Tree of Life.

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The Lucombe Oak, Dartington Hall.

In June 2016, I was privileged to attend Schumacher College at Dartington Hall near Totnes in Devon, England. It is the centre of the Dartington Hall Trust, a charity specialising in the arts, social justice and sustainability. Inspired by  founders, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhurst, the Dartington Trust is currently working towards their vision to be a pioneer of deep personal and societal change. This is influenced by the Elmhirsts’ original concept of “…expressing a ‘many-sided life’ and an ethos of openness, creativity and ‘learning by doing’.” (See Dartington Hall and Schumacher College websites for more information).

IMG_4875The gardens at Dartington have a magical beauty and shifting atmospheric moods, texture, form, light and shade. Many of the trees are very old. Pathways with flights of rhythmic steps guide visitors through the terraced gardens. Tacit, aesthetic ideology and metaphors are present in the garden’s landscaping, re-enforced by considered placements of lyrical sculptures and the use of materials.

Just over a year ago, I began a new project with the intention of refreshing and extending my approach to art practice. A synchronistic encounter in October 2015 with an oak tree and its mast year of seed production, led me to collect and plant around 300 acorns. I anticipated that new directions for my work would emerge from the simple, mindful activity of nurturing the acorns and observing them grow. I aimed to be as open as possible to this process and to how a meditative focus might trigger intuitive responses. I undertook further research as topics arose.

The project’s title is a reference to the ancient hypothesis of an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet: Anima Mundi, the Earth’s soul. Anthropological studies of indigenous peoples have used the term ‘animism’ to encompass beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in other animals, in plants, rocks, landscape features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, trees and shadows.

By taking up this focus, I’ve been able to learn of the growing understanding throughout the world that ecological renewal and sustainability depend upon spiritual awareness and an attitude of responsibility towards the Earth.  I’ve been making artworks  that aim to engage audiences via authentic sensory experiences, and explore the potential of rediscovering a symbiotic relationship with animate nature: for myself as well as for others.

Lucombe oak1An aspect of this work resulted in making a connection to Dartington, to be able to  experiment and trial techniques on the estate. ‘Lucombe’ is a hybrid form of oak that keeps its leaves in winter, and a magnificent specimen grows at the edge of the Tiltyard in the grounds of Dartington Hall (pictured left, in daytime, June 2016).

I projected digital imagery at night onto the trunk and into the canopy of the Lucombe oak. The aim being to use light projection and anthropomorphic imagery to stimulate empathy for the energy and spirit of a living tree, and to question our limiting interpretation of the sentience and agency of non-human entities.  Both video and still imagery were trialled.

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Above: Dartington Hall around midnight on 23.06.16., viewed from the oak. Below: setting up simple equipment for the trial – a data projector and laptop.

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Many thanks to Anna Goodchild for her generous, creative support and night photography skills. See more of Anna’s work here.

Thanks also to the staff at Dartington for their assistance. Here is a small selection of photographic moments that record some of the qualities of our activity. In this context, the photographs are an additional outcome. My primary purpose was to trial relevant techniques for working in the outdoors that have the potential to augment multi-sensory aesthetic experiences for audiences, in real time, in-situ.  As well as to learn about the world and have fun of course, through art practice.

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The female imagery was re-purposed from ‘Gaze’ (March 2016), which used digital collage to visualise ideas about time. You can learn more about Gaze and the development stages of the Anima Mundi project, here on my AA2A profile.

Inside and outside Dartington Hall:

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Looking out onto the gardens from the Great Hall (part of Lucombe Oak visible extreme right).
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Tree of Life tapestry in the Elmhurst family’s living room, in the Great Hall. The concept of a tree of life is a widespread archetype in the world’s mythologies and expresses ideas about immortality, interconnection and the origins of life.
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Woodlands in the grounds
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Flowering plants in the Tiltyard’s ‘Sunny Border’, photographed at dusk.
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Flowering plants in the Tiltyard’s ‘Sunny Border’, photographed at dusk.

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The simple elegance of communal mealtimes in the Dartington refectory.

 

For more information about the location of the Lucombe oak tree, a Dartington Estate map is here.

 

 

Anima Mundi

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Examples of works from the Anima Mundi project, made during my recent AA2A residency at Liverpool Hope University. The project title is a reference to the ancient hypothesis of an intrinsic connection between all living things: the existence of the Earth’s soul.

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Alter: making associations with imagery to shift meanings from those of ‘horticulture’ or ‘botany’, to the more expressive and provocative. The acorn seedlings literally gave life to the works, in this case appearing like flames on altar candles.
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‘Heartland’
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Anima

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Gifts from artist to audience, seeking their active participation.
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Oak Trees (after Michael Craig-Martin?)
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Oak Trees (after Michael Craig-Martin?)
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Cipher.
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Cipher. Thanks to Stuart Williams for his cabinet making skills.
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Instinct.

For background detail about this project please visit http://aa2a.biz/pg/photos/album/28280/new-art-growing and here: http://aa2a.biz/pg/photos/album/27787/anima-mundi

New art growing…

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A small selection from my ongoing project Anima Mundi is on show in ‘inprogress’, a group exhibition by three artists participating in the AA2A project at Liverpool Hope University. The Cornerstone Gallery, 11th – 22nd April 2016.

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Project research and development. I planted 300 acorns in October and November 2015 and watched them grow over the winter months.

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New work: on the AA2A Scheme at Liverpool Hope.

In October 2015, I began a residency at Liverpool Hope University through AA2A (Artists Access to Art Colleges). Its a fantastic UK national scheme that supports artists and allows  them access to workshops and facilities over several months  to undertake a period of research or realise a project. Being part of the AA2A scheme at Liverpool Hope is opening up an exciting ‘laboratory’ where I can work with others to trial relevant processes, techniques, imagery and materials, as I move towards the next phase of activity. There is some initial information here at the AA2A.biz website and more to follow on this blog soon.

‘Art School’ patina

The Cornerstone Building at Liverpool Hope University was once St Francis Xavier School and the building, an imposing example of 19th century architecture has been converted for its current use as an art school.  One of the pleasures of my AA2A placement has been having the time to meander through the building, responding to its mood and atmosphere. There are many stairways linking different areas of the building – workshops, studios and performance areas. I enjoyed using my camera to document  the  layered traces of the movement of others: the build up of art school patina that tacitly signals what kinds of activity are permitted and encouraged in the building.

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Making Presence Felt on film

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A collaboration with director Mark Gill and The Chase Films, has resulted in a short film capturing the atmosphere and immersive qualities of the Northampton gallery installation. It features edited excerpts from the gallery soundscapes and makes links to a series of quizzical, material artworks that were ‘heard’ in the initial audio recordings, and then made and displayed in the gallery.  The use of headphones is recommended for maximum immersion and dynamic, binaural sound.

Listen: see what you hear…

Listening to visitors: a selection from the comments book

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By spending time in the Northampton gallery I’ve been able to have some great conversations with many inspiring people.

Thank you.

Here is a selection of comments written in the visitors’ book by some of the people I didn’t get to meet in person.

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A great collaboration between sound, materials and the awareness of oneself in a fictional world created in the imagination. I truly was immersed in the experience. Great use of materials to bring it all to life. The various textures, use of lights, the crunch of leaves in an imaginary space. To the moon and back by night. Your consciousness definitely touched me. Thank you.”  David 

Poses lots of questions, but not in a disturbing way. I liked the contrast between the marked floorboards (permanent impression) and the image / reflection (impermanent).  We should think more about our impact than about our appearance.” Amy (on Election Day 2015).

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The eye is a genie. He’s got trapped in a box because he got lost. He can come out if you say the magic word.” Poppy (age 4)

Once I’d realized that this wasn’t going to tell me all about shoes I found this quite fascinating. Most interesting as a music teacher (primary) I found this inspiring as a starting point for creative music making. What a shame I’m retired now- first time I’ve said that!” Jane

A wonderful focus on the concept and felt experience of embodiment and connection. Grounding and liberating, beautiful and spacious. If more of us were embodied more of the time and knew how to re-connect with body and self then that would help  a sense of containment and freedom that can heal and restore using the senses – intra and interpersonal well being. With appreciation.”  G.Y. Core Process Psychotherapist.

More on the sounds of identity in motion: the art of Foley.

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“Women are the toughest to imitate.”

Jack Foley started in the motion picture business in the silent picture era and lived through the exciting times when overnight the industry converted to sound moving pictures.  Jack is credited with pioneering the art of adding sound effects after the action had been filmed, because the sound captured in the film studios and with a camera during the live action, did not  record sound in a ‘realistic’ way.

Jack estimated that he walked 5000 miles in the studio doing footsteps. He characterized the footsteps of stars in this manner:

Rock Hudson is a solid stepper; Tony Curtis has a brisk foot; Audie Murphy is springy; James Cagney is clipped; Marlon Brando soft; John Saxon nervous. Women are the toughest to imitate,” he confided, “my 250 pounds may have something to do with it, but the important thing is their steps are quicker and closer together. I get winded doing leading ladies. Jean Simmons is almost, not quite, the fastest on her screen feet in all of Hollywood. She’s topped only by June Allyson. I can’t keep up with her at all.”

From:

http://filmsound.org/foley/jackfoley.htm

Using sound and haptic qualities of atmosphere to bring attention to the body in motion.

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A series of acoustic encounters.

In the gallery a collection of quizzical material objects act as thought provoking ‘clues’ and the audio content draws on  memories to make connections and encourage imaginative sense making…

Below you can listen to an introductory footsteps soundscape from the project, with a beautiful piano composition and playing by Pietro Bonanno, ‘Ferma la Danza’  ( Stop the Dance) from his album ‘Komorebi’.

There are 10 interrelated tracks including this one in the audio component of the exhibition, ranging from 1 to 3 minutes in duration, just over 20 minutes in total.  The audio content is pitched on the borderline between sound and music and includes documentary field recordings with more experimental collage. Each soundscape involves a different approach to conveying  traces of presence and identity in acoustic form. In this track footsteps are heard moving over wooden floors and the recordings were made in contemplative, public spaces:  museum, art gallery and including in a church. As I edited and mixed, I let the music guide me and tried to match the footfall cadence, tone colour and timbre to the piano’s.

You can hear the resonance of floorboards: the spring in the wood and voids beneath; the creak of leather;  the acoustics of space and place; sounds of intention, emotion, mood, gender, weight, velocity,  force, character;  in motion…

(use of headphones is recommended).

You can hear more of Pietro Bonanno’s compositions at http://www.pietrobonanno.it

Here are some initial images of visitors moving, listening and looking in the Northampton gallery on the first day of the exhibition. The lighting is designed to allow individuals’ shadows to play onto the gallery walls to add a further layer of ambiguity and motion to the atmospheric environment.

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