real time Sisters

(Samhain) 311017

.

today time returns

and darkness drags us home, amidst swirling russet leaves,

to its familiar solstice resting place

as another year quietly slips away.

 .

shadows lengthen

losing their resemblance to matter

and we descend into that underworld

of ancestors and past deities,

 .

to industry and wonder,

to miraculous machines

and steam and noise –

hell for some, power for others –

 .

weaving what was once made by hand

beneath clear open skies lit by a million stars,

connecting us to all that has been

and will ever be.

 

and the Sisters still sit

sharing their charms,

weaving mystery and fate

beyond our control or simple understanding.

 

tall chimney, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

engine houses, bobbins and spinning machines , Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

skein maker, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

threading the loom, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

water wheel, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017


Last weekend I visited Dunster, a charming Medieval village in West Somerset with my family. We ‘watched’ stars inside an inflatable dome as part of Exmoor National Park’s Dark Skies program celebrating the unpolluted ‘darkness’ of the area and stayed at my brother’s cottage amongst the massive oaks and rich red soils of the Brendon Hills. On our way home we stopped off at Coldharbour Mill Museum in Uffculme, Devon, for one of their regular ‘Steam Up Days’. This restored working woollen mill is powered by water and steam engines (and electricity) and gives a fascinating insight into the ingenuity and industry involved in the production of wool and woven cloth over the last few centuries when Devon and Exmoor were one of the main centres for the wool trade in Britain. And all this on the days the clocks are turned back to solar time again and the Celtic New year begins – quite a brew for the imagination…

dunster, west somerset © p ward 2017

nettlecombe, west somerset © p ward 2017

© P Ward 2017

Advertisements

for love of soil

“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,

Like culture

Like identity,

Like society

Like life…

the earth bleeding, west somerset (p ward 2014)the earth bleeding, west somerset (p ward 2014)

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

human intervention, west somerset (p ward 2014)human intervention, west somerset (p ward 2014) 

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

source, west somerset (p ward 2014)source, west somerset (p ward 2014)

*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…)

reclaimed land, langport, somerset (p ward 2014) reclaimed land, langport, somerset (p ward 2014)

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Werner Heisenberg

© P Ward 2014


a place for art in outdoor education

a short essay for the NAFSO Journal 2014*

Art is the means through which we may investigate, appreciate and express our relationships within the world. Contrary to popular opinion it is not just the production of art ‘objects’ for public consumption but more an intimate and personal process through which we test and apply our powers of observation and analysis. Such powers are not limited to empirical measurement but encompass and encourage multisensory and intuitive evaluation whose open-ended outcomes and expression may utilize a combination of disciplines from painting and sculpture to movement, film, writing and music. Quite simply Art, in whatever form, offers a space and structure to experience and create a deeper sense of the energies, material or otherwise, that animate this world.

painting with the earth workshop - gathering pigments at the Skern (p ward 2014)painting with the earth workshop – gathering pigments at the Skern (p ward 2014) 

In the opening keynote speech at the NAFSO annual conference at Skern Lodge in North Devon, Leszek Iwaskow (OFSTED inspector and HMI National Curriculum advisor for geography) stated how experiencing ‘a sense of place’ was possibly one of the most important motivations for contemporary education, especially in respect of the current trends towards the virtual classroom and shifts away from real and tactile engagement with the outdoor environment. This ‘sense of place’ based in personal experience and encouraged by geographical processes such as map reading and making, Leszek enthusiastically explained, is what allows us to connect to and make sense of our world, and our role within it. For me this all sounded very familiar!

While recently studying for an MA Art & Environment at Falmouth University, the phrase ‘a sense of place’ was associated with an American artist Lucy R Lippard whose book, LURE OF THE LOCAL senses of place in a multi-centered society, expounded ideas of the social, ecological and political importance of engagement with the local environment. The book combines artistic and geographic methods of research and presentation. Many contemporary artists have adopted this form of interdisciplinary practice. Indeed collaboration between artists and scientists, from whatever discipline, has increased as the inability of science to both communicate its findings and acknowledge the more than empirical nature of the world has become increasingly apparent. Until recently Art and Science have been inextricably linked, both utilizing observation as a means to learn about the world. Scientists throughout history have often employed and displayed excellent drawing skills to record and document their research.

