Archives for posts with tag: death

It’s very difficult to express the changes that have occurred since starting this post back in March. I was researching the electro magnetic spectrum towards new work and a potential UCL Observatory/Lumen Studios collaboration and looking ahead to installing the audience participatory work Scales of Intangibility at a secret location in Edinburgh with Hidden Door.

Change came on a global and personal scale with no time to prepare or assimilate. Suddenly no exhibitions, no gallery visits, no studio access and above all this was the loss of my Mother. A tiny woman with huge impact and treasured wherever she was known. Many people have found lock down a time to reflect, slow down and enjoy the spring awakening but for many others it has been blighted by loss.

This blog is a diary of interests that usually relate to my work and I use it to remember things I’ve seen and to help contextualize my thoughts. My Mother’s illness and death have been the main focus of my thoughts since March so writing about it serves a similar purpose of holding onto something.

My very active and independent Mum became seriously unwell at the beginning of lock down and was taken into hospital. So began weeks of waiting, telephone calls and anxiety. No hospital visits and little information to be gleaned from busy overstretched staff. A couple of weeks in came the feared news that she had contracted Covid-19. We all must endure the ultimate loss of our parents but to be forcibly separated while they suffer was never a consideration. For a time one ward had a covid designated tablet and so Mum, who had never used a mobile let alone smart phone, was introduced to Skype. Often she was too weak to lift the tablet and so we spoke remotely to the space above her head, the darkness of a blanket or the blurred view of a patient opposite. Occasionally, and especially the first time after weeks of isolation, when our eyes locked across the covid divide and we exchanged smiles her exhausted face lit up. From these depths it seemed impossible but slowly she recovered enough to be discharged and I moved in to care for her at her Suffolk home.2004 washing

Her joy at being home soon dampened as her new reality became evident. Fighting for breath at the slightest exertion and despairing at her failing body she clung to her faith and prayed for release.

2004 beach

In three weeks she was back in hospital. A week later she died in the early hours of a foggy June morning. I was able to be with her at the end for her final few hours, a raw and precious experience for both of us.

The three hour drive from home to the hospital as the sun dipped and then rose, bracketing the night she died, was a surreal experience compounded by a comprehensive display of extreme weather heightening my mortal awareness of the sublime in nature.

Masked, I stood at the bedside holding her hand as she drifted in and out of sleep and lucidity. When she asked if this was the end I had to say yes, we have to say goodbye and grasped clumsily for appropriate words of comfort. She replied that she wasn’t afraid and told me that she loved me. Presently, she opened her eyes one last time and maybe it was the anecdotal light she saw that drew her gaze upwards as her face softened in willing acceptance. Slowly her consciousness ebbed and each faltering intake of breath grew a little further apart so that I didn’t notice for a few moments when she had gone.

2006 nature

At the funeral the Reverend spoke of her earthly body, no longer needed, being returned to the elements. Nature seemed very vibrant that day.

Time passed, passes fast.

I have spent a lot of time distractedly editing webpages of old projects. What to do with all these images of past work, past events. Now I have inherited my Mother’s photographs too. Albums of blurred, faded images of people and places, many unknown.

Process driven work is good at times when focus wanders.  Cutting shapes for a hanging sculpture I had started before life was abruptly suspended – Paradise (suspended)

2005 wip paradise suspended

A meshing of images and geometries which serve as a motif for the unknown universe  fragmented and suspended echoing a time when dreams have been put on hold and the routines of daily life broken and held in limbo.

Made a post lock down foray to Epsom Downs to try and spot the comet Neowise.

2007 epsom downs

Naively thought on arrival that the packed car park at 1am was fellow astronomy enthusiasts but it turned out to be a hang out for displaced clubbers. Advised to leave by a couple of concerned girls who said that if I had the camera out here it would certainly get nicked. There was too much light pollution anyway.

2007 epsom downs 2

Lock down solargraph retrieved and scanned to discover some pinhole alignment issues. 2005 lockdown solargraph

 

Back in March …

Researching early radio and television transmissions.

FM radio and television signals can penetrate through the ionosphere and then travel at the speed of light through space but as they are omni-directional the signals soon become extremely diffuse and hard to pick up. A receiver on another planet would need to look for unusual patterns to pick the signal out from all the background noise present.

