I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the series, ‘what do artists do all day’ on BBC4, but if you have, you may also have noticed that there seem to be two types of artists: Those with incredibly tidy studios, and those with chaotic ones*. Someone asked me the other day to which camp do I belong. And the answer was: I belong to the latter.
In my 20s, while setting up a charity called ‘Vision 21’ , I was told by one of the volunteers (an admittedly rather eccentric permaculture guru who had – inexplicably - to wear dark sunglasses at all times) that ‘the most creative place is on the edge of chaos’. As it not only seemed to help to grow huge marrows, but also served the growing a successful charity, it seems OK to keep ones toes firmly planted in it as artist. And anyway, I can't help it.
I do have periodic tidyings, but within minutes it resolutely returns to (the edge of?) chaos. Last night, I got back from 2 weeks' away, and, following an hour or two walking on the hills collecting bark (for a piece I’m doing for Gwyl Afon Ogwen River Festival) and freeing a young buzzard from a murder of crows, I did this to my formerly-going-away–tidy, studio.
The first thing I'd discovered on return, was that my Digging Down books had been delivered from Photobucket [see the pictures here: password Ysgubor], so I got them out.
Inspired by the photos, and the thinking I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, I started creating a giant mind-map to guide my documentation/investigation of what we learnt from the project. How to make it something that is evocative, yet incomplete. Something that has to be pieced together? Something that develops my working practice... [see the 'About' section for how i'm writing about that at the moment].
After an hour or so, the bags of bark I’d collected demanded attention. I plan to make some marble runs, working with Lisa Hudson, amongst the trees along the river bank at Gwyl Afon Ogwen River festival in October, using bark, branches, slate and pipe, all found on site. Bark, found on trees that have been rotting for about 5 years or so, make perfect tubes and channels.
I used to love building marble runs as a child, from books and mahjong sets, and it seems fitting to play with kinetic energy, flows and gravity in celebration of the river. And it means we can have interaction with others too – playing the runs, building more and so on.
Pretty tricky though, marble runs. So I gave up after rearranging the feathers beneath my Cwcw Ecstatic painting, in memory of the young buzzard/murder of crows, and went to bed dreaming of Italian motorways and viaducts.
This morning, I found myself unable to even get into the studio, let alone move around. So I tidied, and put together a piece about Merch Blaenau (Blaenau Ffestiniog Women) that I’ve been working on for the Re-take, Re-invent project I’m involved in through Marged Pendrell. See her blog and more on the project here
This project involves responding to Richard Long’s Blaenau Ffestiniog Circle, in the National Museum of Wales collection. In my research, I could find nothing at all about the women of Blaenau, apart from some very disparaging ‘stereotypes’ of Blaenau Women being frivolous, obsessed with nik naks and furniture, and feeding their husbands from tins (as referenced in R Merfyn Jones' The North Wales Quarryment 1874 - 1922), and some names like 'Y Bitsh' for the less yielding slate strata.
As Long’s practice is rather of the ‘lone male striding lonely landscape and creating stoic works’ type (I bet he has a tidy studio), I thought I would look for traces of women in Blaenau and see what I could find. I was guided by a book (recommended by Marged) ‘On Walking’ by Phil Smith, that describes a wonderful way of just wandering around places, loosely holding an ‘intention’ in mind. I did my wandering on the hottest July day on record and, 4 hours, monsoon like rain, and many conversations later, I found the traces had not been completely obliterated. And this is what I made of it:
And so, with that work off the floor and onto the wall, I did a bit more tidying, and uncovered the pieces of newspaper that I’d found under the plaster of the bathroom ceiling just before going away. When I looked closely at them, I realised they feature some of my favourite things (MAP, BIRDS, POEM, HISTORY, IN MEMORY OF…) they also naturally form a remarkably good map of Gwynedd, Ireland (the World)…
I silently thanked Mrs (Ena/Mae) Smith once again. She who lived here for 60 + years (1920s - 1980s), planting and terracing our garden, and putting in our bathroom. Her traces are all around. We made much of her, in our Digging Down project.
By the by, I’ve left the bathroom ceiling with all its traces of different plasters, leaks and renovation over the years, and sealed it in with 2 coats of PVA. I wonder if others will enjoy the fine view of the traces from the loo, as much as I do, or will they think it a) a further example of the unfinished chaos; b) a disheveled room, worthy of one of those disparaged ‘Blaenau women'?
*[My sister, once married to a pig farmer, says it is also a classification that applies to farmers too].