INTERSECTIONS Su Grierson
The works represented in this publication start at the time I left Glasgow in 2000 and set up my studio on the farm in Perthshire where I live. After graduating from the MA fine art course at Glasgow school of art I kept a studio in the city and travelled daily from my Perthshire home. At that time I was starting to be known for my abstract colour-field video projections and trying to find my place as an older graduate in a very youth based city culture. I was living two lives, rural and urban. I decided that a resolution had to come and moved my studio back home. For me this also meant making a major change to my work, it needed to be relevant to my life and environment. I have tackled this by working on a project basis, pursuing specific areas of interest and research that resonate directly with the land and landscape. Each is ultimately a response to aspects of human engagement with the rural. Using combinations of video, sound and image I create installations that draw attention to, question, visually stimulate and propose the issues of my attention. My hope is that through vision the work can stimulate thought and perhaps new understanding. Each of the projects included here is accompanied by text that was written by me at the time the work was shown. These present the ideas and thoughts that first generated the work rather than later appraisal or cultural positioning. They are what they are, simply the surface explanation of much deeper issues. Rather than trying to culturally define these works by including art historical and critical essays, I have chosen to include essays that position my work in the much wider area of environmental and rural contemporary practice. Each of the invited writers is passionately involved in their own work arena in issues of human engagement with landscape. While my work results in visual imagery theirs variously produces buildings, food, words, exploration and education. I have asked them to contribute in their own style essays that help to build a much wider picture of concerns and outcomes in today’s landscape. I am grateful to Iliyana Nedkova at Threshold Arts for proposing this project and to Creative Scotland and Horsecross Arts for their support. Su Grierson 2013
Su Grierson at the Intersection of Art, Land and Politics It is no curatorial coincidence that Su Grierson’s work first came to my attention in the mid 1990s through the strong recommendation of Charles Esche with whom I shared an Associate Curatorship at the Foundation of Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool at the time. Fresh from the internationally recognised Glasgow School of Art, Grierson was already making her discerning mark in the contemporary art landscape. Landscape – one of the most enduring (and endearing) genres of art – is where most of Grierson’s post-graduate practice would reside. The visual language of the productive and protective landscape would become Grierson’s preferred jargon. Marking Time would turn out to be the underlying concern in her oeuvre. Despite the primacy of painting in the powerful historical paradigm of landschap (depiction of natural or rural scenery in Dutch) Grierson would use the time-based media of photography, artist’s film and video installations, soundscapes and blogging to explore the intersections of art, land and politics. It is the personal political act of perceiving the natural environment in a way pre-conditioned by our social, cultural and economic backgrounds, which would govern Grierson’s artistic pursuit: If a group of people stand on a hill overlooking an expanse of landscape each will see a different place. Her conviction that contemporary visual art as the art of creative inquiry could stand on its own terms alongside all other investigations of our land gave rise to Grierson’s first major survey exhibition Intersections and the current artist’s book. She has chosen nature as the focal point of her creative inquiry. Nature and all its ‘components’ – trees, soil,
farmland, livestock, wildlife, rural industrial complexes, nature reserves, woodlands, touristic destinations and natural disaster areas – all represent the largest living things Grierson and we encounter in our daily activities. It is the interdependence and interrelation of nature and humans as dynamic and diverse communities on earth that is reflected in the title Intersections. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the significance of human impact and the limitations of our conception of nature one question which Grierson’s project of Intersections poses is what can artists alongside scientists, farmers, architects, explorers, writers, academics, all of us, do today that can make a difference? A brief detour to psychogeography and Eyeshine (2000) – one of the early works featured both in the exhibition and the book – can raise further questions. Why are so many people hostile to the rural industrial complexes – those much needed monuments of energy and consumption? Why do visitors rail against the abuse and degrading of the natural ecology and wildlife? The towers of concrete and steel sit fixed within the landscape as menhirs, as smart obelisks responding to global energy requirements . How is our sense of place affected knowing that the products generated by these power stations are traded across national and international markets? Do we feel part of the wider community on a world stage? Can we celebrate the ever-changing Scottish scenery – the barren hillsides once covered by (mythical) native woodland but cleared or fell out of management over the years and now growing these new species of intelligent nature? How does the shift in the ‘iconic’ Scottish landscape impact on our collective identity? Can we re-claim the industrial complexes for the local people as rural readymades? Iliyana Nedkova
‘Rotorua Mist’ 107 x 71 cm Lambda print on mdf . Part of Paradise-no exit. Altered digital photograph.
Eyeshine 2 Origin 4 John Brennan ‘Pulling away from the polite: new architecture in old landscapes’ 6 Touchdown 10 Two-connecting 12 Invisible Fields 14 Marking Time 16 Paul Kingsnorth ‘Widdybank’ 18 Slice 20 NearHear 22 Aerial Roots 24 Sascha Grierson ‘The Land: 2013’ 27 Catch 30 Perhaps now is the time to fly... 32 Text Works 34 Domesticate Repatriate 36 Paradise – no exit 38 Tristan Gooley ‘The Skye’ 40 Greening 42 Surface Tension 44 Look look 46 Jan van Boeckle ‘Engaging with landscape through artmaking’ 49 Link 52 Biography 54 References 56
Installation Street Level Gallery Glasgow.
Mossmorran 305x63.5 cm Lambda print on mdf.
Eyeshine is the Australian name for the golden glint of a crocodile’s eyes when caught in the night-time beam of the hunter’s lamp.
Torness 305x63.5 cm Lambda print on mdf.
An exhibition of images and video works that specifically exploit the technological properties for visual enhancement. The subject of the works are major industrial complexes sited in rural locations. Presented as sites of wonder and awe, and places to simply look at and watch, the images and video address our (the viewer’s) desire for beauty, for visual gratification. They reference a photographic history of landscape documentation, and the desire for the ‘ideal’ both in composition and subject. However in these works, to reach that point of satisfaction, the viewer must first overwhelm their knowledge of the place, the nature of this site of industrial production. The rural ‘ideal’ becomes the ideal place to contain the industrial sites that are both the product and producers of that desire. S Grierson 2000
Annan 214.5x63.5cm Lambda print on mdf.
Cockenzie 226x63.5 cm Lambda print on mdf.
‘Acid works’ 60x76 cm set of 8 prints enhanced video still. Ignalina 226x63.5 cm Lambda print on mdf.
Still from Monitor work with sound.
A public art initiative by Su Grierson & Diane Maclean 2001 Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, Scotland Museums store the histories and origins of our cultural heritage. In this project we explored the origins of the new museum building itself. Returning to Clashach near Elgin, where the creamy stone of the facade was quarried, we filmed the rock as it was being blasted, excavated and worked and also recorded the primal nature of that location. By projecting this edited footage back onto the outside of the Museum, we visually link the smooth surface and beauty of the building with the ruggedness of its original location and the aggressive actions of its production. This work functions by interlinking and overlapping the site, the process and the building and is a reminder that even at the core of our national, urban, and cultural life, lie dynamic links with the very heart of the land. The ORIGIN project came about when Diane Maclean, a sculptor, was working with stone from Clashach quarry and discovered its link to the museum. Discussions around this fact lead to the concept for the work which was informed by Diane Maclean’s experience in delivering public art projects and Su Grierson’s expertise with filming and editing. The external projection is without sound while a smaller monitor work showing inside the building utilises abstract and field recorded sound. S Grierson 2001
‘Blast’ video still.
Video projection on to the Museum of Scotland.
P u l l i n g a w a y f r o m t h e p o l i t e: new architecture in old landscapes John Brennan is a practicing architect and is a partner in Brennan and Wilson Architects who specialise in rural and sustainable building. He is currently head of the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Edinburgh. www.bwarchitects.co.uk • www.asd.eca.ed.ac.uk The relationship between architecture and landscape is often circumscribed by tight boundaries that sees value only in polite and well-mannered building ‘in keeping’ with the surrounding land. We see in the work of Su Grierson how landscape can be interpreted as a place of both the unexpected and rediscovered. This text seeks to contextualise this in the field of architecture, landscape and rurality where what we see does not necessarily explain the social, cultural and material underpinnings of the countryside. Ever since industrialisation and mass migration to our towns and cities, the urban has been the focus for design enquiry and speculation. The way in which our cities are represented through art and architecture differ fundamentally from that of the rural. The city is set up to be a vibrant, cosmopolitan, ever changing catalyst for excitement with the citizen very much as active participant. In contrast, conventional readings of the landscape lie in being a phenomenon to view almost from afar. The term landscape comes from the Dutch Landschap, introduced in the 16th and 17th centuries when referring to paintings of natural or rural scenery. This construction of landscape as a thing to look at rather than experience from within, colours the way in which we perceive our rural places. In this, we privilege a qualitative sense of beauty in the midst of the Scottish Highlands, and see a relentless search to experience the sublime. In a Scottish context, we look to question such a conception, and this reflects Grierson’s work in challenging a simplistic rendering of landscape and the activities that underpin it. In particular, buildings and architecture have an active role to play in rural contexts, but are often seen as compromising the exceptional qualities of the Highlands. This article takes a view that there is difference between an idealistic representation of the rural and the more complex productive and sometimes provocative undercurrents that forged the land. Christian Zografos talks of the countryside as having both hedonistic
and utilitarian qualities . Since the Agricultural Revolution, the rural was perceived by many simply as a collection of assets to generate wealth. Farm clusters and steadings were developed to a functional perfection by specialist designers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although the buildings’ composition and materiality suggest a craft sensibility in their making, apart from some consideration to symmetry these were functional constructs using locally available skills, building materials and erected with cheap labour. At a settlement scale, especially in the Highlands, the compact, nuclear village was similarly a product of a hunger for Improvement. During the eighteenth century it is thought that 500 new planned settlements were built in Scotland, of which nearly 200 were in the sparsely populated Highland and northeast regions. Ullapool, is a representative example having been masterplanned by Thomas Telford in 1788. The Victorian era saw rural Scotland now emptied of people, replenished in myth. A shared vision of an idealised, ‘unspoilt’ landscape was held dear by all social classes. For the workers, it was perhaps a bittersweet imagined memory of a pre- Clearance pastoralism. The affluent experienced a bucolic playground and an escape from the extremes of the nineteenth century city. This artifice depended on human habitation for the most part being repressed as both visions rely on landscape solitude to satisfy. Such perceptions still prevail in the way in which rural development and contemporary building is held in suspicion. When we look at new architecture in the countryside, what we are often told we see is a ‘new vernacular’ where traditional custom, style and function are rediscovered and reinterpreted. However the vernacular as defined by Paul Oliver is accepted as being “the architecture of the people, and by the people, but not for the people.” What in reality we look at when we see a recreated farmhouse or newly built cottage is the architecture of the ‘polite’. It is deferential to historic style often in planning and appearance, and is often well conceived and pleasing to the eye.