2003 Science_and_Invention_Nov_1928_pg618

Hidden, an exhibition at the RCA showcasing work from the College’s technical and non-academic staff.

Kam’s video game was very popular

2003 Hidden RCA 2

I joined Olga Suchanova for her Solargraphy workshop as part of the exhibition programme she had curated at Lumen Studios Crypt.

The exhibition explored how solargraphs are able to “condense time” within one image. Solargraphs capture the movement of the Earth around the Sun, as well as the tilt of the Earth.                                                                                                                    2003 pin hole solargraphy

We each made a pin hole camera from a drinks can with photographic paper inserted inside. Mine is now attached to the drainpipe to catch the daily arc of the sun.

 

If my artist statement had to be condensed into human form it would be John Dee.  1602 John Dee 2

He studied astronomy but also astrology, mathematics and also alchemy, geometry and also the language of angels. Living at a time when science and religion clashed as the source of truth he was the most intriguing Elizabethan polymath, setting the mould for future  magicians his reputation waxed and waned like the celestial objects he observed. John Dee’s curiosity for how the world was put together fired his imagination and thirst for learning. In his lifetime he collected the largest library of books and manuscripts in Europe.

1602 John Dee surrey map

This great treasure was ransacked from his home in Mortlake while he was abroad and sections are now scattered across the world. The Royal College of Physicians were donated a substantial number of his books in 1680 and their exhibition Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee is a celebration of this collection, his life and contribution to so many spheres of knowledge. On display are his personal notebooks and other volumes and editions many with his annotations and diagrams in the margins.

These books are available for viewing at the college outside of the exhibition period so would be worth a trip back to see them in detail, unfortunately for me they are mostly in Latin but the illustrations would be amazing to look at more closely.

1602 John Dee monas hieroglyphica.jpg

John Dee Monas Hieroglyphica

The symbol Monas Hieroglyphica  combines the moon, the sun, the elements and fire. It is also the title of his repository of knowledge on all things numerological, astronomical, cosmological, alchemical, magical and mystically spiritual written in coded language to protect his secrets.

1602 John Dee Claude Glass

John Dee’s Claude Glass

John Dee used a medium or scryer to communicate with angels on his behalf and collected many magical objects to assist in divining the future and accessing the spirit world.

1602 John Dee crystal ball

John Dee’s Crystal Ball

I was surprised how small his crystal ball was but it does have a deep smoky quality.

1602 John Dee gold disc

John Dee – Gold Magical Disc

The gold disc is engraved with a vision of four castles seen by his medium Edward Kelly  and the notations and scripts of an Enochain Code devised by John Dee as a system of communication with angels.

1602 John Dee 1

Painting by Henry Gillard Glindoni

Even today John Dee surprises us  – an x-ray of a Victorian painting showing Dee in the court of Queen Elizabeth I reveals him to be performing within a circle of skulls which were painted over and hidden but are beginning to emerge as the chemical composition of the paint changes with time.

1602 john dee skulls 1

I leant about another medieval mystic and polymath from Professor Christopher Page at a lecture at St Sepulchre-Without -Newgate, Holborn – The Mystery of Women part of his series of discussions on Music, imagination and experience in the Medieval World. The remarkable abbess Hildegard of Bingen claimed to see visions and receive spiritual communications from an early age and that it was baptism in the Pentecostal tongues of fire which taught her the mysteries of the faith and enabled her to write her rapturous music and Latin verse. Education was denied to girls at this time as was much of civic and religious life so perhaps claiming divine intervention gave her authority to write, compose and involve herself in scientific research without condemnation.

1602 Hildegard_von_Bingen

Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision

 

The Elmgreen and Dragset exhibition Self-Portraits at Victoria Miro was a sideways look at the proliferation of the selfie and the impossibility of capturing a persona. Looking for other ways to visualise a memory they looked for a trigger to an image in the mind.

1601 ElmGreen and Dragset

Choosing personally significant artworks they elevated the exhibition label to permanent tribute in marble – in memoriam, a gravestone.

Memories are left with other people. We just leave our bones. I visited Carol Wyss at The Montage where she had a show with fellow Slade graduate Tessa Holmes.

1601 Carol Wyss (2)

Carol Wyss

Carol’s deep and rich large etchings are flowers carefully constructed from human bones.

1601 Carol Wyss (1)

Carol Wyss

In the simple height differences of charred paper tubes in Past Future Qin Chong gives a blunt reminder that some of us burn out faster than others.

1601 Venice Qin Chong (1)

Qin Chong Past Future

I unexpectedly found myself with a ticket to Here We Go a short play about death by Caryl Churchill at the National Theatre. Divided into three scenes it opens with a funeral wake and the staccato abbreviated and truncated conversations that pass amongst family and strangers  on such occasions. There were sharp one liners and at intervals each person turned to the audience to state their future time and means of death. We then move to a darkened stage and the recently deceased bare chested old man who is in a state of confusion as to his whereabouts, backtracking through his past beliefs to find a footing to explain his predicament.

1601 here we go 2

The play was insightful, funny and touching. It was also a brave production especially the last scene which proceeds in silence as a care worker methodically undresses and dresses our protagonist from pyjamas to day wear and back again as he painfully shuffles on his walker from bed to chair and chair to bed in the interminable routine that had become his life before death.

1601 here we go

He gazes helplessly out at the audience as the stage lights grow almost imperceptibly dimmer until blackness ensues.

1601 Susan Hiller 3

From our material remains to our spiritual engagement Susan Hiller’s exhibition at Lisson embraced the portrayal of the paranormal, the unconscious and subliminal desire for a world beyond logic. Entering a ritualised arena we witness successive examples of the psychic powers of children taken from popular films.

1601 Susan Hiller 4

Alchemical flasks hold the cremated ashes of paintings.

A stitched canvas makes me think of the construction of space, how we image it and how we collage it together from fragments of knowledge.

1601 Susan Hiller 5

Susan Hiller

My lightbox Entrance was showing at the exhibition Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say at Lights of Soho selected by Robert Montgomery.

1602 entrance 2

It was a great setting for this work in the underground cavern bar. Contemplating the other side. A traffic warden considering the possibility of angels.

1601 Entrance

Susan Eyre Entrance

entrance n. 1. an opening allowing access. 2. an act of entering. 3. the right, means, or opportunity to enter.

entrance v. fill with wonder and delight. >cast a spell on.

1601 Yellow Sky 1

Susan Eyre Yellow Sky

I also had Yellow Sky showing here which is more about looking for refuge and reliance on a controlled environment, the other side of the apocalypse. Both pieces sold which is always a mixture of delight that someone has responded so positively to your work and mild grieving at losing something you had brought into the world.

Arriving rather late for International Lawns Field Trip No.7 at Domo Baal Gallery I felt I had missed the party. Great poster image by Craig Burnett.

1601 international-lawns-field-trip-no7-2015-domobaalBut I did hear the fantastical tale delivered by a dead pan  Jonathan Meades which as best as I can recall was of a French political activist, drug addict, convict turned business and policy advisor who died crashing his high spec car on route to give an after dinner speech while over the limit on the very best of French wine.

Daniel Rubenstein’s paper Graven Images: Photography after Heidegger, Lyotard and Deleuze aimed to have us consider the latent image, the image held in some kind of stasis as yet to be brought to life. To be made visible. To explain the idea of a latent image he told us the story of the Swedish expedition to the North Pole in 1897.

1602 Swedish Balloon Explorers

Pioneering balloonist S. A. Andrée envisaged a plan to restore the national pride of Sweden in the race to the North Pole and artic discovery. Setting off in a hydrogen balloon the three explorers hoped to avoid weeks of hard slog over the treacherous landscape and at the same time make cartographic observations of the terrain from the sky. Unfortunately they soon were lost and their fate remained a mystery for over 30 years until their frozen corpses were discovered by walrus hunters on the island of Kvitøya, the most remote island of the Svalbard archipelago.

1602 Swedish Balloon Crash 1897Found with the bodies were a number of exposed frames of film. Despite the terrible plight they found themselves in crashing on an uninhabited ice cap with no means of communication they continued to document their journey with images that then lay dormant for the intervening years.

1602 Swedish expedition Strindberg

Daniel Rubenstein is interested in this state when an image is held as index, as possibility before its transformation in becoming visible to us. To make the photograph the index must be washed away – from negative to positive – something had to die. He sees the latent image as the third space, the space of the void, the nothingness that Heidegger questions. A metaphysical state. He reminds us that what makes us think is not objects but encounters.

These tiny dogs, examples of Victorian taxidermy, were on display at Hall Place in Bexley, Kent.

