Making Akin

I was asked to keep a diary by Broomhill Sculpture Gardens when Akin was selected for the National Sculpture Prize. I wanted to share what I wrote on my own blog now that Akin is installed and the public vote open HERE.

Part One: An Introduction

Growing up and living most of my life in London it would be easy to imagine that urban streets and cityscapes would feature in my work. Instead I always hunted out the green spaces in the city, on its borders, or even long train rides away as I searched of inspiration. Last summer I decided to leave London for Devon, following the call of the woods, moors, cliff tops and beaches, and of my latest project Mapping in an Ever Moving Now.

Mapping explores the idea that while conventional maps can point the way, or depict geography and geology, the artists map can do much more. It can embody emotions, experiences, questions, histories, scientific research, and so on. In Mapping I am acting as an alternative cartographer, playing with the multiplicities of maps, and how they might connect to our movements through time, seasons and place. In Mapping I aim to create collections of work that express or “map” journeys through specific areas. The first chapter of the project focuses on the South West Coast Path, and will be created during a yearlong residency with the Marine Institute at Plymouth University.

Hiking along the South West Coast Path through the woods, along cliff tops, estuaries and beaches I began to notice patterns. The shapes worn into the surface of the rocks and cliffs, and those formed by bark, are remarkably similar. These similarities, these patterns, became the inspiration for Akin, the second sculpture created Mapping in an Ever Moving Now. Akin draws together the vastly different natural elements of rock and wood within the one sculpture, creating something that is both familiar, and different in its hybridity. Akin will rise above visitors reflecting the size and scale of trees and cliffs that have inspired the sculpture.

I have since my late teens supported Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the Born Free Foundation. A love of land and water, and a drive to protect it are the issues that sit closest to my heart, and drive Mapping as a project. Using my art to express my personal experiences of our land, along with its current fragility are of the highest priority in my art. These inspirations are reflected in Akin, which will be created using moulds made directly from cliffs and bark, and cast in an eco friendly material.

I look forward to sharing the progress of Akin with you all as I head back out onto the South West Coast Path to find the perfect rocks, cliffs and bark to start creating…

Part Two: A site visit and a delivery

There is a wolf outside the door to Broomhill Hotel. In the right light it looks real. Wolves have followed me, guided me, my entire life. Arriving at Broomhill on Monday to look at the site (and to revel in the gorgeous sculptures) only to be greeted by a wolf seems just about perfect. I have been to Broomhill once before, to celebrate my 30th birthday. Returning this week was a surreal and exciting adventure. There is a sense of peace in the very air of the hotel and the gardens, a peace made all the greater by the beauty that is to be found everywhere one looks. Meeting with Rinus to discuss Akin, to walk the meadow and find the perfect spot was the best way to begin this journey. Akin comes from nature and knowing where it is going, the river and trees and hills that will surround it, is sure to inspire my every step.

The drive home across Dartmoor was a misty one, with the road disappearing a few feet in front of the car, and the Moor all but invisible on either side. Nature is a beguiling thing, always unexpected, always fresh and new. I will be taking moulds directly from bark and stone to make Akin, much as I did to create the maquette. Today the first parcels arrived, ready for me to start work, to start creating, to start taking the moulds. The sun is forecast to be shining down on South Devon next week. All I can say is bring it on!

Part Three: Artist in the Wild

The idea for Akin came from walking through local woods and across beaches. The maquette was made using a rubber silicone mould taken one of the fallen trees that triggered the idea. When it came to working out how to make Akin again, this time large, using the same technique seemed the logical starting point.

The question was where to create my moulds? Which of the many trees and cliffs and rock formations I love should I use? Which stretches of landscape did I want to become part of my sculpture? Luckily the month’s of studying the surfaces everywhere I walked meant the only difficulty was in narrowing my abundant choices down to a select few. Choices eventually made I worked out how to carry my materials out to the first locations so I could start work. All I needed now was a break in the rain. A studio in the wilderness is a wonderful thing, but it is rather weather depended. Watching the forecast for sun I got lucky with two or three blisteringly hot dry days in a row.

Day One and Location One: a collection of fallen trees that have been neatly cut and stacked into perfect log piles. Rubber silicone is brilliant stuff, flexible, able to deal with extreme undercuts, fast drying, and easy to use. It is also INCREDIBLY sticky and bright pink. It was once all the silicone was applied and drying, as I sat reading in the sun that the owner of the land appeared to keep clearing the storm damage. Thankfully he generously didn’t mind finding me, or my strange alien materials taking advantage of his woodpile.