It is therefore argued that the vernacular as a rooted and traditional form of building effectively ended in the 18th Century. Much of the construction in the Victorian era reinforced the rural landscape as hedonistic, a fantastic playground in a literal sense. We therefore take issue in privileging a ‘polite’ rural architecture that carries superficial detail and appearance of traditional farm building as an authentic, or even preferred way to build in the countryside. In many parts of Scotland, development outside existing settlements is effectively prohibited. Even when permitted, detailed guidance exists to encourage architects and designers to conform to an architecture of politeness. Such advice includes siting buildings to nestle within a valley rather than exposed upon a ridge. The use of long, thin footprints for new construction is thought to echo the proportion of the traditional cottage. All this seeks to render new developments, innocuous and well mannered, but such an approach does not reflect the contested and complex nature of rural environments. Instead, the countryside can be thought of as comprising protective and productive landscapes. The protective landscape is one where conservation of natural and cultural resource is paramount and can also provide shelter and climate moderation for buildings and people. A productive landscape can be thought of as a place of food production, forestry, waste treatment and a catalyst for economic and social sustainability. Su Grierson’s Aerial Roots project concerns itself with a timeless quality in the productive landscape where the rhythms of harvest and livestock rearing are valued as much as the compositional beauty of a protective landscape. One way in which we can form a more creative framework for architecture is to move away from the implicit demands that dominant readings of rural landscape and culture make on building design. Gillian Carter makes a distinction in the Scots literary tradition between a politicised sense of land ownership and a purely visual sensibility towards an appreciation of landscape. The use of narrative, to tell stories is a helpful device to construct new frameworks from which to design and build. Narrative can weave together the social and cultural tales of a place that go beyond a superficial experience of taking in the view. Ruth Ronen recounts that the narrative reading of a scene can include elements of non-linear
description that accommodates the complex ways in which we can look at the world. Margaret Somers refers to a series of pathways in which narrative can be constructed. A public narrative is one that Somers describes as having a single or series of shared perceptions in regard to a place. Our notion of a ‘Polite’ architecture would work with many public narratives as to a static consensus of what acceptable rural building might be. The nature of a public narrative is to record and recount shared memory and thus to reinforce a predominant perception of an environment even if bedded in myth. An example of this is the settled narrative of the ‘Great Wood of Caledon’ that imagines a Highland Landscape rich in indigenous forest. T. C. Smout writing in Nature Contested argues that in fact such a phenomenon is untrue and many conservation organisations advocate a material restoration of a landscape that may never have existed. How might we use narrative, or finding out the story behind the scene, as basis for a deeper engagement with the rural? As an illustration, we can examine its application at two physical scales. The first at the scale of a settlement examines the context of building development. A social reading of the countryside encompasses a historical perspective often at odds with the aesthetic beauty of open landscape. Certainly before the agrarian revolutions, land use displayed a richer relationship between countryside and building with a more intensive pattern of human settlements in the landscape. Today, the realities of a hedonistic rural environment is one where housing supply is throttled back literally to preserve the view. If we were to progress from the constraints of a protected landscape to the possibilities of a productive landscape, it allows for more sustainable social and economic frameworks. Recent relocations of the ‘remote knowledge worker’ and the ‘established young’ confront embedded expectations of new migrations being driven by the retired and second homeowners. The social constitution of rural areas that has a quarter of its population as homeworkers needs new design paradigms that are flexible in their siting and design to allow for economic growth and development. Commentators such as Mark Shucksmith advocate a form of contemporary crofting that he refers to as ‘dis-integrated’ rural development as a foil to the ‘colonising discourse of wilderness’ that acts as a brake to rural regeneration. Such buildings and their architecture
may well display elements of the chaotic and ramshackle as seen on and around intensively used traditional crofts. This intentional juxtaposition in an idealised landscape may seem abrasive but perhaps are far more indicative of a rural environment that has a strong sense of identity. In this sense such developments work with much older rural narratives of a land rich in human industry and localised production, rather than the artificial Victorian construct of countryside as wilderness. At a much more intimate scale, the materials in which we build are in themselves narrative devices. The enduring image of the stone cottage, ruined or otherwise, standing foursquare in open landscape often defines what we feel the Highland countryside to be. In a vernacular tradition, it is an architecture of necessity driven by the available materials, skills and techniques found close to hand. The use of stone in traditional construction clearly displays its functional qualities to literally provide a roof over our heads. In our modern contexts, what was stone now becomes rendered blockwork to maintain a literal veneer of a ‘polite’ rural architecture. However, the inherent honesty of the material is lost as in nearly all circumstances the functionality of the building structure is hidden, concealed behind the thin layer of masonry. Recently, buildings in the countryside use timber not only as a structural material but also
as a cladding medium. Such a choice reflects a modern reading of the same preoccupations that inform an earlier stone vernacular. Timber is a material often available close to site, with local skills and resources to facilitate construction. There is also a fundamental honesty in an architecture whose materiality clearly conveys structural behaviour of the built envelope. Although the almost geological qualities of stone are quite different, a lighter framed aesthetic as found in timber, reflect a preoccupation with a use of local resource and a functional legibility. At these two scales, of the homestead settlement through to the building element, we can see that an authentic rural response can run counter to embedded preconceptions of what an appropriate architecture might be. A juxtaposition of strong architectural statements in open landscape often tells us much more about both the buildings and the rural condition in which they are to be found. Scotland is seeing a new bolder, sensibility to landscape found in the work of Studio KAP, Rural Design and NORD. In a similar vein, Su Grierson’s work in Eyeshine demonstrates how industry and landscape make for an uncommon affinity, almost sublime in its attraction. It shares common cause with a call for a contemporary and rural narrative architecture that finds both opportunity and beauty in the most unexpected places. John Brennan No.780954 502522 the natural order and the commodification of food production. Print on un-stretched canvas 150 x 75 cm.
Un-erased landscape 1 detail. Lambda print on mdf.
l to r Gallery installation: participating artists: Un-erased landscape 1 & 2 .
Touch Down is an international exhibition curated by Su Grierson at Galleri 54 Goteborg Sweden of artists who respond to, look at and think about land and landscape in a variety of ways and using a range of media. Each of the artists selected responds to the natural world in ways that are exploratory, or responsive or represent the land in ways that go beyond the traditional, celebratory image. Above all this is an exhibition about diversity, of many voices each seeking to engage and interact locally and in a personal and focussed way, yet with a specific consideration of the wider picture. It is truly a ‘coming together’ a ‘touch down’ of artworks which jointly through their individual visions build a bigger picture of the world we live in. I wanted to bring this work together, but creating international exhibitions is never easy and that is especially so when six countries are represented. The options are either to do it ‘big’ with major international funding packages, or keep it light and make it happen at the level of individual artists and an artist run gallery’s co-operation. I chose the latter and believe that the result is a great example of co-operation between artists, and a grouping of work held together through its clear and simple objective. S Grierson 2003
‘Un-erased landscape 1 - 3’ S Grierson Captured by video the landscape is brought to the computer for editing and becomes indelibly printed on the computer's memory. After saving the edited video to another format, the material is erased - ‘trashed’. However attempts to remove or erase the images can never be entirely successful, digital memories remain embedded in the system. In this project the video is brought back from this very edge of recoverability, and in the process, the erased video is converted into a new and chaotic stream of digital data which has been re-captured as still image. Now visually unreadable as landscape, this new imagery is landscape converted into a flat zone of data, colour and marks, intense and beautiful. Faced with the dilemmas of actual contemporary environmental destruction, this work implies that recoverability might indeed bring a need for new readings and changed vision. S Grierson 2003 Artists taking part in Touch Down Tim Knowles England, Margaret Roberts Australia, Christopher Fortescue Vienna, Simon Fildes & Katrina McPherson Scotland, Hans Peter Hepp Germany, Inge Darguzyte Lithuania, Christine Goodman Scotland, Su Grierson Scotland.
‘Welcome to Hope’ Subverted image Lambda print on mdf.
An exchange residency and exhibition project with Tomoko Esashi in Japan & Scotland Joint exhibition Crawford Arts Centre St Andrews Scotland. The images in the series ‘Being There’ utilise the touristic practice of the group photograph, a time when people gather and document their presence in a specific place and time. This usually requires a backdrop of special significance, a mountain, river, valley or tree . Why? I wonder what special needs drive us to document our presence in these places, and I consider the implication of the photographic process itself in this practice, the domination and control by the lens. I question also what special desire drives our need for an abstracted almost philosophical connection with the land which I found to be particularly evident in Japanese society. Many of the group photographs in‚ ‘Being there’‚ were taken in the context of discussion on these issues, in Japan, Scotland and Australia. They document the real event of being there together at that time, but more importantly their grouping around, and interaction with the BlueSky banner, suggests the communal need for an elusive idealised place in our lives whether it be a place of respite or refuge, or a fundamental need for re-connection with an increasingly diminished elemental world. ‘Subvert’‚ A short series of three images taken in tourist areas of Japan, Scotland and Australia are altered to include the symbolic‚ ‘Blue Sky’‚ image. In ‘Welcome to Hope’ it replaces an image of the local landscape. The video work ‘A bit to the left - home movies’ is a video that exposes the social addiction to home photography and begs the question of why we so much need to record our presence in and our supposed connection with the landscape. ‘Observe’‚ Two photographic images ‘Tree Power’ & ‘Hope Valley Road’ are of locations spotted while travelling, these images offer some wry comment on the relationship between man and nature, urban and rural. ‘Being There’ installation at Crawford Arts Centre St Andrews.
‘Tree Power’ detail Lambda print on mdf.
‘The Big Ride’ detail Lambda print on mdf.
‘My Blue heaven’ Video and ‘Over the Hills ..’ image, installed.
A touring exhibition of video art. Curated and delivered by participating artists Su Grierson and Sara Felton. Invisible Fields is an exhibition by 11 individual Scottish artists and one group, who all work with film or video within their wider art practice. These artists all graduated within the last ten years of the twentieth century, a time when conceptual and post conceptual art practice was heavily influential among Scottish artists. The work in this exhibition was selected because it seems to draw on that influence, being strongly argued from an intellectual perspective, but which also allows for the input of the strong visual element which the technology offers. Each of the works selected has a physical presence, an ability to reach an audience through visual dynamic but which then engages through the depth of ideas and the questions that it promotes. These works were felt through intheir production and are always more about depth and content than technological showmanship. These artists look at the world from very different personal perspectives, through the relationship of the individual with the outer social world and by picturing differently the dynamic forces of the physical world we all inhabit. That the participants are all women has not escaped our notice. It did not start out as our intention but we do however feel that women artists were, and still are, under-represented within the art world, and have
no hesitation in redressing that balance. These works are a ‘snapshot’ of the work being made by our peers which, we feel, share a certain approach and attitude. If this raises questions of gender difference in the use of technology, or of women’s representation within art practice, then those are questions that we did not set out to address but are happy to raise. Su Grierson | Sarah Felton 2004
M Y B L U E H E A V E N Su Grierson: In my video and images I juxtapose the manufactured thrills of pleasure ground rides with the wide expanse of remote landscapes. Landscape fantasies and a desire for physical thrills serve as modern points of connection with the land, as substitute experience. We desire the challenge of the wilderness but settle for the ‘measured’ safety of the ‘big ride’. Technology allows the two experiences to be brought together as image and video. They deal with human experience. They are themselves visually easy and seductive, yet they address some of our most innate desires for raw and rugged experience. How we understand our desires and interactions with land ultimately governs how we act towards it. The works playfully enter the debate . Su Grierson 2004 Participating artists:
Victoria Clare Bernie, Samantha Clark, Maria Doyle, Sarah Felton, Su Grierson, Anne Bjerge Hansen, Jane McInally, METACORPUS (Jeanette Sendler, Anna Coccidiaferro with Sunni O’Connor & Fiona Macdonald), Rosalind Nashashibi, Susannah Silver, Susan Sloan.