There is something so appealing about the miniature, but it questions our expectations when scale is distorted beyond what feels natural.

1309 Victorian Taxidermy (1)

Although there were attempts by the Victorians to breed such minute specimens these particular ones are fakes. An X-ray proves a lack of skeleton.

VictorianTaxidermy

VictorianTaxidermy

These strange little creatures were an appropriate taster for the exhibition ‘Beastly Hall’, inspired by the resident  topiary of the Queen’s Beasts.

The Queen's Beasts

The Queen’s Beasts

Originally carved in stone to commemorate the Queen’s coronation in 1953, these living sentinels are based on real and mythical creatures.

Artists had been selected for the exhibition who explored all aspects of what might be considered something ‘beastly’.

HyungKoo Lee works in reverse to the Victorian taxidermist – he creates a fake skeleton.

Hyungkoo Lee 'Ridicularis'

Hyungkoo Lee ‘Ridicularis’

Transporting Goofy from popular culture to natural history.

Carsten Holler’s Red Walrus has a cartoon appearance with its plasticised body and unnatural colouring.

Carsten Holler 'Red Walrus'

Carsten Holler ‘Red Walrus’

It has however been given human eyes which gaze out from within a fabricated world.

Joana Vasconcelos takes a kitsch ornament and adds another skin, a layer of decoration.

Joana Vasconcelos 'Flibbertigibbet'

Joana Vasconcelos ‘Flibbertigibbet’

We were told when we got our cat – it is not an ornament, don’t expect it to behave like one.

Thomas Grunfeld has created a whole series of ‘Misfits’ through mixing species.

1309 Thomas Grunfeld 2

Thomas Grunfeld ‘Misfits’

Questioning our manipulation of nature.

1309 Thomas Grunfeld 1

Thomas Grunfeld ‘Misfits’

Creating a modern mythology.

Thomas Grunfeld 'Misfits'

Thomas Grunfeld ‘Misfits’

Exploring the fear of genetic engineering and what it might create.

Polly Morgan doesn’t always deal in horror but in ‘Blue Fever’ the melding together of so many bodies through a thrashing of wings creates something disturbing.

Polly Morgan 'Blue Fever'

Polly Morgan ‘Blue Fever’

An entity that cannot breathe, suspended in continuous flight with no escape.

Tessa Farmer explores flesh under attack.

Tessa Farmer 'A wounded Herring Gull'

Tessa Farmer ‘A wounded Herring Gull’

Her trademark tiny skeletons in league with the insect world bring down a much larger life force.

Tessa Farmer

Tessa Farmer

Claire Morgan’s installation of blue bottles suspended in flight creates  a geometric order from an association of disgust, germs and disease.

Claire Morgan 'Heart of Darkness'

Claire Morgan ‘Heart of Darkness’

Damien Hirst puts the visceral into the kitsch.

Damien Hirst 'Sacred Heart (with hope)'

Damien Hirst ‘Sacred Heart (with hope)’

Hope and treachery are preserved in perpetual limbo.

I really liked Rachel Goodyear’s delicate drawings of spirits escaping earthly vessels.

Rachel Goodyear

Rachel Goodyear

Her drawings incorporate 3D paper cuts which flow out from and off the page.

Rachel Goodyear

Rachel Goodyear

Her organic ceramic pieces hold strange images, transitory moments like worrisome memories best tucked away.

Rachel Goodyear 'curling up into more comfortable positions'

Rachel Goodyear ‘curling up into more comfortable positions’

The spiritual theme is continued with Jodie Carey’s funeral flowers bleached of colour.

Jodie Carey

Jodie Carey

These flowers are made of plaster, chiffon and ground up bone,

Throughout the exhibition there is the uplifting sound of birdsong.

It comes from Matt Collishaw’s truncated tree trunks where LP’s mimicking the age rings of trees spin and fill the space with the sounds of woodland.

Matt Collishaw 'Total Recall'

Matt Collishaw ‘Total Recall’

The birds recorded are actually mimicking chain saws. With this knowledge the jolly suddenly becomes sinister.

Susie MacMurray filled a room with peacock feathers echoing the crowds drawn to watch the spectacle of the coronation.

Susie MacMurray 'Spectacle'

Susie MacMurray ‘Spectacle’

These fragile remains of the male peacocks display act as an unexpected barrier.

Susie MacMurray 'Spectacle'

Susie MacMurray ‘Spectacle’

The idea of the voyeur is further expressed by Francis Alys in his footage of a fox let loose in The National Portrait Gallery.

Francis Alys 'The Nightwatch'

Francis Alys ‘The Nightwatch’

Trapped and confined to relentless meanderings the fox is exposed to the sort of CCTV surveillance that we are subject to as we traverse the city while similarly unaware of our voyeurs.

Peter Blake’s ‘Tarzan Box’ from 1965 expresses a clash of cultures and clichéd fears of what the exotic might hold.

Peter Blake 'Tarzan Box'

Peter Blake ‘Tarzan Box’

The exploration of dark spaces could reveal fantastical creatures of horror.

Charles Avery 'Duculi (The Indescribable)'

Charles Avery ‘Duculi (The Indescribable)’

There were also lots of artists showing at the Venice Biennale who engage in fantasy and myth.

Levi Fisher Ames sculpted his fantastical creatures in wood and displayed them as specimens in glass cases.

Levi Fisher Ames

Levi Fisher Ames

‘Animals Wild and Tame – Whittled Out of Wood – Nothing Like It Shown Anywhere’

Levi Fisher Ames

Levi Fisher Ames

Ames took his collection on tour around Wisconsin in the 1880’s telling outlandish tales about his creatures to his audience while simultaneously  carving more figures.

Severely autistic Shinichi Sawada has created a very personal mythology with his clay figures.

Shinichi Sawada

Shinichi Sawada

These beasts look like they come from a ritualistic and totemic past, but are recent creations, combining spiky defence in a fragile form.

Domenico Gnoli’s beasts also ‘hail from a vast storehouse in the human imagination’.

Domenico Gnoli

Domenico Gnoli

His series of drawings ‘What is a Monster’ from 1967 place surrealist creatures into everyday settings.

Anna Zemankova is growing flowers that are not grown anywhere else.

Anna Zemankova

Anna Zemankova

Produced during frantic early morning reveries she allowed her mind to flow freely recalling cultural influences entwined in her fantasies.

Ivan Morison also loves to create myths. His talk at the Whitechapel Gallery was peppered with stories of the fantastical, almost believable sort. Is there really a village in Italy that strings goats up from a tree and shoots at them? Was the world’s biggest dinosaur really the victim of arson?    Storytelling is part of the work and has been formalised in the traveling puppet theatre of Mr Clevver, based on a character from the post-apocalyptic novel, Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban.

Heather and Ivan Morrison

Heather and Ivan Morrison

Another of the Morrison’s escape vehicles. They travel through rural landscapes setting up camp unannounced and putting on a show to whichever locals turn up..

Heather and Ivan Morrison

Heather and Ivan Morrison

Telling stories that blend factual recall with fiction, merging information into a narrative that builds on the mythology of their own lives and also the lives of people they encounter.
Out of its time, part medieval part futuristic, Mr Clevver is an evolving work about the coming together of different people in differing places.

'Mr Clevver' Ivan and Heather Morrison

‘Mr Clevver’ Ivan and Heather Morrison

Kay Harwood showing at Simon Oldfield Gallery also deals in mystery and suggestion.

Kay Harwood

Kay Harwood

Exploring iconography and mythology her paintings have a wonderful pure surface, like porcelain. The muted and restricted palette gives a timeless quality.

Kay Harwood

Kay Harwood

These men look like contemporary apostles in meditation on some spiritual truth.

The quest for inner retrospection. A solitary wanderer.

I wanted to capture something of an enchanted wood in these images.

These are screen prints with sublimation inks transferred onto polyester. I printed 3 layers separately onto paper and then heat-pressed them on top of each other blending the colours.

1309 woods

Layering the shadow of a rose garden on organza over the grey woods.
I have been thinking about whether to add a figure in the woods.

Also have been working on one ‘return of the forest ‘ collagraph, cutting sublimation printed organza onto the collagraph.

The forests disappeared under the advancing ice and then reappeared as the ice retreated.

Going back to a time before civilization, before religion. Right back to the beginning to see where the first dislocation took place, looking back for the myth of living in harmony with nature in some idyllic context and the start of nostalgia.

1309 return of the forest

Thinking about fantastical creatures and myth has been helpful for the new work I am planning about beasts of the forest.