For the last few days I’ve been drawn out into the August autumn that has shrouded the south coast, searching for mist. The view through the window suggests mist, yet when I reach the sea it is gone. A chill greets me, cool crisp air with a hint of muggy telling me summer has not given up completely.
Mist and rain have evaded capture so I have begun sorting out work in my plan chest. Stacks of prints and portfolios of work long since abandoned for shiny new projects, domestic demands and day to day humdrum. I’ve got round to repacking my prints from my MA show. Hurriedly tidied away five years ago they have been moved twice and sat languishing in their own debris ever since. I realise the significance – I have been here before. Right here. Asking water to draw for me.
Six months spent in a cave like space at the bottom of the cliffs of Hastings, was ‘Cave’. The back of Arthur Green’s, as it was, when it was the pier shop. The pier has since been (re)built and opened. The shop with all it’s beautiful Victorian fittings now passed to an antiques dealer. ‘Cave’ sat in the space beyond the shop. It was filled with the detritus from the previous owners and inhabitants. It was totally enclosed, barring the spaces that water got in. I sat on Saturday afternoons in this dark space, listening, writing, drawing and photographing. I was mesmerised by the constant dripping, the endless movement of water. A final task was to record this in some way. I made a sound recording of it and lay strips of paper on the floor, for the cave to make it’s own response.
Different weights of paper were left in different areas of the space for different lengths of time. A variety of decay and degradation took place as well as marks and lines created in the mud. These are some of the prints it made for me – drips and splashes, paper was soaked and walked on. Lovely long sweeping lines of tails and tiny foot prints of mice and rats crossing paths on the paper.
I found a sketch of a mind map, linking words on a diagram, right at the back of the case. A way of working out what I was doing. It’s oddly reassuring to see it could link to what I’m doing now too. Things are shifting but I’m circling around the same stuff.
Fraser Island, an island build of sand. This lake is created from rain water alone. The trees growing up through this body of water seemed significant for me when I took the photo a couple of years ago in Australia. They seem significant to me again now. I still am not entirely sure why.
There is a resilience about water, in all its forms. A never ending, enduring, persistent, relentlessness about it. Something about that is captured here for me. It is resilient and relentless but it bows and folds around otherness. It is wild and calm, restless and at peace. It can be held on an island of sand and will allow other things to grow in it and through it and flourish.
It is about how things grow in the most impossible places.
The sun comes out behind me in the water and I am reminded of my fascination with the light in the shallows. I remember paddling on an island beach near Greece many years ago. The shimmering glittering shapes that slipped across the sand. The water barely moved but it made the shapes underneath dance. I wanted to draw it, to photograph it, but could do neither with any satisfactory result. I chose to just watch, until the sun passed again behind cloud. I’m filled with joy each time I notice those same shapes in shallow waters with dancing light, equally hypnotised and grasping at an inability to capture it in any meaningful way.
Remembering the starting point for this blog, my under water drawings, brings me back to diving and the effect of depth on light. Partly my reason to draw was because I didn’t have a camera to take photos. Looking back through pictures I have taken when I have had a camera, I remember how bad I am at taking photos under water and how much the light is stripped from them. How unsatisfying a photograph I take when there is no red in the spectrum – this is not what I see.
Immersion. An illicit immersion in a pool I am not supposed to be in. I am struck by fear, of getting caught, of the deep end. It is entirely irrational but the best ones always are. I spend some time staring, sitting at the edge and watching the stillness.
Splashing at the surface I notice the change in temperature, sensation on skin. Liquid envelops and holds me. Usually I get into a pool and swim. I do not usually get to linger as long, do not have the space to dwell on the way it feels to stand, to move an arm or a leg this way or that. I notice the movement of the water under the pressure of my body. It’s chain reaction, it’s weight, how much motion is needed below the surface to break through and splash. The smoothness of it and the way it reflects light as it moves. I think maybe it is because I am scared that I notice these things more. I am more focussed, self conscious and aware of my surroundings. I think it is because it has neat mosaic tiling that I remember how light alters as it moves through water. Lines shift, curves form. This interests me and I stare at it again, making the water move with my arms, my legs. I try to capture what I can see with photographs but am not sure how accurately it can be done. I think of David Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools and wonder how long he sat looking at the movement in the water to be able to recreate it so convincingly.
Surface tension, the boundary between liquid and gas. The space where things float, insects skate. Where reflections lie. The edge between above and below.
A still body of water cannot hide activity, even the slightest, when there is a disruption to its perfect surface. That smoothness of texture, there is almost nothing there until it’s in motion. This transforms the instant something penetrates. Once shaken, the surface ruptures and ripples. A chain reaction of water droplets, like a Mexican wave, all the way to the edge. The surface alters the shapes below, creating new textures and lines. Edges can no longer be trusted as true.
Listening. A conversation.
Residency365 is a collaborative partnership with Nicole Zaaroura. Our work took us to France last year, a commission for the gallery Espace36 and the Notre Dame cathedral, St Omer. With a brief of connecting with landscape, place and heritage we set out to explore. It was not long before we found the waterways.
St Omer has a series of hand dug water ways as well as a river. Beginning in the town we were drawn out by the river, back up to the Channel and across to Hastings, connecting us back to our starting point. This seemed fitting. Collecting water along our route we spent time walking, listening, watching.
A series of site responsive, temporal interventions, this particular piece connects me here because of the river. Water collected was, with other materials local to the region, placed into glasses and made into bodies of their own. Tall, willowy fragile bodies. Paths were drawn with them through the gallery space. In the cathedral, smaller towers were included in a further installation, replacing missing columns in the gothic stone work.
During our research we became particularly interested in the point at which freshwater and sea water meet. What becomes brackish water is especially abundant in life, a particularly unique ecosystem.
Residency365 will return to St Leonards for Coastal Currents arts festival in September/October.