‘Tree mark’ Glasgow 7x7 ins unmounted archival print.
‘Frost’ Scotland 7x7 ins unmounted archival print.
Marking Time is an exhibition of 425 photographs of painted marks on trees documented between 1992 ongoing in Scotland, England, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, Lithuania, Spain, France, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. In no other way do we so publicly and graphically declare our attitudes and intentions towards nature than in our habit of marking trees. Su Grierson 2000 Initially I was attracted to this practice of mark making as examples of hand drawn graphic marks that brought together the human hand, the dynamics of colour and the contrast of line and textured organic surface. As my fascination continued I realised that these marks also signify the relationship between Man and the natural world which is the subject of much of my art practice. Mostly the marks signify the intentions of people for purposes of medication, correction, protection, way finding, destruction or convenience, but increasingly trees more importantly carry social and territorial graffiti. These are drawn marks as a universally understood signifier of human activity and intention. This project visually intrigues by drawing attention to a largely unnoticed practice of mark making that is both local and crosses international boundaries, but it also leads into the vital contemporary debate about our relationship with the natural world. Su Grierson 2001
Installation detail ET4U gallery Bovlingbjerg Denmark.
Widdybank Paul Kingsnorth is a writer and poet. He is the author of two books of non-fiction, from one of which – Real England (Portobello Books, 2008) – this passage is extracted. His first collection of poetry, Kidland, was published in 2011 and his first novel, The Wake, will be published in 2013. He is co-founder and director of the Dark Mountain Project, a global network of writers, artists and thinkers who produce work rooted in time, place and nature. His website is www.paulkingsnorth.net Upper Teesdale, Yorkshire. June 2006 There’s a racing, battering wind roaring down the valley from Cauldron Snout to Langdon Beck. Low grey clouds are carried by it. It looks like rain. I don’t care. I am exhilarated. I do up my boots, strap on my pack and stride out through the hay meadows towards the river. I feel good. I feel smug. This is the way to do it. I could be sitting at my desk Googling other peoples’ research and passing it off as my own, but instead I’m out here, roughed up and ready, doing it the hard way; the real way. Walking the walk. I’m going to seek out the fruits of this land’s rough but real rural wisdom. I’m going to see the farmer. I’m on my way to Widdybank Farm, which sits on a bare Pennine hillside a couple of miles up this bleak valley, where hawks circle and the wild river Tees froths and foams across brown rock and brown soil. I’ve been here before, a long time ago. When I was twelve, I walked the Pennine Way with my father. It was a long, two-week trek across some of the toughest landscapes in England. Twenty-one years on, and it’s interesting what stays with you. I still have a few memories of that fortnight which remain clear, almost fresh, even now. One of them is of Widdybank Farm. It was a worn-down old place then; a classic Yorkshire hill farm, with acres of sheep grazing the surrounding moors. The Pennine Way veers around Widdybank, but we detoured into the farmyard, pulled in by a handpainted sign that advertised refreshments. I don’t remember if the farmer was there, but I remember his wife, serving us drinks as I gleefully took the weight off my feet. I kept a diary on that walk, which I still have. It mostly seemed to concern itself with what I ate, allowing me to report two decades later that at Widdybank I had a cheese and onion sandwich, a glass of orange squash and a bowl of ice cream.
My writing was so focused on my stomach, in fact, that I failed completely to mention the puppies, which is odd because that’s now what I remember best. About an hour before we got there, the sheepdog had given birth. I remember being taken to see the newborns in the barn; their eyes still closed, their mother cautious, exhausted. I’d never seen newborn puppies before. Maybe it was that which engraved Widdybank on some part in my mind. Maybe it was the name, which I still love: so distinctive, almost comical when spoken. Maybe it was the cheese and onion sandwich. Or maybe it was the place itself – bleak yet human, in the best and hardest sense. A mile from its nearest neighbour, itself a wild hill farm, itself strung out on the marsh grass hills, tortured by the winds that howled down from the sinister uplands. I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this. I thought it must be so exciting – so Other. I don’t quite know why I’m back. I just know that I want to find out more about farms; their place in the landscape and culture of England, their ongoing troubles, the life of the people who run them and what they make of the future. Widdybank, layered as it already is with personal meaning, seems a good place for me to start. The meadows that lead up to the farm gates are empty but for me. There’s yellow rattle and red clover in the grass, and curlews, lapwings and skylarks overhead. There is even, I notice when the river’s rocky banks come into view, a lost, lone oystercatcher patrolling the shoreline. It’s 4.45pm when I arrive in the farmyard. Stupid of me, really, to expect them still to be serving tea after two decades, but I was looking forward to it. But there’s no farmers’ wife here now. No farmer either. No tea, no puppies. What did I expect? I don’t quite know – but not this.
There is nothing here at all. The barn is empty. The sheep pens are clogged with nettles. The farm’s front door is closed and locked. It is also PVC; a door that could be in any suburb anywhere in the country. On the wall next to it is a small, oval plaque:
ENGLISH NATURE Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve WIDDYBANK FARM Reserve Base Opened by Lord Barnard 12th June 1998 English Nature. Reserve Base. Lord Barnard. Widdybank is gone. It is no longer a farm. It’s an office. Curious, nosy, dispirited, I peer through the windows. Desks. Mugs. Papers. A fan. On another outside wall is a big coloured signboard detailing all the ‘nature’ to be found in what is now a reserve: bird’s eye primrose, northern marsh orchid, black grouse, redshank, mountain pansy. In one window is a small plastic sign, propped up to lean on the glass where I can see it. Inside an aggressive red triangle are the words:
You Are Being Watched I look around. I am. Up in one corner of the whitewashed former farmhouse is a CCTV camera. I drop my rucksack to the ground, cross the ex-farmyard and lean on a metal gate. The wind is still rampaging down the valley. I look across at the fells and the clouds scudding low above them. I feel suddenly lonely. I wish I had brought somebody with me. There is silence, stillness – a lack of any reachable life. A curlew screams into the wind. Rain is coming. I am miserable. Why? I’m supposed to be an environmentalist, and English Nature are the good guys. They’re here, according to the signboard, to study the effects of climate change on upland landscapes. It sounds like useful work.
They are protecting rare ground-nesting birds. They are encouraging wildflowers, using ‘traditional haymeadow management techniques’. They are planting native trees. Presumably the old farmer couldn’t make a living. He may be gone, but the valley – sorry, the Reserve – is in good hands. I am in favour of this sort of thing. I must be. So what’s the problem? Perhaps it’s the artificiality of all this. ‘Conservation’ is always artificial – the very name implies stasis, something that nature abhors. This reserve base and the green signs that have been stuck up around the valley detailing what you can see and what it means – they are manmade intrusions into the landscape. They reduce its grandeur, its wildness. They tell you what to look for and at. They define what matters and what doesn’t. They bring places like this one step closer to the urban world that I come to places like this to escape from. But that’s not the only reason. This landscape was manmade anyway – sheep farming is hardly natural. This valley has been manmade, or at least man-managed, for millennia. The difference is the way it is used. Hill farming is ordinary folk making a hard living from a hard land. This is a government-funded bureaucracy doing good works for tourists and researchers. And while the works are good, something essential has been lost. These people all go home at night. No-one lives on or from this land anymore. A whole land-based culture and knowledge grew up from these hill farms; something entirely separate from the mindset that has now replaced it, a mindset instantly recognisable to anyone who works in an office or donates to a charity. New Widdybank is a distinctly urban intrusion, in philosophy if not in form. Out goes working the land – in comes ‘conservation.’ Out goes farming – in comes ‘managing the environment.’ Out goes any real, unsentimental, everyday link between people and place. In comes a governmentmandated response to climate change. On the surface, it makes some sort of sense. Beneath, there’s a sadness. Paul Kingsnorth
‘Glacier story’ installation video and images.
‘Attractor’. detail of installation video and images.
Landscape as sites - places where things happen - or not. Yokohama Art Museum Japan If a group of people stand on a hill overlooking an expanse of landscape, each will see a different place. Farmers will see cows, crops and field arrangements, mountaineers will see the steepness and rock form of the distant mountains, whilst historians will see in their mind’s eye the people they know once lived and died here. What we see is always mediated through our knowledge and interests, through the information we hold in our minds, through our past experiences and the tendencies of our imaginations. The exhibition Slice looks at landscape in terms of these fragmented components. Arranged in groups as a series of tableaux, each grouping or ‘slice’ comprises of large images of landscapes and its component parts, video or sound works, and selected other items such as imaginative computer images, historical images, light-boxes, simple texts and other found and acquired material. What each group or ‘slice’ represents is an accumulation of lost or forgotten information, residues of personal experiences and imaginative and cultural manifestations, all re-combined with the images of an actual place. The exhibition aims to create in the viewer an understanding of the complexity that exists in our apparently simple acts of vision. A multiple experience of seeing, knowing, feeling and imagining. How we see landscape is locked into our knowledge of it and this in turn defines our attitudes and actions toward it. Su Grierson 2004
‘Forest of Darkness’ installation video & images.
Detail Interactive Screen installation in ‘The Travelling Gallery’.
Interactive Screen installation in ‘The Travelling Gallery’.
'Near Hear' is a sound work connecting the listener with sounds gathered from the non urban landscape. It has been presented in a variety of ways, website, interactive screen in the Travelling Gallery, installed in an historic Japanese rice store, and in the foyer of a modern concert hall. Living on a farm in Perthshire, I am constantly aware of the gap in understanding about, and the experience of the land, between those living rurally and the larger urban population. This work attempts to engage with that gap. I have recorded the land as sound. Not only the usual or expected sounds but, also I have unearthed the hidden, dark, dramatic and surprising sounds that evidence both natural and human activity within the landscape. My aim is to find short sounds that create impact, placement, suggestion, feeling or thought in the hearer without any visual or text accompaniment. While some sounds are simple recordings others are collaged into new and unexpected juxtapositions.” Su Grierson 2006. NearHear began in 2006 as a project for the internet commissioned by Alt-W which can be found at www.sugrierson.com/nearhear
Sound installation at Abiko Open Air exhibition Japan.
Recording memories at Coupar Angus Farmers Market.
‘Un-natural selection’ image from video of eggs rejected for their appearance.
