‘A Plastic Ocean’ – North Devon Arts Summer Exhibition

ClimateCultures – creative conversations for the Anthropocene  is a fast-growing online organisation where all kinds of artists, researchers and curators can connect with each other to explore and discuss the many complex problems relating to climate change and environmental issues, and share their creative responses.

Here is a slightly shortened version of a post I recently wrote for the ClimateCultures’ blog on their website.


A couple of months ago, members of  North Devon Arts, including myselfviewed the film ‘A Plastic Ocean’, the documentary directed by Craig Leeson, which investigates the dangerously escalating problems relating to plastics production and disposal – particularly the horrific amount that’s continually being dumped in our oceans. It was decided that ‘A Plastic Ocean’ was going to be the theme for our annual Summer Exhibition.

We were to limit dimensions of 3D works, and the width of 2D works to one metre. Given these constraints, when I saw the final results, I was amazed at the huge variety of approaches, in terms of both the art-making processes as well as the exhibition theme itself. Each work was as unique and special as the person who made it. From abstract to origami; from small sculptures to traditional seascapes with something not quite traditional about them.

Here I have arbitrarily picked out a few contrasting pieces, to give you a flavour of the show:

You can’t even cry, because you don’t even care Fiona Matthews.                     Ceramic sculpture, with assorted plastics.

You can’t even cry because you don’t even care – ©Fiona Matthews

A globe of the world is burst and torn asunder with a mass of plastic spewing up from its innards. Prominent amongst this are hundreds of little white plastic pellets, the ones that sea birds mistake for fish eggs, and feed to their chicks. Like several other works in the show, the beauty of this piece made it all the more chilling.

Fertile ValleyJann Wirtz. Mixed media, predominantly water-soluble dyes and inks.

Fertile Valley ©Jann Wirtz

Jann is in the habit of collecting and disposing of all sorts of plastic that has been dumped in the river near her home. This of course is bound to disintegrate and make its way towards the sea.

Peering into the beautiful blue watery background of ‘Fertile Valley’, among the drifting debris, I was able to pick out a glyphosphate (herbicide) container and a fragment of old plastic feed bag, all falling slowly downwards, together with scraps of printed warnings about their potential dangers. Mixed up in all this were barely visible ghostly water creatures, a vital part of our food chain – all sinking back into oblivion as though they had never existed.

Garbage Island – Robin Lewis. Spray Paint and Glitter.

Garbage Island – ©Robin Lewis

Robin has used tantalisingly attractive, but potentially toxic materials for this powerful painting. It refers to the massive quantities of discarded plastic carried by ocean currents, and continually congregating in mid ocean to form what we now know as ‘Garbage Islands’. (The most notorious of these is, of course, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, details easily found on the internet.

A Plastic Ocean Paula Newbery – Water-soluble paint and Inktense pens.

A Plastic Ocean- ©Paula Newbery

By contrast, Paula has specifically chosen environmentally-friendly materials only, for this tranquil view of a well-known local beach scene: looking across Bideford Bay from Crow Point towards Northam. Looking carefully, I was able to pick out a number of coloured bottles, half-buried amongst the shingle.

Paula is a member of the Marine Conservation Society, and took up their challenge to go for 30 days without the use of single-use plastic. Needless to say, she and I am sure many others, failed. Paula’s second exhibit, carefully presented in a Perspex display cabinet, is a plastic bottle overlaid with a multitude of colourful scraps from all the plastic she was unable to avoid.

MCS Challenge – ©Paula Newbery


Beach Wear
Linda Gordon. Performance photo.

Beach Wear – ©Linda Gordon

An image of me, crawling out of the sea, tangled up in plastic beach litter that I had collected and strung together. I carried out this performance some time ago, but felt it relevant to extract and print this single photo from it.

And here are some other pictures I took of the super work at the exhibition:

During the Preview on the Sunday afternoon, I found myself drifting in and out of several spontaneous and animated discussions around the appalling problems that we humans have created for ourselves, relating to the worldwide use of plastics.  The exhibition as a whole, seemed to trigger a strong and instant response in people to these issues.

Not only that, but when I returned a couple of days later to take photographs, a couple of visitors walked in and immediately engaged me in conversation about this whole topic. I was happy to be able to add a little bit more information to what they already knew.

For me, this excellent and unassuming exhibition shows the power of art to elicit an authentic response; to move hearts and minds; to get people talking, and to encourage commitment to the true realities of life. Hopefully this awareness will continue to spread and get talked about, and help turn things around – for the sake of ourselves and future generations.

‘A Plastic Ocean’ runs until 2nd September at the Stables, Broomhill Art Hotel, near Barnstaple, North Devon.

A big thank-you to Stuart Fiddes for hiring this film for us, and initiating the exhibition – and also to Robin Lewis and the Committee for organising it.


LINKS

ClimateCultures-creative conversations for the Anthropocene
On the ClimateCultures website, you can sign up to become a member, subscribe to email updates, or send a message via the Contact Form.

North Devon Arts
North Devon Arts is “a friendly and informal network of… professional and amateur artists and anyone with an interest in the arts across North Devon
For information – Members of the Committee are listed on the website Contact Page, together with their email addresses.

Broomhill Art Hotel

Pacific Garbage Patch 

Marine Conservation Society

Plastic Oceans
The site of the film that inspired our exhibition – A Plastic Ocean.

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Wandering through Bluebells

For me, woodlands are a special part of the landscape: a place where we may play out our stories and dreams, enjoy physical and mental recreation, immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds and scents of nature, and breathe the pure clean air of trees…

It is bluebell time beneath the trees – a profusion of delicately scented flowers wherever one looks. And all around are fresh green leaves, and the sounds of trickling water and gentle birdsong.

Like many of us, I like to walk in the woods, with friends or alone, and I also like to take photos and make small land art works with the materials I find lying around.

At other times, I like to wander amongst the trees doing absolutely nothing at all. I have done this since long before the current media interest in the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing. The difference is that I prefer to be alone, and I haven’t told anyone about it, until now!

So what is it about, this desire to head for the woods seeking silence, stillness, solitude and a sense of spaciousness?

It is perhaps just a simple need to quieten the mind in the seclusion of the woodland environment, far away from everyday human noise.

In the serene atmosphere beneath the trees, there is beauty and peace.

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More Tree Writings (Arboreal)

This post is also Part 2 of my Balance of Nature Page. If you would like to read both parts, you will find the Page along the top menu. Although various British woodlands are mentioned here, I took all the photos in the Woodland Trust’s Buck’s Valley Woods, North Devon.


Arboreal, (Little Toller Books; edited by Adrian Cooper) was published last year, and emphasises the relationship between woodland and ourselves, the human species – more from a human point of view rather than that of the trees.

It is an anthology of writings from woodlands around Britain, by around 40 distinguished writers, artists, foresters, ecologists, thinkers and teachers, and gives some fascinating insights into their knowledge, wisdom and experience.  For myself, it gave me a warm sense of closeness, with both the authors and with the places they described.

Despite the alienating effects of contemporary life, for many of us, beneath the surface our relationship with trees is still felt to be part of who we are. Adrian Cooper writes in his introduction, how imagination and familiarity are two powerful tools that counter estrangement, allowing the trees to “… become entangled in our memories, taking root in our language” (p13). The writings in this book are clear evidence of this.

On first flicking through Arboreal, I was struck by the variety of personal expression – each contribution as individual and unique as the person who wrote it.

I keep it by my bedside, to dip into as the mood takes me; but here, I have picked out just three samples that happen to reflect my mood of the moment. There are many other superb essays – a kaleidoscope of words – each one colouring the next.


     Philip Hoare writes of the New Forest, which he has known since childhood. He tells us how forests have long held a place in our imaginations as being dark and scary, and haunted by witches, wolves and brigands. This reputation has filtered down through the centuries in folklore and tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm.

However, although in 19th century, the New Forest inspired a rather sinister novel by Richard Jefferies– today, the Forest appears to be largely given over to leisure pursuits, and it is difficult to imagine it as in any way threatening.

From a different perspective, Philip Hoare cites Richard Mabey, who noted how in our modern capitalist society, we tend to view trees as commodities, rather than celebrate them for their own sake. The whole of life utilises its environment for sustenance, but Mabey’s observation gives me the uneasy feeling we are appropriating natural resources without due consideration for other life forms or the balance of nature, let alone the long-term implications. (And for sure trees are not the only example of this).


     Robin Walter writes how over the centuries trees have always been subject to the will of their successive owners. But there is a difference between managing a wood responsibly, with respect for nature, and managing it predominantly for reasons of profit and self-interest.

Writing from Kingsettle Wood, Dorset, the author gives a fascinating account of our interventions over the years, and of his work as a forester today. On marking trees for thinning, he describes how he weighs up carefully which ones to choose for felling – always with an eye to the future; always taking into account changing conditions, and balancing up our requirement for timber with the urgent need to conserve what is left of our ancient woodland.


      Tobias Jones speaks of Nature Deficit Disorder: a recently coined label for a wide range of psychological symptoms perceived to be the result of alienation from the natural world. Reconnection with nature is beneficial, though many, including the author would say that it is trees in particular that soothe and heal the troubled mind. It is as though the size and longevity of trees, and their slow calm existence radiate a sense of stability and strength that can ease our insecurities. And the pure beauty of woodland life in all its phases must surely lift all our spirits.

Tobias Jones works in Windsor Hill Wood, Somerset with disturbed young people, creating a supportive working community where they may regain trust in life. He tells us that one part of the healing effect of woods is that they can be sometimes be frightening as well as calming – able to trigger and bring one’s deepest fears up to the surface for release.


Today, the benefits of engaging more closely with woodland are becoming ever more widely-known, both here and in other countries. There is growing interest in healthy recreational and educational activities of all kinds (such as the Forest School movement), as well as quiet contemplative walking and artistic pursuits. In Japan, there is the well-established practice they call ‘Forest-Bathing’, which is basically, taking a leisurely wander under the trees, with no specific purpose in mind. It has been shown from extensive studies that this simple practice can significantly lower blood pressure and reduce stress.

I have, in fact, for a number of years taken congenial groups of art and nature lovers on similar walks, without realising there were such benefits, other than pleasure!


It is true what Adrian Cooper says in his introduction to Arboreal – imagination and proximity to trees and nature in general, are two of the most powerful tools we have for countering the effects of estrangement and restoring ourselves to a state of wellbeing.  We are after all, an integral part of this planet and its processes, and it may be that within the presence of trees our minds and nervous systems can most easily become realigned and find peace.


The other day, I went to Bucks Valley Woods, not far from where I live on the coast of North Devon.  The aim was to head for my favourite tree. It grows on a bank alongside a steep footpath, and is currently covered with a luxuriant coating of vivid green moss. Its roots are sturdy, prominent – exposed by years of people clambering up to get into another part of the woods.

Whenever I pass this tree, I pay my respects, and in times of crisis, I tell it all my troubles (silently!) It never answers of course, but invariably, I go away feeling a whole lot better.

On this occasion, I entered the woods, and my heart sank as I saw a notice from the Council pinned up, saying that one of the paths through the woods has been closed because of forthcoming ‘developments’.  We all have to cope with change, because that is
the nature of life, but I knew this place would never be quite the same for me, once the noise of everyday human activity began.

These woods where I am greeted on arrival by quiet sounds of running water trickling over stone, small woodland birds singing high up, the breeze stirring in the canopy… solitude.

When I say ‘solitude’, it is not that I never meet people in the woods, but they are usually engaged in the same sort of quiet activity as myself. We become part of each other’s scenery. This is my particular version of Forest Bathing. I hope it may long continue for all of us.


 ‘Arboreal‘ was drawn together as a memorial to the late woodland ecologist and historian, Oliver Rackham. I very much enjoyed wandering through its many fascinating and diverse contributions, both essays and poems,  – and pausing from time to time to admire the visual images: including photographs by James Ravilious, Ellie Davies and Kathleen Basford, and art works by Peter Freeman, David Nash and Andy Goldsworthy.

 

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Root and Branch

Here are some photos of the first iteration of  the ‘new work’. Hoping to do more this week if I can find the time… and if we get some decent weather!

I am planning to make a continuing project, titled: Root and Branch: Earth and Sky. Please take a look at my Page above, called ‘The Balance of Nature’. I think it should give an idea of some of my thinking behind the artworks.

Wishing you Happy Wandering!

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New Work on its Way

I have started a new piece of work – sparked off by some photos of branches against blue sky that I took in the woods last week. I seem to be returning to an old  theme of mine: that life is  all one.

I have often made symbolic connections between earth and sky, as a way of suggesting this unity – and looking through my old photos of previous projects, I have surprised myself to see just how often this earth/sky preoccupation has cropped up over the years.

Here’s a few of those previous works that you might like. Different places, different times, same theme.

My new piece is planned for Bucks Valley Woods. It feels important to start making it right now – so that it is not just about the woods – but it is time-specific too. The branches are still bare, but new green leaves are just about to burst forth. Spring is definitely on its way. And if I made it in a few months’ time, the work would just be about a memory: not about life here and now.

So I figured out the practicalities, sent off for a new cartridge for my printer, and spent a happy afternoon today, cutting up paper. I am using whatever I have to hand: paper of the right weight, left over from a previous project; and old brown paper packaging that I couldn’t bear to throw away, for the supporting underlay.

I like that my materials are all recycled, because… well, that is the nature of life. And I like that they are all derived from trees. However, I don’t yet know whether the work will be any good when I have actually finished it…

I will keep you posted!

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A Reality Check by the River – reblogged from Artist at Exit 0

Time for sober reflection now that I have recovered from my first numbed shock at the recent election results in USA.

It is difficult to sort out my feelings because most of my information has come through the distorting filters of the media. So I was gratified a few days ago to read a post from a long-time blogging friend, artist Al Gorman: someone living in America, whose work and ethic I respect. Like me, he considers the condition of our natural environment to be probably the most crucially important issue facing us today – yet our politicians seem to be blissfully unaware of the basic realities of life.

Al creates the wonderful Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog: art and images from the Falls of the Ohio. I highly recommend spending some time exploring his fascinating world along the banks of the Ohio.

For now, let me share this recent post of his with you:

Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog

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Well, the season for grand political theatre is almost over.  I’m feeling like most of the country who are so tired of the divisiveness that has defined this overly long election. Certainly, a major disappointment is the lack of any real environmental dialogue or engagement from either of the parties.  Three national debates…and hardly a mention of climate change at all.  We were much more preoccupied by Hillary’s emails than we are the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed a historic and negative 400 parts per million this year for the very first time ever!  We have no idea what this will ultimately mean.  We believe that this can’t be a good thing, but we are willing to take the chance?  Do facts matter and are we close to a point where it won’t make much of a difference what we think and feel?  Nature has her own…

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Artist’s Diary: just another day by the estuary

 

I had parked myself in one of the places along this stretch of the River Torridge, where, years ago,  boats were scrapped and stripped, and left to disintegrate.

I was planning to make some ephemeral work here, relating to the cliff face and the trees on top that were now shedding their autumn leaves. I thought: just before I start, I’ll take a few photos of those old wrecked boats I see along the edge of the water, that are now collapsing and sinking into the mud.  All went well as I skirted anti-clockwise around the perimeter of the vessels, getting so carried away in my enthusiasm that I forgot to pay attention to the ground underfoot. Until the time I looked up from the viewfinder and realised both feet were well and truly stuck in the estuary mud. This was not a good moment.

Here’s a photo taken from the very spot where I got stuck.

Torridge estuary, Northam

I do tend to get a bit messy when out in nature, but this time I surpassed myself by getting fairly well-covered from top to toe with a mix of biscuit coloured, but mostly black slimy estuary mud.  I don’t know how this happened, as I had been concentrating hard on hanging on to one of the boats, and struggling to reach terra firma without losing boots, camera or myself. Fortunately, I always carry rags etc. around with me when outdoors.

But by the time I had staggered back to my perch on the rocks, and cleaned up my hands and arms; cleaned black slime from all the way up the monopod – (I had used it as a walking stick to help heave myself out of the mud); spat on the camera and wiped it over very gently with tissue; slithered across the beach on my slime-covered boots, to find a tiny stream where I could stamp around and dislodge some of it…  by the time I had done all this, I’d lost all appetite for my original artwork plan, and I hadn’t got the photos I wanted either…

So I embarked on the long walk home, and was glad I didn’t meet anyone I knew.

Moral: Some people get sillier the older they get!

Here’s a few that I did manage to take. I very much like the way the old boats, as they submerge, are gradually becoming indistinguishable from the surrounding beach and cliffs.


PS Undaunted, I went back to the estuary the following day, and made the work. You can see the result on my Facebook Page (Linda Gordon).

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Fleeting Moments in the October Woods

Arriving in Bucks Valley Woods, I switch off the car engine, and relax. Each time I come here, I notice changes. It all seems to happen so quickly. Particularly at this time of year, the autumn season, it seems even more noticeable. I have been trying to record the changes in leaf colour with photography over the last couple of months, but it hasn’t worked out very well. It doesn’t do justice to the subtle,  infinitely complex movement of life.

foliage_lindagordon_160826_0001_lr

Bucks Valley Woods

Here’s a couple of the photos taken two weeks apart (back on 26 Aug and 8 Sep). Probably the differences can mostly be put down to differing light conditions, though it is possible to see the more exposed branches and twigs in the second photo.

I have watched the changing weather and clouds moving across the sky, and felt the warm summer air give way to a new chill wafting through the trees. Every now and then, a gust of wind up high sends a flurry of leaves floating down around me like snow. Wasn’t able to photograph this very well either!

In September, I enjoyed wading in the stream amidst bright sunlight and shifting  shadow. I made a few small land art pieces with the stones strewn along its length, and would have made more, but the water level suddenly rose after a couple of rainy days, coming well above the height of my boots. I didn’t fancy this very much.

Beyond the steep hillside I was amazed how the sun appeared to take a lower and lower arc every day. Sometimes it disappeared behind dense woodland and emerged somewhere different an hour or two later. It was almost impossible to forecast where shadows and light would fall from one day to the next – or even from one hour to the next.

Bucks Valley Woods

So I was fortunate the sun appeared in a gap between the trees, just as I was photographing the work shown above – throwing a vivid green reflection down from the trees above, right down into its centre.

This month, October, I found scattered Rowan berries along the path. I put them in a little bag, whilst I decided what to do with them. Next day, I found a lot of them had gone brown. Oh no! I hurried to one of my favourite making spots and  assembled this bright little piece with the best ones. Then I hurried back to the place I’d found them, where luckily I found some more berries had fallen – and was able to complete the work.

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It sometimes feels weird to think that not many years ago, I was making massive outdoor sculptural installations requiring diggers and fork lift trucks. Nowadays I seem to have gone to the opposite extreme – in terms of scale, at any rate. I tell myself it is because I am at a different point in my life cycle, though really I haven’t a clue what is going on.

Round about where I made the Rowan piece, I noticed hundreds of spiky little Sweet Chestnut seed cases, falling down all around with a thud. Walking up the track a little, I noticed  hundreds more lying on the ground. Of course, I had to pick them up and put them into bags…

I carried a load around with me literally for hours, without finding the ideal place to make anything. I did not want to go too far away from the place where I had found them.

Next day, fed up with wandering, I decided there was nothing for it but to make a large circle, which I placed right in the middle of the wide woodland track, and where I could get a good photo viewpoint.  I made an impromptu broom with twigs, and swept chestnut tree leaves all around it – decided it looked rubbish, and swept them all back where they had come from.