Day Two and Location Two: the trees and slate growing over the bank alongside the estuary and local tidal road. This is without question one of my favourite places in the world so I had to include it. I spent a glorious sunny day finding the most interesting bark and slate among a series of ever increasingly beautiful trees, covering them in sticky pink stuff and reading Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways while it dried.

Day Three and Location Three: my local woods, and the trees that started everything. Rubber applied I sat surrounded by the small of wild garlic and throwing the stick for my dog before carrying the heavy dried mould home across the fields.

My final location so far came a few days later on Bantham Beach. Bantham is part of a privately owned estate and I am incredibly thankful to the owners for allowing me to use their rocks for the day. Bantham is hugely affected by the tide; a beach so vast at low tide it is hard to believe how far the tide eventually comes in. I sat getting steadily colder in harsh sea winds watching the tide roll across the sand towards me and desperately hoping I would be done before I got cut off. Luckily my second spot among the rocks was just above the tide line and as I froze and waited for the silicone to dry I listened to the waves and watched the kite surfers.

The rubber silicone moulds are currently laid face up on the floor of my mother’s garage, which I am taking over to make Akin. I am off on a course for a week but am looking forward to returning. I have a few more locations to visit for the last of my moulds before I start stage two...

Part Four: Some assembly and a lot of help required.

This week has been a series of complications, difficulties and near disasters. I suppose it was going to happen eventually but it does seem unfair that it has happened all at once. On Tuesday morning I tried to order materials only to find out the advice I had been given was incorrect meaning I had to spend hours planning entirely new ways to create Akin. On Thursday I found out a vital component was out stock and the earliest they could delivery it to me is Monday. In between I have managed one more day in the wild making the mould, done the strangest washing up ever and assembled the pieces, all of which has inevitably taken far longer than expected.

From little things to big my week has left me behind schedule, stressed and more than a little scared of my looming deadline. Thankfully I have some wonderful people in my life, from the folks at the end of the phone at Jesmonite, Flints and Tiranti’s who have all helped solve my technical issues as best they could, to my neighbours and family who have helped without question or hesitation, giving up hours of their time to offer advice, ideas, transport and an extra pair of hands.

It is Saturday evening as I write this and I have done as much as I can without my final ingredient. I am losing a days work, which with the van coming at 10am on Thursday to collect Akin is freaky, but there it is. I likely won’t get much sleep between now and the delivery day, it is definitely going to take a village to complete this thing and I will need all the good luck and fingers crossed possible but I will get it done.

For now, and until I can keep going, my Mums garage looks like a horrendous crime is in the process of being committed.

Part 5: Starting Again

Students have asked me over the years what quality I think is the most integral to success as an artist. Many ask if it is luck, and while luck is obviously important it is not the thing I think one needs most. I think what one needs is bull headed stubbornness, the kind of stubbornness that keeps you going no matter how bleak or impossible things seem.

Since my last diary entry my near disasters became actual disasters. Every problem I solved was followed by another until eventually it all fell apart.

In a speech to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia Neil Gaiman once said:

‘I hope you make mistakes. If you are making mistakes it means you’re out there doing something… Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get though, this is what you should do. Make good art… Make interesting, amazing, glorious, fantastic mistakes.’

Neils speech echoes the words of one of the greatest writers ever, Dr. Seuss in OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

‘OH!

THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! …

Except when you don’t.

Because, sometimes, you won’t

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up

With many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with great care and great tact

And remember that Life’s

A Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with you left.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and ¾ per cent guaranteed.)’

These words, and my own belief in the importance of stubbornness circled around my mind as everything went so horribly wrong, and they helped me pick myself up and start all over again. The problems lay in bad advice and meant that my intended scale was impossible. With that in mind I cleared a new space, scaled down and got to work on Akin for the second time. With a rapidly approaching deadline and no guarantee this would work I had a number of hugely stress filled days. I managed to push myself through, and I am beyond proud that I did, because the second time around is all came together and worked beautifully.

One of the incredible things about the National Sculpture Prize is that is provides an opportunity for emerging artists, artists who likely haven’t had many opportunities of this sort before. This isn’t only the opportunity to make new work and show it somewhere incredible as part of a renowned prize. It is also the opportunity to imagine big, stretch artistic muscles, make mistakes, start again and above all else, the opportunity to learn.

I have learnt more than I ever imagined I would. My glorious mistake is waiting for me to turn it into something brand new, and most importantly Akin is finally complete.

None of this would have been possible, particularly not picking myself up to start again, without the support of my family, friends, neighbours and local builders merchant. I cannot thank them enough. Nor can I thank Broomhill enough for giving me the chance to make Akin.

