Monday, 3 November 2008
Travelling through Neroche now, I clearly see the end of my project. I've lost the desire to follow up new threads - I like the thought of things being left suspended (and the paid artists days have expired - way over my budget now).
But there is definitely one thing to follow up - the woman that Meg and I talked with over the gate about her animals. I shot a bit of video on my camera that day that I've wanted to put either on this blog, or on the website, and I want to ask her permission. Our conversation that day was very striking to both me and Megan, and I couldn't ask her on the spot whether I could use the video I'd spontaneously captured - that would have felt too 'breaking into' the presentness of the moment, too artist-needy. (Here is the post where I wrote about our encounter - scroll down to the geese).
I have driven back past her house at least once, and paused - how to re-approach someone that you've engaged with spontaneously? - how would I react if I was her? - what is this desire to 'share' what she has said?
So Meg and I have arranged to meet in Culmstock, and go back to her house; I like this collaborative task. We wander gingerly round the boundary - the geese are out and protective. There's a garden gate, some windows open ajar, but no-one responding. Then a young woman arrives who's looking for 'Kathy' herself (we didn't even know her name), so we wait for her to make contact. She goes fearlessly through the goose gate.
Kathy appears, invites us in with no hesitation, remembering us from our conversation back in September. We sit in the conservatory with Pipsqueak the woof, the geese looking in through the window, beside cages for injured wild birds and talk about animal connection. It's good to come back to this conversation, to hear more about Kathy's life, her decision to devote her life to animals. Of course, use the video Kathy says. I promise to send her a copy along with the photographs that I've taken - these exchanges are important to me, and perhaps the most lasting aspect of any arts project like this.
"To come into conversation can be a disturbing thing, exposing, altering and aesthetic. How the conversation is made can conduct the speakers in a unknown direction, towards friendship, argument, silence, the emergence of something new."
Wallace Heim, from the chapter 'Slow Activism' in "Nature Performed: Environment, Culture and Performance
We leave with an open invitation to return, and right now I want to make a three part art documentary about women working with animals in Neroche, and Kathy would certainly be the focus of one of the parts.
Back to the Neroche Scheme office in Hemyock, and the delivery of my website design on disc to Kate, and a check in meeting with Sally, Gavin and James.
We talk about the nature of the artistic engagement, public art, connectivity, quality, when something 'works'. These are the conversations I crave to have - people who are not artists, yet are commissioning art projects, and there is too little time given to these crucial conversations where we all talk transparently about art-making in public contexts, or as Meg put it later in an email - the notion of "art as enquiry rather than the repetition of established knowledge or technique". What happens when we make an 'obscure' piece of work - is it ok that it is alienating, that people humour it? does that exacerbate the uneasy relationship between conservative rural communities and contemporary art? how do we know if and when people connect? - when and how does it matter?
If the 'general public' looking for information on birdwatching events on the Blackdowns, come upon my website via the Neroche Scheme, and instead of finding a pleasant picture of a warbler, come across a strange link which opens a video of mens pants hanging in a wood, what happens? can we ever know what people think, how they respond? - and indeed over what time period that process might be. I recall performance events that I saw in my 20s, that only ten years later did I realise what they were doing.
And in relation to the work I've designed and made, I'm sure it will be seen as quite conservative, even quaint, from the point of view of radical contemporary art, and yet adventurous and obscure from a traditional rural perspective, and for people who don't have the latest version of Flash, very frustrating.
I don't know the answers, but I like asking the questions, tracing the landscape and editing the videos.
Just before the meeting, I picked up a copy of the Blackdown Hills newspaper and the front story was about a 'phantom' (!) artist working in a bus shelter up at Culmhead - intriguing, yes. A link to the story in the infamous Western Daily Press here, and a link here to the same story on John Thorne's blog.
It looked like an interesting and playful intervention to me - an anonymous artist making 'A Changing Room' out of the bus shelter, lining it with silver foil and putting in a clothes rack, and calling it “But I’m a million different people from one day to the next...”. John writes "The Deane council staff quickly cleared the bus shelter but could find no trace of who had put the clothing there"; playfulness has never been easy to encounter outside the play area.
Maybe the 'phantom' followed the 'changing room' piece by putting lots of rubbish bags inside the shelter, and placing the title 'rubbish : art : rubbish'. Perhaps an invitation for us to reflect on the whole range of opinions provoked about playful or controversial art being rubbish! - I don't know.
It seems that anything made outside a picture frame in a rural setting at the moment, far too easily and jovially, gets termed a 'Banksy', referring to his anonymity rather than his work I'm presuming. This immediate referencing overlooks his artwork which is painfully insightful in relation to rural politics - for example the graffitied landscape oil-paintings: Constable-style country views overlaid with CCTV cameras (here, and click through to the following 2 images via 'next'). They ask us to look again at rural scenery in relation to our culture.
We need those conversations about art as enquiry, and while the inquisitive or provocative end of art-making can be uncertain of itself, even clumsy, it's important not to turn it so immediately into the 'just weird', but instead to sit within the questions it's attempting to ask.