Lichen Landscape

Today I decided to have a go at making a diorama, as it is one way of presenting the miniature, overlooked specimens which would allow them to be viewed from a different perspective.  I have a collection of lichens which I have collected from the floor of Birnam Wood over the last few months, some of them are really quite spectacular, and are not unlike something one might see under the sea in a coral reef.  I have a few that have been drying out, as well as some oakmoss and usnea lichens which have been pressed, so I gathered them together and began to plan how I might display them underneath a large glass cloche.

I used a brick of oasis and pieced it together to form a circle of the desired size.  I began by covering the surface and sides with pressed usnea, which is a pale green hairy lichen, as this gives good coverage and seems like an appropriate base on which to add further specimens.

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I glued the usnea down with florists glue, and also used a few pins to keep it in place. When it was all covered, I inserted the larger pieces of lichen, and also included a twig which I had picked which was covered in crotal (yellow lichen).
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To finish it off neatly, I glued the pressed oak moss right around the sides of the circle, allowing it to stand proud around the edge to add a further layer of interest for the viewer.

diorama19The finished diorama reminded me a bit of a decorated cake, although it would be certainly fatal if consumed!  Below is an aerial view of the miniature landscape…

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I placed it inside the cloche to see how it would look on display. I was quite happy with the result, and it reminded me of some of the exhibits of coral that I had seen in books about wunderkammern that I had been reading.

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I took a lot of photos from different angles both with and without the glass, and was surprised at the “alien” landscape which emerged through the lens. The camera really magnifies the texture and form of the lichens which I hadn’t realised were so amazing. The two photos below are taken through the glass cloche, giving a distorted and surreal effect in some areas.

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The blurred foreground against the crisp texture of the yellow Croat lichen gives a ghostly, otherworldly effect.

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Without the glass, I feel like I am looking into a strange and sinister yet intriguing landscape – almost certainly a sublime landscape where trees and plants have evolved into threatening monsters, a bit like the photographs of Paul Nash.

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Making this piece has allowed me not only to display an unusual collection of lichens, but also to take a digital walk through a miniature landscape, where the weird and wonderful details that lie under our feet become menacing and monstrous when we enlarge them. By magnifying the details, we notice the strange suckers, cups, wrinkles and veins on these specimens which would feel at home in the movie Avatar. The lens is a great tool to illustrate the sublime aspects of the world around us.

Concealed paths

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At my last crit I had received mixed feedback about the piece Mysterious Paths, which I had taken on the chin, putting the piece to the back of a pile in my studio. Since then, I had worked furiously to produce other pieces, turning my emotions into energy which I had used in a positive way. However, all the while I had felt dissatisfied, having to conform by disregarding this piece, which sickened me every time I cast my eyes on it.

I was thinking about how to sum up what I had been doing with all of my other pieces…poetry, walking, using natural materials, trapping some of these in ice and wax…concealing layers and fragments…and then I had a thought about a way that I might be able to salvage this piece, making it less “obvious”, as had been mentioned in the crit. After all, I had nothing to lose, and didn’t want to be precious about leaving the piece as it stood.

I began by trying a few experiments to conceal various natural materials in layers of tissue paper; soil, ashes, a thistle and some Usnea lichen. My first few attempts failed…I had wet my brush before using Pva, and the tissue broke each time. Slowly I got the knack of the technique, brushing the glue on very slowly, and using a hairdryer to speed up the drying process.

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Concealing Usnea lichen between layers of tissue paper

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The same piece with Usnea lichen, held up to the window

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A jagged, painted thistle trapped between tissue

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The results were interesting; the PVA coating had giving the tissue more translucence, and this was especially apparent when held up to the light. Having become more confident in using the tissue and glue, I took the decision to cover over the found objects in the piece – on each of 16 square canvas boards.

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I began with the easier ones- the small stones and pebbles, then worked up to the more complicated pieces…which will remain a secret! I used a hairdryer each time, and not only did this speed up the drying process, but it actually seemed to make the tissue stretch tightly, so that it resembled a kind of skin, with foreign bodies pushing hard against it in an attempt to break through.

