Iain Biggs and David Walker-Barker
‘Place as a point of entry into a latticework of sensuous cognition open to deep time’ or ‘The studio as echo chamber’. An unfolding memory and a dedication.
“Here lad turn over this stone” and as a dutiful 10 year old I did as father instructed as he placed in my hand a pebble of shale picked from the mound of coal he was shovelling. Turning the stone over, the obverse side showed a delicate trace of leaves; shiny black against the grey shale. My father had introduced me to “fossils” in a most unpretentious and profound way. He gave no lecture but handed me 285 million years without ceremony. This singular gesture impressed on me the relationship between deep time and the present moment, a pre-occupation that has remained with me ever since." David Walker Barker May 2005
David Walker Barker
Landscapes reveal histories layered through sequences of time and scale. They resemble documents in which some of the text has been erased or re-written leaving traces of earlier text visible. This process of change and transformation is unremitting, embedding complex and obscure human and geological narratives in the fabric of the physical landscape. This most fundamental of relationships links human lives to the deep time context of geological history and the evolution of life itself.
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Landscapes remain largely mute until decoded, only then do seemingly arbitrary jigsaws of pattern and trace take on particular meanings. To understand a particular patch of land, to actually enter into it, requires a willingness to know it as ‘this place’, rather than simply to become acquainted with it as a location in space, an area on a map. However, to enter a place in this way always carries with it some element of risk, however slight. All landscapes, even the most mundane, have certain unexpected depths. In addition to other, more obvious, properties they are saturated with the sedimented traces of innumerable pasts deposited over lifetimes. In consequence they can become powerful psychic echo-chambers that catch the ‘objective’ questions we bring to them and subtly bend or change them, bouncing them back to us full of strange reverberations and unexpected resonances. At worst a landscape can be a psychic tar-pit, a trap that catches us unawares, drawing us down into thick black deposits of decayed life.
Songs and images act as common currency – debased or otherwise - the medium of exchange of collective emotional intelligence. Songs can, for example, act as important points of reference for a ‘testimonial imagination’ at odds with the consumer culture’s obsession with novelty, particularly those that belong to or acknowledge old, obscure “folk” traditions. For many people in our archly knowing, ‘highly sophisticated’, yet at root rigidly dualistic (‘monotheistic’) culture, they may be the only place where an ‘archetypal’, even ‘pagan’ imagination - shared by various forms of imaginal art, magic, and folk traditions at odds with both the Judaeo-Christian understanding of self and that of the Enlightenment rationalism that both superseded it - is openly articulated.
I start with first impressions of the Czech-German border in 1999, ten years after its re-opening. Here, in the Bavarian Forest village of Bayerisch Eisenstein the Iron Curtain had obviously and visibly cut through the main street, the fields and forests, and right through the historical Bavarian-Bohemian train station, closing this village from its Bohemian neighbours for over forty years. With a complex barrage system of barriers, observation and control points and restriction signs this border had marked the cold war; signifying an epochal break in European history as well as a deep separation line through collective memories, identities, relationships and every day practices.
This project is best described as a celebration but, paradoxically, one that has at its heart a number of absences. It is a response, in words, images and music, to such information we have about a set of eight lost songs, linked as far as we know only by their connection to the parish of Sowdun. We know almost nothing about these songs beyond what is set out in Alison Oliver’s notes..
No attempt has been made to literally ‘reconstruct’ the songs – as figures like Sir Walter Scott might have done in the past - not least because there is simply not the information available to us to do so. Instead, we have simply responded, on the basis of what information we have and empathetic imagination, to the spirit of such sparse facts we do have, particularly to the enigmatic trace of the various individuals whose lives provided the focus around which the original songs appear to have taken shape.
