Witnesses

25 Sep

As I wrote in an earlier post, for just over 12 months now,  I’ve been exploring ideas and working with many different people in and around Dawley, Telford, to begin running events to commemorate and raise awareness of the Cinderloo Uprising of 1821.  We’ve come a long way, generated a lot of interest and support, and begun to attract funding to support initial activities.

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I’ve helped set up a website for the community organisation Cinderloo1821, which will bring together historical information, contemporary responses, writings and artwork about the 1821 Uprising.  We await news of an initial application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant that will support plans for a range of different activities including intergenerational workshops, educational work with schools, walks, heritage skills workshops, local history and family history research.

Meanwhile, I’ve been walking and discovering the immense network of tracks, woodland and history which binds together the various communities across Telford; sometimes with new found friends interested in the project, and sometimes alone.  These walks have helped develop various ideas for art projects associated with Cinderloo.

The first of these, the Witnesses project, was inspired by a poem I wrote and read out at the inaugural public meeting of Cinderloo1821, back in February:

Do we have a witness?

Heavy boots pounded along woodland paths

From Dawley, Donnington and Horsehay

Long drawn faces grim and determined

Sharp voices called and with spirits rising

The miners found strength in their ranks

Do we have a witness?

The oak and the ash and the beech

The coppiced and saplings

Saw all that passed by

Some still stand there now

Oh yes the trees know but now they will not tell

Who were the leaders?

Who planned and plotted and schemed?

Or did long months of starving

And back breaking toil

Facing death from rock fall and coal damp

Light a fuse to inspire all into action

On those cinder hills

Where the trees were cut down

To fuel iron furnace and wealth

Only those that fought saw how it unfolded

When yeomanry executed arduous duties

And as men, women and children dispersed

With Tom Palin wounded among them

Was it fear and sorrow or pride and defiance

That continued to burn in their hearts?

Do we have a witness?

The oak and the ash and the beech

Oh yes the trees know but now they will not tell

© Andrew Howe 2018

Much of the history bound up in the old towns was swept away or obscured with the development of the new town of Telford (currently celebrating its 50th year).  Yet there is much remaining, and the history of the town is much more than that presented in the Ironbridge Gorge and Coalbrookdale.  But perhaps, some of the most interesting, enigmatic features which connect the landscape of today with the historical landscape of 1821 are trees.  I was drawn to the notion that some of those, that are now over 200 years old, may have witnessed the events of Cinderloo, for which we now only have newspaper reports to rely on.

I have been in conversation with Shropshire Wildlife Trust, the Small Woods Association and members of Severn Gorge Countryside Trust to trace and map trees which are thought to be over 200 years old.  A group of us are also tracing the old miners tracks, many of which still exist and which may have been used by protesters on that day in February 1821.

It would be great if other people wanted to walk these routes for themselves and find their own trees to add to the map.  We would also welcome any photographs or other artworks inspired by these trees.  Contact me directly or Cinderloo1821.

I have begun making drawings of some of the trees that I have found so far.  I am using materials that relate to this landscape and the historical events.  So I made my own oak gall ink, using the tannin from acorn galls and ferric sulphate from rusty nails.  This ink was used for centuries in historic documents, and has beautiful purply, brown hues, which darken as the ink oxidises.

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Beech, The Wrekin, ink on paper, 39cm x 57cm

Iron oxide pigment has a deep rich red colour, evocative of the blood shed and, along with charcoal, symbolic of the iron and coal industries which were at the root of the miners’ protest.

I have also made a couple of drawings using silver ink on dark grey paper.  Again suggestive of iron and coal.  I’m not so sure about these yet.  I liked how the drawing emerges as light reflects from the ink marks, but light conditions need to be considered very carefully since the drawing is near invisible in most situations.

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Oak bark, silver ink on paper

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Detail of oak bark

I’m also experimenting with mark-making using brushes hand made with sticks, birch twigs and plant fibres.  Look out for more drawings as we find more 200 year old trees.

 

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Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography

14 Sep

The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography reconvened at the University of Huddersfield for a third time last week.  Having previously only attended the Friday talks, this year I was able to attend both days and enjoyed some great walks.

 

 

On behalf of the self-titled politburo of 4WCOP organisers, Phil Wood introduced the event, referring to a derogatory tweet from an anonymous but high profile psychogeographer, who would not be attending.  Whilst the “politburo” is entirely comprised of white males, the event itself played host to fresh perspectives from a diverse range of participants, some of whom came from Istanbul, Slovenia, Italy, United States and Germany.  Difficult to say if there was equal representation of men and women, but it seemed to be fairly well balanced.

The event format, and many of its principal protagonists and attendees, have become familiar to me, and there is a danger this could just become a cosy get-together.  So I tried to take a more critical view of the proceedings with a few questions in mind:

  • Is psychogeography practice evolving and including new perspectives?
  • To what extent is detournement used?
  • How was the terrain vague addressed? (This being the theme suggested to those proposing talks/walks for this year’s congress)

There was a packed programme of talks and walks which had been oversubscribed (and indeed the joint proposal that Gareth Jones and I had submitted didn’t quite make the cut, much to our frustration!)  This meant that there was a choice of two events to attend throughout the 2 day programme.  Inevitably then I missed some events that I would have liked to have taken part in, such as the talk on retail environments by Andrew Taylor/Katrina Whitehead/Kasia Breska, or the walks/events by Sonia Overall and Elspeth Penfold, Sohal Khan, John RooneyVictoria Karlsson and Ewan Davidson/Michelle Woodall, and Irena Pivka.  The discussion led by Tim Waters  on What is Psychogeography in 2018? would have been good to be part of. I heard very good reports about “The Zone” walk led by Sohal Khan around the Paddock derelict mill area in which he used Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” film to frame the walk.

The first session of talks focused on Identities.

It was refreshing to hear about her work on feminist theory and social justice in the landscape being carried out by Anna Davidson.  Davidson admitted to be in the midst of  research and the short film she presented which combined the rivers/water/steam, mills/women’s role, and sugar/colonialism felt insubstantial.  It will be interesting to see how this work develops as it certainly prompted a more critical view of the landscape.

Lesley Wood is an artist who walked from Leeds to Newcastle retracing maternal connections over three generations.  The art work she produced incorporated these personal experiences and interaction with the environment (such as kinetic traces made by pastels carried in paper tubes whilst walking).  This is an area of my own practice that interests me, and which I find challenging because it is difficult to express the depth and complexity of walking experience in these relatively simple combinations of materials.

Alex Bridger discussed a series of walks in Huddersfield, Holmfirth, Manchester and Batley with participants from the LGBT community to draw in fresh insight into the landscape.  Again, this was interesting but the output seemed only part formed and may develop further as research continues.  Perhaps it should be unsurprising that the landscape is not viewed so differently by other communities, yet there are nuanced differences which merit acknowledgement and sharing.

At lunchtime we drifted into and around Huddersfield’s fabulous Queensgate Market. and learnt about its pioneering hyperbolic paraboloid roof structure.  Over lunch in a cafe, a group of us observed several empty stall spaces, which were like stages awaiting a performance.  Most people skirted reverentially around one them, until someone started a “desire line” straight across, soon to be followed by others.

 

 

 

 

Tony Wade was a highly engaging speaker, and I can see how he could generate a lot of interaction in his community-based projects.  His talk described the 60 mile walk he did around the Wakefield Metropolitan Boundary and the undertaking to paint 20 (triptych) acrylic paintings of views outwards from the boundary from suitable points within each of 20 x 3 mile sections.

Other talks considered the post-industrial landscape.  Martin Eccles described projects in former lead mining sites at Small Clough and walking the river underground to create soundscapes.  Perhaps, harder to see where the detournement is in this, but his work creates fascinating immersive experiences of environments that are otherwise difficult to access.

