Tag Archives: landscape

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.

20180323_9999_12

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.

20180323_9999_10

Long grasses sing high

Beyond the reach of human ears

Silent ditches flow 

20180323_9999_9

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.

20180323_9999_32

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.

IMG_20180325_083323_986

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.

20180323_9999_24

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.

20180324_153631

20180328_170104

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

Advertisements

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.

In Search of Cinderloo

4 Mar

For some  months now, I’ve been working with Ted Eames, Pete Jackson, Jill Impey and a growing number of enthusiastic people in and around Dawley, Telford on the development of a community project to commemorate the Cinderloo Uprising of 1821.

This dramatic event took place on 2 February 1821 at the cinder hills in Old Park, adjacent to what was the ironworks of Thomas Botfield, now occupied by the Forge retail park at Telford town centre.  A confrontation between over 3,000 striking miners and the Shropshire Yeomanry left two men dead, many injuries on both sides and following arrests, one man, Thomas Palin, was hung in April 1821 for ‘felonious riot’. It has become known as ‘The Battle of Cinderloo’ or Cinderloo Riot.  Read more.

I was surprised to learn about the historic event only last year, but discovered that many local people were similarly unaware of it.  Following some research, I found the excellent Dawley Heritage website which did much work to bring this event and many other aspects of Dawley’s history to public attention.  There is a great opportunity to help start some activities to engage people and commemorate Cinderloo up to the 200th anniversary in 2021 so I began to get in contact with local historians and other interested groups.

Its been inspirational to meet so many enthusiastic and knowledgeable people who share a similar ambition to broaden recognition of this key event in Dawley and Telford’s history.

With my own artistic interest in how people interact with places, there are many aspects to be explored around mining and metals industrial heritage, physical changes in landscape and environment, political and social history, the influence of Non-Conformism and Methodism, social conditions, workers’ rights and social justice.  There are connections with contemporary issues, and it would be great to be able to use creative activities in intergenerational events, and in educational programmes with schools, colleges and community groups to build in work established by the Dawley Heritage project and the Heritage Schools programme set up with Historic England.

I have been making a few walks of the area to get a more detailed understanding of the geography, which has many layers of historical development revealing clues to its past.  It is hard to imagine how different the area would have looked 200 years ago when there were many mineworkings, spoil heaps, ironworks and other industries, and scatterings of dwellings and religious buildings.  The landscape today continues to evolve quite dramatically as brownfield land is reclaimed.  This combination of dynamism and link to the past must have an impact on the sense of place for people living here.

20170922_9999_26

Work starting on Lawley Common

20170922_9999

New development site on reclaimed land near Old Park

20170922_9999_35

Part of old cottage buildings near Lawley Bank

20170922_9999_33

One of only a few remaining workers’ cottages near Lawley Bank

There are over a dozen Methodist, Primitive or Wesleyan chapels in the area, mostly built after Cinderloo and some are now converted to residential homes.

 

I am now working with the newly constituted community group Cinderloo1821 to help plan and deliver a range of different initiatives, which will include art, poetry and music events.  I’ll post further news as things begin to happen or follow on Facebook

In Parallel and Entwined

19 Jan

Another new book!

My preparatory studies for the In Parallel project included a number of black and white collages, drawings and mixed media works on brown/neutral paper.  I had had it in mind to continue these and develop them into an artist book.  The themes of everyday details and office work suggested the use of manila envelopes as the ground for the studies.  The variety of tones and hues of these envelopes and parcel paper is large and so the combination of studies is quite visually pleasing.

The studies are diverse but all referring back to motifs from the In Parallel project of maps, everyday details of the business park (air conditioning vents, manhole covers), elements of the landscape (disused railway bridge), and plant forms.  Methods include collage (using digital images, maps), drawings in a range of media, frottage and painting in gouache and acrylic.

I selected 25 of the studies to create a concertina-style artist book with a frieze on the reverse of the pages running the length of the book.  These are then bound into a clam-shell box with a cover that is itself a collage using strips of different brown envelopes/parcel paper, and applied acrylic medium as a smooth protective layer.

The original works are published as a single limited edition.

I self published a full colour paperback version on lulu.com, which retails at £12 + p&p.  Further details for purchasing here.

I’ll be launching the book during the exhibition at In Good Hands cafe in Shrewsbury.  See the news page on my website for more information.

The paperback version front cover:

print_cover

Here is a small selection of the finished studies:

Here is a selection from the frieze on the reverse pages:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The Minutes

18 Mar

My “In Parallel” exhibition has been running for a couple of weeks or more, and has another week to go.  I’m receiving some very positive feedback and its certainly creating some interest.  I delivered a talk about the ideas and motivations behind the project at the Participate Contemporary Artspace gallery last Wednesday 16th March, which was well received too.  I’m still reflecting on some of the ideas and themes in the project, so it was a useful exercise to try and bring it all together, communicate it to people, and then answer some questions.