The only thing left to do now is to deliver and install Akin on Monday.

 

Akin was safely and smoothly installed that Monday and you can visit it any time until May 2019 at Broomhill Sculpture Gardens

 

 

 

Fledgling Ideas

Writing about ideas so fresh you aren’t sure what the idea is yet is a challenge. How do you write about something that is still illusive, still drifting on the edges of your imagination? In this instance I think the only way is to write about the events that led to this new moment…

Last week I did three things that all converged to create the beginnings of an idea.

I went to see the Mark Dion at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. If you haven’t been to see it yet I highly recommend it. Dion has a fantastic sense of humour, explores important subject, and makes work that is unusually multifaceted in approach and outcome. He doesn’t pick a medium and stick with it, instead the exhibit ranges from sculpture to photography to installation to drawing to live zebra finches. With this show the Whitechapel has proved once again why they are one of the most interesting galleries in London. And Mark Dion has cemented himself as one of my favourite contemporary artists. He has also sparked a thought process about working with nature, and the multitude of approaches artists can take.

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I had a meeting on Beesands Beach with a research scientist who works within the Marine Institute at Plymouth University. This was the first meeting of what I hope to be many during my year long Artist Residency with the institute. I have no idea what kind of influence the residency will have on my work other than that it is likely to be hugely impactful. That is a fun place to be, starting your wok down a new path with no real idea where it is leading. As first meetings go having a fascinating conversation on a freezing cold, wind swept beach is a good place to start. When I approached the Marine Institute it was in the hopes of learning about the South West Coast Path in ways I cannot begin to understand or access on my own. That this first meeting was about the movement of sediment and underwater topography in a bay I know mostly from the vantage point of the Start Point Lighthouse was the perfect start. It also got me thinking, wondering, pondering and reading as ideas start to form.

I went to the Natural History Museum. In fact I went twice in four days. I saw the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, without fail my favourite exhibition all year. I met the blue whale hanging skeleton hanging and immense above the great hall, and then I wandered. I wandered into rooms I had never been into before, found things from the collection I had never seen before, and started to think of the Natural History Museum in a new light. It has long been my favourite museum in the country, my favourite of any museum I have ever been to in fact, but it has never before been relevant to my work as an artist. This time around it sparked something for me, something linked to my current project, something linked to everything else I did last week and everything I have been doing for months…

..it sparked a new idea….

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What the idea is I do not yet entirely know. What I do know is that I am going to follow it and see where it leads.

You Are Here

On a hike last summer Lauren and I came across an old stone marker and Lauren suggested that it looked a bit like a book.

It was on another hike together that we lost the path entirely and had to hunt down the public footpath sign in the middle. 

Those two moments came together and inspired You Are Here, a book that sums up that moment, when standing in the middle of the countryside, miles from the start of your walk and miles from the end the signs you are following point in multiple directions or disappear entirely.

Portrait Confusion

It has been a long time since I felt the desire to take someone’s portrait. And by a long time I mean years. I used to take portraits a lot; it was one of the reasons I fell in love with photography in the first place. Most portraits I have taken over the last 5 or more years have been at someone else’s request… a band photo here… an author’s portrait there. During postgrad I took pictures of my sister (long my preferred, even sole model) but they were for part of a photographic poetry comic book, the images purposefully blurred and distant, not really of Kim. Before that were the self-portraits in Time Out of Place, but these too are abstract, my figure moving, even multiplied through long exposure.

The lack of portraits in recent work isn’t because I was avoiding it, or had purposefully given it up; it was simply that nothing inspired me. My work is driven by ideas, questions and concepts. Without a reason to take portraits I had simply stopped. That changed last year, not because I suddenly had an idea for a project but because I met someone whose portrait I wanted to take.

When I first asked Finley if he would mind my taking his picture I thought I knew what I wanted to do with it. That certainty vanished when I realised I was trying to shoehorn his portrait into a project it had no place in as a way of justifying why I had taken it. Once I stopped trying to force them I found myself (and the photographs) joyfully released while simultaneously left floating at sea, unsure of direction or purpose. Or if I needed direction or purpose.

Over the last year I have done three portrait shoots with Finley and will admit to still finding myself in a state of discomfort because I don’t know why I want to, or what I’m trying to express, or what the idea is, or even if there is an idea at all. What I do know is that every time I take Finley’s picture I end up with something new, and that every time I think I’ve done the last shoot that something new makes me want to try again to see what happens next. I start the shoot thinking this will be it, and once I have the photos edited, I know it isn’t. I find myself wondering about location, cameras and film choice, about pose, clothing and lighting, about photographic portrait theory, and art history. I am looking for something that will give me direction because I think this might be a project but I simply don’t know. And then I wonder if maybe I don’t need to know yet, if perhaps it will simply come together if I keep shooting.

