Journal from a short artist’s residency….
Fri 16th May
Arrived on a beautiful sunny day at Lourdes – met by Jacques and his wife, and on our way to the village of Accous where I was to stay, we stopped to admire the stunningly beautiful Vallée d’Aspe – green, rich vegetation in the bright sunshine, cutting through the Pyrenees.
In the afternoon I met everyone, and walked the Chemin trail with a large group, including the other 4 artists. It reminded me a little of my woodland walks back home in North Devon.
Getting work process started…. Walking the route, planning, exploring possibilities….
Spent all day investigating the terrain, identifying what materials could be found in the surrounding landscape – and most importantly of all, searching for an appropriate site so I could start work. Absolutely unable to find anything along the artists’ trail. I knew was already pushed for time. My concept would take all the time available, and I had already arrived a couple of days late for the residency. Unable to find a site, it was impossible for me to carry out my original idea for a ‘walking’ land installation. I was fed up!
That night I handed the whole thing over to, for want of better words, what I called ‘the universe’. ”if you want me to make this work,” I said, “you’d better do something about this situation”. Then I went to sleep.
Out at 7 in the morning, wandered up a steep little mountain track almost hidden in the long grass and ferns… and found my site immediately! From then on, I knew that whatever happened, everything would be just fine.
At 8am I was laying out the piece with string.
Gwennaël came – we looked around a bit, and he secured permission for me to use my chosen site.
Worked hard on site all day. Cut some twigs and branches, but nowhere near enough. People came to help, collecting and cutting sticks. Garden tools and the grass will be cut.
Hot sun in afternoon.
Up early. Walked to site. Ran out of materials – called for help on phone
People came throughout the day, bearing quantities of twigs and branches. Later, someone came with a tractor and trailer piled high with branches. Francis cut a massive amount of branches to the size required. A tremendous help, leaving me free to plan the work, and crawl around the site: developing the design, and arranging and binding the twigs with white twine, to hold them in place. (I had been warned about the strong winds that sometimes blew around this region).
5.30pm – a meeting with the teachers under the trees. Getting to know people. All very congenial.
Rain: I am grateful I brought my husband’s terrible old black anorak for working. It is surprisingly waterproof.
Walked to mountain site. Worked on cutting sticks and laying out the design. I was able to incorporate a couple of young apple trees that had attracted me from the first moment. Also, a couple of large boulders underneath several other small trees, that I thought would make a great place for sitting and just looking at the landscape.
Rain. Wet through. Over my normal clothes I am wearing white overalls, knee pads, a pair of borrowed wellington boots and the anorak. Marie-Paul came and took me back to change into dry clothes, then I returned.
School called to make arrangements re the childrens’ little houses, and how to protect them in the rain.
Marie-Paul and Françoise came and took me back for picnic lunch by the enormous tent (the chapiteau) erected for the Festival – always a lot of people… and there is always the same friendly dog, wanting us to play at throwing him sticks. Endlessly.
Francis came and drove me back to site. He assembled me a little tarpaulin shelter over my sitting stones under the small trees. That was fun! I felt like a little snail as I crouched under cover close to the ground, listening to the rain.
Eventually got totally rained off – back to the gite – slept, showered and got myself organised…
Good nourishing meal in eve as usual.
Everybody happy and friendly, as usual.
Bed early, ready to wake early as usual. Thunder in the night.
8am – Arrived at my site in light rain, cloud all around the mountains. The work is beginning to take shape.
People came and went throughout the day. Françoise cut grass around the trees.
I received a lot of feedback and comments. People talked about traditional labyrinths, Ariadne’s thread, Celtic patterns, the Triskelle and the Basque Cross. I had never heard of the Triskelle nor the Basque Cross, but I was not very surprised, for my work often picks up on the hidden dimensions of a place. I was told the Triskelle with its three spirals, represented the elements Fire, Air and Water. Myself, I am inclined to think that archetypal patterns such as this are the fundamental patterns of nature, and it is us humans who have given them particular meanings over the centuries.
Then came a terrible rain storm.
Huddled under my tarpaulin shelter– looking out at the grey cloud all around, rain pouring, drumming on the tarp and the occasional clap of thunder – I am certainly experiencing the water aspect of the triskelle! I gaze up blankly at the nearby peak with the cross on top.
Three walkers pass close by in the pouring rain, and we exchange pleasantries.
I wondered who was the more crazy – them or me.
More thunder and a fierce gale arose. This must be the air aspect!
I cannot remember the last time I was so wet and so cold.
After lunch, the weather was too bad to work.
Now I understand the reason for the triskelle! A cold wind (air) blows as I walk up to the site. Fierce gusts are blowing away the grass cuttings as I rake it up. Then the sun appears. The fire aspect! It grows hot and I start to peel off my layers.
Francis, Ghislaine and a very helpful young man arrive and we discuss how to protect the children’s work. They take down my little shelter, and sure enough, soon after they had gone, a stream of dark cloud moved swiftly towards me from the south over the mountains. Put on raincoat again. Water.
