Tag Archives: collaboration

A Wander is not a slog

26 Nov

During the last month, I took part in two walking exchanges with Blake Morris, post-doctorate researcher and one of the founders of The Walk Exchange, who is nearing the end of his A Wander is not a slog project.  This involves completing all 54 of the walks in Clare Qualmann and Claire Hind’s “Ways to Wander” book, itself a collaborative effort collating walking scores from around 50 different walking artists.

The walks we did were:

43 – created by Vanessa Grasse , dance and multidisciplinary artist

45 – the city as a site of performative possibilities, Kris Darby, pedestrian performer/researcher

Our responses, authored jointly, are published on Blake’s blog here and here.

In this meta-post, I am reflecting on the experience of the walk exchange and adding a little more detail to my responses to the walks.

Blake lives in London, and I live in Shrewsbury, and for various reasons of cost, available time and convenience, we did the walk remotely in our home locations, but used a combination of phone calls, SMS text and email to share the experience in real time and retrospectively.  Our responses were gathered together quickly within a day or so.

The walk itself did indeed feel like a shared experience, and the self-imposed time restrictions added a sense of urgency and intensity.  The need to share and reflect on the experience heightened my attentiveness during the walk.  There were many possibilities for making the exchange using digital technologies, and we could have opened out the event to more people.  Indeed, Blake has done this with some of the walks in the project.

22nd October 2018 – Walk 43 by Vanessa Grasse

A walk in four sections in which we explored the town as an urban performance space in which movement and relationships are considered to be choreographed.  I observed the human, non-human/inanimate participants .  It was as if, each has a multitude of tiny filaments which continuously latch onto other agents and unlatch as connections form and dissolve.

In the first part, we were encouraged to identify discrete “performances” and to determine their conclusion – so considering the scope and duration of performance.  In doing so, one quickly notices the overwhelming stream of details, movement and interconnections that are going on at any one time.

One of the performances:

DSB

Sunlight streams directly along the bridge towards me

A dog down by the river bank scrabbles in fallen leaves

Leaving a deposit for its two owners to find

A cyclist in black sweeps smoothly along the wide pathway from my right

Intermittently appearing/disappearing behind trees

Then passing by the end of the footbridge a few paces before I reach it

Further up the hill opposite, the buzz of a leaf blower starts up

Like an aggravating gnat, increasing tension in the moment

On both sides of me, ripples shimmer

A silent crescendo of colour

A swan flaps, wings slapping against the water surface

It surges towards another swan which swivels and moves away aloof

The dog walkers pass in front of me, a man and woman

In a hasty almost surreptitious movement, they lift the lid of the dog bin

And clang, the bag is gone

In the second part, we focused on one interconnection, which we decided would be between “an inconsequential thing and a tree of consequence”.  Of course, under the gaze all things, however ephemeral and inconsequential, gain gravitas.  I walked between a water hydrant, connected to Conduit Head, a historic water supply to Shrewsbury since Tudor times and a horse chestnut tree in St Alkmund’s graveyard.  Although this is in the busy centre of town, the route between follows narrow shutts or passages in which one is forced to experience the town more by hearing and smell than visual observation.

I reflected on my two things tied, gripping into the earth linked by dog-legged pathway, a  connecting path burnt into memory, the space holding an invisible thread in perpetuity that only I can sense.

The third part was about following and participating in the performance.  Keen to avoid following people, fraught with questionable ethics, I went to Doctor’s Field on the edge of Shrewsbury where cattle and horses are often kept on grazing land.  Ironically, however, I almost immediately needed to hurry past a woman to avoid an awkward moment.

My following formed a linked sequence:

Long tailed tits gathered in a crab apple tree

Their sharp ticks prickling the air with conversation

A jay flew overhead then dipped low

A burst of speed for me to head towards the large ash tree

Zig zagging diagonally across the meadow, I sped after a great tit,

Its looping, dipping flight finishing in another apple tree

A magpie emerged to pull me further on into the field

High above, an aircraft took me at steady pace

Until buzzards appeared

Three of them, piercing shrieks from a clear blue sky

They circled, soaring on late Autumn thermals, for five minutes or more

I allowed myself to drift, handing over control to the birds

Driving me steadily to the hedge at the edge of the field

Briefly I let myself be nudged by a soft breeze

Feeling ever lighter as I tried to catch up with insects caught in the sunlight

My attention was interrupted by sounds of hammering and chainsaws on a distant building site

I moved towards them until my route intersected a desire path

Meandering back across the field, through long grass to the river bank

The wind rippled the river surface as I slowed my pace even further to match the river’s flow

Sensing the pull

Feeling impetus

Recognising the changes in pace, in rhythm, in direction

Tethering

Being with

Connected

Just for the moment

I re-emerge into the street as a cyclist passes

I accelerate but cannot keep pace

And there is a cat, young ginger

We circle each other

Wary, tentative

Growing comfortable in each other’s company

The cat settles, stretches on the tarmac

It curls up in the sun

And drowses off to sleep

Finally, returning to the place I finished my walk (i) in the morning, I stayed still to explore my visual frame.  Over time, the visual gives way to other senses, but I also gain a greater sense of the overall pattern of movement within the frame.  A frame which at its extremities includes deep blue sky, structural cabling high above the concrete pedestrian footbridge before me, and footpaths stretching away to my right and left.  My feet are planted on stone paving, obstructing my contact with the earth.

