After placing an advert in AN, I waited eagerly for the responses. We are offering a residency in the French Pyrenees with the aim of creating land art using found and local materials. We thought that it would be interesting to give artists the possibility of working in this beautiful environment, especially as many artists are working in urban settings.
My short time spent here has been framed by snowfall either side. It seems rather apt that the patch of land on which I am working should begin and end in the same state – an undulating carpet of white.
A few photos snapped and then the stunning hour long drive through the mountains back to Perpignan. Jonathan will document the changing state of the piece over the months with photographs. It is a great thought to know that I am leaving something behind which will evolve in my absence.
I want to thank Jonathan and Helen for having faith in my work, for their fantastic support and help with this project and for making me feel so welcome.
I awake to a light smattering of snow across my installation and a much thicker coating covering the surrounding hills. I am relieved to have braved the rain and completed the installation yesterday. I enjoy trudging about with my camera, the snow seems to have melted in the red channels leaving them stark against the white.
Since my work on the land has come to an end, the day is spent in Carcassonne with Jonathan and Helen and their two children Louis and Emilie. Carcassonne is a beautiful city inside a castle with a fairytale feel to it. The wind whips round the winding alleyways and we spot Santa several times as he diligently makes circuits around the streets with a bag of chocolates.
I am tempted to describe these photos as images of the final piece, Timelines. It would be more appropriate however to describe them as photos of the 'beginning' of the work since the piece will be forever changing. The lines will become increasingly unsettled and unruly starting with the shallow sliver of soil across the grass and ending with the deepest inlay at the far end of the lawn.
Drizzle, damp, mud, numb toes..and it’s finished. A horse in the neighbouring field surveys me stoically as I make the finishing touches to the last and shallowest line of soil which I have pressed on top of the grass without digging up any of the roots. Stenciling the outline with a couple of roof tiles, this has been the most delicate and painstaking part of the process and also the most ephemeral.
My last long-term project, a public art installation at Lumen United Reformed Church in London, was constructed for me by art fabricators. It is a change therefore to be back making the work myself, directly responsible and in control of its visual outcome – the gruelling labour of a "real artist", as many (including my driving instructor) would believe!
Today is our final trip to the quarry to collect red earth. It seems the perpetual shovelling of soil into fluorescent shopping bags has come to an end, a task that neither Jonathan or I are likely to miss. On our way back we pass by ploughed fields where crops have just been sown. The lines and colours are all too familiar. Back at the chalet there is more tearing clumps of earth from the ground and more hurling them onto the by now monumental pile.
It is very easy to get lost in your thoughts up here. I marvel at the fact that I have had face-to-face conversations of any substance with only two people for ten days. This is fairly remarkable for me as I live and work in London where even the studio is a sociable place, what with people dropping round to procrastinate and drink tea under the thin guise of discussing work.
In the evening, I go with Helen and Jonathan to a birthday dinner at their local friend Rudy’s. Rudy is a wonderfully charismatic German philosopher with an extremely long dinner table. All the twenty odd guests have brought their own dish and course after course of fish terrine, quiches, salads, pies and a colossal prune flan arrive at the table. I am bursting at the seams after half way through the lovely meal. It’s great to put faces to names and meet some of my current neighbours in St Louis, all of whom are very welcoming and will stop by to see the installation.
Nearly seven trenches dug and filled: I’m getting there! Despite the repetitive nature of my task, it is certainly satisfying to watch the piece grow at such a rate. In contrast, it is quite alarming to watch the heap of earthen chunks that are being dislodged grow ever larger. I have been thinking during the week about the possibilities for this turf. I have considered leaving it where it stands as part of the work, to show evidence of what has happened, although I dont think this is really necessary. Perhaps it should be arranged into a new formation, to reflect the sense of ongoing process that is here in the work. The excess from one task becomes the object of the second, and so on.
Jonathan shows me a great book about Mario Giaccomelli, an Italian photographer who documented rural life in Puglia and other regions of Italy. He created a series of black and white photographs of ploughed fields, taken from above. Some of these he has intervened with himself and created swirling scours in the land, others are as he found them. The linear markings in these fields are similar to those I am making here. I wonder how they wil compare in some months time.
The highlight of today has to be the extraordinary sight of what I think is a sparrowhawk swoop down and snatch a small bird from the air just yards from my face. I hear the rapid beating of wings and look up just in time to witness the catch. A triumphant screech, and the magnificent bird is off into the hills. Fantastic.
At the end of the day I have a wander across the meadow at the back of the chalet to enjoy a moody (and chilly) sunset. After talking with Helen, Jonathan and Sam, another artist who works in this part of the world, it is encouraging to see that it is possible to work successfully as an artist and live in a rural, relatively isolated community, a combination that I had never imagined to be very realistic. My hopes of getting away from the city certainly seem more achieveable than they did ten days ago.