Images from the media (and some of my own) that document climate change, survival and the aesthetic of urban decay. Will continually update.
I recently returned from the Lake District after a short yet blissful retreat at the iconic Merzbarn in the quaint village of Elterwater. My colleague, Sarah Tew, received a travel grant form Slade and invited me, Jazmin Donaldson and Choe One to spend a few days learning and working in the countryside.
I didn’t realise at first how much I needed the solitude. As much as I do work alone, I always have constraints. My time is divided between myself and my family and almost every decision I make is influenced by the needs, wants and wills of others. So for the first time, in I don’t know how long, I found myself free. Free to roam, free to play, free to do whatever I wanted for a few days.
Aside from this initial reaction, I fell in love with this little corner of the world. The air was so crisp and fresh, I couldn’t seem to take enough deep breaths. It is also impossible to turn a corner or climb a hill without stumbling into another perfectly picturesque landscape. One cannot take enough pictures. However, as euphoric as it was, and with as much gratitude and joy, there was a melancholy with the reminder of loss that Merzbarn represents. Merzbarn is the unfinished creation of Kurt Schwitters who died before getting the chance to finish it. The original work that once stood in the barn has been moved to the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle for preservation. The barn now sits as a memorial to his life and legacy to which many artists have claimed inspiration from. The incompleteness of the Merzbarn speaks to the tragedy of his life. His original Merzbau in Hanover was destroyed in WWII by Allied bombings and while living in exile in Norway, he created a second Merzbau which was destroyed in a fire.
Kurt Schwitters had to also flee Norway when the Nazis invaded and he came to Scotland as a refugee; an “enemy alien”. He was moved between internment camps in Scotland and England, eventually landing on the Isle of Man among many other German and Austrian artists and writers. Upon release from this internment, Schwitters moved to London and eventually to the Lake District. He received a $1,000 fellowship from MOMA in New York to create a new Merzbau installation at Cylinders Farm in Elterwater. With the help of his partner Edith Thomas and Langdale gardner Jack Cook, Schwitters worked on the installation every day except when illness kept him home. On 7 January 1948, he received news that he had been granted British citizenship. The following day, on 8 January, Schwitters died from acute pulmonary edema and myocarditis, in nearby Kendal Hospital.
It’s a tragic story, but Kurt Schwitters never gave up hope and persevered through the darkest of times to continue his work, bringing forth revolutionary ideas in art- the idea that art never ends; it merges into life and thats what his merzbau were all about- an ambiguity; a blurring between art and life; the interconnectedness of all things and the validation of experimentation and performance. Due to the nature of their existence and sub-sequential destruction; the merzbau were never finished works of art, they existed always on the precipice of becoming, which is a point of interest for me. Dr Sarah Wilson, professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at Courtauld Institute says that the Merzbarn is a “celebration of an achieved love, as well as of life itself and the will to survive.”
Now the property is managed by Ian Andrew Hunter and Celia Ruth Mary Marner. They are gracious hosts who work tirelessly to keep the venue open and accessible to artists and the community.
During my time at Merzbarn, I spent a few days learning and making. I took inspiration from and worked in collaboration with the surrounding environment. The following is a documentation of these experiments and observations.
My intention with this mural was to create a wall that changes each day; to be always on the verge of becoming something else. I am interested in the blending of natural and “unnatural” space and capturing that which is on the verge of renewal. I knew I wanted to incorporate paper forms that would interact with the mural. Whether the forms were attached to the wall or free-standing in the space, they would inevitably create a depth, in which one would have to walk around to take in the full and various perspectives.
I began with the idea that the back sides of the paper forms would be painted and the fronts would be white and I would play with “positive and negative” with the blurring of natural and illusory space. However, I was also wary of making too many rules on myself as then I become restricted, so it was important to allow drips, mistakes and incident- it is always about dealing with the unexpected and finding new paths and connections. With this reminder, I became very relaxed with ripping and cutting into the paper forms and collaging the scraps elsewhere. There almost always comes a point in my process where I am scared I’ve lost it and won’t find my way out. (I’m always finding analogies with life…) But this anxiety feeds my process and pushes me to find resolutions. In the end, I’m quite happy with my mural. I was consistent with my brainstorms and initial idea whilst allowing freedom in change and incident.
I enjoy where the mural interacts with my colleagues’ (Jack Sutherland and Araminta Blue) and where it begins to collide with the floor- as it reiterates Jean Arp and Kurt Schwitter’s concepts of art merging with life and environment.
As we wrap up for winter break, here’s a little look back at my first term at grad school. I’ve never been great at keeping a sketchbook. Rather, I’ve got bookmarks, word docs, and powerpoints; a notebook here, a sketchbook there. I’ve got articles, photos and found objects stashed, taped, and folded up… I get ideas and write them down. I make a plan, order supplies, then get to the studio and just start working with what’s there; I forget about that last idea as I merge into another. I get feedback from tutors, critique groups and peers. I go to the library and check out books; photograph, scan and print. I try to go to all the staff talks and art lectures (but I’ll catch up on youtube, the ones that I’ve I missed.) I am familiarising myself with London galleries and museums, French philosophers and theorists; trying to make up for the 12 years I haven’t been in art school. I’m not terribly organised or much of a planner. I go with the flow, until I take action. I am open but anxious; realistically optimistic; fantastically fatalistic; completely sure, yet totally insecure. And that about summarises term one.
So I’ve had some time recently to do the ever-daunting task of cleaning up my photo archives. My computer crashed somewhere around 2008, and while I did recover most my files back then, they’ve just sort of sat in a mess until now.
Ive updated my portfolios with the corresponding work, but I’ve also rediscovered watercolor sketches and still lives that don’t really fit into any of my portfolios, so I’ve created an ‘Archives’ page dedicated to these random bits.
See more of this archived work here. There are still several images to sort through, so check back for updates!
I began experimenting in 3d this past year.
My paintings are about layers, history, and excavation, so it seemed relevant to extend this into physical form as well. One of my aesthetic inspirations is looking to the urban environment where nature meets industry or where accident meets intention; such as in the moss that creeps into the cracks of pavement or the remnants of graffiti on a decaying facade.
In my ‘wall sculptures’ I wanted to create a form that appears to be peeling away from its source. Perhaps, like the bark of a madrone or birch tree, it is necessary for regeneration. I feel like we are at a critical moment in history- in dire need of peeling away our own constructs in order to regenerate our selves and our world. It is time for a new age of enlightenment.
The urban equivalent to this peeling bark might be in the layers of wheat-pasted posters that decorate the city. They are a physical history of society; years of advertisements, events, and messages layered together often so heavily, that they are literally curling off the wall in chunks.
I begin by creating an armature and then experiment with a variety of materials from paper maché, plaster, acrylic media, and found material such as plastic mesh.
My first piece is small like a warped tile. It can also stand freely as do most of the pieces. I think it’s important that each piece can stand in space, so if it does ‘fall from its source,’ it can also stand as an object, as if a relic of its time.
Eventually, I also began to incorporate collaged pieces from the ominous poem “Darkness” by Lord Byron that foretells of a world left to the void of destruction. (I’ve collaged this poem in some other recent paintings as well, for example see: Chaos or Snow Slope.)
To see all of my experiments in detail visit the Wall Sculptures portfolio. I am still continuing on this project- so check back for updates!