Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Beach
I signed up for this project back in January, with only the vaguest notion of what it was all about. In fact it was a direct offshoot of BARB HUNT's work - she had an installation on display at the Phoenix in Exeter during March and April, called "Vigil". Barb hails from Newfoundland, Canada: a rural environment with a rich tradition of 'domestic textiles'. This connection with textiles was completely accidental - I love that kind of synchronicity!

Barb is currently interested in expressing the relationship between birth, gender, recuperation, death and mourning. Here's a snippet from BBC Devon:
"Barb is worried about the way many rituals are cut short to return to work or other commitments that leaves individuals and communities carrying unreleased grief.
Her home in Newfoundland, an island area of Canada, is near a graveyard and she admits to being fascinated by how the floral tributes left at the graves makes these resting places the most colourful areas in an otherwise rugged landscape.
The strong coastal winds often blow the remains of these flowers out of the graveyard and spread them across the nearby countryside. Whenever Barb sees these she has made a habit of collecting the lost fabric flowers and washing them, sorting them into colours and styles. She's now decided to use her ever growing collection of fabric mourning flowers to create a new body of work.
Large swatches of veil-like fabric have been decorated with these flowers and other natural materials such as beach rocks. According to the artist she hopes it creates "space for moments of reorientation where living and dead intertwine, reflecting on loss, grief, healing and continuance."

So this was our inspiration and starting place. Our two intrepid leaders, Nicci and Chrissy, artists from the Phoenix, led us through the installation: We started in the shaded, veiled womb like room - I thought the white blobs on the material were soft - then realised they were hard beach pebbles when I got closer. The hangings create interesting shadows on the floors and walls. From there we stepped into the light and the 'tree of life'
- women in Exeter, natives from all over the world, had finger knitted (looked like single crochet chains) threads which had been formed into the tree you can see. Barb had knitted squares of pinks shading through to darkest purples to enclose the women, to wrap them in a blanket and protect them. (You can see that sewing the ends in is Barb's favourite task too!).
The last room had the funeral flowers dangling from the ceiling. then we: Liz, Sue, Jane, Suzanne and Rosie and Georgie (the latter on a mother and daughter bonding expedition) and myself, all strolled down to the railway station and took a train to the beach.
This was an exiting part of the process: I love travelling and the anticipation.The process begins with us women getting to know each other - some had come together, others had not. (By the end of the day, I had heard several women's life stories: I was amazed and fascinated by how many of us are survivors! - everyone has a story to tell).


Having arrived at Dawlish Warren, we walked through the dunes to a deserted section between the 'groynes'. It was a beautiful cloudless day. The idea was to make our own installation on the beach - first the collection, then the creating.


Beachcombing, gathering on the beach: takes us back to our hunter/gatherer roots. I found shells, round pebbles, black rocks, and flints, and pebbles with stripes in.




Sue had also found some rocks with stripes, so I put mine with hers and got engrossed in lining up the stripes. I liked getting lost in the detail. It also reminded me of the threads dangling down from Barb Hunt's veil like creations.

Having brought back our collections, we then discussed what we wanted to create, what we wanted to concentrate on bringing together. Stripes got it: The connection to Barb's work in the dangling threads, the link with networking, knitting together of links and pulling together. Nicci had a rock with a hole in it - and suggested the structure should mirror this: a womb like hole, a representation of the feminine with threads wrapping around it. But someone (either Suzanne or Jane) suggested we build our creation around the remains of a fire on the beach - there was a group of blackened stones and twigs next to us. It reminded her of the hearth, the heart of the matter; the burnt remains also resonated with death, ashes to ashes. (How appropriate for a project stemming from the phoenix!),

The remains of the fire would be the heart of our piece and we would collect any pebbles with stripes in, no limitation of colours, we would just start collecting and create our work organically. Let it grow!

I was amazed at how amicable the process of decision making and subsequent creating was. The project was as organic and freeflowing as the result. There were conversations about death and grieving and agreement that we had indeed lost our ability to mourn in this country Hallowe'en and all saints day have been buried in commercialism. Christianity sanitised pagan rituals.






This all struck home with me: I put work commitments first when my Dad became ill at the end of his life, and he died the same day I'd arranged to go to him. When we die it is family and friends who will remember us - and not because of the work we do, or the fact that we have a big house or car.

