Monday, 10 December 2018

Almost there

Friday 14th December is the day that I present the thought experiment. I have gathered many strands of thought and placed some of them on a canvas.

These are just platforms for further experimentation.

The presentation itself will involve the creation of a triangle of routes for a volunteer ant to follow wearing the restricted vision mask. The triangle will represent the 'Ants Hierarchy of Needs' (With thanks to Maslow)

I propose that ants have a fulfilled and 'happy' life, and by restricting our vision we too can live a fulfilled life.

The mask idea came from the exhibition at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery last month called 'A Spacewoman Dreams' The collaborative installation followed themes of loss, emptiness and dislocation. I propose the antidote to this is that we all become ants with limited vision - no access to social media - and only able to see the task ahead.

This will constitute a new religion - and will involve following the Ant Manifesto. Adherents will get a medallion, a mask, and will only be responsible for attending the queen, finding food for her and her offspring and maintaining the nest !

The presentation itself may produce further springboards. My lines of interest are currently the idea of taking a line for a walk - ( Our collaborative piece which is the next project I'm involved with also links in with this experiment) the idea of 'soul' and what makes us different from the rest of our fellow creatures - why are we self destructive ? And what part does phenomenology and the idea of 'other' have to play in a world that we only see from our own perspective.

Meanwhile over in the Glynn Vivian One of my poems about my sense of displacement is currently on show in the Swansea Open Exhibition - which was opened by Sir Peter Blake on Saturday and runs until 2nd February. Peter Blake's illustrations for Under Milk Wood are well worth a few visits.


It falls away
This land cut by river and ice
Wild evasive impassive
I could fall or sink into the earth's mouth here
Tumble over an edge

This pale fleshed human
Unfit to live in this landscape of cold wind and hard rain

How did I get here with my soft skin and barely a hair ?
How did I become so separated from the soil that gave me birth ?

I am an alien here
Unlike the buzzard hunting in vain
Too wet today
No rabbits browsing the shorter grass
They have soft hair in layers
Or like the buzzard - feathered oiled and scaled to repel the weather

I pull on layers
Undergarments, over garments, artificial skins
I should not be here today

Perhaps we were meant to store the summer sun and keep it in our dens till spring.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Knowing the way should help ?

Insula Dulcamara Paul Klee 1938

We have started a collaborative piece of work for the next stage of the MA. There has been constant overlapping of ideas and threads from the Pecha Kucha thought experiment and the essay questions, all of which feed into the collaboration.

The group has called itself 'Nowhaus' ( we have set the bar high !) after that collaborative school of art, design and architecture the Bauhaus.

Having looked at the contributors and teachers at the Bauhaus - I rediscovered an old influence on my early art journey - Paul Klee. I particularly like the way he taught drawing and the concept of 'Taking a line for a walk'. I haven't yet presented my ant religion to the world - but that also involves lines - walking and the psychology of spaces and boundaries and the effect on our thoughts and emotions. I also recognise the influence Klee's work had on my own mark making.

There is nothing new under the sun, but at the same time there is a newness in ways of seeing that Klee and other artists open us up to - and that brings with it a sense of awe at what is in the world and how we live and breathe and have our being in it. Is that the sublime ?


Monday, 29 October 2018

Which way ?

This thought experiment is throwing out multiple possibilities for this ant to follow. After each tutorial I have a new path that beckons. It has driven me half mad - so I went for a walk in the hills along both familiar and unfamiliar paths. I suppose that is what this life could consist of - if we are fearless enough to stray now and then into new territory. Straying does open up new perspectives on what is familiar, but so far I still need the comfort of knowing my way home. Perhaps I am more ant-like than I thought - I need a nest, a home - what is it like for those who are homeless ?

Today below the thunder of inelegant metal birds I see the buzzard and red kite wheel and a peregrine dart from the crags. The landscape opens up - light floods in and warms stone that was as cold as ice.

New perspective on Cribbarth

Shadows sun warmth joy

My father-in law's clock - the copper face makes me feel at home - I cannot explain why

A low to the ground viewpoint of landscape making it unfamiliar re-worked today after the walk
A painting by Wendy McWilliams called 2011 a record of  journeying on one day in her neighbourhood in the States in 2011
Nature does not respect the boundaries we impose - but moves through, around and over them.

Meanwhile I have now considered three possible essay questions - but I seem to be settling on the sublime, I cannot die yet - sorry M. Barthes. It seems Ben Kinmont is also in that place even after trying to deconstruct.

Life is art art is life. I am conflicted and contradictory - I want a home, a nest and I want freedom to roam - can I have both ? Community or self ? Is our true self found in community or are we all islands with some similarities and some differences ? Would the earth benefit from us all just being focused on our basic needs being met ? Is there more to existing than just meeting our basic needs ? Do we need self actualisation (Maslow) ?

Paul the ant

Update 10/11/18

I read this following piece in the Guardian Magazine today and immediately thought that we are becoming more and more ant like in our search for the 'perfect' life - the one lived by celebrity and life coaches. The article is funny but insightful.

I have made an ant amulet - this will be awarded to the person that converts to ANT and in wearing it will abide by the law of restricted vision. This will make them happy !


Thursday, 25 October 2018

A space to put things in

Having collected lots of thoughts - I now have a space to arrange them in at The Elysium Studios in Swansea

I hope to fill the wall with more ideas and connect them with threads.

I followed up some ideas from our speed tutorials - I particularly liked the thoughts of the anthropologist Tim Ingold -he talks about us having conversations with the world - loose ends and  lines that get knotted and tangled together on the journey. He encourages thinking through the activity of making, the making driving the thinking. He describes a tension between the idea and the material.

Also Nina Katchadurian was mentioned during the tutorials - she deconstructed maps and reconstructed them - a visual thread marking a physical route through a landmass.

Today we had a lecture on the 'sublime' This has triggered more thoughts on movement and purpose.
The sublime related to the natural world back in the late 18th century - the awe produced by landscapes and wilderness - the vastness of the heavens. It is said that in this century we have overcome the natural world, have controlled it and our awe is now centred around technology. I would argue that we have not controlled nature - we have altered it to our own detriment. We ourselves are nature. We are digitalising and measuring and quantifying everything to the point where we believe there is no mystery.

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him ..." Nietzsche.  It is we who kill the concept of God and then go on to find other ways of experiencing the sublime - continually searching out new 'gods' to worship. Perhaps we need things to believe in ? We need anchors in an uncertain world - we always try to make sense of the world around us.

The discussion around the sublime seemed to empahsise that only grand scale works can create a sense of awe - I'm not sure about that as I have experienced awe by looking at a small Ben Nicholson relief. Or have marvelled at the beauty of some small insects - jewel-like beetles and intricately patterned butterflies for example.


Saturday, 20 October 2018

Thought trial and its trails

The thought experiment continues.

Footprints, the direction of travel dictated by the estuary and the sand dunes. Detritus from the storm following the flow of the tide. An imprint, a memory of flow. It reminded me of a line of wood ants in a forest carrying twigs to make their enormous nests

'A line made by walking ' by Richard Long in 1967 recorded a man made temporary line as a line or path that goes nowhere. He wanted to make an artwork that was outside of a gallery space and the traditional notions of sculpture. The snaking line of detritus above was made by nature and man had no hand in it and because of that its sculptural form has an even greater purity. I have written and rewritten a poem - trying to distill this piece of nature's artwork.

Storm wood pushed up
Following the shore
An imprinted memory of flow

Sea apples and sticks
Swept in curves
Stranded line of beach bone

Detritus not of human hand
Plastic washed far out to sea
Cleansed the cormorant is watched by the fishes impassive eye.


