This is a post about the first two days of my residency at Hawkwood College, and what is starting to happen in terms of what I’m making, and what I’m realising about the value of this time and space for myself.
I’m mainly realising that this time of ‘not knowing’, within a rich, supportive, nurturing environment where I can walk and make and think (or not), about whatever calls me to notice it, is exactly what I had needed.
Yesterday after settling in, I went to the woods and based myself on the badger sett spoil heaps, huge mounds of orange/yellow clay dug out via deep dark tunnels opening up out of the woodland edge. I forgot my water and graphite sticks and instead used a mixture of earth and paint to respond to and record what was around me.
In the afternoon I took another walk, down past the sculpture studios and barns, and back via the main drive, gathering baling twine, hay, a scrap of fake fur and leaves into my first Walking Bundle of the residency.
In between I ate the most tasty, colourful, hearty food I’ve had for a long time. Food cooked with care from ingredients sourced locally and ethically. And before I slept I read from Alain de Botton’s new book, The Course of Love.
I also walked to the woods before it got dark to set up my camera trap where I had been working. I wanted to capture the badgers in photographs as they emerged out of their setts at night. I didn’t actually get any but will keep trying.
This morning (after more delicious food, bought and cooked by someone else) I returned to the woods, taking a longer, different route, and a male ‘Ken’ doll, with his hair chopped off and his overly glossy featured lightly scratched.
I have taken time to source male dolls to make bundles, firstly because I didn’t want to be seen to be sending a specific message about women’s bodies, but to be exploring embodied ways of knowing in general. But today it seemed obvious suddenly that the male doll’s body stood in for my body. As I walked and listened, and slipped on wet ground or scratched against holly, I wrapped and bound and covered his body in materials that I found.
The body bundle is more powerful to me because it is a male body. As a father of a boy, as a gay man, as a man whose own Dad died relatively recently, what it means to be a man is a subject that seems very relevant to my sense of identity right now. It always has been, but in a way that excluded me in the past, the dominant cultural models of masculinity have never included me. Maybe now I am building my own.
When I got back I made some very quick sketches of male bodies with glue and the discarded doll hair. I have also begun to record my experiences of the gardens into the Walking Diary that I made in a concertina format yesterday – printing with leaves near the sewage treatment ponds (a lot nicer than they sound) and the gardens.
My time here feels therapeutic. As a parent to an adopted child my time tends to focus on him, on advocating for his needs at school and elsewhere. But now it’s time to take time for myself. My time here gives me the space to explore, on an intuitive level, who I am right now, what my becoming a father and losing my own parents means for my identity, and the necessity of taking time for myself both in terms of my continuing development as an artist and my future well-being.
So, two days down and eight more to come. Lots more to share as it happens…
My 2 week residency at Hawkwood College, near Stroud in Gloucestershire began today. I have the keys to my studio and my bedroom (staying one day a week as I need to get back for my son the other days), I have unpacked and arranged my equipment and materials in the studio, met my fellow artist in residence next door (the musician/songwriter Helen Chadwick), and now am taking some time to write this and listen to the radio.
I first came to Hawkwood for a sunny, bustling open day a few years ago, and have since visited to run a workshop for The Centre of Narrative Leadership, and spent some very happy times here with my much missed friend and collaborator Chris Seeley.
I’m going to go for a walk and do some bundling later, making the first Hawkwood Walking Bundle. I’ve bought myself some massive paper to take out into the woods and fields, as I want to push myself and my work in terms of scale, and I also want to make work that explores my bodily relationship with this place (hence the hashtag #BodyAndPlace on Twitter).
I’m here to explore the gardens and woods, fields and ponds, and yet here I am indoors writing this and laying out paper, clay and pens, but claiming and getting to know this space is important too, this long, light, wooden floored room in a cotswold stone outhouse, with the scent of narcissi from the vase in the corner, the sound of the wind buffeting the bare branched trees outside and a reassuring background hum from the radio behind me. So, getting to know here first, then exploring.
The Art of Outdoor Learning Exhibition came down at the weekend, and marked the end of my Green Town Group residency with the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. On the 20th March I begin a new, 2 week residency at Hawkwood College near Stroud in Gloucestershire, focusing this time on my individual practice and research.
When applying for the Hawkwood College residency I focused on my wish to spend time in the woodland and gardens, noticing and recording the local animal and plant life, and experimenting with scale.
This residency is a chance for me to sink deeper into my own ideas and experiences, as well as to revisit previous work, from within the context of the grounds and surroundings at Hawkwood.
My socially engaged practice is key to my work, I connect with others and we each connect with our environment, and as a system, we each benefit the other. I also need time by myself, to notice what and how I am feeling, to allow the quieter voices to creep into my consciousness, and pay attention to new thoughts and ideas that might otherwise go unnoticed.
At Hawkwood I want to be enveloped by the earth and the trees, to allow the land to wrap itself around me and revitalise my creativity. In a sense I see it as a retreat, not from the world, but from the pressures of time and money, which will allow me to become more present and more aware of my place and my role in the world.
I want to offer myself up to the ‘more than human world’ and allow it to imprint itself onto my skin and seep in through my eyes, ears and nostrils, the roots and branches creeping under my skin and birdsong washing me clean.
My artwork will document my experiences, and lead to new forms of work, in turn informing and enriching future projects, when that time comes.
I want to start to put more energy and focus into exhibiting my individual work, in the same way as I do for others. They are the two halves of my practice and neither could exist without the other. In The Art of Outdoor Learning, my Walking Bundles and Walking Pages were shown alongside images, text and objects sharing the work of local children with whom I collaborated. I want to start to make the relationship between the two more tangible, to draw out and disseminate the links between my bodily, imaginative experiences of place, and those that I create and offer to others.
I’m currently looking for further opportunities to share my Walking Bundles, and Walking Pages (so let me know if you have any thoughts) and am excited at the thought of new, as yet unknown forms of work emerging from my time at Hawkwood, which I’ll share here as it develops.
February 2017 sees the opening of an exhibition that I have curated with the support of the MK Gallery Learning Team called The Art of Outdoor Learning.
The exhibition reflects on and shares learning from, my Green Town Group residency with the Gallery, which took place throughout 2016, working with 4 local schools and local families.
The exhibition also places this work within the wider context of my art and outdoor learning practice, drawing on other examples of work within Primary and Pre-School education, and as well as photographs and artwork made by children, and includes examples of my own individual artwork, made whilst walking at a variety of locations.
‘I think it has shown me that some of my children… are actually very articulate and creative, they just can’t always express it at school. It has also shown me that these children may be stronger in practical activities. I love how the activities have been accessible to all, regardless of abilities.’
Green Town Group Teacher
The exhibition will also launch a film made to document the journey of one of the schools through the project, Holne Chase School in Bletchley, and feature an interactive element, where visitors will be able to make and take away their own Walking Diary, to record their responses to their local outdoor environment.
In addition I will be running a cpd event for local teachers on the value of listening, and responding to children’s ideas, within the context of Art and Outdoor Learning.
‘We will be using the outdoor environment and creativity far more next year as well as a more free-flow learning style, allowing children to take ownership of their own learning and ideas…’
Green Town Group Teacher
The Art of Outdoor Learning
MK Gallery Project Space
2nd to 25th February 2017
Open Thursday and Friday 12 to 8pm and Saturday 11 to 8pm
Yesterday I ran a workshop for staff, volunteers and researchers from the Bristol area History of Place project, a nationwide initiative which describes itself as follows:
‘History of Place is a nationally important social history programme that charts the lives of deaf and disabled people from the middle ages until the late 20th Century. History of Place will explore and animate eight built heritage sites, unveiling the stories of the people who inhabited or designed these places.’
The group have been researching the history of The Guild Heritage building in the Old Market area of Bristol. The building is said to be one of the first buildings designed specifically for use by disabled people, with doorways on the ground-floor accessible to wheelchairs, although the upstairs obviously wasn’t designed to be accessible to all. The building was constructed as a new base for The Guild of The Brave Poor Things in 1913.
My role yesterday was to provide a way for the group, who hadn’t previously had access to the building, to explore and document their experiences of, and feelings towards it. Each person was coming from a different viewpoint both due to their research interests and their own personal circumstances, identifying as disabled or non disabled, and the approaches to their making were just as varied.