Aerial Roots is a film commissioned through a Scottish Screen Archive Live Award. It is part of a wider exhibition of installations, images, sound and video all by the artist. With free access to the Scottish Screen archive I selected agricultural footage of traditional farming techniques and responded by creating new video, images and recordings of contemporary farming practice. The resulting video Aerial Roots is a vibrant visual testament to the persistence of agricultural husbandry and production over an era of technological and scientific change and is a visual and creative way of looking at the changes from the last 70 years.
Works within the exhibition included:
The farming workforce are still enacting the same routines of continuity such as cutting grain, tilling soil or tending beasts and above all, this is still the means by which we as a nation are fed.
The video Tag watches a large flock of sheep as individuals, at eye level, as they pass through a gateway. External sounds are removed and only the sound of an electronic beep counts them through. With current issues of bio security and traceability the work suggests lost identity against universal traceability.
The exhibition includes images, sound works and installation and addresses issues related to agriculture, food and the rural environment . To truly bring together Art and Agriculture, at the opening event, market stalls are set up within the exhibition selling great local produce. organic lamb, beef and chicken, free range eggs, preserves, honey and wildflower seeds, honeycomb, preserves and fruit wines all available to be purchased or sampled, linking the art work back into the realm of reality. Su Grierson 2006.
'Aerial Roots' Video 14 mins Su Grierson Edit Rob Page
‘The Tatties’ (with Lee Dorrington - sound) Three short archive films looped on one monitor show the importance of children to the farming industry and the value of the humble ‘tattie’ in the diet of the people in war time rationing. This shows alongside interviews collected locally of people’s memories of childhood work on farms. These two works are presented together with instruction, information and regulatory documents collected from one contemporary farmer’s office many relating to health and safety and children on farms. Bringing all the aspects together reflects on the situations, dilemmas and questions that surround farming both now and then.
Walking underneath the world’ This installation comprises three soundworks presented by headphones on bronze ‘trees’ and ten Giclee prints. The environment in which agricultural occurs is used as an imaginative space. Both sound and images start with moments of reality which are then transformed by computer to create experiential spaces which lie between recognition and imagination.
‘Bruise’ The projection is presented as a sensation of noise, movement and fascination as the bruised grain falls and slides like sand on a dune.
‘Un-natural Selection’ A video of organic eggs rejected by supermarkets for their unacceptable appearance. Rejected eggs are emblazoned with their defect. Eggs are a ubiquitous foodstuff as well as being symbols of fertility and regeneration. The flaws emblazoned on the rejected eggs have direct reference to the human form and issues of physical perfection.
Farmers market stalls within the exhibition at Angus Digital Media Centre.
T H E L A N D: 2 0 1 3
Sascha Grierson together with her husband Hugh manage a mixed organic family farming enterprise in Perthshire, producing beef, lamb, pork, chicken and eggs from farming 1150 acres all organically (www.hughgrierson.co.uk). Sascha, a former research scientist, says: ‘We farm the way we do as we believe it’s the best way to manage our land to leave room for wildlife to thrive and to produce great tasting food in a way that is sensitive to our environment’.
Video stills from the Aerial Roots film.
The Green Revolution Farming has undergone a revolution since the end of WW2. The two great influences are mechanization and widespread adoption of artificial fertilisers. Both of these have contributed to our “green revolution” and have had a worldwide impact on food production, land use, species biodiversity and ultimately human health. Like all revolutions though, alongside it occurs the creation of a dogma about the new way of doing things. It becomes the new normal. Organic farming set out its stall in a different way in 1946, as a group of individuals became increasingly concerned about the health implications of intensive agricultural systems that proliferated in the UK after World War 2. It unwittingly challenged the dogma at the heart of conventional farming and I now believe that organic farming is in that uncomfortable position as the group that holds a mirror up to the least favourable practices in conventional farming. As a result organic farming is often dismissed or belittled as niche. However we now understand the downsides to this green revolution. There exists an uncomfortable truth that perhaps our over reliance on mechanization at all costs and chemical inputs may have wide reaching impacts on our human health and well being. As a nation we must address these to secure a healthy future for our soil and land, our young people, and subsequent economic vibrancy for all sectors of society. We cannot afford to ignore alternative methods such as those espoused by organics, permaculture, and the Slow Food movement. Farmers in the UK have begun to turn back to the past to look for inspiration and innovation for the future.
Use of Traditional & Rare Breeds The rearing standards enshrined in organic farming make using native breeds a natural choice. Traditional breeds of pigs, sheep and cattle, developed over time to suit a particular climate and soil type, are making a comeback as they have certain advantages over the commercial
modern breeds. They are often hardier and cope better in an outdoor, free range system. We have all our cattle, sheep and pigs outdoors. We use Aberdeen Angus, a well recognized local breed specifically developed to suit our local climate and soil type in the early 19th century, and a breed of sheep called “Easycare”; developed from ancient sheep breeds who shed their own wool. The result is that our fields are stocked in wintertime with black cattle, sheep in various stages of wool shedding (looking a bit messy), and Berkshire pigs (black in colour) foraging outside in the field. It’s a different way of doing things. It brings diversity to our farm, means that we employ more people here, and have variety in our offering to the customer.
Food Scares Industrialization of our food system, from agriculture to processing to retailing food in the UK has had some big problems. The succession of food scares and scandals over the last 30 years has undermined widespread confidence in our “big” food system and provided a platform for small scale farmers and producers to offer something different. We have had “Salmonella in eggs” which devastated the British egg industry in 1988, the BSE scandal in 1996 which led to the demise of many high street butchers, Foot and Mouth in 2001, and most recently “Horsegate”, where horsemeat has been widely found in the cheaper end of processed meat products on sale in the UK and abroad. The “salmonella in eggs” and BSE food scares coincided with huge growth of sales of organic food in the UK. Organic was seen as the badge of trust and became fashionable. Inevitably fashions come and go and so it is with organic. The recession has led supermarkets to take organic off their shelves and replace it with value items. This has had the contradictory impact of playing into the hands of small scale producers like us. Organic veg box schemes and direct sales are seeing a surge in popularity as the committed organic customers return to the small producer.
As a society we better understand that our individual purchasing power as weight and the concept of “Fair Trade” has permeated beyond the brand itself to include shopping direct from the producer. Many organic shoppers understand that they are buying so much more than just the food, and that they are buying a part of a farming system that is kinder to the environment and has some ethics behind it that are regarded as “Good”.
Farmers Markets & Farm Shops In the last 15 years there has been return to small scale production on family farms and selling produce directly from the farm. This was largely kick-started by the emergence of the farmers market movement which was in turn born in response to two issues; • Livestock markets and prices collapsed in the wake of the BSE food scandal in 1996 and farmers responded by looking for new markets selling direct to the general public. • There was a demand from the general public for food with provenance and whose production methods could be trusted. Farmers have sought out this new community of customers as a means to reconnect with the outside world and secure better prices for their produce. There is now the rural phenomenon of the local farm shop. It has a focus on good simple food at a reasonable price, creating busy social hubs in areas that were once empty fields. In a similar fashion, in the last 13 years farmers markets have brought the farm and its produce into towns. These also reconnect farmers and consumers in an “old fashioned” and traditional way. There is a nostalgia to farmers market shopping, and again there is a tacit understanding between customer and producer that the money changing hands is going directly to that small business in a “Fair trade” way. The great joy in selling directly to the public lies in part in the social interaction with your customer. They give you feedback and tell you what’s good (or bad) about what you are doing. They often have strong opinions and knowledge about the animal welfare issues involved in the rearing and slaughtering of animals and as the farmer we have to
respond in a transparent fashion to that request for information. The social impact of farmers markets is difficult to define, they have a diverse and eclectic customer profile and contrary to popular myth its not all wealthy shoppers. There are young families on an outing, migrants looking for Scotland’s food culture, chefs make their way down there to source seasonal produce, and there are those who come because they can’t get what they want in the supermarket. It’s a different way of doing things and provides a social dimension to food shopping that you don’t get pushing a trolley round a supermarket.
Slow Food A social dimension to food and the concepts of Good and Fair are encapsulated by the Slow Food movement. It is one of those curious organisations which is very hard to pin down. It was founded in 1989 in Northern Italy by Carlo Petrini, a leader with almost cult like status within the organization. Its mantra of “Good, Clean, and Fair” food for all is a political and social statement: “We envision a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet” It celebrates the diversity of food experiences we enjoy and understands that in order to feed ourselves well, the industrial farming system with its one size fits all mantra, will not work to feed our growing population. Slow food though doesn’t just focus on a worthy and earnest correctness. It promotes the idea that the pleasure to be found in “Good, Clean and Fair” food is a basic human right. We are shy about this topic in Scotland. We have a curious attitude. We tend to see good food as expensive food i.e. Michelin starred / celebrity chef cooked food. We don’t understand that the humble loaf of bread, if made with a little time, care and attention to the ingredients can be a source of great pleasure, and that pleasure can be shared. Slow food has its origins in the Osteria of Italy; traditionally places where working men had their meals. From its humble roots it has reached out to over 130 countries in the world, with 80 000 paying members and over 300 000 people who engage with its values.
Food Community On a personal level I feel I have found my food community within Slow Food. Its rolls up a variety of concepts: the organic farming belief that we must look after our soil if we want it to nourish us, that food is not just fuel but is something we can take humble pleasure in, and that it can enrich our lives if we let it. It understands that we cannot hope to look after our soil properly if we take out more than we put back in. It provides a backdrop to my conversations with customers about native breeds, grass feeding (the natural food for cattle and sheep) and how time is an essential ingredient in producing food. It celebrates us being different to the mainstream farming industry rather than giving us a hard time about it. Most importantly it emphasises that food is a celebration of the land and that celebration can occur in a small way every time we eat. I went to its biannual meeting Terra Madre in October 2012. The realization that we are part of something that is so much bigger than what we do on our farm was very humbling and empowering.
Housing Our countryside is under pressure. It has many competing interest groups who have opposing opinions and desires. Our part of rural Perthshire is perceived as an aspirational place to live. People move here to raise their families because the schools are good, or to retire. They come here because they perceive the landscape as being “unspoilt”. Its pretty, quiet, well connected to the road network, and relatively crime free. This migration of people require appropriate housing, and there is an expectation that the landscape they came for will not change or alter in any way once they are here. They also have perceptions about how their countryside should be and look which may be at odds with development of farming businesses, organic or otherwise. In truth our stretch of the Strathearn Valley is a heavily managed landscape and has been for at least 400 years. The main drainage ditch in our
valley was created by an Act of Parliament in 1696 and dug by hand to create fertile land in the valley for growing crops. This history of active land management is unacknowledged by the general public: people talk about a landscape being “unspoilt” or “Wild”.