Luckily for me Finley is a dream model, relaxed and easy in front of a camera and great company for the hours it takes to get my images. I could have stopped after the first shoot; I had a wonderful portrait and no particular reason to keep going.  But the more I studied the image the more certain I became that I wanted to try again. Why I did not, and do not know. I simply knew then, as I know now, that there is something more to be found.

The main difference between portraits and the other images I have taken over the years is that portraiture requires cooperation, even collaboration. When I don’t know the what, why or wherefore of the pictures I am taking, of the project I appear to be building then needing this cooperation is both enjoyable and uncomfortable. I don’t know if I can or should plan for more, if I should keep trying to chase whatever it is I am working out, because that choice is not entirely my own. It is shared: a choice to be made by both Finley and myself. There is a sensitivity required in portrait photography; the same sensitivity one would need collecting aural histories or writing a biography. I am representing someone else, someone whose opinion on the images matters as much, if not more, than my own. The choices, what happens with editing and publication, aren’t entirely my own. I have handed Finely total veto power, over the individual images but also over wherever this is leading, or if it is leading anywhere. This is so different from my chosen subject of recent years, the woods and forests of South Devon, that I keep expecting it to bother me. Instead I find joy in my endless surprise at Finley’s willingness to continue working with me.

All my reactions and thoughts to this (accidental) portrait project are a contradictory tangle. I am left with questions, and questions about questions, a muddle of whats and whys. It is a mess of confusion, frustration and discomfort at my own inability to work out:

1.     If this is a project

and 2. If it is, what it is

The very same photographs that are causing this confusion are also holding it at bay, keeping me moving forward into the unknown, a barrier holding back a flood or a lighthouse in a storm. I shoot another roll, or edit another photograph and I am inspired. Inspired by the search and by this new, different way of creating a project. Inspired to keep calm in the face of confusion and to keep trying until I find out where this is leading. I shall let you know when I work it out. Until then, you can see a selection of the portraits HERE.

 

 

50.5803° N, 3.7551° W

It was Planet Earth Day on Saturday and I spent the afternoon (and most of Sunday) testing an idea for a book. As I was working, getting utterly lost in ideas, paper and problem solving I realised that for first time in a long time I wanted to share the making process. I wanted to blog. So here it is… and what better way to introduce my new website than a new blog and a new piece of work.

A little over a year ago I started work on a project that has grown and spiralled, becoming something all encompassing and utterly thrilling. It is the first idea I’ve had outside of an institution and while I have no idea where it is going I love the journey. The project is called Mapping in an Ever Moving Now and has so far resulted in the beginnings of multiple photographs, sculptures and more. Mapping in an Ever Moving Now is a project about the land, and about my connection to it. I am exploring ways of creating an emotional, experience and memory based response to mapping landscape. The latest step in the project started either: A) taking photographs on Dartmoor with my mum or B) when visiting the maps exhibition at The British Library with Lauren. Somewhere between the two an idea was born and this weekend I finally had a chance to bring it together.

Walking on Dartmoor isn’t like walking anywhere else I’ve ever been. Its not that it’s vast (though it is) or stark (though it is) or ancient (though it is), rather that it is all of these things and something else besides. There is something about the unchanging, ever changing landscape of a place that has been inhabited and tamed while remaining uninhabited and untameable that I find endlessly intriguing. Among the photographs taken on that particular walk was a close up of the rock face at Haytor. This detail somehow encompasses so much of what I felt standing atop the tor, feet planted on the earth and eyes on the horizon. I knew immediately I wanted to use it in the book, a book tied to this spectacular location, one anchored to place and to the depth of my feelings.

At The British Library exhibition there was one particular map of the terrain in France from World War One. Someone had sculpted this particular map, cutting a new layer for each contour line. The care, the skill, the attention to detail and the direct reflection of the land caught my attention and stayed with me long after leaving the library.

I cannot explain how the two things became joined together in my imagination, but they did … and thus 50.5803° N, 3.7551° W was born.

Spending a weekend engrossed in making, messy hands and full mind made me happier than I have been in a long time, and the result is more than I dreamt of. Having an idea work, having it come together under my hands, finding solutions and ways of adapting until there, on my table is a new THING is truly, deeply satisfying. It is as though I am discovering my own ideas through the act of working, the act of making.

And now the THING exists, I know it works, and I cannot wait to make a final copy or 5.