PLACEMENTS

 

Within the corpus of many  small , personalised objects that I have created,  I am attempting to circumvent any obvious ritual or quasi-religious connotations, preferring to locate these objects within a new context, as yet, undefined, but rooted within some kind of forgotten folk tradition.   Some of my most recent objects have consisted of “bundles” or “stacks” of found materials, disjecta membra, that are bound together, sometimes with hidden or “secret” objects housed within them, or personal messages written on paper and secreted within the bundles that have some kind of subjective significance that is difficult to explain,..they are certainly informed by the idea that they house or contain a kind of life force, or organic energy, a seed -memory, and regular handling and scrutiny would appear to invest them with something ” other” than any normal found ephemera ..I view these objects very much as the ” material context” of the particular landscape that I am investigating, and these objects signify the  transit of a walk, and are generally found in stages along the way. The stacks may contain bones, feathers, fragments of bark, leaves, seeds, etc, that have then been stored and handled frequently, until they acquire a particular resonance, and they are then ready to be transferred to a new location.

 

Once relocated, these bundles and stacks are once again embedded into the landscape, their shape altered, and constantly transforming through the action of time, weather, and the advancing processes of decomposition.  In this way, the bundle becomes a seed, a transmitter, a resonator, a receptacle for the organic memory of each of the components, something which speaks without words.

 

 

 

 

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Placements, recent research..”Notions”

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Acts of Transference  

“Spruce Circle with Honesty” 

Materials : a loose assemblage of spruce twigs, bird bones, “honesty” seed pods, grass seeds, feathers,  found elements from walks in Northamptonshire, 2014.

Transferred to: To be reconstructed at an undisclosed location in the New Forest, Hampshire,  July 2014

“…every excavation of archaeological sites today ends up with a number of things that have no obvious function. These tend to be catalogued as ‘ritual objects’ and are set on one side for archaeologists to worry about later, as those in the next millennium certainly will about the rocks, crystals, shells and pieces of driftwood they are going to find in the ruins of our homes…”

“…There are some things, perfectly natural objects, which get picked out and picked up just because they catch the eye. As fossils will. Triangular Shark’s teeth and spiral ammonites have been found out of context on Paleoliothic floors, chosen, it would seem for both decorative and symbolic value…..some were drilled to be worn as charms and amulets, but none altered in any other way. They were chosen and not made. Though these things may not have intrinsic value or practical application, the act of choice makes them very special indeed… it gives them not only extrinsic value, but an ability to soak up emotion like nothing else in our lives…”

“..the very act of handling objects over prolonged periods invests them with some kind of life force..”

“…these are not yet “ritual objects” , things involved in specific rites or ceremonies, but are already more than ordinary things , and need a new, more descriptive name. I propose to call them “notions”…”

Sourced from Lyall Watson, Biologist, Anthropologist, Ethnologist, et al..Serendipity Books, 1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headstone Graphics, Old St Johns, Boughton (As Above)

Tree of life

As part of my ongoing investigation into the history and background of Old St John’s Church, Boughton, Northampton, I have recently been to photograph and catalogue some of the less degraded images on the older gravestones ( burials have been carried out as recently as 2011, presumably a pre- arranged family plot?)

” It is summer, and nature has once again taken its course – the site is heavily overgrown with nettles, weeds,  and bracken. I take a circuitous route around the old church site, but the going is treacherous. Thorns tear at my clothing and flesh..a warning? ..a test?  Am I desecrating this site in my search for a  clue, a story? Are those interred here willing to permit me to record their demise? “

Adapted from As Above by the author

Posy with Roses

“Here nature worships, where no psalm upflows,

With song of bird and incense of the rose;

Only the dead, who with their church decay,

Mark where the vanished village had it’s day..”

CT Yelland: “Boughton Churchyard

Lillies with Cartouche

Each gravestone tells its solitary tale. Many are scoured clean by the actions of time and weather. Mute, anonymous memorials, bejewelled with the patina of lichen and moss, leaning into diffuse sunlight . Yet somehow, the unlikely symbiosis of nature and built form creates a subtle harmony here. Where nature tends to reclaim and envelop, here it seems balanced by some unseen force, held in check, preventing church and gravestones from being assimilated into the earth once more. Some glimmer of memory preserved.

And what of the lives that these tablets silently commemorate? These brief epitaphs are simply full stops, conclusions, mineral waymarkers that merely symbolise an end-point, yet conspire to conceal whole lives lived in this village, and possibly beyond. What could these stones tell us of those nameless souls, and how they departed this world?

On our first visit, we were more captivated by the stories of loss told amongst these stones, than the charm of the church building itself. Three teenaged boys, lost in the first world war, in Italy, & North Africa, The Somme. A grieving mother follows soon afterwards presumably broken hearted, and lost in the world without her offspring.  Then a man, and his wife placed together, and another, with the same surname, a second wife maybe, or sister? We could only guess.

