As an emerging artist I sometimes find it difficult to maintain my practice. Jobs, financial security and a social life constantly cause various distractions. Previously I have always kept my practice simultaneously to everything else I do, allowing inspiration to pool from all experiences. But now I wish to separate, to divide my time, to have saturated moments. This is an experiment to develop a revised style of living.
Monotonous tasks are still commonplace in my day to day. I have now made 628 tiny little houses and packaged them to be sent back to the UK. My time at Gibraltar Point has quickly drawn to an end and I cannot decide if I have been here for a year, or a week… (the reality is a month). The drawing is almost complete and I hope to exhibit it as well as some other work at the Cube Microplex cinema in Bristol in the early spring. The houses are also going to become part of an installation at an exhibition space in Bristol. The juggle of cross-country communication is complicated, but now at least I know what I want to do creatively. The next task will be the organization of transportation, the hunt for funds, and pooling ideas for promotion and publication. I have learnt these skills slowly and in the most organic fashion, as the education of these tasks is often lacking in artistic establishments, but like most things in life sometimes it is best to just try, and then see what happens. With that in mind, I hope to have an exhibition in January. I have a space that I can exhibit in and a well-developed idea, and I hope these components will put me in good stead for a successful show.
The next stop on my travels is rather luxurious. I am heading to the Nevada desert to take part in the Burning Man festival. The journey is rather ridiculous as I am travelling to New York, then San Francisco, and then the desert, but that is how it needs to happen. For the last week I have been working on a project that encompasses performance and drawing. I find that the idea of doing artwork at festivals sometimes has a stigma about it-either the ideas are not well developed, or the work is considered to be closer to craft than fine art. I feel the Burning Man may be an exception. The boundaries and labels we put on art can sometimes be detrimental to progression, and this is why I have decided to mention this project on my blog. The festival is a week long, and extreme in most areas from living conditions to social structure. The thing that intrigues me most about the Burning Man is the scale of the event, a desert where anything big needs to be giant to seem established. I am looking forward to my experience and hope to learn a lot, and possibly reassess how I feel about art in a festival environment.
Many battles have happened over the last few days. Work has been going well and I am now up to 189 houses. The repetitive tasks on my mini house production line has been grueling some days, as sculpting houses, making casts and then casting houses can be quite tedious and not a process that you can rush. Through play and experimentation I have had a breakthrough discovery of how to control the amber tones of the sap – but like all procedures it is long winded.
On a more trivial note an infuriating war has begun between the mosquitoes and me. At the moment they really seem to be winning as I am always holding sticky sap objects at the time that they strike. I won’t state my death count but just say that August seems to be the month for mosquitoes in Toronto.
I have had a few “what am I doing?” days, a phenomenon that seems to plague all creative minds. With hindsight I always find it astounding how I can remember and then forget the importance of being an artist on such a regular bases. It’s so easy to slip into the idea that it is just a hobby or therapy for the individual. But art has the potential to be so much better and bigger than that. Especially with the project I am working on now, I am determined to develop workshops and events to coincide with my work to aid communication. Sometimes I fear that the public’s engagement with visual art is decreasing disproportionately when compared to other creative outputs such as music or writing. Art is a language that is understood by everyone innately. How much an individual engages with their understanding of it is variable, but everyone partakes in the translation of symbols everyday without realizing. I think when you put art within this basic context it can become more accessible. This is not to simplify complex and well-philosophized pieces of art: just to reinforce the idea that there is no absolute way of interpreting art. Everybody’s opinion and feelings count and that is what makes art such an amazing entity.
Last night I was blessed with musical enlightenment. For 5 hours I experienced a wonderful event organized by Matt Cully called the Poor Pilgrim Island Show 3. This free event consisted of several musicians playing around different locations on the Island. Yesterday the weather was crazy; two huge thunderstorms rolled over Toronto and the Island and almost threatened the go-ahead of the event. Yet amazingly the ambience of the mist, lightening, rain and thunder added to each performance – something that could not have been for planned with any choreography. It was truly beautiful and has cleared my head and re-engaged me with what I am doing and why.