“Place and non-place are rather like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed: they are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten.” Augé (1995,p79)
As consumers we now have a developed expectation of buying fresh unseasonal greengrocery products all year round in our supermarkets. Almeria in southern Spain has established itself as a principle region for growing and exporting these products throughout Europe. When choosing Spanish produce at the point of sale we might carry a romantized picture of the local farmer tending his fields against the sunlit backcloth of the Andalusian mountains. The reality is that rapid industrialisation and new growing methods have radically altered the physical landscape and the cultural and economic composition of the region of Almeria. The city of Almeria is at the heart of a horticultural revolution of highly managed plastic greenhouses - calculated in 2001 to total twenty five thousand hectares built since 1970 and still expanding. The region (‘affectionally’ known as the Costa Plastica) is now clearly visible from satellite as the greenhouses converge and expand further over the rural landscape.
… even as the refrain is building up a little house, it is also making overtures towards the no-man’s land - the not exclusively human land - beyond it. This is the third effect of the refrain, a slight twinge or tic of dissonance … in other words even the home locale (“milieu”) is alive with movement and change. 1
Jane Bennett The Enchantment of Modern Life
Iain Biggs looks at the work of Deborah Gardner, Jane Millar and Andrea Thoma
Anne Robinson is interested in the way in which affect is stimulated through chance encounters with images, possibly dissociated from their original context. By using this non-linear construction and employing an accumulation of what might in other situations have been inconsequential fragments Anne Robinson seems to have constructed what Victor Burgin calls a ‘sequence-image’, which is elaborated in The Remembered Film. This accretion of images might be considered analogous to thought and memory; the kind of way of thinking that happens when one is wandering around one place but thinking of another.
Ruth Jones has recently started a three year AHRC research fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts. The research will build on her practice led DPhil - 'Liminality, Risk and Repetition: towards a feminine becoming in contemporary art practices' to address the following questions:
What are the conditions required for generating liminality within site-specific installation and public art practice and what consequences does this have for rethinking the relationships between ‘place’, ‘identity’ and ‘gender’?
David Walker-Barker and Chris Rawson-Tetley
Artworks at Killhope, the North of England Lead Mining Museum, Upper Weardale, County Durham
Landscapes, their diversity and detail have acted as a studio for me over many years, certainly since the summer of 1970 when I visited St David's in Pembrokeshire on a Scholarship whilst at the Royal College of Art. They are the first places though not the only ones I visit in seeking directions and themes for the art works that I produce. In this context I annotate my investigations and responses using visual notebooks, drawings and images made on location, together with written notes. Then there is the collecting, an obsessive fascination for the residue and detritus of the histories places contain. Sometimes seemingly inconsequential objects, at other times significant artefacts and specimens have accrued into a substantial archive of material.
An Abundance of Metaphorical Diversity
The most dominant feature of LAND2’s recent exhibition at Bristol’s Royal West of England Academy is the diversity of approach by its 21 exhibiting members. Although this may be its overall weakness in terms of the coherence of the exhibition, I would like to suggest that it is this very diversity that encapsulates the spirit of LAND2.
Dan Shipsides describes his practice.
Without being dismissive, I can find myself being cynical about predictable and consensual audiences within performance art festivals and arty gatherings (as necessary as they are), but of course this extends to many art forms and their specific audiences and I can be cantankerous. Working to a brief of context and opportunity, I sometimes do make non-climbing performance, live with an audience, but here I shall focus on my climbing-art practice which often isn‘t live in that sense. In many ways the climbing work developed in a sort of stand-off, parodying and comparative relationship to how I encountered and perceived much performance art. That relationship has resulted in me trying to challenge pre-conceived and accepted models of performance practice (also in a wider scheme, art and research practice) and find forms which shift the context of how, where and for whose interest the “event” happens.
lain Biggs and Judith Tucker
LAN2D was established in 2002 as a network of artist/lecturers and research students associated with universities throughout Britain. Membership is by invitation. Its concerns are focused by two sets of interests: the complex space of contemporary landscape' and printmaking, photography, painting and, increasingly, video, as they relate to it. This reflects a desire to maintain contact with processes that have provided exemplary articulation of 'subjective inwardness, referential depth, historical time and coherent human expression', the core components of an ethical imagination. LAN2D meets for presentations of work in progress, maintains a web site, undertakes occasional projects and organises exhibitions and conferences. If we focus more particularly here on the work of some members than others, this simply reflects the fact that we are more familiar with their work.
Reflections on Van Gogh's Place Memories
The relations between landscape and memory structure the work of Dutch nineteenth century painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in ways that contradict the typical modernist accounts of his significance as an artist who is so emblematic of certain populist ideas about landscape and the self, I want to use this art historical case-study as a way in to wider reflections occasioned by this project of contemporary practices.
To be honest, I don't much like the sound of going 'Beyond Landscape'. It implies that landscape is a term that needs to be discarded, a concept in need of revision, and a practice worn-out and in need of replacement. Five years ago this was probably the majority view. Landscape was so unfashionable that any serious artist or academic would have been embarrassed to admit any interest in it at all, let alone any devotion to it. As a practice, it was mostly the domain of the middle-class in Gortex. The 'big issues' were all political, psychoanalytical and psychosocial, and the serious kind of practice, ironic, critical, metropolitan. Landscape was definitely not cool.
Jorge Luis Borges in his short story, “The Library of Babel” postulates, in a footnote, the possibility of all knowledge being contained in a single volume containing an infinite number of infinitely thin leaves. He finalizes the footnote with the conclusion that, “The handling of this silky vade mecum would not be convenient: each apparent page would unfold into other analogous ones; the inconceivable middle page would have no reverse.” Such a book would appear to be a bibliophile’s dream, a holy grail made all the more desirable by its contradictory and illusory nature.
Monica Bohm - Duchen
Although unwavering in her twenty-year long commitment to landscape painting, Judith Tucker has increasingly come to see that genre as a potent vehicle for the exploration of ideas and feelings more often expressed in art through the human figure - in her own words, as “a site for my investigation of loss, un/belonging, dis/connection and home”. While an anthropomorphic approach to landscape is hardly a novel one, Tucker’s position as the child of a mother who fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s (“I can never know what it is to be a refugee, only what it is to be the child of a refugee”) lends her work a very specific and very contemporary poignancy.
‘As the narrative proceeds, the works, which are diaristic and time specific, begin to reposition this very ordinary group of people and their frivolous pursuits within a wider time-frame of historical events … The work concludes, insecurely poised on the cusp of the future, enquiring into the domestic and the family area, and the lack of unity between the personal and the professional vision’.
Kate Mellor Une Semaine de Boneur
Catalogues, in so far as they function as a guide to the work on display, endorse two assumptions: that the work needs explaining (by some authority other than the viewer) and that it can indeed be explained (made understandable with/to a degree of satisfaction). To some extent this seems a fair point of view, especially if we assume that work is more than a surface onto which we project what we want to see. The ‘object’ in question, the proverbial hook which anchors our desires and thoughts, may, after all, communicate other levels of meaning, particularly to the initiated or after prolonged meditation and study. Both meditation and study imply the passing or passage of time. The expectation however that reading a catalogue may provide a shortcut to such an experience is unlikely to be fulfilled.
What follows is in no sense an attempt to identify priorities or set an agenda for LAND2- these will be set by its members through collective discussion and action - but is simply an attempt to indicate, from a particular and personal viewpoint, some of the issues which are I believe are likely to be relevant to our debates. Some of what follows is based on a catalogue essay written for Sian Bonnell, whose work seems to me exemplary in its approach to certain of the issues touched on below. Like Sian, a number of the artists referred to are members of LAND2, and the reader can gain some sense of their work from the images presented with their statements.
For many years I have had the pleasure of encountering the works of Lydia Bauman in places where her works are cherished and admired. Her early still life paintings, some of them monumental in their engagement with fragments of the classical age, as well as her landscape paintings of the 1990s, are part of the landscape of my intellectual and personal friendship networks in a northern provincial British city, Leeds.