A writer in The Gentleman’s Magazine who visited Boughton Fair in June 1746 says that

“..having amus’d myself with the diversions of this gay and busy spot, I retired to view the ruins of a church near it in an open field, a solitary scene remote from any house. Here, I found a gravestone, which spoke to me in a pleasing tho’ solemn manner: if it pleases you as much let it speak to the world:

“Time was, I stood where thou dost now,

And view’d the dead as thou dost me

Ere long thou’lt lie as low as I,

And others stand and look on thee.. ”

Sadly, on my many excursions here, I have been unable to locate this particular gravestone. It has more than likely been erased over time, or crumbled into dust, as many of those old grave markers were made of local limestone. This poignant poem bears an epitaph that should resonate with all of us, reminding us of our fragility, and the brevity of our time on earth.

Four Flowers

“Across the churchyard, bramble and bracken threads its way across the site, a thorny cartilage that inexplicably fuses the living with the dead.

It is Spring.

The first fern fronds are unfurling amidst the gravestones, pushing through the damp humus, their mysterious curlicues, symbols of rebirth and renewal, nature’s constants since prehistory…”

Adapted from As Above by the author

Three Crocus

I am intrigued and enchanted by these gravestones, and the clues hidden within the images on the headstones. What messages are encrypted into these beautiful, elegiac carvings I wonder? What would they tell us of personalities, dramas, traumas, love and joy?

The church site was first documented in 1201, but almost nothing remains in the historical record of it as the living, working hub of a community. The only references to it in the County Records office are of the site as an abandoned, derelict, and overgrown remnant. I view this with great sadness, and hope to revitalise interest in this place once more, by decoding some of it’s secrets, and re-interpeting it’s history.

I am currently re-writing the original text that accompanied the “As Above” art edition that I released last year, an attempt to update it with fresh findings, new revelations.  As a separate project, the images of the gravestones and some historical notes will be released as a separate, but complimentary edition early next year. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITHIC

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Frosted and fissured rock faces, Iceland, 2011, Lanzarote 2012

I have, for many years been photographing old walls, fascinated by their patina, intrigued by the narratives that can be constructed or intuited from patterns of erosion, decay, graffiti etc. More recently, I have photographed the crumbling walls of old churches (As Above), and the old obelisk near to my home, and the ancient standing stones at Arbor Low. On our numerous travels, myself and my wife have been subconsciously drawn to volcanic areas such as Iceland, Lanzarote, Santorini, and have trodden paths and caverns that many have followed into areas of volcanic activity, volcanoes being to a great extent, the birthing place of stone.Sepia Wall Detail Door Patina Treated

 Aging  and Graffitied walls at Delapre Abbey, Northampton

Whether consciously or not, I have accumulated a body of photographs that intimately describe a personal relationship with stone. Stone is elemental, monumental, perpetual, mythic, sacred. It is embedded into our existence, a universal constant in the form of walls, paths, highways, grave markers, way markers, sculpture, jewellery, and so much more.

 

I have recently re-read an old book by Don Robbins, “The Secret Language of Stone”, in which he argues compellingly that stone has within it the capacity to “record”, or “store” fragments of conversation into it’s crystalline lattice, and that stone inherently accumulates, and transmits psychic information. Given that stone, crystal, and it’s derivatives have properties conducive to the storing of memory in computers ( the word “silicon” has etymological roots in the Greek word silex – hard stone or flint), then it would take no great leap of the imagination to assume that this might at least in principle, be possible.

 

Robins’ argument cycles through a variety of scientific explanations, which eventually evaporate towards the end of the book, and leave me with the impression that at best, this is still only conjecture, rather than a well constructed scientific theory. The book itself was consigned to the now somewhat pejorative ranks of New Age thought and belief, and Robins’ theory became outmoded and forgotten.

The wall as palimpsest

Archaic graffiti on the old obelisk at Obelisk Rise, Northampton. This obelisk was built in 1764 by Lord Stafford of Boughton Manor, in memory of the then Duke of Devonshire

Something of Robins’ notion, for me still clings though, if only poetically. If stone has the capacity to subjectively record fragments of conversation, how might it do this? How would it actively select, or de-select those fragments? Would there have to be a particular frequency of voice or sound that it sympathetically resonates with? Would voices have to be loud, violent, or simply more dramatic and imposing? And how would it “play” these fragments back, and under what conditions? How much memory would it have, given that the majority of stones have existed for many millennia, and must have been exposed to millions of frequencies and conversations? This inner questioning throws up so many questions, but so many possibilities, and potentials for me as an artist.