I watched a You Tube clip of ants constructing a nest on the forest floor. The journeys they make are either to find materials for construction or to find food for the colony. After thinking about their single minded activity I wondered if ants lived fulfilling and happy lives - unlike us who are slaves to status, appearance, mortgages, loans etc. We are conflicted - we know that we are destroying the planet through our consuming but we are unable to stop. *1 Ants just ant. I thought perhaps I should start a new religion which cuts out our thinking and makes our lives simple.

The religious text and commandments would be as follows :

Follow the queen of the six legs
Join the segmented community
See mindless purpose through compound eye

Active antennae twitch at the busy movement
Going nowhere but existing nonetheless in chemical messages

Adherents of the new religion would wear ant masks with restricted vision - only allowing a view of the next task.

How happy we would be.


Whilst out walking I kept thinking of these journeys we make - what is the purpose ? Connection to the landscape ? Therapy for the soul ? Walking in nature does seem to have a restorative effect. We walked to the top of Carn Ingli from there you look down as though in an aeroplane and the landscape looks map like. I did a sketch of mountain bikers making an ant like trail along one of the paths.

I often walk with fellow blogger, photographer and garden maker Charles Hawes, he sends me postcards from the walks he does abroad - I love receiving them - records of a journey into which I try and place myself imagining I was there in that landscape.

I have continued to work on the fresco adding words related to this journey of thought. I suddenly thought that the ant looks like a fossil - the circle around it like the circles painted around fossilised insect like sea creatures called trilobites collected for my A Level in Geology many years ago.
Fossilised records of the past - imprints like postcards of an ancient journey.

As I am writing this - the news shows thousands of migrants from Honduras and Guatemala crossing the border into Mexico, thwarted at the border gates they build rafts and float across the river to avoid the border controls. Another type of journey - disturbing and distressing.

*1 Today ( 24/10/18)  I remembered the following piece of work by Simon Starling 2006 - a wooden steamboat crossing a lake fuelled by its own timbers. It sinks. I remember laughing when watching the slide show at Tate St Ives. A beautiful and melancholic thing- a metaphor for our lives. We are all in the same boat burning up its resources as we go nowhere in particular. We are ants, so perhaps it would be best to recognise that and take a bit more care of one another and the boat ?


Sunday, 7 October 2018

Marching on

Week two of the Masters and interestingly I am seeing ants and ant like behaviour everywhere - perhaps I am going mad.

Henri Lefebvre in his book The Production of Space,  talks about space as an abstract notion which is open to government - therefore to control and containment. Who's space is it ? Who owns space ? Can you own space ?

This line of questioning took me to a conversation I have been having with a friend who is doing his Masters in Literature at Bristol. He is considering doing his dissertation on Aboriginal literature and in particular looking at the stories they passed down from generation to generation establishing and strengthening their connection with the landscape. 'Settlers' stopped their free movement across the landscape by 'claiming' the land fencing it in and 'owning' it -which is absurd as the aboriginal peoples had lived there for thousands of years and knew the landscape intimately as a place to find food and shelter.

We are to a large extent controlled in our movements within the landscape through the concept of ownership. We are also controlled in other ways by prohibition on movement by road - mainly for our safety as there are so many of us on a relatively small landmass. Has progress really brought freedom ?

More thoughts on the thought experiment - we dabbled in metaphysical poetry.

We listed 5 physical properties of the moon and 5 metaphysical properties - then a group of 10 people threw their words on the floor and we selected words that spoke to us randomly - creating a poem and an image to illustrate it - very quickly !

The 'poem' reads:

Full mysterious light
Changing love to cold
No oxygen
A lifeless mood ritual
A bumpy wisdom

Sing your dreams
The madness of soul
Howl curl and embrace bright mystery
Scream the harvest.

After putting these words together to make some sense of them - they seemed to me like a good description of snoring/apnoea and its consequences. I may use this method to create a poem about ants.

Incidentally whilst doing this exercise my mobile phone which was residing in my pocket decided to heat up to the point where I thought it might explode - I've been howling at Tesco Mobile today because they will not replace it unless they are sure they can't repair it - it is beyond repair it is dead like the Monty Python parrot. I explained that I have saved notes on my lectures to it, and use it for work but to no avail - they have to follow procedures like the rest of us ants.

My argument against this ant like behaviour is that as humans we have independence of thought. An exampleof this is cited by Mika Rottenburg in Art Monthly Oct 18 " In the space of an eight-hour workday, not everything has a purpose- things also have their own kind of logic and people do things in different ways". This divergence and diversity from ' norms - or not fitting easily into tick boxes', means that we may find collaborating in certain circumstances difficult - unless we agree with the terms and the aims of the collaboration. Then we have to decide whether the aims have a moral dimension -are they 'good' or 'bad' and who gets to decide which is which ? Perhaps there are subtle ways used by companies who make money out of us to control our movements and choices in the digital and real world - eg political choices - purchasing choices ? In regards to purchasing - we were reminded in the first lecture on the thought experiment that what we are told are sustainable purchasing choices may not on further investigation truly be sustainable.

I am thinking of making an ant mask and having my hair dyed red by a colleague - then making a short film where I get stamped on by a large doctor marten.


Monday, 1 October 2018

I've started the journey

Passenger aircraft making trails ( ants) journeying along pre determined routes

Surface tunnels created by ants pattern of movement

I have begun the MA in Fine Art and Contemporary Dialogues, and have decided to use this blog as a record of the journey.

My 'Thought Experiment' selected randomly from unmarked envelopes on the floor of the lecture theatre asks me to reflectively follow the movement of ants.

I have started to gather information - visual, thought connections and text.

My favourite book as a 10 year old. I had a childhood fascination/obsession with insects - made an ant nest in a jar. Collected the pupae, watched the queen ants and the male flying ants mate - the queen ants losing their wings and seeking out new nest sites. The winged males die. I mixed together different ant species only to watch them fight and kill one another

The ant in this biblical passage from the book of proverbs is described in the feminine - this is interesting as ants are a matriarchal society - they are driven by the need to create the next generation. We are asked here to consider the fundamental need for humans to gather and provide. This was taken up by certain forms of 'religon' to push the work ethic and to engender guilt and enslave others. This however does not seem to be its core meaning. It just seems to be saying that we need to be active in order to have enough food to eat and share.

Ant like behaviour - Collecting leaves in my garden - raking is pointless as more leaves are going to fall ! Small tasks like small stories however help to build the bigger picture - (reminds me of the mention of grand narratives giving way to small stories - in the lecture on Postmodernism - Jean -Francios Lyotard) . The garden is cleared and is visually pleasing - the activity is pleasurable - the scent of autumn leaf litter - the sunshine the sounds of the birds. The big task is broken down into smaller parts and is less arduous.

Ants don't bully - they are naturally genetically driven to cooperate for the good of the whole community.

Transferring thoughts into an image - the thin plaster broke whilst carving out the channels - but this is ok as it mimics the cracked soil surface under the paving

A fellow student stated that she feels that primary school education is delivered in such a way that we are 'turning out robots'. This obsession with predetermined pathways invades many areas of life including health care - for example the use of pre written care plans and monitoring forms and tick box systems on computer programs. These ways of working aim to reduce the risk of errors. Does working in this way mean that we lose the sense of the personal and individual ? Do we become just a number in the system.

Is control a bad thing ? It may depend on the controller and the purpose of the control. If we have no sense of purpose - no clear direction do we become depressed or anxious ?

An example of this was the first few days of getting to university for the lecture- I had to get used to the route into the city, the timings of connecting buses - and then find my way to the correct building and the correct room within the building. These initial trials of finding new routes and timings create anxiety, but once they have become routine and known, the anxiety dissipates.

Identity crisis, anxiety and depression may be the result of our postmodern world - the certainties of the past having been eclipsed. Does this create a space for a new form of control to exert itself over us ? We need to be careful ?

There - ramblings - hopefully I will pull out some threads linking with other artists, poets etc - this is the beginning of the journey.