Back in the world reflecting on the experience of art making.
On return home, my reflections on the Solway walk had a number of sources. I had my direct recollection of the place and the experience of walking around in circles, my gps tracks and my movie footage.
What was most immediate was direct recollection of the move from representation to improvisation of the image of an idea of experiential learning through art. What was interesting was that the return to the camera where I reflected that ‘I learned something about my model’ was partly an image in my head but mostly a feeling. The feeling was that the move from representation to improvisation was a feeling of change. It was not a rational thing.
I saw the footage and recalled that the pause in my speaking was me trying to connect with the learning. I had a vague ghost of an image and I was trying to visualise it. One source of inspiration about art as enquiry in post grad research came from the work of artist and academic, Dr Estelle Barrett1. She describes art as research as being a thing of ‘doing and the senses’. It is subjective, situational, emergent, multi-disciplinary and often non-verbal. I knew some change had taken place. By changing my experience of embodying my drawing of my idea, my idea had changed.
In my head what floated around was an image of a map of different experiences and interests with my walking path moving between them. On my return home I used a drawing app and made an image of I thought the map might look like. This is what I drew.
The drawing showed three elements. The looping line I had walked. This was my experience over time moving from one thing to another. Then the things I moved through over time, the art I made, other artists work as source material, art and learning theory, more structured research and reading and revisiting various ‘projects’ with a coherent theme. Then there was a n idea of my connection with the art making. I thought about it on the way in and out and reported on it. I have a journal and use sketchbooks for ideas and images. I became a witness to my own art making, and through reportage her, other people also witnessed what I made. The art making was characterised by mostly doing and the senses. I moved out of fully thinking mode.
Central to it was working with artform, which had a bit of all of the above, but had its own things to show and share. I felt a need to return to the central bit. What it contained I realised was always specific to the actual experience of artform at the time. I intend to try and map what happened in here on the day. On another day this would contain something different and something the same.
What emerged form this drawing, this thinking through doing and the senses, was not so much the act of art making I had put at the centre, but a realisation that the experience of art-making was inseparable from all the stuff going on in my life. The intention to make something as art at the centre still stood and like the walk on the beach, this making as enquiry makes itself. The art making has a mind of it’s own, the intelligence of material. And intention made the intelligence of many materials available. In this case the material was walking.
The experience of walking, and then dancing or performing the image was close to what I felt was my actual experience. But I had lots of stuff going on. I usually have a couple of art projects on the go, I have in mind the work of other artists and off other art works I had made, many of which involve walking. In many cases I did more formal reading and research or related ideas or phenomena, including academic research and writing. I experiment with different arts practices, with varying degrees of success. I reflect on art I wanted to make and my ability to do so. I make judgement on myself and my art making ability, and what I felt I ‘should’ be making and what I actually did make. Lots of stuff going on at a personal, intellectual, embodied and artistic level. Nothing is ever static, hence ideas in the original drawing of rhizomatic or adimensional knowledge.
My simple map image above came closer but it was a static image and the experience of the land depicted by the map was dynamic. A couple of things emerged.
1 – If a map were to be made to accurately represent the experience it would have to be local. It would have to show the things that were present in my immediate experience specific to the artform I was working on. The point of a map of a place is that it is specifically local. I was struck that the walk was specific to an actual place, but I was using it to make a map of a generalised idea about art making. This connected to a recurring theme.
Can you generalise about the experience of art making, create an image of that is replicable like I wanted to walk a replica of the image of an idea. Or does art making as a creative act and thus inherently improvised, mean that all art making is specifically local to the experience at the time? If we consider visual art, the art of image, the image has to be fixed. An image can only show a snapshot of an experience, but is can show insight into the personal processing going on with me in the experience. This has strengths and weaknesses.
2 – The move from a fixed image, from representation, to improvisation, to performance, opened the possibility of performance as a useful artform in which the artform was the experience. The film I captured of experience would show the walk as it happened. This would not be a snapshot of an experience. But this has limits. The point at which I moved to performance and I changed my ideas about my model and my art making would be present in the form, unless I added a commentary. But a picture is worth a thousand words. A image is a snapshot of an experience but it can show insight into my response to my experience.