 

On our recent visit to Arbor Low, and from previous experiences with ancient monuments, I have often noted that one of the primary human impulses on being confronted with these monoliths is through touch. We seem to be inexorably compelled to make tactile contact with ancient stones and monuments. At Arbor Low, I observed a woman and her husband caressing the recumbent stones, and “hugging” some in a way that arguably exhibited the desire for intimate contact with the ancient past. Perhaps there is that need within all of us, to re-connect with our past, to re-establish pathways and bonds with our forefathers?

During most of my encounters with the ancient past, whether it be in built form, or in the form of caves, caverns,rock faces, volcanoes, grave markers etc, I have also felt compelled to intuit or imagine the activities, conversations, and lifestyle imprinted by their occupants,  Perhaps this “Lithic Memory” is hard -wired into all of us, if only we knew how to summon it from within the stones themselves?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Placements, archive material from 1992

Skarrein (Seed) 1990

SKARREIN  (Seed) , 1990,

200 x 200cm approx.  

Mixed Media,  including: blood, earth, hair , grass pigment, leaf pigment, flower petal pigment, mud residues, assorted organic media. (private collection) 

The current crop of my work under the title “Placements”, can be traced back through a line of enquiry that began in the early 1990’s, with a series of 12 images and 6 small sculptures that were loosely exhibited under the title, “The Poetry That Remains” as part of the Pushing Against the Wire arts festival, curated by myself, Justin Mitchell, and Lester Faulkner.

These pieces were then re-exhibited in  a small group show a year later under the same title, with a dear friend, Malcolm Pollard, and Mark Brown, who also managed the newly refurbished Roadmender Arts Centre at the time. Both of these shows gained mixed , but mostly favourable (and some incredulous) reviews, and a small amount of coverage in the Guardian arts review.

These works, recently retrieved from my personal archive, manifested from my desire to create images that harnessed some kind of “power”, or “potency”, a life-force, innate within natural materials. Back then, I was fascinated by the transformative energy engendered by ritual, and ritual objects, and how this might potentially be translated into a workable art form. I began researching the ritual practices of various pagan cultures, shamanism, and animism, and a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum of anthropology in Oxford stimulated, and influenced me enough to create images and fetish objects that I felt would demonstrate or contain this putative “power”.

Nearly all of this corpus of work was created using simple,  natural pigments extracted from slate, stone, earth/mud, plant juices, leaves, seeds, and “mixed organic media”, such as blood, semen, hair, and skin, plant residues, and saps, etc. These  materials, I felt, would have once existed as living entitities, and would therefore emanate some kind of biotic energy once transformed by my hand creatively.

Interestingly, and quite tellingly,  nearly all of these works were exhibited without a marked price or value, and they all eventually found a natural home with the people for whom I hoped they would resonate most, with no money exchanging hands. I hope those people still feel the power of those works in the way they were intended.

Fish Fetish

Fish Fetish Object, 1991

20 x 20cm approx,

mixed organic media: paper, earth pigments, fish oil and skin, fish skeleton, thorns, leaf pigment, blood, mould, glass base.

Some 23 years later then, Placements re-visits, and re-establishes that line of investigation, after a circuitous route that took me off into mail art, and subsequently, sound installation art, which kept me distracted until about 3 years ago.

The most recent works under the title of Placements still attempt to encapsulate an impalpable “seed memory” , an organic energy, with the exception that this time around they take the form of exchanges – transactions with the land, utilising remnants and remains, natural materials that nature has discarded.   These exchanges, these reciprocal acts, are the axis about which all other subsequent projects on this site rotate. Like the magnetic plasma fields that loop and arc from the surface of the Sun, they dissipate, vaporise, and re-connect to the land, interlocking, coalescing, and fusing PLACES, in a subtle exchange of  energy, between man and place, and place to place.

The name of this blog, PLACE, conveys meaning not only as a noun – place, as location, but also a verb – to place, to deposit, to leave something, a trigger for the memory, a seed, a catalyst, a prop for the imagination.

Thus, these disjecta membra, created from the land, are returned to the land , newly placed in the various locations that interest me, and have some kind of significance and potency in my imagination, they serve as way markers, interventions, minor alterations to the status quo, interlocking and binding to a site, and reciprocating its energy. Sequestered and housed in a new locale,these objects are still transforming a process in which they will deteriorate, and eventually decompose, merging once again with the land, further transformed.

Thorn-Cone, July 2014

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Pine cone amulet, stuck with thorns. Despite the apparent violence of this object, it serves merely as a sculptural representation that will be transferred and secreted within the area of Orford Ness, Suffolk, some time in August.

The old Ness site was used for some time for the testing of bombs and munitions during the war, and I thought this piece would be an appropriate representation, an object-memory, a prop for the imagination, a discreet communion with the land nearby, which once resounded with the sounds of controlled detonations.. the single pine cone, is apparently benign, but when stuck with thorns, it becomes a weapon in its own right, physically, and visually warding off any creature that may stumble upon it. The Thorn-Cone literally appears as if exploding….a poignant reminder of the violent activities that once took place at Orford Ness.