I wasn’t too sure about this piece of work, and that night as I lay in bed, I decided it was too intrusive. So I came back the next day with my daughter’s dog, and swept it all away.

But I did take a couple of photos…

oct16_lindagordon_161013_0004_lr

My working processes are about this place, and the fleeting ever-changing nature of life and its seasons. What remains here in the woods, always, is the pervading sound of water rushing over stone, and the wind rustling the leaves high up in the trees.

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Essential Nature Walk along the Taw estuary at Fremington Quay

A quiet and peaceful morning walking in congenial company.

It is hard to believe that just a generation or two back,  Fremington Quay was the busiest port between Bristol and Land’s End, largely importing coal and exporting ball clay. Not to mention the clay works and the  famous pottery that was exported around the world. With the presence of the railway running along what is now the Tarka Trail, and also lime-burning kilns and an abattoir, this must have been a far from ideal place to live.

Today, despite endlessly-encroaching modern developments, there is an air of peace and tranquillity. The area is a haven for wildlife and  for those who come seeking a breathing space, away from the noise and stress of everyday life.

There were a number of choices of route for our walk. We decided against exploring the Gaia Trust’s Home Farm Marsh Nature Reserve  because of long wet grass and lots of mud at this time of year – plus access to the beach was limited because of high tide. We also decided we didn’t want to run the gauntlet of dog walkers and cyclists by following the Tarka Trail to the RSPB Bird Reserve at Isley Marsh a little way further along.

Instead we headed in the opposite direction, along the beach towards Barnstaple to Penhill Point, then round towards Barnstaple’s ‘New Bridge’, that we could see in the distance. It was such a beautiful mild early autumn day – with the River Taw running by our side, the gentle green Devon fields stretching all around us and the wide expanse of sky up above… feeling safe.

It was, what I suppose could be called ‘slow walking’, by which I don’t mean shuffling along in a semi-comatose state – but gradually relaxing and becoming more and more observant and attentive to the details of life all around – the skeleton of an old abandoned boat,  the crumbling, ruined stone lime kiln, the wild plants and trees, and soft sandstone boulders with rough edges worn smooth, softened by aeons of time and tide. Over time, the river had gradually eroded grooves in these boulders, leaving a residue of silt and river mud running over the surfaces in streams – large three-dimensional mud drawings created by the forces of nature.

I think we were all inspired to further creative activity – each in our own way.

The two pictures above are by Fiona Gibbon.

The ones higher up are taken from my own particular perspective as a sculptor/ land artist. I could have spent the whole day playing around with the natural materials we found lying around: driftwood, pebbles of all colours ground small by a thousand tides, grasses, seaweed, leaves, clay and stone. But I tucked my observations away in my head, and I shall come back!


Please contact me if you would like to know more about Essential Nature and our monthly walks. You can use the Comment box, or reach me via the usual social media sites or my own website (www.lindagordon.org.uk).

Posted in beach and coast, ESSENTIAL NATURE art walks, nature, North Devon, place | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Back: Little Views

The Cabin, Bucks Mills, North Devon

The Cabin, Bucks Mills, North Devon.

For this artist’s residency, having no specific outcome required of me, I was able to respond and explore the Cabin and its surroundings in depth – recording my findings with written notes, quick sketches, photographs  and some small, short-lived  land art pieces – the beginnings of future developments.

Some of the pictures have captions. If you click on the thumbnails below, you can read the captions in full – as well as seeing bigger pictures.

THE ARRIVAL

 

THE BEACH

Seaweed, rocks, limpets, water, sky:  I  like to collaborate with nature, so that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between nature’s expression and my own.

 

AROUND THE CABIN

 

INTERIOR

 As you see, I was slowly becoming merged with the place.

 

THE WOODS

More about the Cabin can be seen on my two most recent posts, and on Time Present and Time Past, written a few years ago. 

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Me outside the Cabin door.

Posted in Arts & Ecology, beach and coast, nature, North Devon, place, trees and woodland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments