Research and development for forthcoming residency ‘Hen Wlad Ein Plant/Land of Our Children’ – thinking about ‘the Square Mile’ and my relationship to it and what feelings and thoughts other residents might have about their own relationships to nature in this part of the world.
25/07 Whilst thinking about this forthcoming residency. I made this drawing.
This magnificent tree is in my line of vision from virtually every window of the house. I see it in all weather conditions, all light conditions, all shades and colours of the sky around it. It is endlessly changing, enduring and magnificent. I’ve photographed her in all these conditions, she’s entered my dreams, I’ve written poems about her…she is a constant focal point of my daily life. I’ve come to think of her as The Empress – in the tarot deck, The Empress is Mother Nature herself, parent of all things. Very early on in the first lockdown, I realised I would finally have more time to stroll over to her and look back at the house and my life from standing underneath her, instead of only seeing her from the windows. The day that I did this, I had the strange sense of seeing what she saw of me, of my world, of my life and my daily doings. Did she notice the lights going on and off? I started to interact with her more and like many others were doing during this strange time, I started to look nature a bit more closely generally and wonder whether it was actually beneficial for us to slow down a bit and make less damaging impact on the world, despite all the chaos and fear of the early days of the pandemic.
Spring 2020 – Summer 2021
The concept of ‘normal life’ ebbed and flowed during this time, but like any other time, The Empress remained a constant in my world and I continued to photograph her in all her many moods, re-engaging with my SLR camera on manual settings which could take me to places that an iPhone couldn’t really go. Like many other people I engaged more with the hyper-local world around me – the following links take you photo-series I made during this time which is why when I saw the opportunity of Hen Wlad Ein Plant/Land of Our Children, I thought this might be a good place to put all this (some might say) obsessive documentation of my local environment. https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/ntw-projects/hen-wlad-ein-plant-land-of-our-children/
27/07/21 After the thought-provoking and far-reaching workshop by Gentle/Radical, all of the 8 artists working hyper-locally across Wales on this project are asked to rethink the parameters of our projects…key takeaways were: working non-extractively (not just ‘taking’); working ‘inch-wide/mile-deep’; not forcing productivity; thinking about scale…amongst many other things. To do this, one of the things we were asked was to visualise our position within our proposed/potential project area. I made this drawing. Clearly this is not a scale drawing! 😃
26/08 Before Harvest/After Harvest – Cyn y Cynhaeaf ar ôl y Cynhaeaf – having harvested my first ever hay crop. Still slightly in shock that this has happened. Yes, I realise that crops grow all the time, and I’ve been feeding hay to my horses for a decade. I’ve also been renting land for that length of time. But I somehow never imagined I would grow my own crop of organic hay to feed my own horses. It feels good, and significant and surprising.
01/09/21 Made a visit to the local school (whom I worked with March/April/May) to see if they might be interested in playing out with me. The older Juniors are going to teach the new intake how to make the sustainable sketchbooks I showed them previously and are going to be using one of the student’s own poems about the effect of Covid slowdowns on Mother Nature as a starting point for thinking about their own relationships with nature.
06/09/21 Great catch-up with fellow artists on this project . We shared where we were all up to and had a 10-min talk from lead artist Mathilde Lopez who shared a creative dilemma from another project which was basically centred around how much one imposes one’s artistic vision on projects particularly where the subject matter is deeply personal and sensitive. This took the conversation in some interesting and deep directions
08/09/21 Had a visit from my project mentor Simon Whitehead – I showed him around my ‘square mile’ via a circular route and a visit to the community garden. We then sat under The Empress in hammocks, looked up at the sky, the leaves and the mountains whilst discussing emergent spaces, perspectives and points of views within shared landscapes, notions of territory and ownership and lots more. We also went over to the barn and looked back at the Empress from there. As well as helping me focus (and de-focus my ideas) Simon recommended the work of Sophie Calle, whose work I immediately resonated with. He also had some recommended reading for me on land and land ownership. It was a great visit- also it was 28 degrees!
09/09/21 I visited the community garden and made an invitation to the project to the organiser – I’m going back next week to extend the invitation to the group.
14/09 Good news – we seem to have formed a fledgling community garden iPhone Photo-Club! There was a lot of intrigue over the cheap and cheerful macro lens set I’ve been using (particularly good and interesting results for moving image too and seems to suit the hyper local focus – being hyper focussed! I’m going to be experimenting with this a lot myself). We have some possibilities for film and a partner of one of the gardeners might want to talk about restoring the local railway line as a cycle path. So I will be dreaming up some photo ‘missions’ (prompts/directions/provocations) once we get a collective email chat going.