Going from static to moving image.
From a static image I went to the movie footage with the intention of seeing if it could help me process my experience. I went to my movie footage and what struck me was the sound of the place I did the walk. I explored making a movie and to just show we wandering around in circles, but this did not appeal to me. A 20 minute movie of a beach with a man wandering about would not appeal to people viewing the footage either.
The duration was important and some artists have used the durational quality of movies to explore ideas. Andy Warhol famously made ‘Empire’, an 8 hour film of the Empire state building. It is boring but raises issues about how we experience and represent time.
But 20 minutes of me walking about was not what I wanted. I worked at speeding it up but lost the sound of the place. The movie below is my attempt at showing what the walk felt like out on the Solway, between high and low water, in feral space between human and wild spaces. To get the sounds of the experience listen with headphones. The soundtrack is from ‘Tu Non Mi Perderai Mai’ (You Will Never Lose Me) by Johann Johannsson and captured the feel of the walk.
As I write this it is now 2021. On viewing the footage what strikes me now is that I was totally mistaken over the date. I was a week out. The walk was the 18th of November. The desire to change the duration and speed up the footage also reflected a sense in which the walking a mile seemed to take no time. It was not boring and passed quickly. I also noticed that the movement of myself was reflected by a dog walker and the vehicles on the road. Over a month after the experience, this account or reflection of the experience shows me new things.
My belief is that the making of an art object that is between being both the experience and an account of the experience offers interesting opportunities to explore experience directly through art making. My research after my walk led on to two ideas from performance and post grad art as research which explore this idea of liminality and ambiguity between art as the experience and the account of the experience which I will cover in subsequent posts.
As a souse of reflection I also had my GPS tracks. I downloaded them and plotted them on various maps. I put the raw .gpx files into various apps or online mapping sites. One of the things I am drawn to is the way different maps tell you differne things about place you see on the map. I like Korzibski’s idea that ‘The map is not the territory’, both in terms of our experience of place, but in broader terms of consciousness. This is something I want to cover in posts about humanistic geography and the idea that we perform the outdoors as a place and an idea.
The mapping of .gpx tracks did not disappoint.
The idea that the image is a snapshot of moving experience was evident above.
Different mapping conventions show different things. I am fascinated with how using a map of a place before you visit colours your expectations and information about the place before you arrive and experience it directly. Also, if you go somewhere and look at the map on return, your direct experience dominates but you see new things.
it made me laugh to think that 6 hours later and my walking site would be underwater. Obvious retrospectively but it reminded again me that the Solway is never still and yet it is constant. Tides can be predicted with great accuracy, but never occur at the predicted time. A westerly wind will advance an incoming tide and hasten the time of a high tide. The spring tides always follow the full and new moon, two peaks a month. Neaps follow the moon as she moves from full to new moon. But the range of the springs, the height from top to bottom, vary over the year in a similar way to the month. We have two big springs a year. We have two big springs a month.
Working with the outdoors as art to explore and express personal experience can tell us about art, experience and the outdoors. I think offers interesting opportunities. But the outcome is never fixed in the way the tides are never fixed. We can say what we expect to happen, that at Silloth on the south Solway a spring tide of 9.24m will occur at 1306 on January 14th 2021, but in detail, what actually happens is always local. It is subjective, situational, emergent, an outcome of many factors. Subject to the weather and the sand, the lay of the land. My proposal is that the creative act, art making, is likewise. We start with a clear intention to paint a landscape that could be regognised as a representation of a real place, but the details of what we make is not fixed. It is a known journey of uncertain outcome, it is adventure.
The next two posts are about ideas form the arts about performance and the art object which may provide some academic and practice connections between art making and outdoor experiences.
- Practice as Research – Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. Edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt. I.B.Taurus Press ↩︎