Thursday, 7 April 2011

Beacon Bimonthlies 4

Simon Withers: Speaking in Tongues

With the aromas of homemade soup and friendly chatter filling the Reading Room Chapel, it was clear to the large party of art followers that the fourth Beacon bimonthly was going to be as riveting as ever.
For the second time this year, founders of the Beacon organisation; Nicola Streeten and John Plowman, opened the doors of their home for a relaxed evening of artists' presentations, discussions and one diverse live art performance.
I am Laura Mahony, a final year student on the fine art BA course at The University of Lincoln. I have a particular interest in performance art.

Michael Sanders shows the audience objects such as bits of tail fins 
from pave-way laster guided bombs.

Opening the bimonthly event was Lincolnshire based artist Michael Sanders, winner of the 2011 ‘Opem’ exhibition at the Collection Gallery, Lincoln. Sanders, dressed in a flamboyant tailor- made suit, courtesy of Trevor Lewis, a Lincolnshire dressmaker, began his presentation of his politically influenced work.

Showing the audience objects such as tail fins of pave-way laser guided bombs, Sanders explained his fascination with the mechanical technology behind nuclear development. “Who sits down and designs this stuff?” he asked the audience. A question that he often asks himself, regarding the money that is pumped into such items that can lead to devastating effects, yet puts food on the table for the designers and engineers.

His ideas surrounding the absurdity of nuclear technology were reflected in a comment left on Sanders' website by an engineer turned radio producer, who had worked at the MOD for ten years in the run up to the cold war. Read out by Nicola Streeten, the writer, Simon Evans, explained the ‘dehumanization’ he witnessed whilst working alongside people making and creating such potentially dangerous materials; and the haunting recognition Sanders' photography illuminates of such a place. The work comes close to walking around the desolate and uninviting eastern parts of post-war Berlin, that whisper of austerity starring out at you from behind every windowpane.

As the sound of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ began playing, the audience relaxed into a wave of giggles as Sanders proclaimed, “If I was a sculptor, but then again, no.”

Black and white slides of his 1987 ‘razor wire chair’ were shown, influenced by a trip to the ‘Green Common’ in Molesworth and seeing the razor wire there. Evoking something of Mona Hatoum’s uneasy ‘furniture-esq’ sculpture, the barriers of what is normally conceived as a functional object were obscured into that of a dangerous threat. Drawing connotations of normality, familiarity and job skills, vs. the creation of hazarderous bombs and nuclear missiles. Again he asked the audience “who sits down and designs razor wire?”

Revealing he has been employed as a metal worker for the past twenty years, Sanders explained how this has also influenced his practice as an artist. On being asked to make a pharmaceutical air mill that grinds powder like a ‘dyson vacuum cleaner,’ it was disclosed to him that the mill was for British nuclear fuel. Keeping the drawings of the object, Sanders decided to build similar components from them for an installation exhibition piece in Hackney, a way of re-appropriating the technology and turning it back on itself.

Of course, having such a specialist interest, Sander’s work requires travelling and a certain amount of wilfulness. An excursion led him to Aldermaston, Berkshire, for a CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) demo, where the ‘atomic weapons research establishment’ resides. Desperate to gain a few photographs of the building after being told by a police officer this was absolutely forbidden, Sander’s decided to do so anyway through a gap in the fence.

Although such astuteness can pay off, it is not always the case, leaving him to the wonders of his imagination to create what could be ‘behind that fence.’ With this in mind he has made his own version of what could be a glass protector in the case of nuclear war, with the use of numerous telephone directories. He exclaimed that, “the amount of pages that would burn would reflect the strength of the bomb.”

Concluding his adventures as a ‘cold war tourist,’ Sander’s spoke about a previous exhibition, ‘RUIN,’ and its lead up to the ‘OPEM’ art prize. RUIN, exhibited at the Kruglack Gallery, MiraCosta College, Oceanside; came as part of a collaboration with fellow artist Walter Cotten. The 2008 project examined the damages caused to an ancient Babylonian world heritage site, by military forces. Highlighting the effect of damage caused to archaeological sites, RUIN aimed to emphasize the fact that nuclear power plants may not be able to be protected 10,000 years from now. Monumental marking schemes to deter the intrusion of nuclear waste disposal sites are being proposed. What Sanders questions is the likeliness of this being effective, in regards to a time duration that is impossible to comprehend.

The ‘Sand Bag Memorial’ was created for RUIN using material sourced locally in Oceanside. The sandbags took on similarities of the mud bricks of Babylon and the local adobe bricks. Structuring the monument from connotations of the seven-tiered Mayan temples, Babylonian structures and modern military bunkers, the piece attempted to install a sense of permanence within a historic and monumental context. This piece was put forward for the OPEM exhibition, inevitably winning the show's prize.

The audience during the interlude

Thomas Cuthbertson playing live music

After an interlude with live music from art student Thomas Cuthbertson and helpings of soup and bread, the congregation settled down for a live performance by Simon Withers.

Simon Withers: Speaking in Tongues

Walking towards a huge slab of wet clay lying on the floor, Withers, dressed head to toe in black bent to scoop a wad of it up.
Simon Withers: Speaking in Tongues

‘THWACK. THWACK. TWHACK. Thwackthwacktwack. THWACK.’

