After weeks of unsettled weather – torrential rain, sun, stormy, mild, cold, hot – it began to brighten up just in time for the opening of the Appledore Visual Arts Festival. Unpredictable weather patterns have long been known to be, at least partially, caused by our behaviour on this planet. And it is true – here, in England, it is certainly more difficult these days to distinguish between spring, summer, autumn and winter, and to feel connected with the fundamental cyclical nature of existence.
We all know, deep down, that a massive environmental and humanitarian crisis is upon us. But it is not a cause for hand-wringing and spreading anxiety and fear – rather it is a call to action. Action like the Appledore Festival, whose theme this year was ‘earth’, and which brought us all together in a great celebration of earth, environment, art, people, spirit. I was very happy to be a part of it all.
Earth Dreaming: the Installation
It started quietly on the Thursday morning, but by the end of the day there were about eight people working on the piece at the same time with intense concentration. I began to wonder whether it would get finished much too early. Plans B and C formed themselves in my head. I love working this way – the excitement of working in public and a touch of uncertainty more than compensated for the tedious hours spent working out the original design and measurements, and getting it drawn out. Not to mention the week or two spent getting large quantities of stones washed and dried.
Next morning, I knew in fact that my timing was exactly right. I saw that this first central section had some fairly large easily covered areas of red stone – and the central design itself needed quite a lot of adjusting and fine-tuning for maximum effect. The remainder of the 4-day festival settled down into a rhythmic pattern. People came in waves, interspersed by quiet periods when I was able to refurbish boxes of stones, progress the design and take photos.
What I remember most clearly are people’s reactions: their intake of breath as they entered the room, then slowly becoming drawn into the work itself – sitting or standing quietly around the edge, or helping to make it grow.
I had previously prepared the design, inspired by (not imitating) the art of cultures closely integrated with the earth. The idea was to use patterns and symbols that had meaning for us here at this moment. The impact of the work depended upon precision of geometry, and it was wonderful to see people of all ages and types slowing down and sitting together, carefully placing one stone at a time. I was amazed at the accuracy and delicacy that quite small children were able to place the stones. It made me realise how much we lose as we grow up through childhood, in terms of dexterity and sensitivity.
The large yellowish outer ring was deceptively awkward to lay, because its larger pieces created the temptation to pour on the stones heavy-handedly, making unattractive ridges and valleys, or else leave gaps between individual stones. The final ring, around the edge of the piece consisted of five narrow rows of colour, and was particularly tricky, taking a lot of patience from a number of visitors.
Nearly everyone I spoke to commented that their experience of ‘Earth Dreaming’ was relaxing and therapeutic. Like much of my work, it was deliberately temporary, drawing attention to the transient nature of life. Many, when they learned it would be destroyed at the end of the Festival, were at first taken aback, but came to realise that not everything has to be permanently ‘set in stone’. Others were completely comfortable with the fact, and worked with dedication right to the end.