We explored the building which has since been used for offices by Bristol City Council and the NSPCC, paying attention to our senses and our emotions, comparing the newly whitewashed and divided rooms with modern lighting and office carpets with archive photographs of the craft workshops and main hall, formerly used for performances and lectures. I provided a range of mark-making materials, and Grace Swordy from History of Place printed some archive photographs for us to use, enabling the participants to layer text, drawings and photographs.
The workshop led to discussions around the feelings that the building brought up in people, whether it was felt to be cold or warm, friendly or oppressive. We discussed how the direct experience of being physically present with the space, compared to knowledge gained through research and access to archive imagery of the building in use, and the importance of being allowed access to a building that for some held a very personal connection to their family history.
The afternoon culminated in a sharing of artwork and a reading of a poem written onsite by one of the participants.
For more information on upcoming events such as a film screening on December 3rd at MShed, Bristol, see the History of Place Bristol blog.
For more thoughts on the building and its relationship to disability culture and heritage see this blog post of Bristol-based artist and activist Liz Crow.
I went for a quick run this morning, before dealing with emails and residency applications. At a kissing gate from the field into the path by the school, I saw the most perfect little feathered body, a cock Chaffinch.
I thought he’d been killed by a cat, but there are no obvious injuries except for a tick by his beak, so the cause of his death is a bit of a mystery.
I carefully and loosely cradled him in the fingers of my right hand and carried him home as I ran. I wanted to do something to honour his beauty, to really see him. So I drew him.
Following on from yesterday’s work linking the rocky Penzance foreshore with my garden, today I returned to another Cornwall painting, this time revisiting it in and with the resources from, my kitchen.
I go out to explore, walk, notice, see artwork, run projects, and I return home to rest, reflect, cook, clean and be with my family. So why should the making stop at the door, why do we often divide our work and home selves?
This piece draws on my Kitchen Sketchbook series, exploring how to make art an everyday practice, and my regular walk-based work, but this time it brings the two together, as they join and mingle in my body-mind, and they bring out onto the page my pressing thoughts and questions too, my self at that moment drawn, scratched, dripped and written out onto the paper.
Today I took a painting that I made on the rocky foreshore at Penzance in Cornwall, and responded to it from the context of my garden. One place meeting another within a single piece of work.
I enjoyed the layering, the freedom to tread mud and drip water, to write, pick, smell and stitch herbs, and create a piece that speaks to how my experiences of different places meet within my memory and my body.
When I’ve had time away from my work, especially time with my very busy 5 year old, or a long period spent focusing on the needs of others within a particular project, it takes time to regroup and remember who I am artistically, to really feel whole again.
Now that our boy is back at school I’ve cleaned and tidied my home office and begun a major clearout in my studio, and whilst doing so have been drawing together an object, book or image from here and there, an external signpost as to what I need right now. Its like making a collage, noticing which images and materials call to you and bringing them together so that by noticing what you notice, you can build a picture of who you are right now, or what path it is you are following.
I am always taking photos on my phone. I don’t often do much with them though. Today I want to draw together these images of places I’ve visited and details that I’ve noticed over the Summer months, so that I can get back on my artistic track, reflect on what I’ve seen and feel ready for the world of work again.
So here is a path of photographs, pieced together from over the last few weeks, started off by this quote from Tristimania by Jay Griffiths:
(Includes artwork by Imran Qureshi at Newlyn Art Gallery, Bill Winter, James Turrell and Tony Latimer at Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, a photo of driftwood shelters sent by my brother Paul from the US and beach collections made with my partner Artist Jonathan Mansfield)
Over the holidays I took a few weeks off from project work to be with my family, but I did run two Collaborate Family Workshops for the MK Gallery, as part of my Green Town Group Residency, making paintings of animals with natural pigments in the first (clays, beetroot, spinach, charcoal etc) and creating small scale sculptures from organic materials to dress a local tree, in the second.
You can see some of the photos from those two sessions here. I have one more Collaborate Family Workshop to come then my residency is pretty much complete, except for the Green Town Group exhibition that I will be curating with the gallery, to open in early 2017. See here for information on the October Collaborate session ‘Future Nature’ in the coming weeks.