Last month I made a Spiral Tidal Earthwork, about 4.5 metres diameter, over the 4 days of the 2007 Appledore Visual Arts Festival. It remains, changed a little every day by weather and tides, and people rearranging the stones or adding new ones. It is gradually becoming draped with vivid green seaweed, making a fine home for a multitude of small sea creatures.
At last I have managed to gather up some notes I made at the time – and here is the result.
DAY 1 – Thursday May 31st
The Skern at Appledore. Mild and sunny with intermittent showers. Arrive 9.45am with 2 carloads of gear. Helped by Alex, who took some pics then left.
Here, in this rocky bay, all is fresh and relaxed. The tide is out. Looking towards the bar and the ocean beyond, is an expanse of pristine sand, with occasional rocks and pools and clumps of green slippery seaweed. In the distance I can see the ocean. Nearby, little birds scurry along the sand and tiny crabs scuttle among the pools.
Working all morning to set out and place the work. It is not a true spiral. I have to take into account the perspective from the clifftop viewpoint above. I am not happy with it. I mark it out on the sand over and over and over again – in numerous places along the beach. At one point I draw it sideways, with an idea that the rivulets gushing from the shingle could fill the spiral, turning the central portion into a deep rock pool. But I don’t like this. It doesn’t look right. It has to be exactly right. Sometimes it comes easily – this time it is by trial and error. I work for hours – dodging sudden ferocious rainstorms that obliterate my marked lines – saturating my clothes, soaking me to the skin, sand in ears, eyes, mouth – clambering again and again up the rocks to the clifftop path to see what it looked like. Tired, and to my surprise, it is gone 3pm. Now flat out racing, the tide coming in fast. Gathering stones, marking lines, first with string, then with the stones. All around it is so dark -rainclouds and thunder over Clovelly and across in Wales. But not here, here on the Skern in Appledore. Over and around me is a little oasis of sunshine, helping me finish laying my foundation stones just in time as the tide washes over them for the first time. A spiral to honour the wind and the water, and the wide river.
DAY 2 – Friday June 1st
The weather is calm. Steve arrives, then Anne. Steve collects black boulders from under the cliff, trundling the wheelbarrow backwards and forwards across the sand. Anne helps me with assembling the spiral walls. Working happily together, I am grateful for their help. People wander along, stay for a chat; others call out light-hearted instructions from the cliff top. Two young girls go off with plastic bags to collect brick fragments for me from the beach. Sunshine, blue skies all day – except, of course, when Roy the festival photographer arrives and gathers us all together for a crazy photo shoot.
I drop into a rhythm of stone and walking, sand and water. Totally concentrating on the work, it begins to look good.
In the evening, the tide comes in fast, filling and covering it, making my heart sing.
DAY 3 – Saturday June 1st
This morning, tranquil water, stillness, boats at rest. A drifting band of clouds and lingering mist over the hills. Stillness, and yet all is movement. The lifeboat glows orange against the deep blue of water and sky. Warm sun on the back of my neck. Clambering over rocks, slipping and splashing through pools, I pause, as the spiral comes into view across the expanse of sand and rock. I am balanced on two seaweed-covered rocks. Trying not to drop my gear into the water. The sun is coming up and it will be hot. Sparrows, rooks, blackbird, chaffinch, skylark. Light from the sky reflected in the sea. Water is seeping into the sand.
Then work. And friendly chat helping the work along. I can remember little else, except stumbling along the quayside in the evening exhausted, yet determined to enjoy myself. This seemed to involve fish and chips, a double portion of local ice cream with clotted cream on top and copious quantities of beer and music.
DAY 4 – Sunday June 3rd
Last day of the festival. The sky is overcast and I am tired. The tide has washed the bricks down off the top. I prefer it this way, mixed amongst the black rocks. Alex and I worked steadily to consolidate and build up the walls, and throughout the day there were visitors – Anne, Steve, Martin, Jillie, Anthony and Patricia… and Tom, a wild and terrific artist whom I had met many years before in Yorkshire, and had no idea he was also participating in the festival.
Wandering around the town afterwards, there is a holiday atmosphere – huge flags and marquees all along the quayside – but I have pretty well missed everything. Try to catch exhibitions, which all seem to close just as I reach their doors…. Time to call it a day.
DAY 5 – Monday June 4th
Early evening. Hazy sun. The work has been well built. It is little disturbed now by the tides. Just a few bricks toppled down, which I quickly replace. Quiet sounds: the distant ocean, small birds nearby. Walking across the field at the top of the cliffs to take photos, some grazing rabbits come out from the hedgerows and ignore me as I pass.