I recently gave a presentation of my work so far on ‘Entangling’. This came at a good time. Prior to this, I had been working across ideas, word and text in a fragmented way, with some sequences forming and others remaining partial. So this was an important point to try and understand better the connections, to evaluate and edit the work and its foundations and better plan a way forward.
Through this I have revealed the deeper foundations of my practice. I realised that key influences on this project are rooted in my childhood environment and upbringing. These have influenced my words, narrative and imagination and visually, the way I synthesise, interpret and present information and imagery.
We lived in a village and our bungalow backed onto fields and countryside, typical of Wiltshire, fields, hedges, rivers etc. We would spend evenings and weekends freely exploring this place and it became a wonderful setting for adventures helping form the narratives that are ingrained on my memories and perception. In the distance, the Westbury white horse, historic and majestic, and in the direct, physical foreground, the garden, vegetable patch and the immediate fields. Through the hazelnut trees and gooseberry bushes, a jump down from the wall at the end of our garden and you were in a new world which was free and timeless and limitless, only ended by dinner or piano practice, reality interrupting the stories and play. Dens in hedgerows, building dams, making perfume, hiding, chasing and collecting. The fields were a gateway to the imagination, we’d jump over the fence, and a 4 ft. drop and this transition punctuated the start of adventure.
Along with this, I went to a school in the nearby town and we all studied a subject called rural studies which was the most brilliant thing to learn – growing from seedlings, designing flower patch displays, studying plant diseases, picking apples from the orchard, collecting and inspecting jars of pond water - learning about the balance of nature and human input.
It’s hard to describe how my thoughts and ideas changed the moment I realised that this ideal could be upset. In the 1980’s , the village I grew up in , saw an influx of glue sniffers, meeting in the fields behind our house. As a child, the sight of people passed out with bags of glue was terrifying and the place that had once been so comforting and magical, suddenly became a place we were no longer allowed to go and a place of danger. Human behaviour and its affect on nature , ,upsetting the balance and changing the narratives of nature became themes, which I am exploring on a deeper level with Entangling. Here, though, it is ignorance and mass behaviour that has altered our environment. Entangling echoes this idea of changing nature through behaviour, something beautiful into something ugly, destruction through behaviour and habit,.
In the late 80’s things happened which changed my relationship with nature. Firstly, the trees around the village got Dutch elm disease and started to die – this was my first experience of the uncontrollable force of nature. Then the plains were closed due to an outbreak of myxomatosis. More directly, the village where I lived started to have a glue sniffing population and the fields outside our house became a gathering place for them. I was of course no longer allowed to just wander off at my leisure and the end of the garden became something threatening and brutal. Memories of young people with bags to their faces crept into my other memories. Then came Acid rain t-shirts, Greenpeace and global warming and I moved to a city and sort of forgot about nature.
But human interaction with nature is also very positive and these actions that can restore the balance. My parents and teachers always upheld the preciousness of the natural world and how to respect it. There is a secret tree in a beautiful spot in Cornwall, which my dad planted in memory of my mum. It’s a constructive narrative, an additional narrative, and building good relationships with nature.
My dad who was a town planner directly influenced my visual language and order of seeing. He had an amazing drawing board and a filing cabinet full of expensive delicate pens with fragile nibs. Stencils, rulers, Chinese tablets of colour wash, beautiful brushes, plan chests etc. My dad is also a patient man and would spend time teaching us some of the skills he used for drawing plans – colour washing, drawing thin lines, using a simplified language to describe objects and space. So my projects at school always had beautiful charts- pastel coloured washed and neat. And this diagrammatic precision has shaped the visual language that I enjoy and feel is most authentic to me. Acceptance of this, against the more fashionable and admired spontaneous drawing, has freed me and made me immerse myself in this language. The order and minimal materials has pushed me to explore the potential of both simplicity and complexity of diagrams and drawing. In close comparison, there are direct visual partnering’s – trees, letratone etc. here.
Dad also kept a vegetable plot, growing mainly onions and potatoes from what I can remember but keeping detailed ‘crop’ rotation notations in small book. Planning, nature and growth fitting perfectly into our everyday life. This has led me to become interested in Prepping. The Mad Adam trilogy by Margaret Atwood describes a world , greatly altered by an event that wipes out much of human society. The survivors learn to prep, to store for the present and future. There are many people involved in prepping for what they believe will be an imminent apocalypse. Do I believe this will happen? I don’t know but we are over consuming and this has to have an impact on economy, human behaviour and nature. We have gone from having meat once a week to maybe twice a day.
We were poor, but resourceful and creative. On Fridays we would do the shopping at a place called Walden’s. This is where you could get chickens with one leg and something called ‘miss-shapen pies’ – nothing was wasted. One Sunday we sat down for a Sunday dinner with meat pies. The pies were fruit pies. These are the narratives that stay with me.
Working from above, maps and geographical contour diagrams.
My dad would work on A1 or A0 plans of rooms, buildings and towns, birds eye views, constructed with precision and care. I marvelled over these images, constructing imaginary visions of the potential for these spaces, what they might look like and what might happen there. Similarly, I loved geography at school and became fascinated with the language of maps, contours and cross sections. There is a basic simplicity and precision in converting something that is so vast and epic and experiential into a series of lines and colour in 2D. This basic simplicity was just enough to ignite my imagination to wonder about these places and their material and mood. The interplay between macro and micro and the opposite has fed directly into sections of my graphic novel where land mass and microscopic forms can be read as both.
Using lichen as the form, a seemingly fragile organism which flourishes in even the harshest conditions, from above, with a bird’s eye view, can carry an alternative reading as the form land mass, islands, icebergs and contours, cities at night, movement of people, populations.
When Sue Coe gave a lecture in 2013 she talked about the impact that animal agriculture has on the environment. Almost directly after this, I read ‘eating animals’ and stopped consuming animal products for environmental reasons. This recent turning point has made me become more aware of myself and my principles, and the history of my relationship with nature. I am interested in human connection with the natural world and its impact on the earth.