The global pandemic is bringing our attention to how much we are part of nature and that we ignore this at our peril.
The shock of the coronavirus lockdown hasn’t involved a change of office or studio location for me, as I’ve been working from home for several years. But of course, it has changed so much else.
Social distancing has radically altered the logistics of organising group art workshops, at least for the foreseeable future. Projects I’d already planned, have been cancelled or postponed. To stay positive in adversity, I saw that the lockdown could provide Outdoor Art School with opportunities for R&D: to review, revise and re-invent. So I decided to use the current restrictions as my ‘creative brief’.
I am very lucky to live in walking distance of Preston’s beautiful Avenham and Miller Parks, and I’ve been going there on my own most days for a brief interlude, to get some fresh air and exercise in the ephemeral qualities of the open space, alongside the river Ribble.
The weather has been so amazing the last couple of weeks, blue skies, trees bursting into leaf, spring flowers and blossom all around, sunlight sparkling on the water, birds singing their hearts out. I saw people walking alone and together, or running, cycling, pushing buggies, and exercising their dogs. From a distance, the scene had the appearance of a utopian panorama, where people seemed almost gliding, carefree, looking around and soaking up the atmosphere, with myriad shades of green surrounding them.
As I move through the park, I try to empty my mind of distracting worries, and see what catches my attention. I’ve been using my phone’s camera as a tool, to compose and capture a frame: an interpretation. Then a theme develops, and I make a series of images, as I go along.
The knack is simply ‘to ask’ and be open to what presents itself. It’s one of the techniques I’ve developed for channeling intuition: to bring ideas into awareness via the unconscious. It’s very soothing, grounding, a way to feel connected to the surrounding landscape. I’ve found it can reveal answers to questions, or open up new areas of expression. Imaginative interpretation and metaphor are influential with in the translation process.
In this particular lockdown exercise, I am using the hybrid, human-nature environment of the park and the sensory experience of being there, as materials to think with and learn from.
Intuition gives outlook and insight; it revels in the garden of magical possibilities, as if they were real.”
A couple of weeks back, I mostly saw divisions, isolation, grills and locks, seeming to convey tensions between safety and freedom. (Some examples in the first line of the composite below.)
On a later visit I picked up on traces of past events, like last winter’s floods, and how these have merged into the landscape to become memories: still present, but slowly eroding. I was reminded that the landscaping of the park created work for unemployed cotton workers during the Lancashire Cotton Famine. This deep sense of continuity and recovery was comforting; it helped me to re-calibrate and begin to accept the loss of normality. (Second line of images)
At the weekend the mood of the park/my mood, had changed again. This time I saw radiating plant structures, the connectivity of leaf veins and tree shadows reaching out, visible yet intangible. Shadows are good to think with as they reveal another side of life, just as real but so often ignored. Afterwards, looking at the images again, back indoors, I thought the shadows were directing me to explore tactility and alternative ways to connect and be together. I wondered about the ways that communication technology/web design could be made more tactile, comforting and sustaining, reaching out to the senses via audio and texture that can be felt, as well as imagery, colour and text. More of what the Danes call ‘hygge’.
I aim that my lockdown insights will be influential in the development of Outdoor Art School’s future activities, learning from nature together and apart, by encouraging ways to look at things differently.