How might our planet evolve in the future? How can we keep up with the speed at which the world is changing? Will science and technology help make the world a better place? These are some of the questions I’ve been asking in Once in a Universe.

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. The project culminated in October 2018 when I spent two weeks as Artist in Residence at Devonshire Collective‘s DC1 Café/Gallery in Eastbourne, testing out new ideas. Now I’m working towards a solo exhibition for 2020.


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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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A couple of posts ago I wrote this: “I sort of feel as if I should be making more effort to save the planet. I’ve been thinking about it in my work for quite a while – how to use more environmentally sustainable methods and materials – but actually there are bigger questions about whether to be making things at all.”

A couple of years or more ago I ran a discussion event for Blue Monkey Network called Let’s Talk About Conceptual Art and, channeling my inner Martin Creed, I made around 35 small paper balls – enough to put one on each person’s seat before people arrived. Afterwards, some people took their paper balls home but a lot were left behind so I gathered them up and brought them back to the studio where I kept them for a long time.

In my artist’s statement I write about my work “exploring growth, change and evolution”, and now, more and more I see my work itself as a continuing process of evolution…

… but back to the paper balls…

Yesterday I finished this little animation which I’m pleased with – it makes me smile (make sure you have your sound up if you watch it).

https://vimeo.com/322233761

Later, in another stage of the re-purposing, I carefully un-scrunched the paper, smoothed it out a bit, and now feel really pleased to have given the work another incarnation, producing a series of drawings. Here are a few of them. Zero Waste: found marker pen on re-purposed paper.

 

 


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This week I’ve been leaving a bit of time to reflect on the experiments with materials I started last week and have re-focused on drawing while I let things develop. One of my aims for this year is to move on with the sort of room sized drawing installations started last year during the DC1 residency. I’ve been applying for residencies which might offer the opportunity to occupy larger spaces where I can expand the work (my studio space is very limited). But the whole process of applying for opportunities is so competitive, so unpredictable and so often unsuccessful, I decided it was time to make a positive to move towards making some space. So I’ve cleared a space in the house, taken down a shelf, moved a bit of furniture (temporarily), and started drawing on the wall.

Since my conversation with Dr Alexandra Penn last year (https://vimeo.com/309835303), I’ve become interested in the complex systems – man-made and natural, which we are all caught up in, and which govern everything about the planet and about modern civilisation. I’m thinking about how I can explore these ideas through drawing and installation and my sketch book is full of little drawings like this:


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I sort of feel as if I should be making more effort to save the planet. I’ve been thinking about it in my work for quite a while – how to use more environmentally methods and materials – but actually there are bigger questions about whether to be making things at all. After all – if we all wanted less THINGS, made less THINGS, surely that would be the best way of saving the planet’s resources and beginning to de-clutter the world. But how to make art without making THINGS?

A good place to start must be in my overcrowded, cluttered studio. Here surely is the place to start reducing, re-using and recycling. I have made a little pledge to myself not to buy new THINGS until there is no other option. I have drawers and drawers of old paints, pencils, pens and paper. No more! I will buy no more! Until I have used up ALL the old ones. And paper has two sides – not just one, so why not use them both (well for trying things out at least) – and double sided drawings can always be made into books. And old work can be cut, pasted, folded, re-arranged and re-configured. I even write this in my artist’s statement which just goes to show it must be true: “My creative process mirrors processes of evolution, with work being made and re-made, revisited and reconfigured to reflect new knowledge, understanding or ideas, sometimes over periods of years.” So there.

So today I have been persevering with making my experimental bio-plastic. It’s not very good I don’t think, but I guess I won’t know for sure until it has dried out fully, which can take some time. It’s not that the process doesn’t work, it’s just that the end result doesn’t seem to be very workable. I’m not sure what I can make with it other than thin sheets of polythene-like material. We’ll see. I tried moulding a bit of it into little balls – not very good. And I made some sort of cake-like discs.

I’m currently reading The Mushroom at the End of the World (which may be contributing to fueling these feelings about waste and consumerism). It’s quite hard work but obviously interesting because I’m still persevering with it, and usually manage to read a whole chapter without going to sleep.

In response to what I read yesterday, I made some more salt and flour dough (which is definitely more successful than the bio-plastic) and have made some mushrooms and some “money”. (Yes, I know – the money’s not very good – looks more like buttons. I’ll have another go tomorrow. Perhaps here’s the answer – we should all start using buttons as money).

 


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3.30pm

One of the things that I made a considered decision about during the Once In A Universe project was that I would embrace the use of the materials of the Anthropocene – silicone, plastics and batteries being the main ones that worried me. In the past I have questioned art which relates to environmental matters but which blatantly involves considerable environmental cost – but to be honest what is there about living as a 21st century human which doesn’t involve environmental cost? Anyway… I’ve decided that now that phase one of the project is done and dusted, the next phase of the project will involve more of an investigation of materials and how to try to cut costs (not the economic sort – although maybe my new approach might also help with this!)

4.45pm

So… small steps first. Continuing with the cluster motif I keep going back to at the moment, I decided today to make some salt and water dough and see what sort of clusters I could make with that. They’re in the oven, baking at the moment.

5.33pm

Hmm… nicely browned on all sides but a bit flat on the bottom. Still it’s a starting point and brings new thoughts to consider. Tomorrow: Home made bioplastics.

 

 

 


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