Sunday, 2 June 2019

Woodland Instincts

I have been thinking about the way we respond instinctively to wooded environments, and how they affect us both in a sensorial way and psychologically.

This week I will visit the University of York once more, as part of the Imagining Woodlands module, when students will present their own work inspired by the series of lectures and workshops that they have attended over the previous months.

In April I ran a workshop as part of the module for the second year running. The workshop takes place in St Nick's Nature Reserve, a 20 minute walk from the University. Having run this for the second time, it became clear to me that there was something inherent in some of the spaces that were influencing the students' responses.

In my workshops, I lead the students through a few exercises that aim to bring them into a quiet state of mind and begin to connect with their sensory responses to the woodland space. We walk in various meditative ways and begin to make modest creative responses. This, I hope, warms them into responding directly to the woodland environment in an instinctive and physical way. Having done this, I then ask them to go off and find a space to create something of their own inspired only by what they can find in the woods.

Their responses to two spaces in particular caught my attention. The first was a densely wooded area with a narrow, worn path which takes you through a cool and dark space, so thick with growth that, even on a bright day, it is shaded and has an air of mystery about it. Last year and this year, both groups of students who created work in this area seemed to respond similarly: they both created smaller, almost hidden works that you had to scramble into small spaces to see. They were secretive sculptures, modest in scale, and created for only one or two people to find, and not viewable by a large group. They both had an element of magic about them too, with a feeling of fairy or folk lore about them, responding to the spirits in the woods or the miniature creatures that might live there but we never see.

The second space, by contrast, was a clearing in the middle of another densely wooded area, but which had large structural trees with low down, strong branches or multiple trunks. Again, both years the group of students who ended up in this space responded to those structures by building into them with other loose sticks that they found around the space. The results were abstract but also huge in scale, quite possibly requiring some climbing to achieve their outcome!

It was fascinating to me that both these spaces had inspired in both groups of students responses with such strong similarities, even though the students themselves were quite different in character from one year to the next. They were both picking up the same strong feelings from those spaces and working with the environment itself, listening to its suggestions and responding physically in really appropriate ways.

The other creation that I enjoyed was by a group of students who found a large stick. How many of us have picked up a stick, one that is pleasing to hold, that is just the right size to be held by a human comfortably. Again, responding instinctively, the students used rudimentary tools around the woods to make a split in the wood, attach a flatter piece at its head, and wind it with weed. They used tools to create a tool. When they spoke about the piece, they said it was an axe, made from the wood itself, but possibly something that could be used to cut the wood too. It was a symbol of both construction and destruction, as it also had the potential to become a violent weapon. They spoke of the dual ideas of humans as builders but also destroyers, and how our relationship with nature can be either. Humans, the tool makers, building but in doing so, taking from nature's own constructions.

Again, I loved how these ideas had come from something as simple as picking up a stick, and how the instinct to create tools had led to this philosophising. I can't wait to see what they have been thinking about since and what they will present this week.

Thanks to the University of York for inviting me, to St Nick's for being generous hosts and to Suzi Richer for the photos in this post.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Bradgate Park Excavation Open Day

I will be taking part in the Bradgate Park Excavation Day on 29 June, with the University of Leicester and the Bradgate Park Trust. I hope you can join us to discover more about the park and the progress of the archaeology Fieldschool excavations... it has certainly uncovered some surprises!

Click here to link to the event on Facebook.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Bone Landscapes

Future Fossil 3, 2019
I am very pleased to have written my first piece for Climate Cultures, a website that posts "creative conversations for the Anthropocene". My post is inspired by a series of new drawings that I am currently making, called "Future Fossils".

You can read Bone Landscapes at this link.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Microseasons: work in progress exhibition

I will be showing work in progress inspired by Aylestone Meadows at the George Davies Centre, University of Leicester, from 21st January.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Catching the Wind September

In late September I led my final walk in Aylestone Meadows.

As autumn sneaked up on me, I began to become more aware of the wind.  The Invisibility Walks also drew my attention to the wind, in the way it sounds, moves and its visual effects.

As part of the Walks I asked the group to sit in a field with blindfolds on.  One day it was very windy, and in this wide open space surrounded by trees, you could really hear the wind whirling around your head and sculpting the space in 360 degrees with its sound.  We all made drawings of swirling, spiraling shapes that day.

Another time, it was a still, bright day with a clear sky and a gentle breeze.  As the group settled into their blindfold listening, I gazed over the field to a line of willow trees.  As the breeze brushed against them, they sparkled their silvery leaves like sequins.

Since then I have been trying to catch the wind in my work.  On a sunny day I run down to the Meadows with a bowl and cyanotype paper and try to "print" the movement of the wind. Sometimes this doesn't work at all, but other times I have managed to catch movement and ghostly shapes in the prints.

Ash Keys, cyanotype, 2018
Willow and ash are both particularly good at responding to the wind. The elegance of ash keys, their weight drawing down the branches like clusters of chandeliers, become brushes as they move in the breeze. As I walk along the far western edge of the Meadows, there are ash trees that creak in the wind quite loudly, as if calling to you to notice them.

Willows are so flexible that their movement in the wind is marvelous, especially with that pale colour of the leaves that reflect light on a bright day and make them shimmer. The willows overhanging the river in the Meadows seem to dance with the light on the water, both moving with the wind together in a glittery waltz.

This week I have a meeting at the University of Leicester about an exhibition in the new year, when I hope to show some of my wind-catching experiments.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Unconditionally light August

My second Invisibility Walk was a delight.  A small group, but often this allows for deeper conversation and we were all able to share our specific areas of knowledge and ideas.  Our spontaneous, in-the-moment group poem was wonderful and really captured the feeling of the day:
Amplified unconditionally light
United, strong, free
Creatures were in abundance; we encountered butterflies, yellow frogs, house martins and dragon flies. Taste was provided by the hedge blackberries, and sloes made a surprise appearance! Are they early?

Thank you to everybody who came, especially Joe for giving up his Saturday afternoon to help out.  My final walk in Aylestone Meadows is on Saturday 29th September, click here for details.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Invisible Aylestone in July

Thanks to everybody who came to my first Invisibility Walk last weekend. The rain held off just long enough, and it was a lovely day.  Great chats with interesting people I'm glad I got to meet.

Thanks to Kate Dyer for this photo from our walk.

The next Invisibility Walk will be next week on Saturday 11th August, do join me if you can to creatively explore the invisible things in the woods.  Details are here.