Finally finished my edition of 16 books, 11 or which will be sent of round the US and UK later this year as part of the Pulp Atlas Exhibition. Each book in the series is entitled ‘Littoral Drift’ and features two hand embossed paper slips of Progeo map paper, housed in a card sleeve. Once again the work explores the idea of erosion/accretion, this time picking out Special Areas of Conservation or Sites of Special Scientific Interest between two points on the coast.
The drawings I posted up a few days back that use sandpaper and other abrasives to explore map making, walking and erosion all have counterparts that look at the opposite of erosion – accretion.
The Suffolk coast is influenced by a process called long shore drift (or littoral drift), a process which basically moves sediments at an angle along the coastline from one location to another. One of the reasons that Covehithe has been assigned a status of No Active Intervention (meaning no attempt will be made to preserve the coastline) is that the movement of sediment to the south is considered beneficial to the protection of more ‘important’ settlements to the south. Ever noticed all the groynes at Felixstowe? Well they are there to help protect the beach, and to prevent the loss of sediment. Now notice the lack of groynes at Covehithe.
Anyhow, this counterpart embossing work is my way of once again manipulating materials to mirror or represent natural processes.
I had a first attempt today at embossing on Somerset printmaking paper, using one of the stencils I have spent the last week cutting by hand. Happy with the results and the paper was nice to work with. Somerset, made by St Cuthberts Mill, really is a very nice, tactile paper. I’ve been using it for some time now for drawing, but this is the first time I’ve attempted embossing on it. Results pictured below.
I’ve been busy working this week on an edition of 16 book works for the PULP ATLAS exhibition this coming autumn. Each book features two slips of paper, one embossed, the other imprinted with two map-type images of sites on the Suffolk coastline. Combined, the two slips represent the process of long shore drift, where sediment is transported along the coast in a southerly direction. The map that is imprinted relates to the area from which sediment is being lost, and the map that is embossed relates to the area where the sediment ends up. Erosion and accretion. Simple idea really, but I have enjoyed the process of making lines by manipulating paper rather than by marking them out by other methods.
I have also been working on a set of stencils for some larger scale embossed pieces. These will form part of the practice element of my MRes thesis. These have been a real labour of love, hand cramps, cut fingers the works. Finally finished them though, now the search for suitable paper begins…
I thought I would upload a couple of shots of the 4.5 metre long concertina sketchbook I have been working on. The concertina sketchbook compliments this online diary, in that it explores similar themes, but by different methods.
As mentioned a previous post the length of the sketchbook, at 4.5 metres, represents the average distance the shore retreats every year at Covehithe. When fully extended and displayed, the sketchbook not only charts the progress of the research, but also attempts to tackle the problem of visually describing environmental processes that operate on a different temporal level than that of our senses.
The challenge of visually representing environmental processes that our senses struggle to interpret is a theme that is running through my work at the moment. The sketchbook is a rather crude attempt to tackle this challenge, in that it aims to give an appreciation to the viewer of just how far 4.5 metres actually is. It doesn’t however speak of the underlying environmental processes at play or our relationship to them. So, perhaps this sketchbook doesn’t goes far enough?
My reason for asking this is that I have been considering some of my core beliefs about my creative undertakings. Over the last two years I’ve realised that I happen to believe that it would not be to the benefit of my practice to seek to solely translate these processes into an understandable format. After all, it could be said that this reduces art to an illustrative role, when surely creative practice can aim for more than to serve as just a tool of illustration? This relates to some wider questions about arts-based research, which, in short, question the status of knowledge in art research and making, and even wider than this, ask what the purpose of arts-based research is and what its goals and conventions should be.
So, how does what I do relate to these types of questions? Well, it seems that I believe that the drawings I make, certainly within the context of the arts-based research that I carry out, should have the goals and interests of art at their core. However, I also believe it is possible, and worthwhile, to try to meet these aims while serving other purposes.
What I am aiming for is a form of creative practice that not only has at its heart the production of art that is able to stand on its own merit, but a practice that also furthers the development and understanding of arts-based research. The focus of this practice should then be directed towards not just helping us to understand, but to also question our relationships to, and our behaviours towards, environmental processes.
I’ve finally got around to putting together the animations of the group drawings that the research participants made on 17th May.
There are four animations of each drawing, This is because the drawings were worked on from all sides, meaning there is not top, bottom, left or right to each drawing.
The participants seemed to be in agreement that they would like some kind of soundtrack to the animations, so what you hear is the North Sea meeting Covehithe beach.
Each drawing fades in and out twice – symbolic of the tides.
The next step is to turn these into a DVD for the participants as a thank you for taking part. The animations on the DVD will be in higher resolution but you should be able to get the flavour of them in the clips below.
It has been a while since the last update, mainly because I have been busy finishing up a module, the final optional module of the MRes in fact. The module in question was ‘Mediating the Environment’, run by Dr Julie Doyle from the School of Art, Design and Media, and looked at the ways in which environmental issues are constructed, communicated and contested by different actors, such as the media, scientists and environmental NGOs, and through different forms of mediated communication, such as images, films, newspapers, internet and social media. The culmination of this module was an essay that looks at how coastal erosion has been represented in the East Anglian Daily Times. I’ll post up the results when I get them.