Some of the visitors to the exhibition have commented that it was useful to read my book “The Minutes” first, as it gives an insight into how my ideas developed during my walks to work over a twelve month period or more.  The book is displayed as part of the exhibition, and I had thought that it was more of a supplementary piece rather than the key introduction.  Other visitors have said that they preferred to see the paintings in the exhibition first and form their own view, without having any preconceptions set by the book.  So it is interesting to consider the impact of the book on the exhibition experience.

The book comprises photographs of the business park/office and edgelands (most of which have been featured in this blog in earlier posts).  The photographs are coupled with text describing my perceived experience, or phenomenology, of these environments at specific times and dates over a twelve month period.  Hence, the title refers to the minutes during which I recorded my perceptions.  I was interested in the “parallel universes” of the business park and edgelands, what was happening in one “universe” when I was observing the other.  To paraphrase Hans Peter Feldmann, I was interested in the unexceptional 95% or so of the day when “nothing” was happening.

My interpretation of what phenomenology means to me is that our mind passively receives sensory stimuli from the external world. This is an objective process.  The mind then internalises these stimuli by actively responding either with emotion or thought or both.  So there are two processes of perception and affect.

  1. Perception – tends to the objective
  2. Affect – tends to the subjective

This illustrated in this diagram, based on Yi-Fu Tuan’s ideas about how humans gather experience:

phenomenology

The Muppets make a more amusing explanation of phenomenology here.

In the book, I concentrated on the perception part, allowing the reader to respond to the “affect”.  It was quite difficult not to respond to the affect myself, and I did veer into a more subjective form of writing in several places.
You can preview a small selection of the pages in the book here:

In Parallel Exhibition

15 Feb

On the 29th February 2016, I will begin putting up my exhibition entitled “In Parallel” at Participate Contemporary Artspace CIC.  Its located on the Ground Floor of the Riverside Shopping Centre in Shrewsbury town centre.  There will be a private view on Friday 4th March 2016 (4pm – 6pm) and on Wednesday March 16th 2016, I will be giving a talk about the project from 6.30pm at the gallery.

The exhibition will effectively be my degree show for the BA(hons) in Creative Arts that I have been studying by distance learning with the Open College of Arts.  I began almost 12 years ago in 2004, originally intending that the course would provide some formal structure to my art practice (not having had much in the way of formal academic education in visual art previously).  As I became engrossed in the academic studies and practical development in painting and photography, I became more determined to take all 7 modules up to degree level.

The work in the exhibition represents the outcome of 2 years of research for the last module in painting. The paintings will not be assessed during the exhibition but later at the college in July.

In some ways, I was amused by the idea of having an MA in Engineering Science and BA in Creative Art.  Some might see these as opposing ends of a spectrum, but having worked through both, I can see that there are so many similarities in how engineers and artists take observations of the world, develop creative ideas and then use judgement to make a statement of some kind.  In the case of engineering this is normally a physical construction with some defined purpose, while art works may be real or virtual, useful or not, profound or banal or basically anything.

The project

I adopted a working title of “Parallel Universes” because I set out to investigate the relationship between the adjacent “universes” of the office where I used to work on the Shrewsbury Business Park and the surrounding area.  The area encompasses edgeland landscapes of a cycle track (formerly the Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury railway), suburban estates, the River Severn, agricultural land and post-glacial meres, one of which is below Thieves Lane and another lies in public open space next to the Mereside Community Centre.

I was interested in how a highly controlled environment co-exists in close proximity to a very different landscape with elements of wilderness.

A particular event helped define the project for me.  Whilst sitting at my desk looking out of the office window, I witnessed a crow attacking, murdering and then eating a juvenile blackbird, while its parents looked on helplessly crying out.  It was a truly horrific scene, which highlighted a stark difference between the office world, and the world “out there”, separated only by a pane of glass.  Life, death and the everyday.

The paintings touch on issues of land ownership, opportunistic or tactical uses of space, and the experience of time and place.  I explore the tensions between control and liberty, geometric order and chaos, the organic and the human-made.  I consider whether these must always be viewed as polar opposites, or whether hybrid or composite situations are, perhaps, a more realistic interpretation.