I begin to map the rhythms, character, scale, speed, direction, proximity of the different types of movement, noticing that in the urban terrain, these are dominated by human structures and routines.  These repeated movements are choreographed.  But below this fundamental human pattern of movement, there are more subtle, less predictable traces of movement by non-human participants: birds, insects, cats and at other times of the day, there may be foxes, rodents, squirrels and other creatures.  Then there are the trajectories of wind blown leaves and litter, shadows from lampposts moving with the sun.

The performance space is illuminated by the afternoon sun, but I look for the streetlights and reflect on how the feel of this constructed space will change dramatically under lighting.

 

 

10th November 2018, Walk 45 by Kris Darby

With Armistice Day the following day, we walked to our “tree of consequence” via war memorials.  Like the previous walk 43, this score had a number of options for groups, pairs or individuals.  We opted just for the shadow and light score in which I stuck to the shadows and Blake headed for the light.  This became quite challenging as, in our respective places, the weather alternated between sun and rain showers.  So we needed to be more creative about what were light and shade.

I walked in the shadows of:

  • The black cat
  • trees
  • war
  • bridges
  • confusion
  • narrow passages
  • greatness
  • memory
  • myself
  • life
  • death

Keeping to the shadows altered my spatial awareness on the walk a lot more than I expected just from reading the score.  I was constantly aware of the sun and the weather conditions, the orientation of streets, the heights and positioning of the objects/buildings en route, whilst attempting to navigate towards a destination.  The location of light/shadows caused me to divert on a more circuitous route quite often.  The nature of keeping to the shadows meant that I sought out narrow, confined and quieter spaces, so in fact, I did in a way complete two other parts of the walk 45 score i.e I became more agoraphobic shying away from open, well lit spaces, and my destination is actually positioned in the quietest part of the town.  Also I was forced into walking differently, crouching, slinking along walls etc – it certainly felt like a performance.

As for future performative possibilities, I began to think about how the route of my walk could change at different times of the day and even at different times of the year.  A midday walk in Summer might offer very little shadow, whilst the sunny late afternoons of Autumn and Winter offer greater freedoms.

So thinking of a destination, keeping to the shadows and noticing how the route and way of walking changes at different times of the day or year could be one possibility.

I also began to think about how being in the shadows felt colder.  Certain areas of the town can “feel” warm (perhaps because they are more sociable spaces or near places like pubs, libraries, theatres, bakeries, cafes) or cold (because they are more austere like churchyards, banks, characterless offices and bus stations) so perhaps another score might be to walk noticing the temperature gradients, perhaps keeping to the warm or cold zones, or starting from a cold place attempt to navigate along a gradient of increasing temperature.

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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.

 

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.

Working Together

29 Dec

Over the last 12 years or so, I’ve taken part in several artistic collaborations, which have tended to flow alongside what I viewed as my main solo art practice.  This year, and, as I look ahead into next year, most of my time seems to be working on new projects with a range of artists and other people.  So my practice is transforming.

Working in teams, large and small, is integral to my experience as engineer/environmental consultant, but it has been a fairly slow realisation that collaboration is something I thrive on in an artistic sense.

Most artists collaborate at some point in their career, and there are famous examples like Warhol/Basquiat, Rauschenberg/Johns, Rauschenberg/Cunningham, Krasner/Pollock, Bunuel/Dali, Richter/Palermo, Abramovic/Ulay, Kahlo/Rivera and so on.  The work of some artists like Gilbert and George or Jake and Dinos Chapman is almost entirely one of collaboration such that the individual practices are indistinguishable.  One of my favourite collaborative partnerships is that between Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, which has produced some fascinating, mysterious installations and audio-visual works.

The artists can define their own “rules” or guidelines.  Sometimes, each artist produces their own work in response to a common theme, and the results are shown together.  Other artists work progressively or iteratively, each producing their own pieces but in direct response to the other artist.  This might depend on whether the two artists work in similar media or whether they take entirely different approaches.  Collaborations in which both artists work together to produce works that combine both their inputs can be very interesting because this often means that both artists have to move out of their comfort zone, take risks and negotiate.

That negotiation can be challenging.  Each artist’s work is usually a very personal expression, and so the collaborator gets to know the other artist and gains a little understanding of how they operate. One or both might feel that they must compromise in aligning input towards common goals.

For me, this is a stimulating environment because sharing work is when your art comes alive, open to response, re-evaluation, new interpretation.  Sharing with a public audience is important too, but sharing in a supportive space with a “critical friend” enables me to investigate work within a constructive dialogue.  It gives the work a sense of purpose that is difficult to achieve working alone.

Two of the collaborations I have been involved with in the past included the Cloud Gallery collective and my joint commission with Mairi Turner to document the development of new allotments at Coton Hill.  I enjoyed both collaborations.

At the time with the Cloud Gallery, in 2007, I was probably the least experienced artist in a group of 6 artists/Cloud Gazers yet all “team members” played a key role in delivering projects which included an eco-architecture camping weekend, a sculpture/installation and artist walk as part of the Greenhouse Shropshire exhibition in 2008.  Individual inputs were often fairly indistinguishable within the final output.  And it felt to me, that the synergy of all the artists enabled us to produce work that we may never have made as individuals.

My work with Mairi Turner also had a valuable sharing of insight, experience and skills.  In this case, though, each of us documented the project using photography in our own individual way without meeting on the site itself.  Our work was then combined together  in a book and in an exhibition.

A paper I read earlier this year describes a collaboration between two artists beautifully, poignantly.  The paper was entitled: “Heavens Above” by Andrea Toth & Judy Thomas, First published in 2013 by Art Editions North.  You can find it in Essays from the “On–Walking Conference” The University of Sunderland (June 28 & 29, 2013)  Conference was organised by Heather H. Yeung of W.A.L.K. (Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge)—a Research Centre at the University of Sunderland

Here’s a sample quotation which is very close to my way of thinking about collaborations, especially involving walking:

“…a collaborative art practice of walking together, merging experiencing, making, presenting, and social engagement. Our walks have become a platform to share ideas and make new work, providing not only motivation but also a safe space to explore themes of memory, space and spirituality, while being inspired by weather, light and the landscape.

The value of this relationship is huge. To be an artist is a predominantly solitary activity; to be able to have support and be supported gives great strength. Our combined experiences, thoughts and connections enhance greatly what might have been done individually. The collaboration is pushing us both to be more courageous and move out of our comfort zones.

Through a process of painting, photography and film, we are in a research phase, responding directly to the physical world, bridging to an inner spiritual world, through visual representation. The act of walking and getting into the landscape also gives us a chance to pause and reflect on our individual and collaborative work, which is an important and integral step in the creative process. Our ongoing questioning dialogue along with walking with others opens up thoughts and possibilities at a greater and deeper level than if done individually.”

Over the last 5-6 months or so, I have been working with artist/poet Emily Wilkinson on a couple of different ventures.  The first of these, involving walking with a groups of people to gather inspiration for creative writing and making collages, led to some pilot workshops during the November (Read more here on walking/writing and  collage).

During this time we also partnered with artists Ted Eames and Jamila Walker to form a new collective, called we are Here Here! aiming at collaborative, socially-engaged and participatory projects about place and community.

A second project with Emily involved exploring creative responses to a privately owned “secret woodland” in Shrewsbury, or as we termed it: a dappled glade.  We made work individually and in response to each other’s work. The woodland itself was quite neglected with a fair amount of fly-tipped material, overgrown scrub and ivy.  We decided to start a clean up of the woodland to make a small but tangible positive impact on a place that we felt a connection with.  Neighbouring landowners are generally in support of what we started and we might, perhaps, achieve something with a sustainable future in that community.

It remains to be seen whether Emily and I can capture some of our creative responses and work in the woodland in some finished pieces of art.

So what else might I be collaborating on.  Quite a lot it seems:

  • Ted Eames and I are partnering with the Lawley and Overdale Local History Group and numerous enthusiastic supporters to initiate a series of art projects/walks to raise awareness of a significant historical event that happened in Old Park near Dawley in the early 19th Century;
  • I am participating in the Encounters event, organised by Ted Eames and hosted by the Shropshire Visual Art Network, which puts artists together with poets in order to create collaborative work for an exhibition in Spring 2018.  I am working as visual artist paired with author/poet Kate Innes, and as a writer paired with painter Paul Baines;

At the launch of Encounters at the VAN Gallery

  • I have formed a collaboration with Ursula Troche, a UK based German artist/psychogeographer.  Our work (Ursula’s poetry and my painting) will feature in the Encounters exhibition and we are also developing an outline scope for a collaborative project involving walking;
  • I have recently started developing ideas and a scope for a very exciting project with Gareth Jones, an artist/academic based in Osaka, Japan.  The project will research experiences of walking in virtual spaces and real walks in our respective locations.
  • I have been accepted onto an international arts collaboration exchange which could lead to some very interesting work about place, and opening out to new audiences.  I’m just awaiting to hear further details about that.

Its early days to predict what, if anything, might emerge from these collaborations.  But then that is the exciting part of it – we have to work together to make it happen.