Through personal involvement with an Australian Aboriginal Elder it also became apparent how this exploration of the local or ‘sense of place’ also resonates deeply with the indigenous processes of learning utilized by tribal people around the world, as children are encouraged to explore their own skills and aptitudes in relation to their environment and the materials it provides. Rather than dictating an outcome within a narrowly prescribed set of options, tribal education provides space for individuals to reach an understanding of their own creativity and purpose within society. Children are ideally allowed to grow into an intimate understanding of their aptitudes, limitations and possibilities. Such methods have more recently been adopted by exponents of experiential learning techniques, while the benefits of learning in the outdoors through more tactile and sensory participation has been championed by the likes of Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) and the principles of Ecopsychology.

painting with the earth workshop - gathered materials (p ward 2014)painting with the earth workshop – gathered materials (p ward 2014)

So how does Art differ from other methods of engagement with the world and why is it important that we consider its inclusion within outdoor education? Art provides a space and structure for learners (of all ages, abilities and experience) to participate within and creatively reflect upon actions and materials on a multitude of basic and complex sensory levels. It offers opportunity to explore the ways and means we may communicate our findings and, more simply, how we may express ourselves within a specific environment. Through its very nature, concerned as it is with the practical application of materials, composition, colour, light, juxtaposition, observation and relationship, Art explores an ecological and interrelated perception of the world and therefore encourages a sense of personal and social responsibility.

painting with the earth workshop – presentation and paintings (p ward 2014)painting with the earth workshop – presentation and paintings (p ward 2014)

On another level funding for the Arts within the national curriculum has been drastically cut. This is maybe based on ignorance about the specific nature of learning and experience that it offers not only from curriculum advisors but also from practicing artists themselves. In recent history Art, like many other areas of study, has been conceptually detached from the world in which it exists, creating a seemingly vacuous and purposeless aura to its study – we are all familiar with the phrase ‘Art for art’s sake’ with its roots in the Modernist art movement. However, in a society suffering so drastically from such a lack of cohesion and respect for the world a return to the basics of study through first hand observation and manual dexterity are in my opinion essential. Art offers a space for this, leading to an understanding of the principles of technology as well as primal sensibilities.

My own work as an environmental artist, as some of you may have experienced at the NAFSO conference in North Devon in January, looks at our relationships with locally gathered materials, such as earth pigments, in a variety of ways including painting and paint-making workshops, walks, participatory art and art in the environment. For me an essential aspect of this work is creating a relaxed and open space for participants to explore and then reflect upon our actions. It is a place to play and to feel through the medium of our own sensory experience. However, while basic art activities are often utilized within outdoor education the implementation of more specific art methods by specialist artists may increase their impact. Whatever forms the art making takes, whether it is painting, drawing, sculpture, singing, dancing or writing, the process relies on intimate personal response to materials and place through the plethora of senses available to us but also the skills to facilitate a deep appreciation of those processes and the possibilities they may offer.

painting with the earth workshop – group painting (p ward 2014) painting with the earth workshop – group painting (p ward 2014)

If we are to be open to a sense of place, as Leszek Iwaskow suggests, then the process of Art allows us to do just that – sense a place, to experience it with all our senses and thus to make those experiences more memorable, more pertinent and practicable and more enjoyable on a very personal level. But then surely this is the intention of good education from whatever discipline we come from?!

*In January 2014 I was invited to run a Painting with the Earth Workshop  for the NAFSO (National Association of Field Studies Officers) Annual Conference just up the road from me in North Devon at Skern Lodge Outdoor Activity and Education Centre (www.skernlodge.co.uk). It was a refreshing and inspiring experience  to work alongside other outdoor education specialists from a variety of different organisations, backgrounds and disciplines and to share ideas and approaches to a common goal – to provide memorable, meaningful and enjoyable outdoor experience for all. As the only practising artist present it became a good opportunity to impress the relevance and importance of art within this arena. I was subsequently invited to write a short piece for the NAFSO Journal to expand upon my ideas to a broader audience. Many thanks to Skern Lodge for inviting me along.

Useful Links

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIELD STUDIES OFFICERS – http://www.nafso.org.uk/

RESEARCH IN ART-BASED ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION (www.naturearteducation.org)

RESEARCH IN ART, NATURE & ENVIRONMENT (www.rane.falmouth.ac.uk)

CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART & THE NATURAL WORLD (www.ccanw.co.uk)

© Peter Ward 2014

 


No Luddite Not

Happiness is an empty fridge. Heaven is no fridge at all!

