a conversation of sorts 121117
“What’s the difference between a social or educational project and an artwork?”
each may indeed have much in common and much to share.
it is the means and manner through which they communicate,
in which they engage, inform and sometimes transform that renders them effective or benign.*
an understanding of an audience, a demographic, an ecology
may encourage participation and transformation
reaching out and beyond those and that originally targeted.
the artist, teacher, social worker and ecologist intuit a means
to estimate, interpret, facilitate and hence empower (oneself and others)
literally, pictorially, intellectually, imaginatively, actively, physically, emotionally and most skillfully
the aesthetic that directs whatever intent motivated the craft,
that manipulates, interferes with and informs the intrinsic (or created) dynamic
towards a specific end or beginning or…
it is not necessary to determine how or when or what
those (or that) which experiences may take away
or if anything further does become
but it is in relationship that one may experience and affect movement
from one moment to the next
from one breath to another
so different too
that a tension reveals
swinging back and forth and around
we are all children in this world
dancing under the stars
of this earth
that we share
© P Ward 2017
(* yet how we may quantify such effectiveness is another matter.)
a space for creative investigation of an indigenous ecology
“I believe in empty spaces; they’re the most wonderful thing.” Anselm Kiefer[i]
as mentioned in a previous post myself and partner, francesca owen[ii], have recently taken on a new workshop space in the north devon seaside town of ilfracombe. it is the first time that either of us have had such a large space dedicated solely to our work and as such are somewhat daunted but very excited by what the venture may hold.
having both finished the MA art & environment course at falmouth university and sharing a similar ethos and intent towards our work, as well as an interest in natural pigments, painting and now a beautiful baby boy called noah, we have taken the plunge and invested last year’s profits into this, our latest venture. as said, we are not yet entirely sure what the space may hold but apart from exploring our own practices as contemporary environmental artists we are looking forward to inviting others to make use of the space both through workshops and also possible residencies, events, talks and even small performances and film screenings. the general theme behind our work looks at how creative engagement with our local ecology, its animals, rocks and plants, may inform and enrich our lives. to do this we are willing to work with other individuals, groups and organizations with similar interests and motivations in order to share our skills as contemporary artists towards a more sensitive and sustainable relationship with the world.
ilfracombe has most recently received attention for damien hirst’s input into the town, with a public sculpture, verity, on loan to the local council dominating the harbour, a restaurant, small gallery and most recently a controversial new housing development. whether we like his work and actions or not the changes that have been promoted by his presence have brought renewed vigour and investment to a previously deprived and neglected place. the town is now alive with newly opened and expanding commercial art galleries and shops and a more artistically-minded public now wander the architecturally intriguing lanes and streets. ilfracombe is still a working fishing port, with links to south wales through a now defunct but hopefully reopening ferry route, but essentially income comes from tourism. it is within this exciting and burgeoning environment that we have chosen to place our new and shared practice – eARTh.
so far we have been familiarizing ourselves with the space and area, taking time to reconnect with past contacts and meeting new ones, both human and otherwise. we have filled the space with our old work, made space to store it and even started to make some new work – francesca has somehow been forging ahead despite the constant demands of little noah! for myself, it is taking a little longer. I have a large quantity of paintings on canvas, paper and board from before our MA, as well as more recent sculptural pieces, and am sorting and evaluating this work in relation to my academic experience. this task is both tiring and emotional, if not somewhat liberating, but I hope that the process will help put me back in touch with my work after a long period of enlightening deviation but also debilitating rejection and disillusionment with the academic and artistic establishment and create space for new ideas and work to take root.
our first scheduled event will be in november, to host the monthly meeting of combe business[iii], a not-for-profit consortium of local businesses aimed at supporting, advising and developing a sustainable business model for the ilfracombe, woolacombe and combe martin area of north devon. for us, it is an opportunity to provide a space for people from different areas of business, including fishing, agriculture and retail, environmental bodies, the creative industries and transition town movement, to share and discuss ideas and possibilities for the place of art and the cultural services within the region’s development. it is of course also a chance to share our own work with a new audience and make contacts of our own. obviously we cannot, and have no intention of shaping a specific outcome from the event, but hope that it will inspire and provide new ground for thinking creatively about our shared interests.