Land As An Energy Resource The need for appropriate housing seems to be a socially acceptable use of land in rural areas and new houses are built regularly in our valley. However the use of land for energy generation is currently a source of great conflict in rural Scotland. The Scottish Government has made a commitment to sourcing 100% of its energy from renewable power by 2020. Currently this is being delivered with wind turbines, solar panels, and crops for oil and combustion. These are new directions for farming and as farmers who care about our environment we are keen to encompass these developments into our future planning. In summary, the apparent return to past practices emerging in organic farming is not actually a wish for things to be as they once were but rather an economic and social response to the industrialization of food and a desire to reconnect with traditions that were in danger of being lost. The connection of farmers with customers can lead to conversations that inform urban populations about farming and what it actually does. This dialogue can contribute to a more informed debate about our countryside, and what it should be used for. Sascha Grierson
Detail of Catch Threshold Wave Perth Concert Hall.
Detail of text moving across 22 screens. Threshold Wave Perth Concert Hall.
Golddust Return to the eyes
Catch An echo A mote in the eye
Imprint Where beauty LIES
Using text, words, landscape and computer imagery this new work is created specifically to engage with the 22 screens. of the Threshold Wave. Visually stimulating and ultimately questioning, this video poem is about our own relationship with the natural world. Be captivated by the imagery but be prepared to leave with an un-answered question. This is a poem of short sentences each separated from the next by visual imagery. Each line stands alone for its own meaning, but together they hold a sense of accumulation. The text uses a variety of movements which arise or flow across the full range of screens In making this work I was concerned with issues of fluidity and impermanence and the superficial nature of much of our current experience of a landscape that is culturally and historically regarded as a base point of society. The way we â€˜seeâ€™ landscape and relate to it, is conditioned by our total experience of it. Su Grierson 2007
Perhaps now is the t i m e t o f l y . . . 2009
Location shot of one text in 'Interventions' Aberfoyle Scotland.
One of 15 texts at Polaris Gallery Japan.
We generally go into woodland to experience and observe the natural world. Often in public spaces there are labels and signage to give us information. This project reverses that order. Employing the labelling system normally used to carry plant identification in botanic gardens, the expected information has been replaced with suggestions and texts that make us aware of our own position as observers. The texts used refer obliquely to the feelings, fears, thoughts and attention that we might have as we stand looking at the plants and their labels. The future of our environment is not only dependent on the information we possess, how we think and interpret and act upon it is what matters. This work, by changing what is expected, makes a series of suggestions that encourage the viewers to think about the human condition and the experience of being in that place as they walk through the varied woodland. Su Grierson 2009
A project with various incarnations: as ‘Ten Suggestions’ with a set of 10 postcards part of Heartwood 2009 As ‘Now is the time to Fly’ in “Interventions” a selected exhibition of 10 contemporary British artists In the Scottish National Park at Aberfoyle As part of ‘Greening’ at Polaris Gallery Japan 2010
One of 15 texts within 'Interventions' Aberfoyle Scotland.
ongoing ‘White is the colour of peace’ giclee print.
‘Just Imagine’ giclee print.
Does text work visually as well as conceptually is my question. ...... can you imagine a thought unaffected by emotion, by the product of vision. Is it possible to eliminate that part of the brain that feels and senses? There are many ways of reaching reason and intellect and even the greatest reasoning can be influenced by the pain of the body, the intensity of being and the intelligence of experience.. An image is reality made virtual by one means or another. Believing it as another form of reality, is a route back into the circuitry of thinking and reasoning. An interest in the use of text and word within image and video has been an ongoing concern within my practice. I am experimenting with ways of making the text a part of the visual experience rather than an additional directive or explanation. Formally integrating text into visual material as word, subtitle or speech can extend the experience of the work. It directly and visually engages the viewer in ways that accompanying texts cannot. Text can be a catalyst that directs towards new or obscure meaning, it can intensify the ‘experience’ of the work, it can be poetic or it can actively engage the brain with reason at the same time as the visual cortex is activated by the image. These works all relate to the experience and understanding of landscape in its widest sense. Taking Landscape beyond representation and into a frame of thought and consideration. Su Grierson 2010
Detail ‘Way out’ giclee print.
Domesticate R e p a t r i a t e 2009
‘Moth’ Lambda print on mdf.
‘Domesticate’ photograph of installation.
Shown within ‘Common Ground’ a two person exhibition with David Blyth in Vilnius. In Common Ground, contemporary Scottish artists Su Grierson and David Blyth combine to challenge perceived misconceptions surrounding domestic pattern, colour and the decorative by displacing it from its original design context. In this project Domesticate-Repatriate, the signage of nature, it’s abstracted and simplified pattern, is recombined with photographic representations of the social and natural world. For centuries, landscape and nature have been domesticated on the surfaces of textiles, ceramics and furnishings, but here they are re-fashioned into new and contemporary outcomes, Pattern contains history representing the ideals and ideas and techniques that were relevant at its own time of production. What is real? How much do the images that surround us in everyday life affect how we see and feel about the real world? To what extent do these images even register on our consciousness ? Yet they undoubtedly do subliminally affect our understanding of the natural world. Pattern, its simplicity and its essential essence, removes the mess of reality. It symbolically abstracts the basic form, but by re-uniting that abstraction with images from the real world it can take on a different set of perceptions. Not so much a patchwork but rather an integration or layering. These works not only cross barriers between representational techniques but also bring together the distinct art disciplines of art and design. A merging or synthesis takes place, the borderlines are gone and a kind of in-between space arises. Here I am looking for the immediacy of the image. The point at which it is first and foremost a visual experience, where some kind of understanding kicks in at the moment before thought - which is perhaps one interpretation of the sublime. Su Grierson 2009 ‘Baltic map’ Lambda print on mdf.
Rotorua thermal area New Zealand 1987 and 2009.
Photograph The artist at Mount Cook 2009.
A project that re-traces the journey to New Zealand by Constance Astley and her companion Margaret Schaen in 1897. With many parallel features in their lives and my own, we each were seeking an ‘earthly paradise’ and its meaning, connecting art and life. presented as an exhibition, book and DVD In 1971 my family purchased, ‘for a song’, a large run down property beside the sea at Arisaig on the West Coast of Highland Scotland. At that time, knowing nothing of it’s origins, we were impressed by the very human scale of the rooms and an absolute feeling of ‘rightness’ within its walls. The leaks and drainage and rampant garden overgrowth could all be fixed later. As we slowly tackled its various problems, I also – equally slowly- started to uncover the story of its past. I learned that it had been built by two ladies, Constance Astley and her friend and companion Margaret Shaen, was designed by George Jack at Wm Morris & Co and was completed in 1903. Well educated ladies from wealthy families, Connie was a follower of the Arts & Crafts Movement and Margaret a staunch Unitarian. Both had a strong sense of social engagement with the local community. During my longer stays at the house I had taken up the hobbies of spinning and dyeing and later went on to write books on these subjects only to learn much later that Connie before me had been a skilled spinner, dyer and weaver. I also decided to move my photographic darkroom to the house and found the perfect space for this, only to discover that this ideal space had in fact been purpose built as Margaret’s own photographic darkroom. Much later after taking the decision to enter art school as a very mature student I realised what an accomplished artist Connie had been.
Photograph Constance Astley at Mount Cook 1897.
And so I decided to re-visit these places in the 21st century, projecting my own life and thinking back into the past and absorbing experiences from the past into my own life today. I was creating a sense of historical connection at a personal and social level across time and place and allowing this to influence my thoughts and actions. As an artist my aim was to create a very visual response to this journey. No storytelling is totally objective and I have tried to avoid a specific linear documentation. Both the exhibition, film and book were created in the style of a journal, with collages of film, images and texts from both Connies diaries and my own work. There is a sequence the viewer can follow although that does not always reflect the route I took. In the same way I was not able to retrace Connie’s journey exactly as she stayed with friends and made different forays out from these bases.
As I travelled I became more inspired to consider Connie’s own references to the ‘earthly paradise’ she lived in at Arisaig and to contemplate the whole nature of travel and adventure - our reasons for setting off around the world. What is it we seek and why do we recognise and feel it more deeply in a foreign land . I wonder, to what extent is history just the means to promoting a different set of questions. Paradise is a personal quest, a state of mind not a place, but is the place necessary to find the state of mind? Or is the place just a substitute, a false place that signifies the balance and peace we have to find within or a space in which to escape the pressure of daily reality and gain deeper connection with the neglected experiential nature of our being? Su Grierson 2011
It was only when Jill de Fresnes began writing her book about Connie and Margaret’s trip to New Zealand that I realised there was yet another linked aspect to our lives. I had spent three years in New Zealand in the 1960’s and had lived in or visited most of the places recorded in Connie’s Journal.
The Sky Tristan Gooley is a writer, navigator and explorer. He has worked in travel most of his life, led expeditions on five continents and pioneered a renaissance in the very rare art of natural navigation. Tristan is the only living person to have both flown solo and sailed single-handed across the Atlantic. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Institute of Navigation and Vice Chairman of the UK’s largest independent travel company, Trailfinders. www.naturalnavigator.com The air is the most modest of the sky’s characters, filling our scenes and yet happy to go long periods without any consideration. The traveller who wishes to appreciate a place to its fullest will be repaid by giving this humble element some thought. Mountains are the places where the land seems keenest in its bid to merge with the sky and it is here where the air’s moods can be most easily dissected. There is a relationship between the blueness of the sky, the transparency of the air and altitude. As the air cools, the amount of water vapour that it can contain as a gas reduces; this is why steam from hot showers condenses on cool mirrors. The higher up a mountain we go the cooler the air gets, it drops on average by 6.5 degrees centigrade every 1,000 metres of altitude (2 degrees centigrade for every 1,000 feet). So the higher we climb the more likely that the moisture in the air will be condensing to form mist and clouds. For this reason views from the tops of mountains tend to be either excellent – if the air is very dry – or non-existent if the air is moist, as you will be shrouded in cloud. The fog that hugs lower land and the clouds that engulf the mountain climber are the same substance, given different labels out of respect for their altitude. The combination of dry air and altitude can lead to views through transparent air that are hard to rival, as Humboldt reports from Tenerife.
The Pico de Teide is not situated in the Tropics, but the dryness of the air, which rises continuously above the neighbouring African plains and is rapidly blown over by the eastern winds, gives the atmosphere of the Canary Islands a transparency which not only surpasses that of the air around Naples and Sicily, but also of the air around Quito and Peru. This transparency may be one of the main reasons for the beauty of tropical scenery; it heightens the splendours of the vegetation’s colouring, and contributes to the magical effects of its harmonies and contrasts.
Charles Darwin also remembered vividly the coldness of the air, the brilliance of its transparency, the colours and the formidable view, when high up on a pass near Puente del Inca in Argentina. These experiences lie behind the reason that many mountain trekkers make a start before dawn. This gives the best chance of catching the view before the sun’s warmth heats nearby water and the moist air reaches the summit, condensing into droplets and obliterating the view. Mountains that are routinely shrouded by day often enjoy a brief window of nudity shortly after the sun has risen. When the moist air is still low down it leaves the peaks clear to poke their way through clouds and offers the sublime view from high ground of clouds swimming up valleys below. In the clearest air, free from moisture and dust, the stars’ twinkling is muted. The twinkling of stars, or ‘scintillation’, is caused by their pinpoint light getting gently bounced one way and then another, as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. This bouncing is caused by temperature fluctuations, moisture and pollution. A star that is bright and steady is a clue that the air is dry, virgin and still. (Or it might be a planet, as the light from planets appears steadier, thanks to their being so much closer to Earth.) Between clear air and cloud there is mist. Mist is a very fine fog or cloud, forming when water vapour has condensed in cooler air to form droplets, but there is not enough moisture to form a full thick white blanket. Unlike clouds and fog, which draw down curtains, mist plays with scenery and toys with distances. Distant hills can fade away compressing the view and making other hills appear nearer than they are. Heights and distances in cities appear greater, the concrete and steel are stretched. Trees are brought into one dimension, flattened as in some Chinese paintings.
Fresh air is a joyous pleasure that has not diminished over the centuries. Today it is to be contrasted with the artificial urban environments that the poet John Betjeman rebelled against, those ‘air-conditioned, bright canteens’ and it offers liberation from the ‘tinned minds, tinned breath’. In earlier centuries stuffy unhealthy airs were thought to be the harbingers of disease, it was not understood that it was the airborne viruses and bacteria that were spreading infectious diseases, people thought that it was the nature of the air itself that was to blame. We think of fresh air as invigorating, but for many centuries it was even more vital than that.
downtrodden souls. Even a bird as inglorious as the pigeon can give a majestic feel to a skyline, if, startled by some sudden movement, it rises in a flock that breaks the line together in harmony.
The cleanest air has by definition no smell and no taste, as its components: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide et al., are tasteless. However, it is sufficiently rare for air to contain no trace of its environment, no hint of city or sea or decomposing foliage, that this neutral tasteless air can offer an ecstatic contrast. John Muir, the American naturalist who walked from the Middle West to the Gulf of Mexico, left us in no doubt about the rapture that fresh air brought him.
The sky was perfectly delicious, sweet enough for the breath of angels; every draught of it gave a separate and distinct piece of pleasure. I do not believe that Adam and Eve ever tasted better in their balmiest nook.
Air can be thrillingly refreshing or it can be tasteless, neutral, bland, but it can also be powerful, an integral part of our conscious being. The Navajo see the air as providing awareness, thought and speech. In their world, the divisions between mind and the air cease to exist as we breathe. This beautiful idea is not as alien to science as it first appears. Thoughts can be articulated through speech, which is simply our ability to make the air resonate at certain frequencies. For scientists, each part of the transmission and reception process is compartmentalised, isolated and analysed, but for the Navajo it is all part of one cycle. Our thoughts are not our own, but live within this cycle of air, making our thoughts and mind simultaneously within us and within the air that is part of everyone and everything else. The sky accounts for half of the world we see, but it is in the places where the sky and earth mix that many find the greatest drama, intrigue and beauty. When the line that separates sky and land, the horizon, is broken it draws our eyes like a magnet. The rays of a rising sun breaking out above a distant hill in perfect radial form will be uplifting to the most
The ground’s most persistent intruder into the sky is the tree. Laurens van der Post admired the fantastic Baobab tree in the Kalahari with its ‘varicose veins, full of permanganate sap’, but it is the image of these trees reaching upwards that best carries across the dry earth to us.
On this hot morning stripped of leaves and tartar fruit they stood out beside our route with their swollen apoplectic columns like the arms of a brood of Titans buried alive, wide open hands protruding from the grave and vainly appealing to the stark blue sky now filled with vultures.
When in 1722 the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen and his crew saw smoke rising above their new discovery, Easter Island, they knew they had found land new to Europeans and evidently a new people, too. Their excitement at the smoke was only a precursor for the astonishment they experienced on finding the giant statues breaking the same skyline. Stonehenge in England and Rujm el-Hiri near the Sea of Galilee stand as testament to the importance of the sky to our ancestors, by interrupting the line that joins sky and land. Cities from the ancient Teotihuacan in Mexico to the modern Washington DC also testify to the sky’s imprint on our minds and lands. Teotihuacan contained the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Washington was originally laid out using celestial observations, giving it its orientation along the cardinal lines. The sky’s orbs appear larger when we have the chance to compare them to more pathetic terrestrial objects like trees and buildings. The sun and moon seem to swell close to bursting as they hang for seconds above the dark chess pieces of a city. The effect grows stronger when the dust of haze scatters out their blue light, leaving these balls cooking gently in their oranges and pinks. This essay is extracted from Tristam Gooley's Book 'The Natural Explorer' 2012. Tristan Gooley
Pattern, shadow and Hanging textile. Polaris Gallery Japan.
Translucent decoration on window glass Polaris gallery Japan.
A solo exhibition at Polaris Gallery Kita Kamakura Japan In conjunction with the Japanese Artist group ECHO who organised sound, walking events and artists presentations with the local community. This work is about two worlds, the real and the unreal, The natural order and the human desire for a perfect world dictated by our own need for order, simplicity and beauty. I am looking for the places where these two things can come together, wanting to create an awareness of each. I believe that in order to know the natural world better and to care for it more correctly we need to see it as it is, and not just how we want it to be. By fixing design on to the window glass I am creating a screen of pattern that can be looked through and visually combined with the real and untidy plant life outside. A complex and always moving display of shadow and reflection confounded the distance between within and without. A length of manufactured fabric which is covered with ‘perfect’ magnolia blossoms like those in flower near Polaris. descends the stairwell but I have deconstructed it to suggest the natural disintegration of this beauty. A looped soundtrack plays at intervals in the gallery. Outside, a Japanese version of the work ‘Now is the time to fly…’ was inserted in the vegetation along the hillside paths leading to the gallery. Su Grierson 2010
Translucent decoration on window glass Polaris gallery Japan.
S u r fa c e T e n s i o n
Detail ‘Lake’ Lambda print digital constructed photograph.
Detail ‘Undergrowth’ Giclee print.
Photography has traditionally captured moments in time, usually with great clarity. The image records intense levels of fixed detail that can be appreciated over time and through exploration of the image. This is valuable because human vision as a function of the brain doesn’t really work like that.
In this project I am particularly interested in portraying landscapes in that same way – as layers of partial information. The formal structure of the work challenges the facts of habit and bias which generally inform the way in which we see the world. In other words we do frequently tend to see what we want to see or as we habitually see.
The brain captures millions of fleeting images which pile up into visual memories linked to other memories of experience and thought and which become linked with other events, people and places. In other words human vision is actually a memory, even if only split seconds old, which is a mess of overlapping information that loses detail quickly but coalesces into a complex memory that can change each time we remember it and can be altered by subsequent knowledge and new memories.
This work challenges the image as an independent signifier of a pre-existing landscape ‘tableau’ not just by reference to the changing nature of the place, but also because the work engages with this fragmented nature of vision itself.
The images in ‘Surface Tension’ arise firstly from my personal enquiry into how the digital process might alter the nature of the photograph rather than simply make traditional processes easier. Underlying all of the works is also an interest in the nature of human vision itself, seen alongside the traditional nature of photographic vision. The visual brain captures millions of fleeting images, along with other activated responses which create a mass of information in the brain.
An immersion in complexity and change. A gathering up of partial moments. There are many suggestions in science that we are naturally attracted to symmetry, to resolution and conclusion. We want answers, we ‘piece things together’, we instinctively ‘fill in the gaps’, ‘make sense of things’, so it should be possible to present viewers of photographic images with the kind of ambiguous, partial images that they see naturally in life, which just suggest flux and hint at form and leave the viewer space to make conclusions. These images are part of an ongoing series exploring the nature of landscape through digital processes. Su Grierson 2011
Look Look visits, events and connections.
Visits to Aberdeen Peacock Visual Arts and Dundee Contemporary Arts.
LookLook is an informal project organised by myself, inviting international artists to Scotland to network with Scottish artists, visit galleries and arts organisations and experience some of our outstanding natural land. More than 60 international artists have visited since 2001. Artists stay at my home in rural Perthshire or with other artist hosts when we travel further afield. They are networked with other rurally based artists as well as those from the cities. LookLook began when I left my Glasgow workplace to make my studio at my home in Perthshire. I felt a strong need to make my place, where I was living and working, the centre of something rather than feeling on the edge of an arts structure dominated by the city. LookLook began in 2001 when on my first visit to Lithuania, I was totally inspired by meeting six young textile artists who were just completing their Masters degrees in Vilnius. Their determination and self belief in the face of very difficult times in their newly independent country triggered me to make them an invitation. The success of their visit and the spin offs for other Scottish textile artists later invited to Lithuania were the drive for me to continue. Two larger visits were created in 2002 and 2005 in conjunction with Diane Maclean, and since then I have continued with further visits based largely around attendance at the Perthshire Visual Arts Forum of which I was Chair for seven years.
There have never been funds available in Scotland to support this project which has always meant that visiting artists must raise their air fares in their own country, and in Scotland they are supported by in-kind donations and the goodwill of myself and local artists. A great many spin-off opportunities have arisen directly through contacts made on LookLook both for numerous Scottish artists and between the international visitors. As the web of connections widens it becomes impossible to trace the numerous indirect links that have been generated. Many of my own international connections have arisen as a result of one initial invitation to myself to attend an international Symposium in Lithuania 2001 organised by Saulius Valius, and many of the artists attending LookLook have been recommended by other artists I first met at that symposium. Ground level networks of this kind, between artists, can lead to reciprocal opportunities, but much more than that are the personal feelings of trust, support and friendship generating a kinship through art. This is particularly valuable in a profession which can otherwise be a challenging and isolated way of life especially when living in remoter rural areas. Su Grierson 2012
6 Lithuanian textile graduates: Migle Lebednykaite, Julija Vosyliute, Laura Pavilonyte, Auste Jurgelionyte, Karolina Kuncinaite, Rasa Leonaviciute.
artists from Lithuania, Spain, New Zealand, Germany: Anna Recasens, Elvira Pujol, Joan Vilapuig, Maureen Lander, Ute Herwig, Inga Darguzyte, Evaldas Mikalauskis, Jurga Mincinauskiene
Looklook2002 (with Diane Maclean) 12 artists from Japan, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, Mauritius: Akihiko Kuwayam, Annika Dahlsten, Anna Carlson, Christina Lindberg, Diana Radaviciute, Kestutis Grigaliunas, Kestutis Musteikis, Saulius Valius, Vytenis Lingys, Eva Kask, Lennart Mand, Hans Peter Hepp, Manou Soobhany.
Looklook2003 6 printmakers from Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Denmark and Sweden: Mara Pedanik, Inge Darguzyte, Rimvydas Markeliunas, Klavs Weiss, Bjorn Bredstrom, Sanna Huttunen,
Looklook2003 2 Japanese artists Tomoko Esashi, Mariko Honda with Tomoko Mishio, Ren and Yuko
Looklook2005 (with Diane Maclean) artists from Sweden, Estonia, Netherlands, Iceland, Japan : LarsWickstrom, Liina Siib, Jan van Boekel, Valgadur Hauksdottir, Tokio Maruyama, Yoshiko Maruyama.