My current place of residence is on Toronto Island at an artist retreat space called Gibraltar Point run by an organization called Artscape. (http://www.torontoartscape.on.ca/places-spaces/art)
I have been here for a week and feel very settled in my surroundings. It reminds me of universities days as everyone is living in a communal environment sharing thoughts, ideas and odd bits of food. My arrival was hectic as an impromptu storm surged and I was traveling with enough clothes, food, tools and materials (including rolls of paper) for a month. I had no option but to get soaked! By some small miracle the roll of paper survived the rain, which allowed me to start drawing as soon as I arrived. After the first two days of downpours, the summer seems to be back and I have spent the last couple of days continuing my mission of collecting sap. I can’t believe that I have found a material that requires me to partake in a past time that I enjoy so much – climbing trees.
Toronto Island is a green space that is generally used by Torontonians to escape the city and enjoy a picnic, the beach or one of the various recreational activities. It is apparently the largest urban car-free community in North America. Strangely today has been the first day that I have really encountered the tourism because for the last six weeks Toronto service workers have been on strike. This means no rubbish clearance and no regular ferries to the island apart from one for the Island residence. At first this seemed like it was going to be difficult but I was amazed how quickly I adjusted to the sparsely populated island and now that there are more people I feel like our little art community has been invaded.
Work is going well and I am doing a drawing every day and learning more and more about the techniques of refining sap. I have had a week of experimentation and reassessing ideas. Sometimes it’s so easy to forget the origin of your ideas and what you are trying to express. After many a distraction, I have begun to make moulds of small houses so I can begin to make a city with this beautiful amber coloured resin. I made my first Toronto Island house yesterday and became so excited that I ran out to the corridor, to accustom the first person I met with this satisfying little sculpture.
My journey on the train was beautiful; the view literally consisted of tree, tree, tree, sap, tree, lake, tree, tree etc. I found myself becoming slightly frustrated that I could not be out in the forest but the sighting of a bear quickly squashed this. I arrived in Toronto at 9 in the morning and knew I had a whole day before I would be on another journey, this time by coach, to New York. This part of my adventure has been planned to be the gallery and artist research time. And I think I can safely say I have seen a wide selection of work. To list all the galleries and discoveries would be very long so I will cut to the chase and praise a few. First off, AGO (art gallery of Ontario, Toronto) has an excellent collection of permanent works as well as changing exhibitions. I was so happy to see several pieces by Guiseppe Penone and David Altmejd’s piece that was at the 2007 Venice biennale entitled the index. I found new Canadian contemporary artists that I had not heard of before including Sarah Anne Johnson, who casts emotive bronze sculptures. David Harnah, who creates large-scale kinetic sculptures of animals out of sticky tape. And the most profound discovery was Marcel Dzama, a draughtsman who works with ink and who work makes me smile so much and oddly from…Winnipeg.
New York held more art highs and lows that I can’t even fathom now. I think I totaled around 35 galleries in 5 days. My sketchbook holds scribbles of excitement and notes-to-self of what not to do in a gallery space. I traveled between the small commercial galleries of Chelsea to the giants of MOMA. In between the vast amount of traveling and art absorption, I managed to find some sap, something that I thought would not be possible in NYC. I am beginning to see that this collection process could become obsessive, but I really enjoy it. I think its like search for gold but it’s free and nobody else seems to want it as much as I do.
Sap has had many uses over the years and so far in my research I have discovered two methods of sap collection. The first is simply tap the tree by carving a series of v-shapes into the bark. The second is called dry distilling and involves separating the wood into two elements; tar (sap) and charcoal. Although tapping the trees doesn’t harm them the process can take quite long and you really need your own trees to be doing that much carving. Sadly I don’t own any trees so my method of collection is a little more haphazard. I basically only collect sap from trees that are already releasing excess amounts. These trees are normally on the corner of trails, near fallen trees, or sometimes the trees the have been subjected to bears cleaning there claws!
I recently discovered that in the sixteenth century there was a great demand for pine tar (a mixture of charcoal and sap) as it was used for treating and waterproofing boat hulls. Since this discovering I have begun to pay more attention to naval architecture, pattern and construction. So it seems fitting that 2 days after this research, I find out that Winnipeg’s museum holds a life-size replica of the “Non-such”, a ship from England built in 1668. The Non-such as well as having an amazing name, also has much more cultural significance as it was the boat that started the now very established Hudson Bay company. The museum’s replica is huge and as a visitor you are welcomed to walk in and around the structure. A fact that I found really interesting is that in order to house the boat they simply built an extension on to the museum and around the boat. I really like the craftsmanship of old carpentry as you can see that it was built by hand. I hope to learn a little more about some of the methods as I would like them to influences my sculptural work.
My time in Winnipeg is coming to an end and now I am to board a train and travel east for 34hr to Toronto.