It was disappointing that David Sable and Kerry Hadley-Pryce were not able to attend due to sickness and as this was notified at short notice, 4WCOP were not able to bring in any reserve talks.  They were able to present David’s film about a mining community near Doncaster.  This powerful film was based on Sables’ own experience of the mine closures of the 1980s and those of communities involved.  As this is an area I had researched in regard to making a film for the Cinderloo project, I felt the film could have gone further, and at times it veered towards sentimentality.  There followed a good discussion about how we can acknowledge mining heritage without taking a rose-tinted nostalgic approach.  Ursula Troche had visited closed mines in Germany and Belgium where as much of the original infrastructure was left intact and or put to new use, unlike the UK where, very often industrial land is swept clean, taking all sense of history away from the communities that identified with the place.  In his notes, David referred to how the now rural land had reverted to agriculture and private ownership, inaccessible to local community, and how all that children could learn in schools about former employment was to visit the nearby (restored) stately home and learn about working in service.

I enjoyed the talk by Roger Boyle about taking various slices through his home town of Aberystwyth mapping, amongst other things, coal holes and Royal Mail postboxes.

The last talk of the day featured Nasli Tumerdem and Sevgi Turkkan, both recently completing or completed PhD degrees in Istanbul.  Their work involved walking in northern Istanbul with over 250 students.  This was an impressive logistical exercise in itself.  The talk was interesting in presenting how Istanbul is one of the most rapid developing cities in the world with the result that large areas of land are being subsumed into huge infrastructure projects (a third airport, highway and river channel parallel to the Bosphorus).  This top down development was disrupting communities – they referred to the type of development taking place as ad hoc urbanism.

In their architectural practice Tumerdem and Turkkan referred to an inherent vagueness in architecture that fits with using psychogeography to explore terrain:

  • absence of dominant discourse
  • discursive and contingent
  • process of “unlearning” to be encouraged
  • provoked vagueness
  • learning by doing

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So onto the walking, which, through the day, followed a progression out of Huddersfield up the Colne Valley to Marsden.

I started with Ursula Troche and Simon Bradley’s “Platform Seven” which began at the amazing brick tunnel ventilation shafts in Huddersfield, and ended underneath the railway viaduct where we found ourselves joining the pair singing and dancing to Underneath the Arches, an anti-austerity song.  The walk was a playful reinterpreting, subverting, deconstruction of what can be observed.  For example detourning “Trespassers will be prosecuted” to “Passers be cute”.  Some of the little scenarios performed by Ursula and Simon were madcap and obtuse, but always referring back to serious messages about peace, love and anti-war.

 

 

 

 

Phil Wood then lead a hauntology walk in Paddock Brow which was both informative, thought-provoking and highly atmospheric.  In the drizzle we explored 50 year old ivy-tangled woodlands where hundreds of mill workers used to live and learnt about a Jamaican club known for attracting famous reggae artists, world renowned Huddersfield-made sound systems and domino championships.  We reflected on the lost utopian dreams of a young Harold Wilson who went to school along the road we walked on many years ago.  And saw where some of the Luddites went on trial.

 

 

 

We reached the Milnsbridge Red and Green Socialist Club for lunch, for an excellent pint and sandwich, and we were treated to a talk by David Smith about the Huddersfield MP Victor Grayson who mysteriously disappeared in the 1930s.  We were invited to look for evidence of his living in the area in the 40s/50s.  I didn’t find any.

 

 

By the time we reached Slaithwaite Civic Hall by bus it was proper siling it down.  Vicky Ola and Anzir Boodoo invited everyone to make shadow installations using what we did/didn’t like about urban landscape.  I joined a walk led by photographer Kevin Linnane which included all kinds of activities to disrupt or enhance the normal experience of walking e.g frottage, water graffiti, blowing bubbles as way of sending words out into the air, divining, drawing etc.  I had a good discussion with Kevin afterwards, and he told me how is work is influenced by ritual and cycles.  He has a belief that”ritualistic, performative roles lie within spaces and materials, as an ethereal heartbeat sustaining the status quo”.

 

 

I loved the Colne Valley Sculpture Trail, which had entertainment value whilst seriously questioning the value of art objects/found objects. It was originally set up about 5 years ago and made national news.  It immediately caused all participants to look critically at encounters and their potential as artistic creations and possible meanings.  The walk was brilliantly led by Graeme Murrell who kept up a convincing commentary to go along with the labels for each work, and accompanying trail leaflet and AS Level exam questions.

 

 

 

The scenery was beautiful as we headed up into the hills and then back down to the canal for the approach into Marsden, where we finished in the Rivershead Brewery Tap.  I couldn’t stay long as I returned to Holmfirth, where I was staying with friends, and so I also missed the final walk of the day.

 

 

 

Psychogeography evolving? – certainly there was evidence of practices treading old ground, but there were also some new advances that are to be welcomed, such as the inclusion of feminist and queer perspectives.  There were several artists using sound, performance or film/theatre to augment or respond to walking practices.  Hopefully,  the international input will continue to grow.

Detournement?  All of these speakers discussed responses to psychogeographical walks which mostly resulted in art works that aimed to provoke, challenge established viewpoints or provide new insight into the landscape.  Their intentions were not necessarily to tackle the Spectacle head on, rather they offered alternative views and encouraged a multiplicity of response in our everyday experience.

There were a few references to terrain vague and by its nature, it is a term open to interpretation and application to many different contexts.  It was fascinating to hear the architects from Istanbul talk about how they encourage an indistinct vague approach in their architectural practice.  Otherwise I didn’t leave with the impression that the terrain vague had been addressed particularly.  Maybe it was in the talks I didn’t attend.

Apparently, there was no quorum to formally close the congress, so I expect it will reconvene for a fourth time… probably around September 2019 I’d guess.  Predictable?… maybe; entertaining?… definitely.

Rea Brook valley

5 Sep

How quickly the Summer slides into Autumn.  Whilst there is plenty of warmth in the sunshine, you know that as soon as you move into shadow, the air is thin and chilly.  This is a great time of the year, and I shall be planning some walks for the next few months as time allows.

Back during the midst of the heatwave, at the beginning of July, I did an early morning walk along the Rea Brook in Shrewsbury from Meole Brace into the centre.  I had been reading various books and writings of Richard Jefferies, Edward Thomas, Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane, and so their detailed noticing of the landscape and nature were fresh in my mind as I made this meditative wander alongside the river.

Shropshire Council owns most of the land and manages the meadow, wetland and woodland habitats as a nature reserve.  This green sliver connects right into the heart of Shrewsbury, but it was hard to ignore the tightening encroachment of housing all the way out to the outskirts of town.  There are some 8,000 new dwellings to be built in the town by 2036, and the pressure is being felt on all the undeveloped green spaces.

There is plenty of edginess to this edgeland landscape with graffiti covered bridges, corrugated tunnels and patches of tangled woodland.

I was early enough so that I saw only a few dog walkers and a couple of runners.  I shared the walk mostly with the birds, and I stopped on the bend in the river by a rope swing and listened to their conversations, the buzzing of insects and the gentle rippling sounds of the water.

I have seen a kingfisher along the brook before, but not today.  Today, I noticed how many houses had been built on the bank from Sutton Farm – lacking distinctiveness, confidence or any sense of their place in Shropshire in the 21st Century.

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Back in the studio, I made a series of about 10 little paintings in just under 2 weeks.  Unlike my more recent large and expressive paintings, these were more finely detailed and representational.  I tried to capture the early morning light that I had enjoyed.  Four of the paintings were in acrylic on wood panels (23cm x 19cm):

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The other paintings were acrylic skins made by painting in reverse layers onto glass, then peeling off the skins once dry for mounting in frames.

Three of these paintings were selected by curator Mel Evans for the Lawn and Meadow exhibition at Participate Contemporary Artspace in Shrewsbury (24th July to 11th August 2018).

 

 

Whixall Moss Wandering

2 Apr

Following my previous posts about the walk to Bettisfield Moss, I revisited Whixall Moss on Friday 23rd March with a group of fellow artists/writers: Ted Eames, Ursula Troche, Ruth Gibson and Adele Mills.  We met up with Mike Crawshaw of Natural England who guided us on an excellent walk around both Whixall Moss and Fenn’s Moss taking in a section of the Llangollen Canal, Furber’s Scrapyard and Fenn’s Old Works.

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EU funded

It was interesting to hear about the BogLIFE work that the Natural England project team are managing to restore this special peatbog.  This includes tree removal and drainage/water management to ensure that only rainwater enters the area and is retained as much as possible in order to encourage growth of sphagnum moss in pools which will begin the long process to create peat.  We could see where the moss is thriving and natural peatbog is rejuvenating.  There is great biodiversity here, and the site invites the wanderer to look ever closer at the little details.

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Long grasses sing high

Beyond the reach of human ears

Silent ditches flow 

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Sounds disappear in

a breezy expanse of sky

Sun glistens in pools

One of the most fascinating aspects of this landscape for me, is the wealth of evidence of human impact.  It is easy to view the area as a wild and natural landscape and, at this time of year, it is quite a bleak, almost monochromatic place.  But it is also easy to see that it has been industrialised until very recent times.

The Furber’s scrapyard is slowly being cleared.  Most of the cars are gone, and since my last visit, most of the huge mounds of tyres have gone too.  But there is still much to do, and the ground is thick with fragments of wrecked vehicles.

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Tanker carcass smashed

In birch and bramble thicket

Blackbird finds Spring voice

The skeletal remains of Fenn’s Old Works stand stark against the sky.  It was built after a fire in 1938, and holds the last 110 hp National diesel engine left in situ in Britain.  This powered milling and baling machinery which can still be seen.

Peat was dug from the Moss from early medieval times until 1992.  The large scale drainage caused the collapse of the raised bog, and from 1968 there was a peat cutting machine which increased extraction. Commercial extraction initially used the Llangollen Canal which was cut across the Mosses from 1801 to 1804.  There are signs of the old narrow gauge railway which took peat to the works for processing before being loaded onto trains on the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway, part of the Cambrian Railway.  This line was closed in 1963 by the Beeching cuts.

The Mosses have also had links with the military, having had 10 rifle ranges in the area dating back before World War I.  During the Second World War there was a practice incendiary bombing range, and a strategic “starfish” decoy site intended to divert German bombers from Liverpool.  Here’s one of the shelters used by those manning the site.

The theme of boundaries and borders drew me to return to Whixall Moss as this is a theme that Ursula Troche and I have been thinking about.  The Anglo-Welsh border crosses the area in straight lines following ditch courses and running within a few metres of the Natural England Manor House base.

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How wide is a border?

There are many aspects of borders (which might be viewed as permeable zones) and boundaries (which might be viewed as limits or binary divisions) which can be considered beyond the physical markers, although there are plenty of interesting boundaries visible around the Moss.

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The woodlands surrounding the Mosses have a distinctly calm, peaceful atmosphere compared with the open heathland where wind ruffles through the grasses, and sound seems to be swept away up into the sky.  Many of the trees, especially silver birches, which are on the Moss itself will be removed due to their uptake of groundwater.

Since returning from the walk, I have had a little studio time to experiment with markmaking using small samples of peat and sphagnum moss, and handmade birch brush.

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We hope to do further art walks in the future.  Please get in touch if you are interested.

 

Ref: Daniels Dr JL,  “Fenn’s Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses Natural Nature Reserve.”, English Nature, 2002

Whixall to Bettisfield Moss book

1 Apr

In my post last November, I talked about the walk I did with artists from Participate from Whixall Moss to Bettisfield Moss during the Summer.  I had a large collection of photographs from the walk, and various materials gathered from Furber’s scrapyard.  Over Christmas, I began making a series of studies which gradually built up into a book of about 48 pages.  It was a kind of sketchbook journal, initially for generating ideas for larger paintings, but was in itself quite a satisfying artist book documenting my response to the walk.

 

 

The studies include collages, paintings, drawings, monoprints and mixed media pieces combining photographs, tracings, rubbings, transfers, maps, writings and haiku poems.  No one can accuse me of getting stuck in an artistic rut!

As the images illustrate, the Mosses National Nature Reserve is much more than a “natural wilderness”.  There is now a Natural England project to restore it as a raised bog, and to remediate some of the legacy of historical and ongoing human impact.  It is this relationship between human activity and the natural environment on the Moss which interests me.  The images show collisions between natural forms and human made objects and shapes.  The objects I found take on archaeological significance, albeit that they date from the 20th Century, not from some prehistoric time.  The images featuring rusted steel bearing plates, in particular, strike me as some kind of ancient ritualistic artefact.  At some point in the future, objects such as these may be found and analysed in much the same way as Iron Age bracelets, and recorded as dating from the Anthropocene epoch.

There’s quite a lot of interest in the book, and so I’d like to publish a version at some point in the near future.  Here is a selection of images from the book:

 

 

I revisited Whixall Moss last week for another walk with a different group of artists and I’ll write about that in my next post.

Poetic Encounters #3 Ursula Troche

29 Mar

My final “Encounter” was with writer/artist/performer/psychogeographer/life model Ursula Troche and our work began before Ted Eames launched the project.  I met Ursula briefly at the World Congress of Psychogeography at the University of Huddersfield last September, and started reading her blog shortly after.  I liked her wide-ranging perspective on experiences often derived from walking, and how she combined fresh instinctive responses with careful research to build interesting pieces on subjects ranging from mining and pit-closures to mapping to women’s rights to train journeys and so on.

We struck up a dialogue and began discussing a project on the theme of borders and boundaries.  Ursula grew up in Germany, and although she has lived in the UK for a long time, she is aware of an unseen “border” between herself and people she meets in this country, which perhaps allows her a slightly different, objective perspective on what she finds in the UK.  I was moved by her poem “Circular Ritual Insight” – simple ideas about migration/immigration and regretting a loss of humanity and kinship, but sincerely written with an insistent repetition that is hard to ignore.  This became a clear starting point for me to respond to once we began considering taking part in the Encounters project.

Meanwhile, Ursula was busy writing poems in response to some of the artwork she saw on my website.  This began with my Traces series from the In Parallel exhibition and she also responded to one of my mixed media collages from the In Parallel and Entwined book I made last year.  Circles and lines interest Ursula and she finds connections with these forms and subjects that she is investigating.  So for example, my works incorporating maps and landscape features of Shrewsbury, drew attention to the river loops around the town and adjacent Frankwell, and the line of flow of the River Severn.

“…

Sweet settlement behind the riverbank

Town in a circle, Frankwell in the other

River circles, flowing in a line

Town circles, lying side by side

…” (Extract from Severn Circles Traces © Ursula Troche 2017)

The poem Circle World takes a wider view considering what is needed for more harmonious global relationships.  There is a link back into Circle Ritual Insight too.

“Circle-World

Large point of ever-return

Held in its four corners, four

Directions, four hands, of

Time and continents

Hold it! Together!

Finger by finger, wind by earth

…” (Opening to Circle World © Ursula Troche 2018)

As my original collage was bound into a book, I produced a similar larger version for the exhibition:

Circumscribed, mixed media collage

I was running short of time before the exhibition, in order to produce another work in response to Circular Ritual Insight, but then by chance found a couple of images in a magazine of dancers from Gabon in Africa, and two mannequin hands touching.  They fitted the poem perfectly and were of just the right size, so they were destined for a collage.  I managed to obtain a suitable map of the globe and, with a bit of precise and intricate scalpel work, there was my collage:

Circular Ritual, paper collage

As a further reflection on the holding of hands, I recalled my series of works about the relations between successive family generations in my exhibition Imperfectly Natural.  This piece seemed to tie in with the poem, as it considers how despite strong parental bonds, we are all alone in the world and must forge new bonds and make friendships with our fellow humans.  Hands, of course, are how we begin to feel and explore the world from a young age.

Working with Ursula is very easy going, with lots of ideas flowing.  As with both Kate Innes and Paul Baines, it is great to find themes and beliefs in common that can feed into new art works.  I’m looking forward to continuing with our borders and boundaries work.

Poetic Encounters #2 Paul Baines

25 Mar

For the second of my Encounters, I was delighted to be paired up with Paul Baines, since I had enjoyed seeing his exhibition of paintings and artist books at Shrewsbury’s Gateway Gallery 3 a year or so ago, and I had been looking for an opportunity to make contact to discuss his work further.

