‘working drawings’

It’s the 26th of March. I walk into fields that have been turned. This marks the beginning.
The rag too caught my eye but unlike the immature fish that the angler returns to the river the rag will keep my eye.

It was hard at the beginning, still is …
reading the news … remembering to breathe … watching ‘at the end of the world’ as people compulsively fouled the nest. And just in case we thought that there was only one story abroad our shiny bits of not-so-smart glass (our mirrors) continue to show us that things for project-humanity are only getting worse … We exist (let’s call it that for now) in a time of constant emergence, but we seem to go nowhere.

I left my place of work at the University on a Tuesday afternoon near the end of March and I’ve been at home on my own, until recently, when the Scottish Government implemented Phase 1 of the easing of restrictions.
I’ve got to know the postman a bit better, a number of the courier drivers too, and I’ve spoken more frequently with those few neighbours whose paths I occasionally cross … I’ve frequently found the sheer volume of messaging-correspondence at times overwhelming.

Living always—on the crest of the present—is precarious, exhausting and, more often than not at the moment, frightening. And in isolation—is the prefix ‘self’ needed?—it is hard to establish any sense of proportion as life oscillates, or more accurately jump-cuts between global catastrophe and the quiet granular days of one’s own solitude.
We usually have some say over our way of living—if we are fortunate to live in a democracy—and I choose to make and study and teach art. But what of the intellect, what of culture at this time?

The idea of the ‘public intellectual’ is not one that flourished in Britain in the way that it did in other European countries after the First World war. Why not? The answer can be found in our education system, devolved or otherwise.
When you deal with words, with numbers, with pictures, with ideas, you are often dealing with dangerous stuff … it matters. Intellect matters; curiosity matters; knowledge matters. Culture, when it is (morally) serious is first and foremost an expression of human dignity.
John Berger was an exception. His essay’s … on art, on drawing … are never far from me. When I was making the things that you can see here I frequently asked myself the following questions: ‘What is this for?’ Is it a finished work? Who is it for? Is it a study for a fabric design; a ‘sketch’ for a tapestry or stained glass window; an illustration to a poem or a book jacket; is it an ‘instruction’ for a performance; is it to be ‘scaled up’ into a painting, or presented outdoors on a billboard …?

It was hard at the beginning, to understand … but they are not finished works, or things to be used for other reasons.
They are ‘working drawings,’ as Berger would understand the term. Drawings which are an autobiographical discovery of an event, of a thing—as opposed to a ‘finished work’ which would be an attempt to construct such an event in itself.
The drawings you see here are records of events, more akin to a journal or diary; drawings that contain within them in however an elusive state, the things I’ve been looking at, hearing, thinking, reading, listening to … while I was making them.

Angels are … Things we share

The last fine art studio project of the semester, Attention is a task we share, you and I was swiftly overtaken by events.
And the studio briefing itself … it’s unlikely I’ll be doing anything like that again anytime soon … if ever.

During the make Angel project I had an important discussion with one of my colleagues: Did we think that we could ‘do’ one of the projects that we set for the students. Was it possible, given our knowledge of the subject, and how would it feel to work in such a way; would it give us any insight into the difficulties that all students face when trying to engage with the requirements of a particular brief and/or thematic subject … these were some of the things we talked about.
A few days later, in the spirit of shared scholarship, that’s exactly what I did. I started work on make Angel (see my earlier post), and my last studio talk was about how I got on.

I began with Albrecht Dürer and Rory McEwen and Ruskin … wove in poets Poliziano, Rainer Marie Rilke and Edward Thomas, Sami ceremonial drums (cognitive maps; shamanism), A.R. Penck, Robert Walser and finished my talk with a warm and gentle photograph, taken in 1976 by Czesław Siegieda, of three angels waiting … for their call during a rehearsal for a nativity play … waiting … for their futures …

How the world has changed since that final image came up on the screen in studio 3 on Monday the 9th March.

I recently heard Angel (1993) by James MacMillan on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Night Tracks’ (Tuesday May 5th). It was performed by John York.
This lullaby was a gift to his daughter Catherine, and it was composed after a Sikh friend told him that according to his religion angels were present in any household where there were young children. The serene miniature MacMillan created was an attempt to evoke this parallel world of heavenly beings. I recall reading in ‘Silence’ (a collection of John Cage’s lectures) of Cage’s wish to be able to record the sound of mushroom spores falling to the floor of the wood … I hear in Angel by MacMillan the sound of dandelion seeds being carried on the wind and gently touching down in fields and gardens.

Landfill – Forgetting | project reference and my notes

‘A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.’
— Walter Benjamin

‘The role of forgetting and remembering have changed, from a default of forgetting to one of remembering.
Technology (cheap storage, easy retrieval, global access …) has altered the culture and economy of remembering and ushered in the demise of forgetting. Everything, across generations and time, is now indiscriminately ‘remembered.’ The objects we think with into our past and toward our futures are increasingly dematerialised into digital environments, where, for instance, touch and smell are hard to come by.
But forgetting has been of central importance to our development, as individuals, as societies. It allows us to live in the present and think abstractedly, while if we were unable to forget, we would – as the philosopher E.M. Cioran noted in A Brief History of Decay – ‘be crushed by the weight of our memories.’
Is this happening?
And if so, what effect might this ‘remembering’ be having on us, as individuals, as a society?
How is it changing our social lives, our understanding of family, employment, Time and art?
And what might we learn from the material that we do discard, abandon, throw away and bury as waste? Landfill – that other archive; our material unconscious.

This project asks you to consider ‘the role of forgetting’ in society and make an artwork based on your reflections.’
— from the project brief.

Angel, Still Ugly

The strapline on the back page of the newspaper said, The Last Goodbye.
I was looking.
He was an ugly old man who had got on the train at Stonehaven.
Moving slowly – like the train is now – he gripped the table with both hands and lowered himself into a seat.
He had brittle pubic hairs growing out of the top of his nose, dirty spectacles, grey hair. I could feel the coldness
in his hands.
The previous occupant of the seat had left behind a big empty crisp packet and a travel ticket.
With clenched fists he violently punched these off the table into the seat opposite, clearing space for a newspaper.
And I wondered.
On how many other occasions in his life had he dealt with things
that he didn’t like, things that were in his way, things that he didn’t want to see,
occasions now forgotten,
by punching them into the seat opposite;
out of the room,
out of the ring.

‘Landscapes are absurd until obeyed.’ (Paul Bowles)

‘The absurd does not liberate; it binds.’ (Albert Camus)


Dreaming of Hedgehog

My dream is I am standing in a dusting of snow on the farm road which passes the garden gate. The gate is open, held open by an old brick as usual (the route that Hedgehog favours on her afternoon walk in the neighbourhood) and as there is no wind, the wild rose bushes and trees are motionless. It’s quiet. It’s cold, but I’m kept warm by a heavy greatcoat. The ground is luminous. The sky a very dark grey. The snow comes on again, big heavy flakes now, as an Angel, looking across the fields towards the river, appears near the steadings at the end of the road, followed soon after by the tinkling sound of little bells. Hedgehog approaches me, and goes past, leaving little grey daubs behind on the ground, and I see that she has hung around her neck a pale blue ribbon with tiny pink bells. She looks and sounds very pretty (and she knows that I think this as well) as she goes on her way towards the serene Angel who has turned to face her.