Looklook2006 a working video week 3 German artists : Anke Meixner, Ute Herwig, Mira Amari joined Kyra Clegg, Caroline Dear, Judith McLachlan, Angus Clyne, Helen O’Brien and Su Grierson.
Looklook 2007 artists from Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands: Lida Dubauskiene, Dovile Tomkute , Solveiga Vasiljeva, Jan van Boekel, Nele Zirnite, Ivonna Veiherte.
Looklook 2008 Artists from Japan ECHO artist group and band: Ohya Rica, Esashi Tomoko, Goto Mitsuru, Kimura Masaya, Tokunaga Masayuki, Takagi Kayoko, Kawamoto Rentaro who Joined PVAF artists. Artists from Estonia: Liina Siib and Laura Kuusk a working project Opposing Eden with Kyra Clegg & Su Grierson.
Looklook 2009 Artist from Lithuania: Inge Darguzyte joined a Print project with Christine Goodman
Looklook 2010 Artist from Lithuania : Kestutis Musteikis joined Fire & Ice Project with PVAF. Artists from New Zealand: Dr Victoria Edwards, Ina Johann completed Perth 800 Residency and joined PVAF artists.
Looklook 2011 Artist from France: Elodie Lefevbre joined Heartwood project.
Engaging with landscape through artmaking Jan van Boeckel is a Dutch anthropologist, filmmaker and art teacher. Currently he is submitting his research project on arts-based environmental education for the degree of Doctor of Arts at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland. In our world the disconnection from nature seems to grow with the day, especially for younger generations. The consequences are dramatic, it results in a wide range of behavioral problems which are so serious that Richard Louv even speaks of a “nature deficit disorder.”  In my view it is incumbent on us to find new ways in which we can make engaging with our natural environs more attractive. The hypothesis that artmaking can play an important role in this was the starting point for my doctoral research at Aalto University in Finland, which I am about to complete. Usually, when people think about the combination of art and landscape, they tend to associate the theme more with the resulting artwork than with the artistic process as a mode of relating to, what D.H. Lawrence called, our circumambient universe. I think this has something to do with the way we habitually divide things into boxes, and, added to that, a limited idea of the myriad ways in which we can come to new understandings of nonhuman nature. Science offers us one – albeit indispensable – lens. However, when we rely on it exclusively, we succumb to what William Blake referred to as “one-eyed vision”. Art, poetry, imagination and dreams afford a fuller, more complete picture. Opening of our senses to the natural world is one of the focal points of arts-based environmental education. The challenge thereby, it seems to me, is to overcome our habitual, taken for granted ways of relating to place. In that regard, Paul Cézanne’s view on how painting can be a source of inspiration. The French painter was well-aware that he needed to know something about geology, geometry and planes, to ground his artistic process – elementary knowledge for example of the different colours of geological soils, and in the case of the mountain Sainte-Victoire, which he painted so many times, of the structure and forms of the rock formations. However, Cézanne held that it was through the act of painting itself that he attained the clear-sightedness that allowed him to see the interconnectedness of things. More-over, he believed that the feelings the artmaking aroused in him would in their turn affect others at a point of their sensibility: “It gave me a great thrill to realize that. If I can convey that thrill to others through the mysterious effect of my
colours, won’t they get a richer … sense of the universal?” One of the things Cézanne wanted to find out was what is there in common between phenomena as they appeared to him (say, a pine tree) and how they were in reality: “If I were to paint that“ he pondered, “wouldn’t it be the realization of that part of nature which lies before our eyes, presenting us with a picture? . . . Conscious trees!” He felt, that when he painted the landscape, it was expressing itself through him and he became its consciousness. Seeing the world this way one would feel how everything is related to oneself: “I’d like to paint space and time so that they become forms of colour sensibility, since I sometimes imagine colours as great noumenal entities, living ideas, beings of pure reason. With which we can commune. Nature isn’t at the surface; it’s in depth. Colours are the expression, on this surface, of this depth.” One of the characteristics of the arts-based environmental education (AEE) that I practice is that it encourages participants to be receptive to nature in new and uncommon ways. Its premise is that efforts to learn about our environment can effectively take their starting point in a facilitated artistic activity, usually conducted in groups. We can approach the world afresh through art. Our experience of the place and the landscape in which we find ourselves can be new and different as a result of partaking in artmaking activities that challenge the everyday conceptualization of the world; suddenly we look at a plant, an animal or even a landscape as if we see them for the first time in our life. English author and playwright Eden Phillpotts wrote in 1919 that “the universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” In my research of AEE, I found that the defamiliarizing effect of artmaking can create favourable conditions for participants to move away from merely according to habit (on “autopilot”). The open-ended structure contributes to the creation of a learning arena in which participants potentially experience a sense of wonder and begin to acquire new understandings. In a time when young people especially come less and less outdoors, I suggest that it can be an opening move to cut through the indifference for nature and eco-illiteracy that seems so widespread today. Rather than referring to artmaking as exclusively coming forth from talent, skill or mastery, I want to bring to the fore it’s basic meaning as a human
activity that consists of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect. In Art Heals, expressive arts therapist Shaun McNiff describes how he facilitates sessions with groups of participants who are encouraged to enter in a conversing mode with the paintings they make. He contends that images generate stories, and that one can enter into an “imaginal dialogue” with them; we can respond to pictures in ways that correspond to what he calls their “spirits.” We are caught by surprise through “the infusion of spirit that arrives unexpectedly”. At that point, the controlling mind relaxes it’s grip and allows spontaneous expression to form itself into fresh structures. This is how Kandinsky put it: “In a mysterious, puzzling, and mystical way, the true work of art arises “from out of the artist.” Once released from him, “it assumes its own independent life, takes on a personality, and becomes a self-sufficient, spiritually breathing subject that also leads a real material life: it is a being … [and] possesses – like every living being – further creative, active forces.” For Kandinsky, a “true” work of art leads a full inner life. The word he used for this life-force was Klang, spiritual reverberation. McNiff holds that the image of the painting can be brought to life in a way that opens up many new possibilities for interaction. His method requires one to establish an emphatic connection with the expressions of an image. This mode of artistic process is a way of interpreting through an ongoing active imagination, thus accessing the imaginative expression and potential of the artwork we have released in the world. The distinctive function of works of art, says writer and philosopher Bruce Baugh, is to reorient the experience of the perceiving subject. Peculiarly, the art work itself determines the organization of this experience: “the world of the work of art … is none other than that of the perceiving subject as transformed by the work. An art work makes this world its own according to the depth and singularity of the transformation it effects”.  A work of art, says Baugh, is something “that exists in order to be perceived”. This aspect of “perceivability,” to me, alludes to what may be called “latent properties” in the artwork which only manifest themselves to the extent that we are receptive to them. We need a degree of estrangement to be open to the emanations that spring from the
artwork that is in front of us. By allowing the artwork to organize our experience, according to Baugh, it is given “a power over us sufficient to alter our experience of the world from its very foundations”. And thus it achieves its epiphany. Crucial for him is that an authentic work of art must have an end that cannot be understood in terms of our own. It resists our every-day understanding of the world. By consequence, experiences of the natural world induced by art may also redefine our conceptualization of nature and the manifestations of life we find there. I believe Baugh’s understanding of how the aesthetic object transforms our experience is meaningful as well for understanding the impact of artmaking as process. As we saw, McNiff provides an illustration of how such transformation is brought about in artmaking, through a dialogue with the nascent artwork, as it matures further and further. Gerhard Richter once conceded that when he is working on a picture, he feels that “something is going to come, which I do not know, which I have been unable to plan, which is better and wiser than I am.” In the AEE activities that I facilitate it may occur as well that emerging properties are evoked. It happened poignantly during one recent session of working with clay, in a group activity which I call little-me making. Here, the human body and its organs are thematized in the artmaking. Participants sculpture a miniature version of their own body from clay and do this in a guided fashion with their eyes closed. Step by step I lead them to moulding and assembling the different body parts. The activity centres on the participants’ inner environment or, phrased differently, that part of nature that includes the human body, in an effort to overcome a strict dichotomy between inner and outer landscape. At the moment the participants are about to mould their neck and throat, I ask them to reach for a cup of water in front of them, again with the eyes closed. One participant confided to me afterwards that he felt that in the making of a little-me there was an element of “bearing witness”. One is amazed, he said, when one at last opens the eyes and actually sees the figure that one has made which, is so to speak, “looking back at you.” In other circumstances, he added, his experience of artmaking was much more one of “stepping-back” from time to time from the emerging artwork, to make judgments and, if
necessary or desirable, to change or add something along the way. This participant perceived the drinking of the water as a “reverential gesture”, a threshold experience before commencing with the formation of the clay head. For him there was a latent meaning in the swallowing of the water which manifested itself to him through the process. In an interview I had with philosopher and cultural ecologist David Abram, I asked him if he could relate to moments when one is creating for example a painting and at a certain instance one has the sensation that it is looking back at you. One may think that one is the creator, the one in control, but in some sense one perhaps is not. This is how Abram responds:
session that only lasts a couple of hours may have – for most people it is a rare interval in time that is, as it were, cut out from the rest of their habitual life. It seems to me that arts-based environmental education first and foremost helps bring about the ignition and augmentation of their fascination and curiosity, centred in an increased awareness of their own body and its interactions with the world, and occasionally it may lead to a new and deep experience of one’s connection to nature. Starting from this basic, down-to-earth level, may actually be a proper springboard for developing strategies to cope with current ecological issues. After all, the sense of wonder, which can be brought about by the defamiliarizing through art, seems to be an indispensable quality when seeking to refresh one’s personal relationship and engagement with the land that nourishes us. Jan van Boeckel
It’s not you! What we create out of ourselves is never just created by ourselves alone. It is always this co-creation with the wider life of the Earth. And so, in some way, it is the otherness that sometimes we find looking back at us from the canvas that we have started dabbing with our pigments, or from the rock or the stone, or from a poem that I’ve started crafting, or the page. It partakes of the otherness of wild nature itself. It is like another animal staring back at me, and examining me. Or at least it is borne from the interaction between myself and the strange self of the world. (D. Abram, personal communication, November 12, 2010)
In the Western mystery tradition, the concept that perhaps comes closest to this idea of images and narratives acquiring their own integrity, is evocation. The word evoke stems from the Latin ex (“out”) and voco (“call”). For anthropologist Stephen Tyler, evocation is neither presentation nor representation: “It presents no objects and represents none, yet it makes available through absence what can be conceived but not presented.... It overcomes the separation of the sensible and the conceivable, of form and content, of self and other, of language and the world.” Coming to the end of these reflections, I want to underscore that one’s expectations shouldn’t be too high of the impact that an artmaking
INTERSECTIONS Detail 'Reflect' Photograph Giclee print 90 x 60 cm
'Snow abstract' I & II Photographs Lambda prints 2013
The project ‘Link’ was the outcome of an artist residency at Kitakata in Fukushima Province Japan for ten weeks in early 2013.
Deep snow makes absence dominant. Signs of human occupation are lost from the landscape, roads, fences, houses agricultural buildings are overwhelmed and only patterns, textures, shapes and the element of snow itself are left to transform the landscape.
