Sunday, July 31, 2011

Over Here by Shane Waltener at Jupiter Artland

Over Here by Shane Waltener at Jupiter Artland introduces contemporary lace as sculpture in a familiar form - a giant knitted web.

Waltener describes the web as "Trapping the essence of the place and framing an ever changing imprint of it". The technique references traditional Shetland lace and the material (fishing line) hints at the the net as a means of capturing prey, a strange mixture in theory but very effective in this situation.

The thread is quite transparent when viewed against the light but, as with a rainbow, viewed at the right angle that the colours become apparent. It would be great to see this with a backdrop of autumn leaves but sadly I have no plans to be in the area in the fall.

The knitted structure of the work only becomes apparent at close quarters but reminds me of a comment that I once heard; 'women knit - men are continuous loop construction engineers'. Either way this is a work that successfully brings knitting / lace / textiles to the attention of a wider audience. Perhaps not one of his most adventurous pieces but powerfully effective in this setting.

Firmament by Antony Gormley at Jupiter Artland

For me Firmament by Antony Gormley was one of the most fascinating pieces at Jupiter Artland, this vast steel sculpture has distinct connections with the research that I an doing with archives and with contemporary lace structures.

View from the right angle the form of a person kneeling, with their head to the ground, can be distinguished. This connection of man with earth is elemental to our being but it is the sky showing through the work that dramatically emphasises the tenuous nature of this connection.
As a contemporary lacemaker much of the appeal in this piece is in considering it as a piece of lace - the voids being an integral part of the work without which it would be a very different, and in my opinion less effective, piece.

My lacemaking is about making connections and giving form to voids which is what this sculpture does in three dimensions.
Taken out of context images of the work can appear wonderfully random and formless but in reality every strut and joint is an essential element of the overall form which is only revealed at a suitable angle and distance from the work.

One thing which surprised me about the piece was the presence of an annotated numbering system for the elements which gave it a direct link to the accession numbers that I have been working with in the Birmingham Museum archives and collections.

Jupiter Artland

Jupiter Artland sculpture park is just west of Edinburgh, it can be a little difficult to find but is well worth the effort.
'A Forest' by Jim Lambie is an installation on the rear wall of the entrance shop and gallery. The mirrored surface of the chrome panels reflect the surrounding woodland but this natural harmony is interrupted by the apparent peeling away of corners of the mirrored surface to reveal glimpses of brightly coloured layers beneath. The effect is at once beautiful and unsettling, natural and unnatural. As the light and the seasons change this piece will change with them and I suspect that in due course nature will also play its part in the evolution of the work by beginning to colonise the nooks and crannies with plant life.

'Suck' by Anish Kapoor is a very solid rendering of the archetypal black hole that absorbs all light and matter, to the dark places within, a sink-hole delving into the bowels of the earth - for most of us the stuff of nightmares. The iron clad hole at the centre of 'Suck' is surrounded by a 17 foot high cast iron cage which poses questions of whether the hole has been captured and neutralised by being caged or we if are being kept at a distance to ensure our safety?
Cornelia Parker's 'Landscape with Gun and Tree' references Gainsborough's 'Mr and Mrs Andrews' in which Mr Andrews stands, beside his wife, beneath a tree, with a shotgun. The scale of this piece is in keeping with the potential for violence inherent in the weapon, loaded or otherwise. The menace is no doubt amplified in winter when the trees are stripped bare and the wind whistles through the branches.

I've seen numerous images of Charles Jencks' 'Life Mounds' but actually being able to walk amongst and on them is a quite different experience. This is especially true in the pouring rain when the surface of the water becomes highly textured by huge raindrops that disrupt the normal stillness of the pools.

Andy Goldsworthy's 'Stone Coppice' was the highlight for me, possibly helped by the spectacular thunderstorm raging around me, and the fact that everyone else had sought shelter so I had the copse to myself. The boulders are left over stones from 'Stone House', another Goldworthy structure at Jupiter Artland. The limbs of the coppiced hazel are sturdy enough to hold the boulders and will slowly grow to trap and enclose the stones in a vice-like grip, fusing plant and mineral as one piece. The area will continue to be managed for coppicing and the addition of further boulders (in 10 to 15 years) is a possibility. Slow art but well worth waiting for.
'Clay Tree Wall', in the Gallery, is also by Andy Goldsworthy. Coppiced branches were fixed to the wall and then covered in wet clay, mixed with human hair. As the clay dried the cracks appeared making it look as if the branch was caught in a dried up river bed. Goldsworthy refers to it as exploring the surface that forms the divide between 'above' and 'below' ground, transition points are often contested and here it is the cracks that make the 'below' ground visible that are so important to the visual effectiveness of the work.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Platanthera Orchids on the Caledonain Canal

A pleasant day walking along the Caledonian Canal with great views of the north side of Ben Nevis was given a real boost when I came across an orchid that I'd never seen in the wild before. I'd seen lots of common spotted orchid of various colours in the hay meadows in Glen Nevis and there were both pale and dark ones along the canal side but a white one caught my eye and on closer inspection I realised that it was quite different. Looking it up it appears to be a Platanthera (Butterfly orchid) but I'm not sure if its the greater or lesser variety.

Traigh golf course

It's not very often that I can be persuaded to walk a golf course but the views from this one at Traigh were just stunning (the sunshine helped of course)

It's situated in a tiny bay just south of Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland. The journey from Fort William (Ben Nevis) to Mallaig is beautiful and can be done by train as well as by car but by train you don't get to stop in places like this. The islands in the distance are Eigg, with its basalt cliffs, and Rum.
As we crossed the tidal burn at the 5th I noticed that mother nature had been trying her hand at a bit of contemporary lacemaking. In fact its dried weed that had been washed out of the burn on a particularly high tide and left in the sun to dry - a bit like paper making but with very long staple fibres.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ospreys and red squirrel near Keswick

The Lake District is a great place to watch birds and just north of Keswick the pair of breeding Osprey are rearing two chicks. The Osprey Watch Project have set up two viewing points on the side of Dodd Wood, just above MireHouse where they are providing scopes and binoculars as well as information on the progress of the nest this season. This morning the chicks were provided with a fish at 10.30 and then the female sat watch on the side of the nest for most of the morning. Unfortunately this year the Ospreys have decided to nest where the project can't get a camera on the nest but they should have some great photo's on the website soon as the chicks are due to be ringed any day.

The lower viewing point also has a bird/red squirrel feeding station which is very well attended.

Two young greater spotted woodpeckers, two jays and a red squirrel put in prolonged appearances while I was there today.

An otter was also reported as having been seen in the pools at the end of the lake this morning.

Antony Gormley - Another Place

This week I finally got the opportunity to visit Antony Gormley's installation Another Place at Crosby on Merseyside. It was fascinating to see not only the scale of the work but also the effects that time and the sea are having on the individual pieces.

Most of the pieces that I saw were standing in their own pools of water where the eddying tides had scoured away the sand from around the bases on which they stand but a few, closer to shore, had become partially buried in the sand.

It was also interesting to see how the proportions of the bodies had changed as they have become colonised by seaweed, barnacles and muscles.

I think that what struck me most was the way in which despite being a real 'presence' the statues were dwarfed by the wind-farm, just off shore, and the vast ships moving in and out of Liverpool docks. This was perhaps enhanced by watching them being rapidly engulfed by the incoming tide.

Despite this the most enduring memory will be the haunting sense of absence/unknown - why are they looking out to sea; are they guides waiting hopefully for something/one to return or are they sentinels standing as a forlorn reminder of those who will never return - I fear the latter.