but for now we must continue to sort and store, making our first tentative steps towards our new life here. i am looking forward to doing some painting again after many years away, seeing where my new knowledge and experience has taken me, and how my simple marks, my dots and dashes and stripes, may sing again with the resonance of this bounteous place…
© p ward 2014
‘‘Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible’’ Paul Klee
as hours and days seemingly while away with baby,
new places and faces continue to appear
offering potential for the creative life we live
and I continue to see this wonderful world through eyes made bright by art’s rich spectre…
in order to further explore and share this rich and ever evolving dynamic expression of divine being my partner francesca and i are opening a new workshop (eARTh) near our home in ilfracombe, north devon, where we shall be making new work to enrich and celebrate our place amongst it all…
watch this space!
© p ward 2014
“Everywhere science is enriched by unscientific methods and unscientific results, while procedures which have often been regarded as essential parts of science are quietly suspended or circumvented.” Paul Feyerabend, AGAINST METHOD
Does not the science of soil, the chasing of numbers and factors in the name of human value, merely further commodify that which is magic, mystery and worthy of worship, (despite its heady fascinations)? This is not to diminish or undervalue technology – the application of disciplined research – nor the multi-disciplined experiential processes of our enquiry.
Are not those things that we do not know those things that make it all so wonderful, and that lead us to further investigate or invest most heartily? Like the questionable possibilities of ecosystem services, is it possible to measure the fullness that is life? Those in power, or with power, more often do not act favourably beyond their purse strings, despite the truth and compassion of our already excessive and rigourously construed perceptions.
The soil in miraculous evolving living entity – like the shifting, pounding, endless sea – in awe and full of inspiration, of factors beyond our forever faltering, non-sensical, empirical economic motive,
I watch the fields wash away across the carbon-fuelled tarmac of haste
The ocean muddied with fluvial fertile red earth
Homes fill with the turmoil of our greed, ignorance and waste
The innocent mole drowning forever in its tunnel-tomb populace
There is a popular belief amongst the current ecological art* movement, and other environmentalist groups and individuals, that artful communication of scientific data will sway political opinion and action in favour of more sensible behaviours. However, I personally question the logic that empirical evidence, however true, can transform our hearts and minds due to the very nature of its original form. Our hearts are not numbers – they are beyond measure. The established Cartesian scientific methodology is by its nature divorced from our souls and thus will not affect them. Maybe only through reflective acts and spaces of direct personal relationship can we truly re-evaluate and heal our behaviours. Only through acts of mystery and magic may spirit be experienced and unbound. If we are not willing to get our hands dirty, we will not have dirty hands after all!
“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
*For me ecological art is an acknowledgement that by their very nature all our actions, artistic or otherwise, may be seen as affective within the totality as well as affective within themselves. It is an admittance of our responsibility to ourselves and others. It is ownership of our actions. Ecology studies the relationships between entities and actions, how the action of a part may affect the whole…)
“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Werner Heisenberg
- with many thanks to alyce santoro for providing the quotes (alycesantoro.com)
© P Ward 2014
Tying my shoelaces
Blowing my nose
Riding a bicycle
Learning to swim
Lighting a fire
Building a shelter from sticks and leaves
Cooking my first meal (and ever after…)
Killing a fish
Growing a radish
Reading and writing
Making a choice
Getting out of bed in the morning
Travelling to a different culture
Offering help to another in need…
An opportunity to become more of myself
Opening my mind to more than before
I reach around myself and stretch my perception of love
Listening more deeply I learn to hear more
I am nature
This is my nature
Exploring structures and actions that affirm my inner and my outer being
Those things that connect me to all, that integrate my being to all before and all after, in the present.
I cannot tell you what to think but can suggest a means to reveal thinking –
Responses to our condition and our complexity, as simple as it is
Earth and ocean and air and trees and bees
Fish and flowers
Fire, thunder and lightning
Sun and moon and stars above
Me and you and everything
During a recent conversation about the application of art within sustainable development policy, conservation projects and as a response to ecological crisis it became apparent that awareness of art as a means towards empowerment, both through (re)connection to nature and our own nature, is maybe not as common knowledge[i] as I presumed. Art has often been and continues to be used politically and commercially as a means to undermine our power, a process commonly known as propaganda, so why shouldn’t a simple understanding and reversal of the mechanisms imposed within such ‘art’ be deployed in favour of ecological and social justice?!
Understanding of these mechanisms is increasingly commonplace within person-centered and experiential learning and contemporary self-help techniques, as well as in healthy reflection upon events experienced in our everyday lives – methods founded on the traditional learning of indigenous cultures and the principles of ecopsychology[ii], rooted in the importance of connection to nature, place and an exploration and affirmation of individual aptitude. How such principles may be applied within our own art practices is a matter for our personal journey of self-discovery and empowerment – we can only really know and share that which we have experienced ourselves after all – their application seeming more and more pertinent as the practices of contemporary art and society increasingly (re)entwine.
P Ward 2013
[i] To find out more about art and artists who have deployed and explore the mechanisms of such within their practice have a look at www.social-sculpture.org, www.universityofthetrees.org, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, search ecologically or socially engaged art on the web or simply just continue to read this blog.
[ii] Ecopsychology investigates and utilizes the importance of direct contact with nature in the development of a balanced psyche. Richard Louv’s popular book Last Child in the Woods – Saving our children from nature deficit disorder amply illustrates such principles, while Theodore Roszak is credited with coining the term in his 1992 book, The Voice of the Earth.
It’s enough to put me off saving the World,
Such bickering and postulating amongst them and us
Dispiculating between somnambulant terminologies
Defining the piecrust while the earth turns to dust.
“All life entails violence” said Mahatma K Gandhi[i],
And while I appreciate the necessity in our nature to conflict,
And the hardships and extremes that this world often employs
To willfully move from one point of stasis to another unknown –
(to evolve and to adapt from form to form) –
I still wonder if there is a better way to relate within.
Too often do I become drawn into and distracted by the politics of corporate and institutional self-interest that permeates our culture, the ethos that undermines our quest for an energetic emergent harmony, in the hope that working alongside others may multiply the power for justice and good sense that I pray we all desire, only to find a desire dissipated and frustrated by strategies of mistrust and the insecurities of difference. Thank goodness for phenomenology[ii] is all I can say – a philosophy that observes how the whole ‘truth’ may only be truly perceived by a totality of difference and individuality.
“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude…” George Orwell
And so I return to my familiarly insular position, comfortable in the knowledge that I can never totally detach myself from the world, happy to make my own carefully determined excursions when I see fit, to add to the milieu with integrity and joy when the world summons me forth or when I am hungry and in need – my only task, to let others know that I am here, what my individuality may provide when the time is right and to develop my skills for the benefit of all.
I would like to believe, and quite often do hope, that my minimal actions and interventions may in some way contribute to the miracle of this existence both for myself and my fellow beings, that my words and images and movements mingle well with the dynamic of well-meaning. But rather I would celebrate the honour and privilege it is to exist at all – to breathe and to feel, to sense the changes and appreciate the simple acts of love about us all and to respond responsibly when I can.
I recall my father’s passing, his sadness in knowing that he would no longer see the ocean, the waves breaking beneath the big wide sky, hear children playing or the wind in the trees or the songs of birds, the sun and moon rising and setting, the stars above, the rich scent of earth held in his hands. He did not profess to be a spiritual or religious person or to have any particular politics, other than common sense and a deep respect for all life.
To be alive in this world is a gift that should never be undervalued.
Wherever and whenever and however I chose to give thanks may it be with openness and integrity.
However humble and mundane my actions in this world from moment to moment and day to day
May I never forget the fragility and the power,
the wind and sun and rain and all about
the soil beneath my feet, the foundation of all our lives
I will tread gently
I will speak softly
I will act with kindness
(for there is already more than enough violence and greed in the world)
I will use only what I need
and I will be thankful
P Ward 2013
[i] from Alastair McIntosh, Soil and Soul (London; Aurum Press, 2004)
[ii] Phenomenology is a philosophy explored in the 20th Century by such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. From an artistic and creative perspective it offers a means of expression and interpretation through the (sometimes random) juxtaposition of disparate opinions and visions. The philosophy does not offer one Truth but the validity of all chosen or perceived positions. To my mind it offers an important contribution to any ecologically inspired political or spiritual intentions through its genuinely egalitarian ethos.
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.
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