CAN Project are delivering Embark: Ferry Art which will see 7 emerging artists exhibit on King Harry Ferry, Feock in Cornwall. Embark is supported by King Harry Ferry,Arts Council England and Esmee Fairbairn. Artists exhibit their work each month onboard the unique space of the King Harry Ferry. This exciting programme is running from May – October 2007. www.canproject.org
Well, that's it. My show on the King Harry Ferry is over; already the next artist's work is up. I feel a bit remiss that I haven't kept you up to date with the way the project developed. It's odd but I've felt a bit divorced from it really…
Looking back at my proposal (see earlier post) the ten images I produced became more conventional drawings than I had perhaps originally anticipated. I thought that I would use the vinyl itself as a medium, but as I worked I realised that actually it was the conte and ink marks that were most important to me and ideas of cutting into the vinyl soon dissipated.
When I began the project it felt like I had weeks to make the work and as usual I left it and left it, although of course you never stop thinking about it. Then one day, cycling back home, I found a dead tawny owl on the verge. It looked like it had been knocked down to me – no blood and gore, but apparently it had a broken wing. I picked it up and gently put it into my rucksack – it hadn't been dead long – and continued home. It felt like serendipity; I'd been ruminating for weeks as to exactly what I was going to do and there it was handed to me on a plate! I was excited and started drawing it immediately, just trying to understand its structure and form at this stage. After doing loads of drawings though, over several weeks, it just wasn't going anywhere. The drawings were studies really and looked too 'nice'. I was beginning to panic; I had to get the drawings done two and a half weeks before the actual deadline, because I was going away… I got some feedback from a friend, then felt like everything was falling apart! My self-confidence vanished into a black pit somewhere under my feet and I began to question everything, berating myself with questions like "what right do you have to call yourself an artist when you can't even produce a couple of simple drawings". A self-induced trauma if ever there was one!
Finally, literally the day before I was travelling abroad, I took the bull by the horns and made a series of drawings. Six of them looked good to me and not one of them included the owl, but they felt right! They were about A3 size and became amalgams of photographs I'd taken with drawings and text. At that point I also decided I'd include four studies to show alongside, two of which did include the owl. I hastily photographed everything before the natural light went, saved the images to disc and posted them to the organiser the next day. A couple of days later I had an email to say they'd arrived safely and they liked them. Relief!
After the holiday it was time to put the work up on the ferry walls. I hadn't seen the drawings for a couple of weeks and seeing them printed at a slightly larger scale and in a completely different environment restored my confidence. They still looked good and I felt that I'd made a good choice. Then that was it – everything went quiet and the 'divorce' happened! I felt completely removed from it all. A friend asked if I'd had any feed back and I said no and thought then that I should go and visit the ferry and ask if there'd been any comment. Before I got there though I received a press release from the organisers that mentioned "a controversial exhibition on the King Harry Ferry showing pictures of dead birds". Controversial? I was intrigued – and bemused! Apparently some passengers had been complaining about the content of the drawings and had questioned whether they were suitable for children to see – I was astonished at this last comment, since my own son gets incredibly excited whenever he finds a bird for me to draw!
Suddenly there was a flurry of activity and the local ITV news wanted an interview… I went down to the ferry for the filming and awaited the broadcast with trepidation. It was a great experience talking to the cameraman and journalist, learning to see my work in ways that hadn't even occured to me. The piece was broadcast on a couple of news bulletins the next day, and probably lasted a couple of minutes at the most. After I'd left the filming they'd got some 'vox pops' from a couple of passengers and it was these comments that made my day – one man said that he'd been to Tate Modern and the only thing he'd understood was the overhead crane!; a driver said that he thought art on the ferry was a great idea, but the comment I'll remember was from a lady that said that of course we should see pictures of dead birds and that they were "beautifully rendered". Isn't it odd how one simple compliment like that can set you up for the rest of the year! It certainly made me feel like the energy and stress of making the drawings was worth the effort. After this excitement things became quiet again for the rest of the month and when I went down to the ferry yesterday another artist's work was up.
What's left for me now is a workshop next week with a local school. I thought maybe I shouldn't take in a load of dead birds to draw, so have settled on making plaster reliefs from stuff they find around them – hopefully a few feathers might be in order!
I was surprised (and very pleased!) to have been selected to show work during the 7 month event Embark: Ferry Art, way down here in the west of Cornwall. Like little seeds blowing in the wind we send out applications far and wide and inevitably most of them don’t take; often it feels like none of them will ever take.
Other than pure luck, I think that one of the difficulties is knowing exactly what a successful application looks like. You try and marry up your interests with the prospective opportunity and hope for the best. When the rejection letter comes with that inevitable line "we were inundated with very strong applications", you wonder why your own wasn’t strong enough and what you could have done to convince them otherwise. Also, if you’re like me, you want to see exactly what those successful proposals looked like, so you can compare it to your own. But sadly, this type of opportunitiy is rarely afforded!
My own application for the Embark project was short and fairly loose. The call for proposals asked people to respond to the local environment (environmental issues, politics, etc) and the siting of the work on the ferry. Of course, applicants also needed to bear in mind that the work would be printed onto adhesive vinyl and displayed by sticking the work to the walls of the car ferry, which are open to the elements.
This is what I wrote (verbatim!):
"My practice is driven by a need to try and understand the intangibility of what makes us who we are, which has recently included a sense of identifying with and using birds found in my locality on Mylor Creek (not far from the King Harry Ferry) as a metaphor for self. It is particularly important to me that the birds I use are found by me and that they are found in my local environment; this way I feel that I have a tangible connection with the work I make with them, and through the work the birds become more than metaphor and become symbolic.
"I use sculptural installation to explore my interests, but a large part of my practice includes drawing and it’s this media that I would like to explore for the KHF [King Harry Ferry] project. I am intrigued by the idea of the work being ‘stuck’ to the walls of the ferry and immediately thought of what it feels like to be ‘stuck’ in the geographically remote county of Cornwall, which is something I have often felt. I envisage continuing with drawings of birds found locally to explore this idea. We normally associate birds with being free, but many of the birds I draw are dead, killed by cars or my cats. For me feeling stuck is like being in an invisible cage, and I really like the idea of a symbol of freedom being literally restricted by the glue that holds it to the wall; if I feel geographically stuck in Cornwall from time to time, what is the glue that keeps me here?
"Some of my latest drawings include cut outs and I wonder at the potential to actually cut shapes from the adhesive revealing what lies beneath, or perhaps building it up in layers, so that the material itself becomes part of the work. I would also like to play with scale, scaling up small garden birds to a much larger size to see what effect this has. I would possibly use the banner/s vertically rather than horizontally so that the viewer can see the bird from a distance with the naked eye, revealing the fauna around us in an unexpected way, and hopefully engaging people with the beauty of the small things here in Cornwall that might usually go unnoticed."
I don’t know if publishing just this one successful application will help much in the grand scheme of things, but hopefully it might encourage some other artists out there to do something similar, so that we can all see what we’re actually striving for!
For more information about Embark take a look at the organisers website: CAN Project. To find out whether my final artwork actually matches my proposal call back to this blog soon for more updates! To see more of my work see my website www.stephanieboon.co.uk