The purpose of the residency was to create a cultural link between the peoples of Northern countries and it comprised of three visual artists and one architect coming from Japan, Scotland and Norway.
While in Kitakata personal research into aspects of Japanese Sumi-e style snow paintings began and in particular the practice of capturing the essence of a place rather than the detail as well as the ‘broken paint’ technique where abstract shapes suggest movement and form and space, ideas which found their way into the final works.
There was a remit to engage with issues that related to local people including the refugees from the Tsunami and Nuclear disaster of 2011 living in the area. The unusually heavy snowfall being experienced at that time became the personal focus of attention. Everyone spoken to locally hated the snow and the additional work it created, which in turn was becoming an obstacle to refugees settling permanently in the area. As a visitor the snow was impressive and offered a new line of enquiry and opened the possibility that through images a different perspective could become apparent.
My residency exhibition in Kitakata was called Link and combined the ideas of connection within the natural world and between humankind and nature that many Japanese people spoke passionately about during the residency in Kitakata. It seems that the disaster of 3/11 has created in people a very deep awareness of their relationship with the natural environment. Su Grierson 2013
Forteviot gallery Perth 2000 Street level Gallery Glasgow 2001 Algarden Boras Sweden 2002 The Theatre Gallery Chipping Norton England 2004 ‘Eyeshine’ catalogue Street Level Photoworks 2001 In. ‘Shifting Horizons.Liz Wells, Kate Newton & Catherine Fehily I.B.Taurus. 2000 In ‘Land Matters’ LIz Wells I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd 2011 Elizabeth Mahony The Guardian May 2001 Radio Scotland Brian Morton Show May 2001
An Tuireann Isle of Skye Scotland Angus Digital media centre Scotland 2003 Street level Gallery ‘Glasgow International’ Glasgow Scotland 2005 KU Galerii Tallinn Estonia 2003 Yokohama Art Museum Japan ( shown as a lecture presentation) 2003 Catalogue Published by Su Grierson 2004 Street level small publication No 17 text by Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt 2005
Origin Origin BBC 2 TACSI 7th May 2001
Touch Down Galleri54 Goteborg Sweden 2003.
Two Connecting Crawford Arts Centre St Andrews Scotland 2003 Toki Art Space Tokyo Japan 2003 Gallery Publication by Crawford Arts Centre 2003
Marking Time Angus Digital Media Centre Scotland 2000 Hereford Photography festival England 2002 ET4U Gallery Bovlingbjerge Denmark 2004 Cupar Arts Festival Scotland 2011 (outdoor posters and video projection) Marking Time artist’s publication 2003 Scene 1 Perth Theatre Scotland 2009
a project for the internet commissioned by Alt-W 2006 www.sugrierson.com/nearhear Sound installation Abiko open air art exhibition Japan In ‘Access all Areas’ The Travelling Gallery Scotland ‘NearHear2’ a sound work for Threshold entrance Perth Concert hall.
ARKA Gallery Vilnius (European City of Culture 2009) Catalogue 2008 text by Andrea Peach 2009
Aerial Roots Angus digital media centre 2007 Scotland Project lecture and film Birnam Perthshire Scotland 2008 Exhibition Fold gallery England 2008 International video screening Bovlingsbjerg Denmark 2008 Cromarty Film Festival Scotland 2008 Edinburgh Art Festival installation Scotland 2010 Cupar Arts Festival installation Scotland 2010 Hawick film festival talk and screening Scotland 2011 Dunbar Arts Festival talk and screening 2012 ‘Intersections’ Threshold artspace Scotland 2013
Slice Solo exhibition Yokohama Art Museum Japan 2004
Threshold artspace Wave. Horsecross Perth Scotland 2007 Collections III Threshold Artspace Perth Concert Hall 2011
Perhaps now is the time to fly… As ‘Ten Suggestions’ Heartwood 2009 In ‘Interventions’ Scottish National Park, Aberfoyle Scotland In ‘Greening’ Polaris Gallery Japan 2010
Paradise no exit Blog 2009 http://su-nztrip.blogspot.com/ Exhibition Birnam Art Centre Perthshire Scotland 2010 Book with enclosed Video 2012 artist’s publication.
Greening Polaris Gallery Kita Kamakura Japan 2010
Surface Tension In ‘Overlap’ with Belinda Gilbert Scott at ‘Changing Room’ Stirling Scotland 2011 ‘Overlap’ a boxed set of 8 prints by Su Grierson & Belinda Gilbert Scott 2011 a Changing Room publication.
Link Ten week residency in Fukushima Japan 2013 Exhibition Kitakata Kura Blog. http://ecoartscotland.net (Fukushima) Website and CV www.sugrierson.com
John Brennan: Pulling away from the polite.
Jan Van Boeckle: Engaging with landscape through artmaking
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Olwig, K.R., ‘Recovering the Substantive Nature of Landscape’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 86 (1996), 630–653 Zografos, C., ‘Rurality Discourses and the Role of the Social Enterprise in Regenerating Rural Scotland’, Journal of Rural Studies, 2007, 38–51 Whitfeld, L. and Historic Scotland. Technical Conservation Research and Education Division., Rural Buildings of the Lothians: Conservation and Conversion, Historic Scotland Guide for Practitioners; 1 (Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, 2000), p.12 Lockhart, D. 'Planned Villages in North East Scotland 1750-1860', in The New Town Phenomenon: The Second Generation., ed. by John Frew, David Jones and University of St. Andrews. School of Art History. ([St. Andrews]: University of St. Andrews, School of ArtHistory, 2000), pp. vi, 101 p. Oliver, P. Built to Meet Needs: Cultural Issues in Vernacular Architecture (Amsterdam; London: Architectural, 2006), Brunskill, R. W., Vernacular Architecture: An Illustrated Handbook, 4th ed (London: Faber, 2000), p. 292 Battle, G., and Christopher McCarthy, Sustainable Ecosystems: And the Built Environment (Chichester: Wiley-Academy, 2001), p.128 Carter, G. 'Domestic Geography and the Politics of Scottish Landscape in Nan Shepherd's the Living Mountain.' Gender, Place and Culture, 8 (2001), 25–36 (p.27). Ronen, R. 'Paradigm Shift in Plot Models: An Outline of the History of Narratology', Poetics Today, 11 (1990), 817-42 (p. 818). Smout, T. C. Nature Contested : Environmental History in Scotland and Northern England since 1600 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p 47. Shucksmith, M. ‘Disintegrated Rural Development? Neo-endogenous Rural Development, Planning and Place-Shaping in Diffused Power Contexts.’, Sociologia Ruralis, 50 (2010), 1–14 Brennan, J. ‘Conditioning Coasts’ Architecture Research Quarterly, (16) 1 (2012) p.5
Sascha Grierson: The Land: 2013 1. http://www.soilassociation.org/aboutus/ourhistory 2. http://www.permaculture.org.uk/permaculture-association/history 3. http://slowfood.com/international/1/about-us 4. http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=P3MUIvkG hCs=&tabid=116 5. http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=whbpEnZU d7A%3d&tabid=1984
Tristan Gooley: The Sky ‘The Pico de Teide is not situated in the Tropics . . .’ Humboldt, A., p. 36. ‘air-conditioned, bright canteens . . .’; ‘tinned minds, tinned breath’. Betjeman, J., ‘Slough’, passim, http://www.bbc.co.uk/berkshire/bigread/bigread_betjeman.shtml/ Charles Darwin also remembers the coldness of the air: Darwin, C., p. 319. ‘The sky was perfectly delicious, sweet enough . . .’ Muir, J., pp. 188–9. The Navajo Indians see the air as providing awareness, thought and speech: Abram, D., p. 237. ‘On this hot morning stripped of leaves and tartar . . .’ Van der Post, L., p. 108. Cities, from the ancient Teotihuacan in Mexico to the modern Washington DC: Aveni, A., pp. 129–57.
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods. Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. New York: Algonquin Books. Paul Cézanne, as quoted by Joachim Gasquet (1991) in his Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne: A Memoir with Conversations. London: Thames and Hudson, pp. 165-166. Eden Phillpotts (1919). A Shadow Passes. New York: The MacMillan Company. McNiff, S. (2004). Art heals: How creativity cures the soul. Boston: Shambhala. Lindsay. K., & Vergo, P. (Eds.). (1994). Kandinsky: Complete writings on art. New York: Da Capo Press. Baugh, B. (1988). Authenticity revisited. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 46(4), 477-487. Richter, G. (1995). Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 1986. In H.-U. Obrist (Ed.), The daily practice of painting: Writings and interviews, 1962-1993, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Tyler, S. (1986). Post-modern ethnography: From document of the occult to occult document. In J. Clifford & G. E. Marcus (Eds.). Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography (pp. 122-140). Berkeley, CA: University of California.
Iliyana Nedkova: Su Grierson at the Intersection of Art, Land and Politics 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6
Please see pages 6-7 for John Brennan’s contribution to this artist’s book where he argues that our rural environment comprises two types of landscapes – protective (with a conservation agenda) and productive (referring to renewable energy, food production, etc). Please see pages 14-15 for the artist’s statement for her work under the same title Marking Time (1992-2004) - an impressive photographic suite of 425 works shot in 15 countries – graphically tracing our connection with nature through our habit of marking trees for decoration and disease, destruction and navigation, control and celebration. We should be mindful of what Sven Lütticken in The Films of De Rijke/De Rooij. London: ICA, Institute of Contemporary Art (2002) describes as ‘a cunning ideological ploy’ where painting remains the most privileged medium for large sections of the art world. Invoking the great history of painting is still an effective prestige (and price) enhancing strategy. Please see page 18 for the artist’s statement for her work Slice (2004) - a precursor of the current publication which reinvents the traditional artist's monograph by revering in the diverse opinions and actions we undertake towards our land and landscape. Menhirs refers to the long standing stones which the nomadic hunters and shepherds of the Paleolithic period erected first and unwittingly established the public art of the open space. In 1917 artist Marcel Duchamp, the grandfather of conceptual art, proposed to appropriate the tallest building in the world at the time as one of his works known as readymades. By selecting the Woolworths Building, the neo-gothic landmark on New York’s Broadway, Duchamp was revolutionising the concept of art. Not unlike Duchamp, Grierson attributed aesthetic value to pieces of urban architecture, sited in scenic rural location. Ordinary objects are thus elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist and a shift of context.
‘Flatland’ Lambda print on mdf. 130 x 58 cm.
Published in conjunction with the survey exhibition INTERSECTIONS at Threshold Arts Horsecross, Perth, Scotland 30 June to 30 November 2013. All copyright ÂŠ 2013 Artist and Contributors. Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Photographs: Su Grierson
Supported by Creative Scotland and Horsecross Arts
A limited edition artist's book published on the occasion of Intersections – a major survey exhibition by Su Grierson curated by Iliyana Ned...
Published on Jun 19, 2013
A limited edition artist's book published on the occasion of Intersections – a major survey exhibition by Su Grierson curated by Iliyana Ned...