation with the North Devon earth pigment Bideford Black for both The Story of Bideford Black project[i] at the Burton Gallery and the forthcoming exhibition at the Whitemoose Gallery in Barnstaple[ii], I have felt inspired to paint my face (in keeping with my tendency to gain intimate knowledge of my subject matter[iii]); both as a response to its commercial use in the make-up industry (as the basis for mascara), and also through the local miners’ stories of being continually covered in this sticky sooty substance. During the 1950’s and ‘60’s the miners were given a bar of carbolic soap to wash themselves at the end of each day but it often took months after leaving the mines for the pigment to sweat out of their skin – their clothes, bed sheets and furniture constantly ingrained with the stuff!
The sensation of smearing the 350 million year old earth pigment into my face (albeit in a somewhat suburban setting) but more so seeing the images that such a primal action creates (for no other purpose than visual exploration) was pleasantly liberating, slightly unnerving in its transformative power and most enjoyable (to both myself and my long suffering and supportive family)! The process of washing it off was equally appealing and visually remarkable – a little like removing charcoal from paper, working back into a painting or washing a really dirty car. Thankfully it came off a lot easier for me than for the miners.
With special thanks to Francesca[iv] for taking such a wonderful selection of sensitive and intimate portraits for me to work with.
P Ward 2013
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
I keep on practicing but just can’t seem to get it quite right!?
Alongside the ongoing ‘Story of Bideford Black’ project with the Burton Gallery in Bideford, and experimentation towards an upcoming show at the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, my personal practice and research has been somewhat treading water since finishing my MA last September. Having been encouraged to put aside my work with local pigments during the course and explore something new (with some very interesting results it must be said) I have once again been drawn back to the earth, both through the projects mentioned above and also involvement with Soil Culture (a programme of events, research, residencies and exhibitions initiated by CCANW for 2014-15). While I appreciate the deviation and diverse input the MA provided I am still struggling to see how the more academic and conceptual ideas developed may be integrated in a positively sustainable way.
Here are some of my more recent misadventures…
willow dome, broomhayes NAS (p ward & f owen, 2013)
Maybe in some ways just to keep playing with ideas is enough, to at least to be still doing some art, (and of course reflecting upon it). To scratch in the sand on my local beach while I watch the world turn and the seasons change, to maintain contact with the source of my inspiration – my interactions with the animate world – to make simple and gentle interventions, reinventing my work and exploring again its potential influence in the world and to myself. To make and to find space to work and to regain contact with the community around my home. No longer trying to ‘save the world’ but more to provide a nurturing experience for any who may come into contact with it. Maybe more meditation than performance, more transient than objective, investigation than statement – whatever way is simply a manifestation of my own artful intent.
P Ward 2013