And in other news, another great chat on the catch-up with fellow hyperlocal artists-in-residence, this time responding to Rebecca’s provocation around the enclosures act, land ownership, the beginnings of capitalism, concepts of time and wages being units of time in return for labour…super-interesting stuff! We go deep in these chats…mile-deep inch-wide as Adrienne Maree Brown would say in ‘Emergent Strategy’ (thanks to Gentle/Radical for putting us all onto this!)
15/09/21 Trying to record a piece to camera in situ for National Theatre Wales to put out to promote the project was proving a little tricky today – between equine ‘assistants’ and due to everyone with a power tool in the village deciding to come out to play at the same time. Editing now in progress…and much needed, after the 50 million takes it took me to record a 30-second piece (You would never think I was a professional filmmaker…)
16/09 Walking and thinking today..and editing the 30-sec promo (still!) and starting to organise work/photos/research/footage shot…well, that was the plan but the editing was taking longer than expected….
17/09/21 The first mission has been set! The lovely community gardeners have been set Natural Obsession as a prompt for them to take 3 photos over the weekend – this was the further instruction: Think of something in the natural world in your local environment that you really notice a lot, or are drawn to or are even a little bit obsessed with! It might be a plant, an animal (everything on this residency is about being ‘hyper-local’, so use either the world on your doorstep, the community garden or the ‘square mile’ of the village) – Very much looking forward to seeing what comes back!
Also today, I checked in with staff at Ysgol Gellifor to see what had been happening there – the answer is LOTS. They have made their own sustainable project sketchbooks out of cardboard; looked at the UN ‘To Do List for the planet’ and thought about what things could be done locally, to help the global situation. Inspired by the book Maybe, they are considering that they could possibly be someone who brings about change, writing acrostic poems around this theme. They have decided to make their own classroom a greener place by getting some plants which they will learn how to look after together. They have also played with a globe to get their thinking muscles going on the local/global concept.
Their books and To Do Lists are very beautiful. I’m going to visit the class next week and we’ll do our own Photomission together, out in about in Gellifor.
And on our way back from the field, underneath The Empress one of my own children-of-this-land found this:
She was a bit worried it might be lonely out there on its own so she nestled it back into the tree ‘with its Mama’ as she put it. Unfortunately I only had my iPhone and no macro lens so it’s not a blinding shot. I will go back tomorrow to photograph it properly and hope an enterprising squirrel hasn’t filched it.
19/09 I’m not one for excessive Photoshop jiggery-pokery but have been experimenting with this image because in this case, the green of the grass is part of the story. The girls can use the field to play in because we’ve grown an organic hay crop here and will use the rest of the field as standing forage for the horses through the winter until having to go to hay feeding. As part of this residency I’m thinking about ideas around land ownership/usage/effects of living alongside farmed environments/organic farming/post-colonial narratives, ideas of whose countryside it is and shared territory. To me, spaces are also productive when used by small children to play with toy mermaids. But I have the luxury of being able to say this as a land tenant who is feeding leisure animals from the land rather than making a living from it. Anyway, black and white or black, white and green – which one tells the story more?
21/09/21 Another catch-up with the other 7 artists doing their own hyperlocal residencies across Wales. Great to hear what everyone else is up to
Also a good catch-up with Simon – he’s checking in with me and the project via the blog. We discussed ways of showing the work towards the end of the residency- all very exciting stuff, watch this space….
Also today very excitingly, photos are starting to filter back in from our ace community gardeners here in the village. There’s been some great light in the evenings and it turns out that a few of us are taking photos in different parts of the village at the same time. I like this thought, it’s somehow really cosy.
The Empress’s first gold
And all her green joy
Tinged with sadness
It’s the beginning
Of the end
Though with it
Come the fruits
Of the next beginning
Because it’s only
The first gold
Of many more
And the latest
Of many before
So like a
All gold all green
All joy all sadness
Only an illusion
We stubbornly cling to
And disillusion is
As easily blown away
As the leaf from the tree
If only we let it go
When the time is ripe
If only we be more tree
22/09/21 And not to be outdone, the lovely Juniors at the village school have been out with me and staff on a Photomission – we took a walk to a local field, noticing what changes there have been since we were there last (The older Juniors had done some filming with me on another project in this field, back in April when there was no crop growing.) They were quite literally a-maized!! All the Juniors were given photo missions – an easy opener of ‘Nature’; then ‘Land’ and finally ‘My favourite….(seed/leaf/flower etc’. They were encouraged to really look and think before taking 3 photos that best represented these missions. They also did some behind-the-scenes documentation and attempted a height line-up in front of the maize which is now taller than all of us! Last time we were in this field, we had the absolute treat of having fish and chips brought to us at lunchtime (Oh Yes!!). This time, it was one of the Junior’s birthday! So we had birthday cupcakes instead – this outdoor classroom lark is fantastic! Later on this week, I will go back to audio-record reflections on what they saw and why they chose to take the pictures they did. It will be interesting to find out.