During the project I researched space and place, the everyday. psychogeography, walking as art practice, ruins and entropy, paths/boundaries and various other aspects of site specific art.  Key writers included Miwon Kwon, Lucy Lippard, Yi Fu Tuan, Doreen Massey, Michel de Certeau, Guy Debord, Henri Lefebvre, Ben Highmore, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Felix Guattari, Hal Foster, Simon Schama, Edward Soja, Tina Richardson, Phil Smith, Nick Papadimitriou, Iain Sinclair, Richard Mabey, Rebecca Solnit and Merlin Coverley .

A selection of the artists I studied includes George Shaw, Laura Oldfield Ford, Mark Bradford, Ingrid Calame, Clare Wood, Toby Paterson, Julie Mehretu, Stephen Willats and numerous cartographic artists, such as Matthew Picton and Val Britton.

The Work

The art works featuring in the exhibition will include paintings and a book.  The exhibition is a curated eclectic experience of the “parallel universes” and the work is quite diverse.  The paintings may be broadly categorised into:

  • representational or collage-style paintings, mainly in oils on mdf or plywood board;
  • reverse paintings in acrylic on clear perspex and acetate sheets;
  • mixed media painted reliefs constructed in layers of lasercut plywood or acrylic sheet.

Layering is a connecting theme or approach which runs through each of these categories.  Layers, whether by physical layers of lasercut materials, by layers of paint, or layers of imagery, offer a means of combining or juxtaposing different concepts.  Palimpsest, obscuring and revealing, play a role in these works.

There will also be a book, entitled “The Minutes” comprising photographs of the business park/office and edgelands, coupled with text describing my perceived experience, or phenomenology, of these environments.  I’ll write a separate post about the book.

The paintings incorporate everyday motifs, like air conditioning units, fluorescent light fittings, blinds, and manhole covers, drawing attention to the aesthetic qualities of these rarely noticed objects.

Stair cases and transitional spaces below bridges also feature in a number of the paintings, as do renegade spaces such as dens and trees appropriated for rope swings.  These are heterotopia where different people might attribute different meanings or values to each place.  The edgelands (referred to by Stephen Willats as “the lurky place”) offer a place of refuge or subversion, whether it be for walking the dog, building a den to hide and create a personal space, or for just hanging out.

A few examples of my paintings are shown below:

Darwin’s Childhood Garden

27 Dec

As if managing our own garden and an allotment, and various other projects wasn’t enough, I became involved with the restoration of part of Charles Darwin’s childhood garden earlier this year.

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809, and he lived in the family home on the Mount until 1831.  Darwin spent much of his childhood in the garden, part of which was a woodland adjacent to the River Severn.  This was where Darwin’s interest in the natural world was kindled.

Much of the garden was built on in the 20th Century, but part of it remains as an overgrown woodland on the steep bank leading down to the river.  It is a beautiful location, and with a wealth of flora and fauna, it has an aura of its own.  Since I stopped walking to work at the Business Park in the Summer, it has become part of my new “walk to work” as I return from dropping my daughter at school and walk around the loop of the Severn from Doctor’s Field past the Darwin Garden via Frankwell and back home.  I had noticed the progress of initial works to restore the garden.  Its only five minutes from my house so it makes sense for the family to take part in the restoration.

The land was acquired by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust in 2013.

and further details of the plans for restoring the garden for public access can be found here: Darwin’s Childhood Garden and at a Facebook page.

Some work to begin clearance and install some timber steps had already been carried out by the Trust and a team of volunteers.  My first involvement was in answer to a general invitation by Sara Lanyon to help clear a larger area and to create an artwork on the somewhat functional fencing along the perimeter adjacent to the river path.

The plan for the artwork was to construct an interpretation of a sketch of the “tree of life” taken from one of Darwin’s notebooks using branches found on the site, and in the nearby area known as Doctor’s Field.

This work took place on 15th August 2015 and was completed by a small group, including my wife, Julie, and daughter Eliza.  In fact, there was a small opening ceremony in which Eliza and another girl cut a ribbon into the garden.

IMG_2352

The branches were painted:

before fixing onto the fence:

There is scope to add plant specimens and other artefacts from the garden into jars fixed to the “tree of life” over a period of time.  Here is an image of the full length of the art work as we left it.

darwins garden artwork

A bug hotel was added:

20150816_9999_3

I participated in both the art work and clearing of vegetation.  It was good to be part of a long term community project, which will hopefully engage with a wide range of people.  I don’t expect to contribute a huge amount of artistic input or even engineering/environmental knowledge but I’m sure I can play a useful role.

Here are a few more photos taken on the day, including some shots of the overgrown ice house.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In a later work day on 10th October 2015, a different group gathered to clear another area of the garden in preparation for the construction of some additional timber steps.  The steep, sandy bank is quite treacherous.  It will be quite a challenge to stabilise this, and then to create paths and planted areas of the garden.

Here are a few photos from that day: