In 2017 the invaluable support of a professional development bursary from a-n, and an informal partnership with the Printmaking department at the University of Brighton, meant I was able to learn some new printmaking skills and begin to develop new work which has formed the foundation for Once in a Universe.

During 2018 I worked with other artists, curators, the public and professionals from across disciplines to develop ideas for new work about life in the Anthropocene.

Now, in 2019, my main focus is on developing the ideas initiated during the earlier stages of the project through drawing and installation.


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Well we all know the weather has had a big impact this week with yesterday being the second hottest day on record and super-high humidity contributing to storms and downpours. Well to be honest, I know in the overall scheme of things this is only a small thing, but I am actually really suffering from this weather disruption at the moment. For the past four weeks the weather has been firmly on my side, allowing me to spread out of the studio and into the garden while making my boulders. Fantastic! The warm sun has been my friend, making many litres of glue and paint dry quickly and speeding me towards the impending installation deadline. But now, with the exhibition rapidly approaching this weekend, the weather has turned against me!

Yesterday I failed my self-imposed deadline for finishing the work when soaring temperatures slowed me down and evening storms put paid to late work. And now under dark skies and with final coats to apply, here I am blogging, while waiting for paint to dry. (The note on the tin said “Do not apply in more than 85% humidty”…)

Oh well.

On a more positive note, in a brief interlude from boulder-making, I spent a brilliant morning with artist Vicki Painting a couple of weeks ago. Vicki is a photographer and we worked together to realise an idea I’d had in my head for a while since developing my cluster work at the Milton Street and Martyr’s residencies earlier this year. Here is the result:

Photo by Vicki Painting from a collaboration with Judith Alder.

The finished boulders will be at Holding The Fort from this Sunday 28 July to 26 August come hell or high water.

More of Vicki’s Cluster portraits can be seen at the Open House we’re both participating in as part of Artwave Festival next month.

 


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Isn’t it always the case that after a reflective period of quiet making and drawing, gradually and subtly, everything changes and before you know it, all of a sudden it’s deadline, deadline, deadline!

At the moment, I am mostly making boulders. The aim is to make ten boulders  (five in progress, five to go, two weeks left…) for the Holding The Fort exhibition which I’m part of at Newhaven Fort. Why boulders you might ask? It began a few years ago with my Improbable Experiments With Growing Stones when I speculatively made a couple of big “rocks”.  I’ve been feeling ever since that there was some unfinished business here.

Growing Stones from 2014

On my first visit to Newhaven Fort a few weeks ago I spotted this:

The idea of a rolling barrel of petrol bouncing down the 72 steps to the caponier, along with the location of the Fort built into the hillside behind a chalk cliff, triggered a particular line of thought about rolling stones, blocked passages, cliff falls and the boulder which chased Indiana Jones down a tunnel in Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I decided to make at least one boulder big enough to block one of the narrow entrances or passages at the Fort.

Newhaven Fort hosts one of those vintage museums that remind me of the museums of my childhood which were filled with quirky displays and hand-made flocked model landscapes.  I’ve always loved this spirit of improvisation and am happy to adopt it into my work. It has also helped me maintain my policy of using re-purposed or surplus materials in my work where possible and social media has been a great way of sourcing surplus chicken wire, blackboard paint and cotton bed-linen – some of the essential materials for my boulder-making. It’s been great to get into a routine of messy, hands-on making and the weather has been kind allowing me to spill outside the studio as the first boulders begin to take shape.

 


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Every now and then the generous people at Martyr’s Gallery in Lewes offer an opportunity for an artist to take over their space for one of those very special, no-expectations, no-strings-attached developmental residencies. Their version of this amazing gift is called “Fresh Air” and I have been most fortunate to have been the beneficiary of the most recent Fresh Air Residency. So far I’ve had eight working days in the space and still have three more to go, making work I would not have made had it not been for this opportunity, at this time, and in this space. The secret of course lies in the combination of an empty, uncluttered space, and an uninterrupted stretch of focused time. Two weeks usually is just about right for me, and I’ve learned to set out with a definite starting point and a clear focus, but an open mind and enough flexibility to follow where the work leads me.  Here are some images of the installation I made. It feels like a 3D sketchbook of ideas – a step on the way to something else…

…and here are some of the drawings I made. They seem to be attempts to make visual representations of some of the ideas I’ve been thinking about – ideas about human augmentation and manipulation; the merging of man-made and natural, and the meshes, networks and webs that are an integral part of every aspect of life, nature and technology in the 21st century.

 

 


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I’m very much looking forward to occupying the space at Martyrs Gallery in Lewes as artist in residence from 28 May to 12 June. I’m planning on building on work developed during my recent Once In A Universe project and most recently my Milton Court Farm residency, and continuing to explore ideas about growth, change and evolution in The Anthropocene: The Age of Man. I’m interested at the moment in some of the complex, interlocking systems, both natural and man-made, which underpin life, the environment and the planet as a whole and continue to think about the notion that perhaps technology begins to steer life onto a new evolutionary path with the merging of natural and man-made.

During my residency at Martyrs Gallery, I’ll be trying to ignore my insecurities about working with ridiculously low-tech (but re-usable) materials such as bin bags, bubblewrap and string and will be trying to deveop low-tech methods of making large scale cluster forms from these materials. This time I’m taking inspiration from Greg Bear’s sci-fi novel, Blood Music. Here’s a bit (this is the scientist talking to the evolving noocyte cells):
“(S) I’d like to speak to an individual.
(N) Individual?
(S) Not just the team or research group. One of you, acting alone.
(N) We have studied INDIVIDUAL in your conception. We do not fit the word.
(S) There are no individuals?
(N) Not precisely. Information is shared between clusters… each cluster is the smallest Individual… Information is passed between clusters sharing in assigned tasks, including instruction and memory. Mentality is thus divided between clusters performing a function. Important memories may be diffused through all clusters. What you think of as Individual may be spread throughout the totality.”

Blood Music, Greg Bear, 1985. Published by Gollancz, Orion Publishing Group, London. ISBN I 85798 762 4


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One of my main aims for this year has been to find opportunities to continue to work on a larger scale – to make things that are bigger than me – but at the same time my mind is full of questions about sustainability and waste and how to reconcile these conflicting issues. So to help address the latter, I have introduced a policy of re-use, recycle, re-configure and where possible reduce. I’ve been working on top of old drawings, re-using materials, re-configuring old work and reducing waste.

The other issue of up-scaling is equally problematic, not least because of finding space in which to work on a bigger scale. But now, thanks to the support of other artists, I’ve been able to take advantage of some opportunities to work in a bigger space. I started off the year by applying for  residencies from Glasgow to New England and several places in between, but the nearest I got to success was a shortlisting – which was nice… good to know I wasn’t completely discounted, but ultimately not that useful. So thank goodness for the generosity of friends, collaborators and supporters who are prepared to offer opportunities for nothing in return, just because they can.

The first of these opportunities came as a fantastic invitation from artist-friend Sarah Pager who generously offered to share her space, her facilities and her knowledge and expertise if I wanted to come and spend a couple of weeks or longer working with her in the Sussex countryside. How amazing! So far I’ve been there a couple of weeks and will be going back again in a couple of weeks time.

I wanted to make some large scale wall drawings and then perhaps try again to make one of the big soft “rocks” which I’d attempted to make a couple of years ago which ended up looking a bit like bad stage scenery (which I rather liked). Here they are.

But first the drawing… this was no.1 on the list as it is one of my priorities this year. We’ve been talking a lot about scaling up in a group which I run, and all the issues related to it – cost, space and storage being some of the key problems. So my plan involved cheap materials – in this case chalk; drawing on the walls means no storage, and the space issue was already sorted thanks to Sarah.  On Day 1, off I went, chalk in hand, ladder ready, with a plan to combine within the drawing the clustering shapes I’ve been working with for a year or more, a rock-like form which perhaps could translate into three dimensions later, and some contrasting mark-making which might somehow suggest a sort of merging of man-made and natural, organic and inorganic. Nothing complicated.

The drawing just involved time and effort on my part – that was relatively simple, and enjoyable, as I relished the chance to get stuck in to a physical drawing process I love, and spread across a large surface. The bigger the better for this for me.

But making an object was a whole different proposition.

I had four criteria: the object should be bigger than me, soft (not rigid), light weight and cheap. Sarah suggested bulking it out with polystyrene or bubble wrap over a strong armature before making my final covering of fabric, and, continuing the cluster theme in my method by bundling the bubble wrap into balls and clustering them into the right sort of shape.

Mistake no.1: I built an armature out of cardboard. **sigh**

Sarah had suggested steel or something equally solid but she’s a proper sculptor with proper skills and I wanted to do something I could manage and repeat by myself.

Oh dear.

It wasn’t just any old flimsy cardboard but strong cardboard boxes glued and taped together into what I thought would be an adequate load-bearing tower to hang my bubble wrap bundles onto. How naive. Even bubble wrap gets heavy if there’s enough of it.

Mistake no.2: I thought that my stash of used bubble wrap would be enough. Nearly 400m of bubble wrap later…

Mistake no.3: My cardboard tower didn’t really have a solid base or a low enough centre of gravity and although it stood up pretty well, by the time I got to adding the final few bags of bundled bubble wrap there was absolutely no chance that it was going to stay upright on its own.

But let’s take the positives…

What I learned: in short… A LOT!

A lot about the sort of planning and preparation needed to construct something that will do the job it’s asked to do; a lot about quantities involved in making big work; a lot about how materials behave… I could go on…

But as always, one of the most exciting things was making something which I hadn’t even planned to make – a giant cluster! So I didn’t get as far as making it into a “rock” – instead I discovered how to make a form which previously I’d only made about the size of a golf ball, or perhaps a tennis ball at a push. Now here’s a cluster which is bigger than me! A cluster I could get inside, or roll down a hill, or let it blow along a windy seafront! I love it when I make something I didn’t mean to – it’s one of the most exciting things about art.

So what’s next? 1. Plan how to make a structurally robust armature, 2. Unpack all of that 400 metres of bubble wrap from the collapsed cluster at Milton Street and re-use it to make a new cluster, 3. Eventually have another go at making a “rock”.

As my friend Cat always quotes from Samuel Beckett, “Try again. Fail againFail better.”

 

 

 


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