In 2009, on Foundation, I coated several apples in white emulsion. Over the years the apples mummified, shrinking away to a core-shape and leaving a skin of disintegrating paint.DSC_4247

For the Heinrich Event residency, I coated apples with a variety of painting media – gesso, acrylic primer, damar varnish, glair (egg white), satin, thixotropic and thixotropic primer – and fell in love with them.

A couple of weeks ago I finished a collaborative residency in Rogue Project Space with Roger Bygott, Fiona Donald and Annie Harrison. We got together originally to put together a Launch Pad proposal, and through doing this found we shared similar interests in natural processes and the interplay between human and non-human systems. Our two weeks in the Project Space was an opportunity to find out whether we had sufficient common ground for future collaboration.

Following on from Bioremediation I, I bought a copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to detoxify. Imagine my surprise on finding that 18th century England imported most of its apples from Flanders.This became the starting point for a two-week investigation into apples and their role in human history.

I was surprised again to find out that apples had not originated in Turkey, as I had thought, but in the Tien Shan mountains between what are now China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and humans apparently didn’t not settle the area and start eating them until about 6,000 BC, while sea level was still rising from its Ice Age low.

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Thixotropic primer and thixotropic medium

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Egg white

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Egg white and cadmium red pigment

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Damar varnish

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One of the pieces that attracted the most attention at my Open Studio was a day-by-day wall journal that I kept of my activities. As the fortnight went on I worked more and more and wrote less and less…here it is:

Work Diary Day Two

Work Diary Day Two

Day 1: Monday 28th January
Arrived. Put up pictures. Moved table. Primed canvases. Arranged stuff. Stretched paper. Tested pigment on photocopy. Listed all the things I’d forgotten.

Day 2: Tuesday 29th January  arrived 12:38
(although this doesn’t include time spend ordering pigment and finding things)
The fantasy is always to just work for hours – in a flow state – yet somehow most of the time I let other things get in the way. To what extent is this avoidable?
TOLERATE UNCERTAINTY
Arrived. Two more coats primer. Tested colours – acrylic pigment. Tested tracing technique with Oak Gall Ink and True Blue liquid watercolour. Felt miserable. Went to Artangel Open presentation.

Day 3: Wednesday 30th January  arrived 12:58
(after going to Kevin Anderson presentation on climate change to city council)
Emails. Twitter. Blog post. Castlefield Gallery Associates work. Application. Mind map. Notes. One more coat primer. Looked at paint swatches. Met Jeni.

Day 4: Thursday 31st January  arrived 10:25
I have downloaded printer drivers onto the laptop. Tested various combinations of medium. Made tempera medium. Printed extra images. Applied pigment to back of two images. Tested brushes. Final coat primer. Went to Marmite Art Prize talk.

Day 5: Friday 1st February  arrived 9:48
(after talking to Bill)
WORK AS IF YOU HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
which is just as well, BECAUSE EVERYTHING TAKES LONGER THAN YOU EXPECT
Reduced pressure to achieve anything. Started painting Ursula le Guin. Listened to Clive Bell playing shakahachi on Radio 3.

Day 6: Monday 4th February
YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER ANY OF THE QUESTIONS YET

Day 7: Tuesday 5th February 
arrived 9:07
At last a sensible time to start.
Did stuff. Continued with Ursula le Guin. Painted portrait of Peter Victor on bathroom tile. Tempera splodge. Read about Icelandic debt restructuring. And Ecuadorean bond default. And Mark Lombardi. Tempera splodge. Went to Blyth’s. Fetched stuff from home. Read. Talked to Morry.

Day 8: Wednesday 6th February
Talked to Morry. Finished reading Mark Lombardi article. Emailed author. Put stuff on walls. Put up timeline (thanks Andy!). Painted. Thought. Went to shops. Put Post-Its on timeline. Did more stuff. Went to Pot Luck dinner.

Day 9: Thursday 7th February
FEEL LIKE I’M JUST GETTING STARTED
Printed out research. Mark Lombardi pictures. Planned set list. Planned outfit. Miscellaneous other printing. Sorted space out for Open Studio. Open Studio. Played DJ set at Morry’s after party.

Day 10: Friday 8th February
I stopped writing at this point, but it wasn’t over – I did two more afternoons in the space.

Yesterday I finished my Rule of 3 residency and packed up my temporary enormostudio at Islington Mill. I loved having the space to spread out, have zones, put the timeline up and consider it. I agree that a huge space isn’t essential, you have to work with your conditions rather than being endlessly dissatisfied and wishing they were “better” – but it will feel a bit of a challenge moving back to a space a quarter of the size. It’s been a treat.

And it’s reminded me of how to make work. At the start I had a fantasy of endless outpouring of paintings; I wanted to make some paintings concentrating purely on the visual and not worrying about achieving anything in particular, or getting any particular ideas across. Except that the paintings were already ideas-based, being portraits of people who’ve conceptualised, in some detail, alternative ways of organising society – whether it be via the medium of sci fi (Ursula K le Guin) or economics (Peter Victor) or children’s books (Tove Jansson). And except that I found I couldn’t work on these new pieces without relating them to what had gone before; once I’d brought the timeline and some of the mushroom-eaten portraits into the studio, everything started to make a lot more sense. I hadn’t looked at the previous paintings for a while, and it was good to see them again, on a wall this time. And to become aware of how much I love turquoise…

I’ve also been reminded that staring into space, thinking, and reading are all valid parts of the way I work, not to be skipped over or forbidden. By all means Make the Goddamn Work, but it doesn’t come ouf of a vacuum. I kept a diary on lining paper listing what I’d done each day, and it was one of the pieces that people commented on the most at the Open Studio.