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I felt this was quite apt, as I was trying to show the present and the absent; the invisible landscape, the hidden paths, the concealed layers of nature and events which shaped the site, the clues waiting to be unearthed…

I really feel much more content with this piece now, and feel that covering the objects has made it stronger conceptually, and more interesting (and less obvious) aesthetically. It gives me a calm serene feeling, yet begs the viewer to touch it (gently!) and to enquire just what is underneath the “skin”.

Painting with Natural Pigments

I wanted to experiment with something a bit more messy and natural, and using soil seemed an appropriate medium in terms of mapping the landscape. I have come across a few contemporary art cartographers who use earthy pigments in the creation of their maps; Chris Drury and Sally Darlison. I emailed them, sending them a questionnaire to answer for research for my essay, and was delighted to receive replies very promptly.

Chris is an environmental artist who works in a variety of media, from small paper based- works to large site specific installations. I came across him in an excellent book by Katherine Harmon; The Map as Art, which has been my bible of late for the work that I have been doing and researching.

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Tumulus and Dew-pond (2012)

His maps Tumulus and Dew-pond (2012), are beautiful, intriguing geometric patterns which have been woven from existing maps of locations that he wished to “marry” together as he felt they had something in common. They were pushed into concave and convex bowls to give them a 3-dimensional quality. I was interested by the fact that Chris stains his maps with soils, and natural materials found at sites, which have even included sheep droppings! To me, these maps have the sophistication and beauty of an oriental surface pattern, and at a first glance I could picture these on the robes of a Chinese emperor. I love the fact that he thinks three–dimensionally, acknowledging the raised Tumulus and the hollow of the Dew pond, yet the latter is almost an optical illusion, which could be either concave or convex, as a floating bubble.

Sally Darlison’s maps are quite different; they are bright, scorching records of her journey to the north of Australia. She mixes a variety of media, using fabric and thread dyed with the soil on the journey in the making of many of these pieces.41-e1308802417856

In Alice Colours (above) you can almost feel the burning heat of this dry Australian landscape. Her compositions are bold and attractive, the choice of colour palette apt for the areas she is illustrating.

Wanting to have a go at using pigments myself, I gathered a few jars of soils from different locations, and also some ashes from the open fire.

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I had looked online to try to find out how to make natural pigments, and firstly I noticed that many artists had used PVA as a binder. I began to mix soil into the PVA, which I have to say was horrible…texturally it was almost impossible to stir, worse than overcooked porridge!

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I began by loosely copying a map which I had made into an artists book – inspired by a walk up Inchewan Path. I was actually quite impressed with the difference in colours, even though I hadn’t prepared the pigment “properly” by using a pessel and mortar.

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From different angles, I could see the raised texture of the soils, which the PVA had encouraged. These looked like views of an imaginary landscape or a path that was beckoning to be followed.

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This one (above) looks like an aerial view of barren, rugged mountains

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After more internet research, I came across the website of Sabine Brosche, who mentions other binders, such as Gum arabic, egg and linseed oil. Having some linseed oil in the studio, I decided to give this a go. It felt much more natural to use, and allowed the pigments to flow more smoothly. I played around by painting a series of overlapping abstract landscape details to create this Soilscape piece, which was just an experiment really..

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This was just an experiment, but I like the way the linseed oil made the flow of soil painting easier. One more piece I mad was a combination of soil painting and drawing, inspired by the poetry sculpture I had made a while ago… I painted  it from different angles using the soil pigments and also Quink ink, as I wanted to create a darker contrast. IMG_6581IMG_6584I then drew some details of the sculpture in pencil, over the looser painted lines. I wanted to create a small tight ball at the top which was unravelling as it tumbled down to Earth.

These pieces are all just experiments; playing with a medium which is too often overlooked, which we walk upon each day, and never give a second thought until it annoys us by dirtying our floors or clothes.

It is something I will try more in future, but with more patience. I think I will invest in a pessel and mortar, and also have ago at other binders, as suggested by Sabine Brosche. In terms of mapping, I think it is probably the most apt and relevant medium that any artist could use, as it gives a real sense of the environment and the site in question.

Mapping the Territory : Using Coggle

I decided to have a go at Mapping the Territory today. Caroline had suggested that we look at mapping software such as Compendium, but having a lot of distractions and noise around today, I felt that I just couldn’t concentrate on doing tutorials. Also the sound on the tutorial I looked at was awful, so I googled to find some other alternatives.