It is easy to sit here tapping at the backlit keyboard and reminisce nostalgically (but not without difficulty) about a time not so long ago before such devices existed, before the dizzying acceleration of technology allowed communication across the world at our fingertips, before twenty thousand songs could fit miraculously into a matchbox – remember them?! We lit fires with them. We watched flames dance for a whole evening and spoke and sang and danced and were silent as befitted each moment. We dreamt of friends a thousand miles away and prayed for their wellbeing and happiness. We conjured magic in circles and acted with our feet and hands. There is a smell to such memories, a richness, a fullness, a dampness, not sterilized by the plethora of products that eradicate such earthly, dirt-filled unpleasantry today.

graffitied tomb, wells cathedral (p ward 2013) graffitied tomb, wells cathedral[i] (p ward 2013)

What has changed, for better or worse? Are fires and stars and dreams so very far out of reach now or have we just forgotten the threads of the invisible, the wires of wily nature connecting us all? Whatever advances in technology, they are all mere echoes of nature and ourselves; powers made manifest in a more marketable, more user friendly but less skillful form. 

14th century door, wells cathedral (p ward 2013)14th century door, wells cathedral (p ward 2013)

I am no more Luddite[ii] than you – sitting with my face buried in cyberspace, ensconced in this creative moment, enjoying the possibilities of global communion with my kind – under no more pretense that technology has not provided so many wonderful opportunities for resolutions to our mortal sufferings, but I do miss the time and space, the pace of life, without the refrigerator hum, without the incessant barely audible but most discernable white noise of electrical wiring or the constant offer of obsessive digital distraction at my fingertips. I walked and cycled to visit friends, I lit candles when it was dark and woke when it was light, read paper books, waited with patience for children’s programmes to finish, made models with matchsticks and glue, I used what I could find and what I had; I gathered wood, built fires and shelters, I moved more, I felt weather, I breathed air. Things were simpler it seemed and more wholesome. To spend half a day walking to the shop and back, relishing every moment, knowing that my work, my time spent without the use of a car was time well spent, necessitating the need for nothing but good strong legs – a different kind of logic not based on money and fuel.

vicar’s close, one of the oldest constantly residential streets in the world, wells (p ward 2013) vicar’s close, one of the oldest constantly residential streets in the world, wells (p ward 2013)

“As technological devices increase the availability of a commodity or service, they also push these devices into the background where people do not pay attention to their destructive tendencies. To use a metaphor, there is a two-edged sword operating here. Technology increases the availability of goods but the devices that we rely upon to provide us these commodities lie hidden in the background and have a profound adverse effect on people’s lives.[iii]

For every technological advance there is a corresponding fall it seems. I will step outside when I can. Attempt to unravel myself from modernity’s spurious influence and contact a place within myself when I had all the time in the world – time to live and dream right here on this earth.

playing with fire, sparklers in the garden, wells (p ward 2013) playing with fire, sparklers in the garden, wells (p ward 2013)

When I arrived here this evening, at my other half-home, I took the battery from the ticking clock, made a big wood fire in the stone hearth and listened to music from my youth. I greeted the new moon, thankfully nestling in a cloud haze above the tree line and inhaled wood smoke drifting from the line of stone cottages. I heard Nature again.

© P Ward 2013


[i] Wells Cathedral in Somerset, UK, took over 300 years to build, starting in the 12th century. It is hard to imagine working all of your life on one project, one wall, one stone carving and the implications this may have to broader society.

[ii] The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-saving machinery from 1811 to 1817. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Device_paradigm with reference to Albert Borgmann, TECHNOLOGY AND THE CHARACTER OF CONTEMPORARY LIFE (Chicago; THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS; 1984)

 


(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)


talking sticks, northam 7213

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


night waves, westward ho! 812013

A simple meditative film of waves breaking in the early evening on the beach at Westward Ho! in North Devon taken on my HTC phone with natural sound. The evening was grey and darkening. I particularly enjoy the colour and image distortion, and hence painterly mood, created by the limitations of the technology. BEST VIEWED IN THE DARK…

The quote at the end of the film is taken from Christopher Spence’s book AIDS – Time to Reclaim Our Power, published in 1986 by LIFESTORY. I have always felt that such intentions are equally important for any situation in our lives when (re)empowerment is needed, although another motivation, especially in this time of global ecological crisis, is maybe just that – necessity

‘The only sound enough motivation for doing anything is joy. All other motivations, such as guilt, compulsion, obligation and duty only lead us to dissatisfaction, tension and resentment. When we are engaged in what truly gives us joy, we lead ourselves inevitably to more and more challenging, powerful lives which affect more and more of the world.’ Christopher Spence

P Ward 2013