I am delighted to have contributed a few pieces of work to the new exhibition Bugs at the Groundworks Gallery, Kings Lynn. The gallery seeks to engage viewers with environmental issues through art. Director Veronika Sekeles has created a wonderful space where artists show work alongside a varied and creative programme. These workshops look at how art facilitates discussion helping us to respond to these crucial issues and enabling us to shape the future.
One of the pieces I have submitted - 'A Dangerous Idea' was made in response to an Italian reliquary diptych (1300 - 1350). This beautiful medieval work is on view in the V &A Museum, London (Medieval and Renaissance Gallery, Room 10, case 16). The original work (above) depicts a tempera painting of the Virgin and Child with Saints Blasius and Nicholas; Saints Bartholomew, Mary Magdalena, Urban, Agatha, and Anthony.
The work is small and portable consisting of two panels which open and close like a book. The central area contains several holy relics still in their original wrappings. It was this 'booklike' quality that initially caught my attention. I began to wonder what a more modern interpretation might contain. Religious iconography is less evident in todays world and no longer has that central position it once had. My first thoughts turned toward science and in particular to Darwin.
Using this structure, my response reflects the changing attitudes of the nineteenth century, and the emergence of science. The painted panels of the original diptych have been replaced by the inclusion of On the Origin of Species'. Darwin revolutionised our understanding of the natural world and our place within it. An image of Darwin peers from beneath the bunt pages of his text, while on the opposite panel the inclusion of a mirror brings the viewer into the work. Various natural objects surround the text. A 'spent' match becomes a symbol of this pivotal moment when these theories 'set the world alight', forever changing our understanding of the world.
Also included in the exhibition are four smaller works titled 'Relic". These are a comment on the massive decline of many butterfly and moth species. The central butterfly image was not based on any one species but rather stands as a symbol representing all of those species which once so abundant, are now extremely rare. The butterfly rests on a circular book - part index of the world - its burnt edges a reminder of the destruction of vital habitats around the world. Each piece is contained in a box and slipcase.
The final work consists of two artist books. A triptych structure folds together enclosing a hand painted image. The first book's central panel has a 'scar' cutting through the page. It is suggestive of a world in the process of being torn apart; darkness spills out across the smaller panels leaving an impression of an empty devastated world.
The second book opens to a central panel in which the 'scar' has a number of nails placed along the fissure. Referencing the Japanese attitude of Kintsugi - the idea that breakages and cracks can be repaired with an honesty which remains visible, the panel offers a suggestion of potential and renewal.
The outer panels of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights depicts the creation of the world. I have created a textured dark cover, with stitched fragile heartbeat. This wraps around enclosing the entire book.
Staying optimistic in the face of such serious climate challenges is no mean feat. However all change starts with a small gesture. Multiplied, these small changes come together as a greater force. If we hold this in mind, and value collaboration over competition, hope continues to have a chance.
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge has become the focal point for the new work. Although this 'scar' is the result of powerful natural forces, I began to wonder about the 'scars' made by man through extraction and industry. Issues re greed and the destruction of natural resources is not a unique phenomenon and can be found throughout history.
Further research lead me to a medieval work - 'In the Garden of Earthly Delights'. Painted by Hieronymus Bosch (1490 -1510), it is thought to depict mans greed, and the transience of worldly pleasures. Consisting of three panels, the scene is set in the Garden of Eden. Initially created as altarpieces triptych paintings first appeared in early Christian art during the Middle Ages. Their primary function was to serve as an aid to devotion or prayer. The three panels are hinged together allowing the work to folded shut or displayed in an open format.
Using this as my reference point, I have set about making a response for the 21st century. While it is not my intention to make a 'devotional' altarpiece, it strikes me the present concerns put forward by scientists re our continued destruction of earths resources is a subject worth thinking about.
The format chosen is the same as Bosch has used - a triptych.
Preparing background ready for inks.
Building layers of texture and ink
I have been thinking about a trip to Iceland several years ago which had such an impact it continues to inspire and influence my work. In particular I have been 'revisiting" a walk we did through Thingvallir National Park. This is where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is exposed above sea level, making it possible to walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. A geologically active area - it is estimated these plates are pulling apart by as much as 2.5cm a year. The surrounding landscape is littered with ravines filled with beautifully clear glacial meltwater from the Langjokull glacier. It really is a special place.
Being part of the longest mountain range in the world, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge extends 40,000km from north east of Greenland southward around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. It is a rift valley marking the boundary between adjacent tectonic plates.
I thought I would start this new project by drawing the outline of this amazing natural feature. It will form the basis for a large work I have in mind. My intention is to make two pairs of artist books. starting with a smaller version and then a larger work. Space is a limiting factor in my studio so the final size has in this instance been defined by the room!
I am delighted to have had work (The Ark) selected for inclusion in the Agri-Cultures/Seeds Links Exhibition. The show represents a truly global cast of thirty artists from various parts of the world. It is an exciting new project first instigated in 2018 in which science and art come together to celebrate and highlight issues around seeds, biodiversity and culture.
The Seed Cultures Initiative aims are to
"create an archive of visual artworks to help conserve the cultural heritage of seeds. Its aim is to celebrate the ways in which seeds live within vast webs of interrelations and to honour the fertile bonds between biological and cultural diversity in argri- foods systems"
Hosted in association with the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, the Seed Cultures exhibition features artists whose work explores seeds and their wider connection to culture. For the past two years an archive of physical work has been deposited in the vault alongside over a million seeds from around the world. The inclusion of art work is an excitng new initiative which will continue to build over the coming years.
