This week I have been occupied with the following:
I have made a first draft of the text for my Critical Review of Practice
I have hired a designer to give my draft of a book of my project a makeover.
I have started to re-develop my best images. Preparing an image for four-colour printing requires different sharpening and colour process from regular prints or screen presentation.
The best part of the week was an online conference, ‘Landscape Imaginary’, presented by the artists Daniel & Clara with the film-maker and photographer Ben Rivers, the curator Susan Owens and others (Daniel & Clara 2021). The host was Art Exchange of the University of Essex.
This was a conference about landscape and art now, today, and its roots in the near past. As with GRAIN’s ‘Rural Gaze’ symposium on farming and rural life that I attended a few weeks ago (GRAIN 2021), it is really good to connect with contemporary artists in a similar field and see what is happening in current practice. Most of the work presented was video, but my impression is that stills and moving images are now intermingling so much that the old distinctions between the two are tenuous.
The key point to emerge from the conference is that all the artists’ work was about engaging with place and trying to convey the experience of actually being there. As Ben Rivers pointed out, ‘Life is not this straightforward, clear linear thing we can just stand back and look at’ (Daniel & Clara 2021). But, of course, standing back and looking is the default position behind so much perspective-based Western Art. We look at landscapes, but the challenge is how to get into them.
What matters, then, is what we can bring to our practice in terms of ‘physical associations, thoughts and experiences, and cultural references’ in Clara’s words (Daniel & Clara 2021). She went on to say of the stones at Avebury, ‘When we encounter them, we also encounter what we bring to them’ (Daniel & Clara 2021). It strikes me that this meeting point between what the land brings to us and what we bring to the land is where so many successful artists base their practice. It could almost sum up the work of Willie Doherty, for example, and he has discussed very similar ideas at some length (sse McKinney 2016). It is also what has happened to me over the past few months with my project on the Oxfordshire Rising. I started out by looking but now I am more preoccupied with being there. One has to become informed enough for that to emerge, however, so research is vital. Otherwise, I suspect, one is just engaging in some woo woo.
The curator Susan Owens’ presentation on the stones at Avebury in the work of Paul Nash and Derek Jarman was fascinating. She began with Nash’s interest in Surrealism and, later, the birth of aerial photography which allowed views of the land that had not before been possible. She then went on to show how creating something fresh and experimental from a melting-pot of ideas and influences was what helped Nash and later Jarman to produce art that was all about ‘responding to the past as present’, and thus barriers are dissolved, past and present are no longer distinct entities and the inner and outer experiences of place become one. I found this part of the conference enthralling.
Ownes quoted some lines from Nash’s autobiography: ‘There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed’ (Nash 1949). This is all so similar to the journey I am embarking on with the current project.
DANIEL & CLARA. 2021. ‘Landscape Imaginary: Daniel & Clara’s Expanded Research Event’. Art Exchange [online]. Available at: https://www.artexchange.org.uk/event/landscape-imaginary/ [accessed 28 Jun 2021].
GRAIN. 2021. ‘The Rural Gaze’. GRAIN [online]. Available at: https://grainphotographyhub.co.uk/portfolio-type/the-rural-gaze-symposium/ [accessed 24 May 2021].
MCKINNEY, Jessica. 2016. ‘Willie Doherty | Memory as a Vehicle to Survey Liminal Spaces’. HeadStuff [online]. Available at: https://www.headstuff.org/culture/visual-arts/visual-features/willie-doherty-memory-liminal-spaces/ [accessed 15 May 2021].
NASH, Paul. 1949. Outline, an Autobiography, and Other Writings. London: Faber and Faber.
Figure 1. DANIEL & CLARE. 2020-21. ‘On the Island’ [Instagram video series]. Available at: https://danielandclara.com/On-The-Island [accessed 28 June 2021].
Figure 2. Paul NASH. 1934. ‘Landscape of the Megaliths’. Collection of the British Council.