I love the way the lines connect and the subtle colours of the pebbles change. Nicci thought it 'weaved' and
was very gentle with no borders...










What did it remind me of? An amoeba? Nebulae throwing off stars, suns, planets, eggs. We pooled ideas - some thought a web - others, lines of thought. I loved getting involved with the detail, following a line and going where it took me. I think this is the right brain getting into gear, nonverbal: I don't think there was any hint of us getting too serious and pompous and (diappearing up our own bottoms) losing sight of the fun. Honest.

A family stopped and stared. "What is it?" asked the little boy. HA! GOOD question. It was all in the detail and also in the process. Andy Goldsworthy eat your heart out!
Barb Hunt is best known as the artist who knitted the pink ANTIPERSONNEL landmines. Reminds me of the Red sweaters project.












The egg like shape on its own was pebbles that had been rescued from the sea by Georgie (I think)

I wonder what's left of it? Nothing I expect.

19 comments:

ra said...

fantastic, I love those arrangements of stones and particularly the way the lines flow throughout the arrangement. Beautiful.
Sounds like a great way to spend a day.

Badger said...

What an amazing post about what sounds like an amazing day. Really thought provoking, thankyou :)

Sue said...

That's amazing. Very evocative and beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Seahorse said...

For some reason, I'm crying now! What a great post.

Jo said...

Fantastic post, Ia bit of a Goldsworthy fan, there's a great walk over at East Dean which takes you around 13 chalk snowboulders he made. The impermanence of the stones you arranges together so beautifully and the impermanence and fragility of life is a great message sorry if I'm waffling like some kind of critic on the culture show, its soooo fab!

wendy said...

what a wonderful day....the transient nature of it - the sea and people have probably dismantled it by now and it is back as a natural part of the land- also fits with the life/death/life cycle....we lost a good friend recently, he's no longer here but every where I look I see reminders so little bits of him remain spread across the landscape of my life, just like the pebbles in your installation are no longer together and whole but will still be scattered around the beach.

Rain said...

Your creation looks amazing. Also a Goldsworthy fan and love looking at the natural art in Grizedale Forest, it reminds me a lot of that.

artyfartykat said...

Your fascinating day was wonderful to read about and very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing it.

Riggwelter said...

Oh that is just amazing! I love the way the lines flow through the whole piece, taking your eyes on a journey and seeing it as a whole artform.
Must have been a wonderful day!

Artis-Anne said...

That is truly beayutiful &awe inspiring and what great photos Thanks for sharing them ; must have been a fantastic day

kathryn said...

There's certainly a lot to think about there. Thank you.

The Imperfect Knitter said...

I just love the very sanity of your blog , it always gives me something to think about .

Terri said...

I love how you've linked up all the lines on the stones. I had to smile when I read this entry - I love it when synchronicity is at work. I had just tonight been thinking about the old Pagan practice of knot magic where wise-men or women would tie magic together by knotting ropes or yarn. They often did this for sailors so that when they were at sea, and were becalmed, they could untie a single knot and cause a wind to fill their sails. Anyway, I've always thought that knitting was a form of knot magic - I mean we knot together our thoughts and feelings into the pieces as we work don't we. I really liked your 'networking' and 'knitting the links together' association. Great photos too btw. :o) I remember doing something similar to this on a deserted pebble beach on the Ornkey Islands when I was there. I spent a very contented and absorbing few hours happily constructing my piece of 'art' when I looked up to see a man watching me with a very bemused expression on his face. I mumbled something about never growing up. In a familiar accent he said grinning "I'm from Sydney, where are you from". Geesh, another Aussie. :o)

Badger said...

Oy! Compy is still open til tomorrow night so you can enter still! Get back over to the badger nlog and get guessing ;)

Queen Frogger said...

Just lovely. What a fantastic way to spend a day.

Kath said...

I love the stripey stones all lined up - fantastic photos. Sounds a great day out was had by all!

Terri said...

Well, I've been tagged this morning, so now I'm tagging you. Post seven random things, please. Check my blog to find out out how to play... (if you don't want to, that's fine with me!)...

Get your package yet???

acrylik said...

What a fascinating post, I really enjoyed reading it and looking at all your art. Thanks!

Dirk_Star said...

Amazing piece...

Your blog gets better every day.