Cutting up twigs and small branches, I feel akin to the ancestors, who have carried out this sort of activity for centuries… it feels good. I believe we inherit this sort of memory – not just physical characteristics.
Very difficult to photograph the work. The light was flat and the installation extensive. Examining the work, I regard it as not quite a triskelle nor a Basque Cross– there are 2 curly bits marking the beginning and the end of my chemin. I love it when the work makes itself, despite my best intentions otherwise!
I find I cannot get an overall birds-eye view of the whole installation. That will have to be left to the imagination. I even brought a video camera, but unable to find the time or weather conditions to bring it out of its cosy bag! But I love the convoluted spirals, meandering around the pasture and circling the trees, as if in conversation.
It seems to me that the forms and spiral patterns of the Earth are the same life energy that animates the wind and the clouds swirling around the mountain tops..
Fri 23 May
The Festival opens today with Children’s Day. Tomorrow and Sunday are for the public.
I wrap tarp around myself as I wait in the rain for the schoolchildren coming to set up their houses in the trees. Very cold.
It will be impossible for them to hang their work – too cold/ wet.
It got colder and wetter as I waited. Got picked up by Françoise – came home to warm up and change my clothes. To Chapiteau with Annie, where a couple of hundred children are eating lunch in the huge marquee… found my group of children and their teachers at last.
Torrential rain, thunder, lots of screaming. On my way back home a couple of hours later, a spot of blue sky began to appear. Apparently, the weather changes extremely fast here, because of the various influences of Atlantic to the west, and Spain and Africa to the south.
Ghislaine arrived with a bag of cherries. We had the idea of opening up the track up the hill… good for photos.
I must think of a title for the work.
Title: Line and Spiral – not sure how I like this title, but at least it cannot be accused of being pretentious.
Setting up children’s ‘houses’ with Caroline, head teacher of the Bedous school. Difficult to protect them from rain, with plastic sheeting.
Caroline tells me there was a Neolithic site on top of the peak with a cross on top. Although not visible from the ground, archaeologists have mapped its outlines from the air. I toy with the idea of climbing up there before I go home. (I didn’t, of course, but I told myself that imagination is just as good as the physical reality)!
Sun and rain. Many visitors through the day.
Isobel comes to visit, from the gite. She says the energy of the Earth is very strong here. People are healthy and grounded, not nervous. I begin to wonder whether ‘earth’ might be the FIRE element of the triskelle….
The children’s work is exquisitely beautiful, though I think it looks a bit odd hanging from the trees, wrapped in clear plastic. I would like to have arranged it better, but the weather prevented it. A visitor to my site says he has written in his notebook “Chemin des Arbres de Noël” about my installation.
However, the work was not made for myself – and I very much like the way the children’s work has become a part of the conversation of earth, air and water.
At lunch time in the Chapiteau, people sing old Béarnaise songs.
I try to take photos in the afternoon. The rain has got worse. Eventually, in the pouring rain, I have to wrap the tree trunks in tarpaulin, to protect the children’s houses. I hear distant singing drifting up through layers of cloud. I almost said again that I cannot remember the last time I was so wet and so cold… but I can! It was the day before yesterday! I walk to the Gite, to once again change my clothes and warm up – and then to Jouers (where the Chapiteau is).
Large groups of people in the streets – chatting and laughing, enjoying each other’s company – the delicious scent of freshly made crêpes wafting through the air… and the sounds of the most fantastic jazz from Les Fils du Vent emanating from a small stone barn.
Standing leaning against the doorway, watching the rain pour into my cold beer, as the audience burst into spontaneous rhythmical clapping and dancing – this was one of those joyful moments not easily forgotten. For me it was an absolute celebration of the land, and of being alive.
A large group of people met for the Citizens’ Café Debate… talking about the theme: ‘Habiter’ and what it means to us from our different perspectives.
Us artists talked about our work, and I found I was easily able to communicate the meaning of my work, my thinking behind it, and how it related to this special place.…
I spent most of the rest of the day on my site. Many, many visitors came along to view, enjoy and walk the finished installation, bringing the work fully to life.
In the evening, I enjoyed another highly exciting band, Les Troublamours, playing in the barn, and out into the street. Both bands can easily be found on the internet. Another convivial and nourishing meal in the Chapiteau, rounded off for me “Les Phonies Bergères 2014” – an adventure for me, and a wonderful and inspiring experience in every way. Thanks everyone!
I have not been able to include everything here – a lot of the time I spent quite literally with my nose down to the ground. But here are a few links. And more info about the Festival, including all the artists’ images, will be put on the Phonies Bergères website at the earliest opportunity.
Phonies Bergeres website
Les Phonies Bergeres
The Accous Blog, by Odile Isern, with an extensive coverage of the Festival.
Elena Saracino elenart3d.blogspot.co.uk
Eva Clouard www.evaclouard.com
Fred Boiron www.fredericboiron.over-blog.com
Philippe Vaz Coateland pvc.artiste.over-blog.com
Linda Gordon (me) www.lindagordon.org.uk