Having said that, the area where I can just endlessly produce paintings is with the mark-making, where I rest my brain. Working with less familiar materials – acrylic, tempera – I had to play with them, and I was besotted with the intense colour and the velvety textures I could get with the tempera. Although velvety texture generally meant that there was too much pigment in the mix and it came off on your fingers. Every evening I wiped any surplus tempera onto stretched watercolour paper, making an alternative colour diary of my activities. One of the most exciting paintings I made was by pouring egg white (which gets left over when you make tempera) and sprinkling silver pigment, which comes in the form of little silvery slugs, onto it. As it dried the egg white cracked and curled, looking a little like a street map. Sadly the painting didn’t survive the journey home unscathed, but even broken it is still beautiful.

Day 3 of my Rule of Three residency, and I am reflecting or possibly procrastinating. It’s dark and very windy and tonight I will be staying at the Islington Mill B&B – what a luxury, not to have to battle my way back to Chorlton, especially as I was in such a rush this morning that I forgot my hat and scarf.

Yesterday I felt everything I was doing was rubbish and the possibility of making anything decent was nonexistent. I know this is a standard part of my creative process but it’s still uncomfortable. There is an added pressure in that there will be a public viewing of the fruits of this residency in only a week… I was reassured by Richard Scott that “In the real world, real artists don’t always get much done in a week. ” Maybe all I will show is that statement…Today I feel a strong desire to think and explore ideas – just stop and ponder – but don’t know whether this is constructive, fear-based, or a mixture of the two. In any case it is what I am doing. I also have a strong desire to have a nap.

The theme of my part of Rule of Three is”Talking about talking“, and it’s up to me how much I engage with it. It does intersect with my preoccupations, in that my work is idea- and information-based, and that considering the function of art/the artist is important to me. What ideas can I use this residency to communicate? Something about engaging with the consequences of our actions, being aware that our actions have meaning beyond our immediate surroundings. (I wonder if people would be more likely to feel that “environmental destruction” had something to do with them if it was instead described as “surroundings destruction”?)

This morning I went to a presentation made by climate scientist Kevin Anderson to a full meeting of Manchester City Council (see report at Manchester Climate Monthly). The picture he paints of where we are currently headed is pretty terrifying, and yet he is dynamic and positive enough that what he has to say is not depressing. I had hoped to make some drawings, but he was too far away and I didn’t have my glasses – every now and  again I am reminded that I am actually quite short-sighted. What he said made most other preoccupations seem irrelevant. ““We need to ask ourselves if we can live in a world 4 degrees warmer where trains can’t run, there are water and food fights and there is a breakdown in sewage and energy infrastructures,” he said.”If not, then we must do all we can and at all costs to avoid it.” And that means reducing emissions radically now. On the positive side, 60-70% of global emissions are produced by 1-5% of global population, so if they/we (anyone who flies is included in the top 5% of emitters) can be persuaded/made to stop then staying below 3 or 4 degrees is still possible.

Which got me to thinking, again, about the role air travel plays in the art world. All this jetting off to biennials and international festivals, art nomadism, is highly problematic. How useful is it really? Is it something people would consider reducing/going without? Exhibiting internationally is now a standard part of building an art career. What would it take for people to stop doing it? What is the best way to talk to people about it? If I start getting these kinds of opportunities, will I have the strength to say no?

Air travel is only 7% of UK emissions, but it’s one of the areas where individuals can make changes relatively easily; it’s a lot easier for me to not fly than it is for me to retrofit my house (been working on that for several years now, and hoping to actually get it done through the Carbon Co-op in time for next winter…) or for me to affect the Government’s road building policy. And there are so many other things that can be done – increasing local food growing, insulating our houses, improving public transport, replacing buses with trams, reducing our consumption of meat and dairy – and most if not all of these things are also part of creating a steady state economy, reducing economic inequality, and oh generally making things better. It’s all possible, with enough will. And a lot cheaper than the bank bailout, in the short as well as the long term.

All grist to the residency mill! I feel a mind map coming on…

So it’s January and as ever I am trying to do things a little better. This year, that involves the continuing effort to understand that I can’t do everything that I think off, and that’s okay; and the linked effort to prioritise sensibly. So my longstanding plan to do a digital version of Climates of Change, a 30m long banner mapping human technological and social developments against atmospheric carbon dioxide and global average temperature since the end of the last Ice Age, remains on hold.

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And so does my major website redesign/overhaul and my computer update day. Because, if I don’t make some work soon, I will burst. Luckily I’ve nearly finished painting my studio and, even better, I’m starting a short residency at Islington Mill in two weeks time. It’s the second in a series called Rule of Three http://www.islingtonmill.com/visual-arts-events.php?id=30 and I’ll be making work in the downstairs gallery space for ten days and then having an open studio, with two preview nights – one on Thursday 7th Feb (7-9pm) and another on Friday 8th, to tie in with a couple of talks – more info to follow when I have it. I’m really looking forward to having a block of time to get down to some painting. I’m planning on experimenting with water-based paints, and have just bought some water-based enamel – very exciting.