I came across software called Coggle, and within minutes I had begun creating a map . It was very instinctive to use, and basically there was a grey box in the centre from where I could create branches by clicking on a plus sign and then giving them a name, after which I could create sub-branches by clicking on the plus signs on the branches and again naming them accordingly.

I used the content which I had worked out in my previous post, and also added a few bits and pieces from the draft of my Personal Practice Plan.

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The map consisted of branches such as:

  • Media, techniques and style
  • Inspirational Artists
  • Related Theories
  • Influences 
  • Books and Films

but it also posed a series of questions which I asked myself, and listed possible answers or ways that I could try to discover the answers through research or activities. For example:

  • What is my relationship with nature?
  • How does nature pose a threat/nuisance to man?
  • How is man impacting on the natural environment?
  • How can I include my interest in folklore and mythology within my research?
  • What is a print?
  • How can I bridge the gap between installation and printmaking?
  • How can I incorporate technology into my art?
  • How can I use my current job to ensure longevity in my practice?
  • Where can I best exhibit art to create maximum impact and effect?

I coloured all the questions in red, so that they could be a focus on the map, as I feel that it is important to ask myself questions around my practice. Other aspects of my map were colour-coded in terms of the branches and their respective sub-branches, although the colours didn’t really signify anything in terms of colour psychology as there wasn’t a great deal of choice of colour, and I had to repeat the use of some colours as I ran out of choice!

The map took me around 7 hours to make, but I felt quite pleased with my finished attempt. To me, the “branches” on the map resemble plants, similar to plants blowing in the wind, with their roots anchoring them to the earth. It reminds me of one of Angie Lewin’s prints (a printmaker whose style and expertise I really admire).

I don’t think that this will be my final map, however if for any reason i don’t have time to submit another, I am satisfied that my content is extensive, it is a legible piece which is easy to navigate, and it is not unattractive (although I feel I could be a lot more creative with   the next attempt!).

My Coggle Map

Observations from Stories of Art and The Neo Avant Garde

Having read Stories of Art  by James Elkins, and watched the Neo Avant Garde lecture, we were asked to note down some observations we have made and/or questions.

Stories of Art : Some thoughts…

So to sum up the book, Stories of Art, art history is thought of in predominantly Western terms, but over the years, there have been a few attempts to add in other non-Western chapters, and in our recent attempts to be “multicultural” and with the advent of the World Wide Web we are in a dilemma, because the world seems more connected, yet we would not have the time or the resources to teach a complete international history of art, or write it into one complete publication. So in the Western world, we consider the stories of art which are most relevant to our culture, and we are not about to change our habits it would seem.

The maps Elkins shows us at the beginning of the book fly in the face of conventional art history, almost making a mockery of what has gone before, inviting us to rethink art history in our own self-indulgent way. He makes the subject feel much more lighthearted, and gives us the green light  to focus on the parts that we want to or feel affect our practice the most.

It seems to me anyone’s map of at history would change over time, especially when studying, as personally at present I am discovering artists and important facts on a weekly basis.  It’s a bit like the ancient explorers discovering new lands, charting new territories, sailing into unknown waters. Those undiscovered remain unmapped, but with the world at the touch of a button, it is more likely that they will be discovered than they would have been twenty years or more ago.

Maps have changed over the ages; parts of the earth have been lost to the seas and natural disasters, landscapes have changed due to man’s intervention. In other words, the map of the earth has evolved over time, and will continue to do so forever, as will our own personal maps of the history of art.  Should you plot parts of your map which were once historically important to you, or should you draw a map of where your practice is at now? Is there a wrong or a right answer?

My Story of Art (as posted previously)

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The Neo Avant Garde

Yves Klein, Niki de Saint- Phalle, Piero Manzoni, and John Latham… Selling out or not? Its a bit of a dilemma, creating art that is anti institution yet showing it in Galleries and Museums around the world. But if it was not in galleries or museums there was no internet in thsoe days, so maybe the art would not have had a wide enough audience. Also maybe the artist secretly was being subversive, appearing to have sold out to everything he stood against because he was trying to mock the establishment by being inside it and still making a statement, or maybe he was wanting to prick the conscience of a middle class audience that may not have otherwise seen his work.