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experiential archeology

Today was to have been the finale of the Hart Of the Woods Project.                                      Instead, the project is on hold until we are all able to get out and about, and  people are able attend Outdoor events again.  Instead, we are sharing images and films from the project.                                                                                                                                                 Check out https://www.instagram.com/hart_of_the_wood                                                We are:  to Ben Wigley (Artdocs) , Nathaniel  Robin Mann, Lisa Knapp, Martin Sommerville, Sian Allen and the National Trust folks at Comer Woods, Dudmaston, Shropshire.

These are the finished Red Deer Headdresses I have made for the project.IMG_4011

Started back in March, these three have been my principal companions over the past three months during the CV19 lockdown. And fine companions they have been to sooth my soul.  They have inspired me to make archeological  and folkloric investigations, drawings and prompted dreams.

Looking forwards to the time when they will be able to leave the studio and take their place out there, in the magical world of Art and Nature on this Midsummers Day.

 

I have been in working in collaboration with Richard T.Frost to make three wooden replicas of ‘The Canterbury Jade Axe’ (British Museum). These have been made to be handling objects, to be shown together with a large charcoal drawing, which may be included in an exhibition planned for 2021. IMG_3868

Elm from Tim , White Walnut from Rosie & Black Walnut from Tim

Many hours in the making. Several days for Richard to carve then two weeks for me to sand and polish, using  boiled linseed oil, seven coats of oil based varnish, polished with rotten stone, raw linseed oil and red earth to finish.

These artefacts are yet again a manifestation of my meditations on the human impulse to make stuff, the creative urge.  Many years ago I was horrified to see  in an exhibition, some ‘Sculptures for the Blind’ by Brancusi, displayed inside a prospect box!  These three pieces are designed to be handled, to be not just something to look at but also to be something beautiful to touch.  Hand and Eye in collaboration.

Yes, they have metaphoric resonances but my continuing rumination’s are taking me  somewhere else.  As I develop the drawing , started but expected to develop over the next few months, I hope to find that ‘where’.

 

 

Embarking upon a new line of enquiry.     This continues my meditations on the human impulse to create, to make, to alter and adapt materials. To imbue material objects with meaning beyond their practical usage.

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The starting point this time comes from this Jade Axe , found near Canterbury, U.K.    Now a part of the British Museum collection.                                                                            See Chapter 14, in ‘The History of the World in 100 Objects’ by Neil MacGregor.
What I am intrigued by is the fact that this was never a practical axe. Its purpose was inherent in its beauty, its meaning, its geographies and its biography. Add to that mix now, it’s antiquity  (Between 4000 – 200 BC).
The stone has been identified as coming from a specific boulder in the Italian Alps, then was probably fashioned in Southern Brittany before  travelling though to the British Islands. Extraordinarily, there is another  axe, found in Dorset, which comes from the same boulder but maybe made at a different time. The two art objects made centuries apart,  evidence of the longevity of a tradition.
Is this an indication of a trade being a way of  maintaining relationships between distant peoples, of cementing obligations, ideas and culture?

I shall be drawing, and carving wood.   The wooden versions will have to be beautiful to touch as well as to look at.  To engage all the senses.

I am thinking already about the planned exhibition at The Willoughby Trust Gallery in 2021.

I have just found this tiny pot which I made in about 1976 as a student. Probably the best thing I created at that time as it holds much of what still concerns me in current drawing projects. The Square, The Circle and a playful response to the world I live in.

What I like most of all is its ‘pot-ness’ whilst at the same time its ‘bird-ness’.  I remember that I had seen an image of some ancient clay toys, which inspired the painting scheme. Hand-built porcelain at just 6 c.m tall, with brushwork in iron oxide.                                            This bird with four legs still makes me chuckle.

My current work still has the same archeological connections as I continue to ponder on the ancient impulse to ‘make’.        I am still obsessing with geometry in conjunction with natural forms.             My choice of materials is still governed by a perception of ancestral  connections.  Clay, minerals, charcoal. The sense of touch is still as important in 2D work.