I would like to invite you to explore the project and all of the artists work on the website coordinated by artist Sara Schneckloth and senior scientist Fern Wickson. It can be viewed here
Last summer while gathering ideas about how my 'ark' project might evolve, I took a selection of photographs of seeds suspended in ice. It was an idea which I had started after reading an article about water entering the Global seed bank on Svarlbard. Intrigued by the idea of seeds being preserved in cold icy environments and the news that temperatures are rising, the photographs were taken as the ice slowly dissolved. A selection of these were then 'collaged' together into a series of short videos. Here are two of them. The others can be viewed here
The Forum in Norwich City centre was alive with the buzz of conversations for two days as visitors to Turn the Page Artist Book Fair, gently moved around the stalls taking their time to browse, and speak with exhibitors about their work. Coordinated by Rosie Sherwood, the event included a wonderful variety of book arts - something for everyone. Visitors were warm and engaging and willing to think about books in their broadest sense from the traditional skills of bookbinders to a variety of beautifully illustrated limited editions, letterpress, calligraphy, poetry and sculptural pieces.
I am always delighted and amazed at the unexpected chance encounters that these occasions create. Alongside conversations about art, and books, I have met scientists and amateur enthusiasts who are willing to share elements of their passion in response to my work. This is a privilege and reward enriching my own (albeit limited) knowledge. It is why I love working with book structures - they have the ability to appeal to such a wide audience.
A selection of artists work from the show can be viewed on the Artbookart website but here are a few casual shots from the two days.
Setting up nice and early on Friday morning.
The event starts to attract visitors. "Connecting Threads' dominates the room.
A young visitor is eager to explore up close!
All set and ready for the day - Helen form the Subversive Unconsious Collective.
Absorbed in conversation.
A delighted visitor surprised by books made from Fruit on Dizzy Pragnall's table!
Wonderful to see the group 'seven' and Ali Bournes. Thanks for travelling up from Essex
The year has flown past as I make final preparations and select the work I will show at this years Turn the Page Artist Book Fair. My centre piece will be The Ark. I started the piece after reading about a flood at the Global Seed Bank on Svarlbard several years ago. The report stated the entrance of the vault had flooded following unseasonably high temperatures. The Seed Bank preserves the worlds seeds aiming to protect and preserve seed biodiversity. It is "an ark' for our time.
So much of the news we hear is about disaster and the inhuman way we treat each other -for me, the vault stands as a symbol of what we can achieve when we collaborate and work together. It is to be celebrated and supported. I wanted to make a piece of work which captures something of this collaborative aspect. What finally emerged was a series of visual 'conversations" which move not only between the past, present and future, but also across cultures. The resulting images consider seeds in their symbolic form and bring together elements of our shared human histories. Eighty pages (referancing the flood story of rains falling forty days and forty nights) are held within a solander box. They are 'touchstones' to open conversations, raise awareness and ultimately inspire us as we face increasing social, economic and biophysical challenges. It is amazing what can be achieved when we work with each other rather than in competition.
It is always a pleasure at Artist Book Fairs to meet and converse with visitors. While at the Society of Bookbinders Book Arts day recently, I had fascinating conversation with a gentleman who had asked about these books. We discussed whether they are 'sketchbooks' . I explained they are made for my own purposes and contain various collections of words, extracts, images, drawings and paintings. They inform the various projects that I may be focussing on. To my mind, they are more than sketchbooks, but neither are they journals, or diaries. In amongst the pages are a collection of other peoples 'voices' and my responses to them.
The physical, often slow process involved in producing these books allows connections to form. It is while being 'active' - either drawing or writing, that I find ideas begin to evolve allowing my thinking about the particular project to become clearer. The artwork in these books tends to be more resolved than just sketches. The books are containers for research and ideas supporting other work. I see them as a place to anchor thoughts in the process of defining what I am trying to express.
During the conversation the gentleman responded by saying "so they are commonplace books?". Being unfamiliar with this term I became curious to find more information.
A commonplace book; a book into which notable extracts poems, etc are copied for future reference, often together with one's own ideas and reflections.
First recorded in 1570 -90, the commonplace book is most closely associated with England of the 18th and 19th centuries. When books were so expensive, passages would often be copied out into personal notebooks as a method of study. Generally these notebooks were kept private. In 1685 English physician John Locke published his influential book A New Method of Making Common Place Books in which he set out his unique method of indexing information. This method was to be used for at least a hundred years.
In an article from 1970 William Cole has this to say "Common place is not the best word for a book whose contents are usually far from commonplace. The quickest definition of the genre is 'an annotated personal anthology". The key word for the commonplace book is annotated. it is not just an anthology: the compiler reacts to the passages he has chosen and tells what the passages have led him to think about."
While Robert Darnton not only sees commonplace books an aid in recollecting complex information gathered over years from multidisciplinary subjects, but as a source of creativity and means to order experience.
'By selecting and arranging snippets from a limitless stock of literature, early modern Englishman gave free play to a semi-conscious process of ordering experience. the elective affinities that bound their selection into patterns reveal an epistemology - a process of knowing- at work below the surface." (Robert Darnton found here).
So in conclusion would these books be better described as Commonplace books? I would suggest the 'annotated" element is to be found in my drawings and paintings - these are my responses to the passages which resonate for me. This wonderful chance encounter has opened a window into an exciting world of people passionate about books in which they too have 'anchored' their responses in searching for understanding of the world around them.