Paul’s early work was inspired by Pop Art and work from the 1950s/60s, but in recent years he has turned to a fully abstract painting style.  He has developed a form of visual communication that is founded on ten Projects that express his own ideology and political beliefs.  His books combine poems with graphic designs, sketches and drawings.

“Empathy with society’s disadvantaged” is a primary driver behind his work.  I was intrigued by how such passionately held beliefs could be expressed using pure abstract forms.  Paul quickly explained how he has developed a visual language that is inspired by whichever of the ten projects he is focusing on, and after some closer looking at the work, I began to be able to read some of the “vocabulary”.

I reflected on how abstract concepts are defined, often with very precise definitions that society takes on as a consensus.  So for example, the dictionary defines “empathy” as:

“the power of imaginatively entering into and understanding another person’s feelings”

Everyone has their own experience, memories and thoughts about what this means to them.  We also have an understanding of what terms are by what they are not.  These references are in constant flux as experiences change and things redefine themselves, which I guess is a post-structuralist way of looking at things.  So I saw Paul’s paintings as a way of taking definitions back to that moment when inchoate thoughts emerge in response to perceptions from the world, and when, thereafter, terms become defined within our mind.

The poem I wrote first was in direct response to Paul’s Project 1 “to promote empathy and compassion” which he was able to translate into a painting.

Detail

Detail

My poem was inspired by a train journey back from a day out in Birmingham just before Christmas last December 2017:

Evening Train

Stuffed together on the evening train

Feverish with festive banter

Bodies lurch at each juddering halt

And others gently check the sway

In silent kindness

 

In the cold clammy air along the station platform

Legs crumple in slow collapse

Anxious faces offer help

As a young daughter looks on bewildered, mute

A calm lady relays questions from

The ambulance approaching

Her assurance brings relief

To all, as we wait

© Andrew Howe, January 2018

The second poem proved more difficult.  Although, both Paul and I had existing work to respond to, all of our work for the exhibition was created afresh in collaboration.  We met just once but maintained a conversation by various messages.  I saw digital images of the paintings not quite realising just how textural they were.  My attempts to write something in response to one of the other Projects that Paul has defined did not flow well, and so instead I drafted something which described observations from an urban walk, and which tried to capture a spirit of being in tune with the Projects.

Its about acceptance; acceptance of the passing of time and experiences.  Nothing matters and everything matters. And before we, as individuals and as societies, attribute values to things influenced by memory and abstractions, there is a beginning.  The beginning is the moment. In that moment, she, he, this or they merit the same attention and respect as her, him, that or them.  It is up to us, then, to defer, delay, suspend or change the process of valuation to allow for alternative meanings and interpretation.

All and Nothing

Step on

Swish of tyres, glistening wet tarmac

Bass thump, door slam

Dachsund shivering

Two women laugh

As one holds the other’s arm

I’m not the fairy, I’m not

Step on

Ahead of the flow

Sweeping through

Erasing, smoothing

Double yellow slinking by the kerbside

Becoming silver ribbons catching low sunlight

Step ahead

Hooded man hunched over phone

No mate, there’s only one pack left

We sent all the others back last night

Plastic fragment quivers on hawthorn branch

Bent signpost, and a scattering of cable ties

Step on

Its all here, these are the facts

Streaming onwards in all directions

Leaves and sweet wrappers spiral in the breeze

Cardboard boxes trampled into mulch

Pigeons clap flapping

Coos echo in dank empty building

Windows blinded by OSB and ply

Webs of shattered glass, and a half peeled sticker

Electric drill screams, and a second starts up

Pulsing, phasing around one note

Step on

Dirt-blue sleeping bag rucked into door way

Upturned beer cans, and two copper coins

Step ahead

The flow washes over

Golden reflections shimmering on cracked paving

Long shadows flicker across railings

Black man in parka coat

Grinning and laughing

At me or with me?

I wave in salute

We’re alright

Step on

© Andrew Howe March 2018

Paul was able to create a painting in response.  These are the finished works in the gallery:

The paintings are powerful and work extremely well in this gallery setting.  It was a delight to meet Paul and I hope to maintain our conversations in the future.