          Making a mask / head-dress for ‘Hart of the Wood’ .                                                                                                    This is to be a stags head with intimations of Green Man.

Film making in collaboration with ‘Artdocs’.

All will be revealed in due course.

2019 has been the year of working with Andy Barret on a transitions project based upon the 1620 House in Hugglescote, Leicestershire. We were a part of a larger project, looking at ways in which this wonderful Medieval House (which was modernised in 1620 with New Windows) can be utilised to enhance children’s learning experience. The great discovery has been of Sir Kenelm Digby (who’s sister lived in the house). Why had I never heard of him before? A Man of his times, a child of one of the Gun Powder conspirators, he grew to become a proto-scientist, diarist, glass technologists, foodie, art collector and privateer. The whole project has b een a delight and the 120 children we have worked with have been great companions on this journey of discovery.

I played the part of a ‘phenomenologist’ looking back at how the structure of experienced might have been perceived at the time. Through the senses, Smell, Taste, Sound, Sight and Touch we relived the 17th century experience and made many experiments and created art works and writings to see how these have impacted upon modern empirical science. Sounds dry but in fact was lots of fun. Sad that part is all over. Next step, to write it all up with recommendations as to how the activities might be used in the future.

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The early summer has been dominated by this project in Leicestershire, working with Andy Barret, The 1620 House, a Primary School and Dragon’s Breath Theatre. I can’t believe I had never heard of this extraordinary person, Sir Kenelm Digby. Our Ken was a proto scientist, diplomat, privateer, man of letters and inventor. Such an inspiration to all of us involved.

The House and Garden are a delight. Visitors are encouraged to truly interact with the place as most ‘things’ in the house are replica’s and therefore handleable. This was the home of the sister of Sir Kenelm. She who modernised the medieval building with new windows in 1620. The garden is laid out as of the time with a maze, herbarium and roses.

In the House we told the story of Sir Kenelm  Digby and his world.  I, as Dr Jon (Phenomenologist,)  took  on the role of a scientist looking back at 17th Century through the five senses, smell, taste, sound, sight and touch. Andy in role as an Historian, told the story of Sir Kenelm, of 17th Century  world view and the rise of science out of superstition. Sir Kenelm was the son of one of the Bonfire Plot conspirators.

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Back at the school the children spent three days with us to make manifest their own story of the visit to the 1620 House and of Sir Kenelm Digby, his wife Venetia, through puppetry, scientific experiments, writing (prose and poetry), image making and performance.

A fascinating journey for us all, with history and science made alive.

Following the British Museum Exhibition of Scythian Art and Artefacts  which I saw in 2017, I have been meaning to apply some of that inspiration to my mask work.  I was particularly drawn to the painted funerary masks from the Oglakhty burial site. These extraordinary objects are still attached to the skulls of the individuals  for whom they were made.  The originals are made of gypsum. The mask of the woman, which is somewhat better preserved, has remained in my consciousness as an inspiration.              I recently made a cast of an existing mask of a woman and then realised that there were some similarities between my mask and the Oglakhty mask. I have therefor tried to replicate the painted design from the ancient Scythian mask onto my contemporary version. They are not the same, my mask has the eyes open and the forehead finishes at a hairline rather than lapping over the cranium.  The overall proportions are not quite the same.

I have had to improvise and make up details which I cannot see in the source images, especially as some area’s have been damaged.        Painting this has given me a greater respect for the Scythian creators and their skill in making the original.  I have at present left the paining in this bold state, rather than distress the paint-job to beautify and make it more acceptable to modern audiences.  My instinct is to do some subtle shading to enhance the modelling and I am not sure I like my eye lid painting so I think that I will repaint them in the white. I have enjoyed the asymmetry of the design and applying it over the nearly symmetrical face.   There is a hypothesis that the painting replicates a tattoo .

Is this character an Amazon, an ancient feminine warrior ?    Certainly my original mask was intended to represent the strong mature woman.             This being my version of the Artemis archetype  (The Huntress).