This has meant that the main research project had mostly been put on hold for a short time, but now becomes my main focus once more. The 17th May seems a long time a go now, but that was when I ran my final research session of two in Wrentham. The session began with a series of individual drawings made by the participants in response to three questions. For each question, participants were given ten minutes to create a response. The questions were:
Please make some marks on your paper about a memorable moment from the coast walk last Saturday.
Please make some marks on your paper about one of your drawings that you made last week.
Please make some marks on your paper about one of your photos you took or objects you collected last week.
Some of the drawings made by participants are pictured below.
Reading back through my notes, my initial thoughts about how this session went were:
- Difficult to arrange several people in a room, on individual tables, without replicating an exam-type set up.
- This similarity was picked up by a few participants, not sure if this unsettled them.
- The room was very quiet, little in the way of conversation.
- A few comments were made expressing disappointment that we wouldn’t be going to the beach at any point.
Following on from this, while the participants went through to the kitchen area for refreshments, I rearranged the seating in a way that allowed all the participants to sit around two tables pushed together.
This was necessary for the following hour-long exercise, where the participants worked on two communal drawings. Two sheets of paper were placed on the tables in front of the participants, half the participants would be working on sheet 1, and the other half on the 2. Every fifteen minutes the sheets would be swapped over, so participants would constantly work on drawings that they didn’t have complete ownership over.
The participants were asked to make marks in response to only one question:
How does the Covehithe stretch of coast make you feel?
Every fifteen minutes the drawings were swapped over, and a photo was taken of each drawing. These photos will eventually be turned into animations, but for now, here are some of the drawings:
Looking at my notes from the session, I observed that:
- There was a little initial confusion and resistance shown by the participants when set the task, but soon everyone settled down.
- Politeness prevailed to begin with, most participants hesitated to make marks.
- This time, in contrast to the silence of the individual drawing activity, conversation flowed freely among the participants.
The next step in the process will be to analyse all of the drawings in greater detail, and to seek some interpretations of the drawings by the participants themselves.
Following a lunch break, we concluded the day with another focus group session. The main areas covered were:
What are your thoughts and feelings about your experience of taking part in the walking and drawing activity?
What are your thoughts more generally on how you experience landscape when you are out walking or drawing in it?
What are your thoughts and feelings about your experiences of taking part in today’s drawing exercises?
What effect has making your drawings in this project had on your relationship to the coastline?
I enjoyed the discussion, many interesting ideas and topics were raised. I now have to transcribe around three hours of interviews recordings, how long this takes will no doubt determine when I next update this diary.
Some back story. Three years a go when I was preparing my research proposal to send to the University of Brighton, my research interests were in slightly different area. At the time, I was concerned with how we might possibly, through art, make environmental processes that operate on a different time scale to human time more personally meaningful, or at least more easily comprehended.
A promising route to a more meaningful experience of slow-moving or large-scale processes seemed to be through art works that physically embody the natural processes they seek to describe. Take for example the handmade book work Once Around the Sun by Kristjan Gudmundsson. According to Frieze:
In the first volume each page is covered in dots, in total as many dots as there are seconds in a year: 31,556,926 dots in all. The pages of the second volume are densely covered with horizontal lines. Joined together, the lines would measure the distance the earth travels in one second, that is 29,771 metres, or about 18 miles.
This means that these two books, when considered together, are a handmade, visual representation of the distance the Earth travels in one year. What is achieved in these two volumes, is the translation of distances and timescales, so large as to be practically meaningless, through an object that is not only human-scale in size, but also efficiently and poetically expresses large periods of time in a way we can begin to appreciate.
However, over time my research interests evolved and it is only recently when exploring ways to reflect a process such as coastal erosion through drawing that I have been thinking again about art works embodying environmental processes.
Which brings us to the physical counterpart to the online component of this research diary. Arriving home from work today I was greeted by the roll of Fabriano 200gsm paper that I had ordered, from which a concertina sketchbook will be made. Taking its cue from Gudmundsson, the sketchbook will be 4.5 metres long, a distance equal to the amount of land lost to the sea per year in some areas of Covehithe. The concertina design is crucial, as it will make it possible to exhibit the book in one long piece, presenting the journey the research has taken in an object that makes visible and understandable the amount of land loss that is occurring in some areas.
To provide weight to my point that we sometimes have a hard time imagining time and space, I hadn’t really considered how long 4.5 metres actually is, only giving thought that the 10 metre roll of paper I had ordered provided me plenty of room for errors when making the book (traditionally I have always been a measure once, cut twice kind of person). Well, I can report, it isn’t easy to wrestle with a 1.5 metre x 10 metre roll of paper (especially working in a spare room as I am studio-less), and further more, folding a 4.5 metre long sheet of paper into individual pages is also a time-consuming task. It is now made however, and is sitting under several hardback books to try to flatten the pages. Future posts will explain in more detail the purpose of the physical book, as well as discussing other ways my work will come to explore certain aspects of erosion, such as degradation and protection.