Sounds of clay hitting the wall of the chapel echoed around the high ceiling. It was questionable what was more shocking, the intensity of the clay hitting the wall, or the fact that the it was enveloping the walls of somebody’s home. The throws mediated between strong, forceful and vigorous and quick, sharp, gentle beats. Withers paced himself with the air of a drummer wanting to keep up the dissonant melody he was creating, until the last morsel of clay hit the wall.
Simon Withers: Speaking in Tongues

Lasting no more than ten minutes, Withers silently turned and walked away. The audience seated around the area, watched the clay splattered-wall. It represented something close to a large pile of horse manure, as it slowly began to plop onto the floor.

Withers once again entered the room, this time to an encore of clapping, and a series of questions regarding his work. Wanting to know more about the performance, the audience became inquisitive regarding the relationship between the clay and the action of throwing, and the theory behind such an event. Withers explained that the main body of his work and this piece, ‘Speaking in Tongues,’ does not necessarily concern any major theoretical or philosophical values. The aim of the work is simply to indulge in the visual context of what is being displayed. An exploration of aesthetics and sounds are discovered not just by the audience, but also by the artist. Although performance is not always the core subject of Withers’ practice, it is what the work in question ‘feels’ like that determines the body of its outcome. ‘Speaking in Tongues’ required a certain amount of control regarding the relationship between the artist, action and material element. Timing was a vital part of the performance, not wanting to cut it short or drag it on into the evening. The balance between being sparring with the clay and using excess amounts of it gave the piece a sense of calm, juxtaposed with the sudden thuds of it hitting the wall, bundled with an air of nervous energy and the question of ‘what will happen next?’

Simon Withers answers questions 
from the audience

Drawing connotations of abstract expressionism, Withers explained that his work aims simply to move the clay from one area to another, without the main physicality of his being literally moving it as a whole.  His relationship with clay derives from previous experiences at university. Using it to create objects, but preferring the material pre-fired and unglazed. His fascination with that raw material continues after his performance/sculptures, keeping the remains as they are, rather than forcing them to become another art piece of their own.

As of yet, he is still feeling his way around the performative side of his practice, working out the parameters and boundaries between himself and the audience, yet keeping that strong sense of robust and coy energy flowing. Almost like painting his own star constellations, the clay is subjected to movement by the hands of the artist, the creator, who controls the direction it will be dispersed in. the title of the piece reflects Withers' own feelings on the language of art. The search of finding justification for every stroke of paint on a canvas, or, in this case, every handful of clay thrown at the wall, can often claim dominance in the art world over the actual work in question. The necessity of written language to explain a practice that aims to communicate visual seems a little absurd. Although questioning art is not wrong, does it make sense to read about work before even seeing it? The predetermined explanation of an art piece can cause impaired judgment and a biased view based on another’s evaluation, rather than the clear observation of the individual.

Edward Crumpton talking about his work

Listening to Edward Crumpton talk about his work and inspirations gave the whimsical notion of cosy bedtime story. Graduating from the University of Lincoln in 2008, the Devonshire based artist draws influences from artists such as Richard Long, Anslem Kiefer and the use of vivid colour from the post –impressionist movement. Crumpton, nestled in an armchair, began by revisiting some of his past explorations of the British and American landscape.

During 2009, the adventurous artist began his voyage to the States, setting the diligent task of completing four drawings every six hours for the entirety of his 60 day stay. Using A4 paper divided up into quarters, he drew relentlessly at 3am, 9am, 9pm and 3pm. Travelling from Boston to Chicago and Memphis to New Mexico, Crumpton devoured the landscape around him. He began to explore aspects of the Surrealists experimentation by means of drawing, via the unconscious mind, due to sleep deprivation and forcing himself to work.  Crumpton’s descriptive re-encounters illustrated his determination as a ‘walking artist,’ sleeping next to abandoned mine shafts and bathing his sore feet in warm natural springs, in order to create a visual documentation of his journey.  The way in which he portrayed the Grand Canyon with its ‘luminous colours’ with ‘vivid brown and red ochre’s’ hints at the poetic depiction revealed in the 240 drawings he made in America.

Moving on to his next walk, ‘The Two Moors Way Walk,’ Crumpton explained the process in which he goes about creating work on the move. The 100 mile walk, going between Exmoor and Dartmoor, saw him complete one sketch every mile he went. Endeavouring such a task in the name of art compiles tremendous determination. Carrying a home made brief case consisting of paper, nibs, pens and sketches; completing 12-15 drawings a day. As the slideshow of his work rolled, he recited the poem ‘Dartmoor' by Samuel Wills;

Never a lovelier scene my eye has viewed
Than Dartmoor—that romantic solitude :
There mountain torrents rush through rock strewed glens,
A hundred springs gush up from secret dens ;
There, rock-piled slopes with rugged chasms yawn,
As if by thunderbolts asunder sawn ;
There, busy bees their soothing lullaby
Hum in the spiral foxglove's speckled eye :
The breeze the purple heath-bloom moves in turn

Excerpt from ‘Dartmoor’ Samuel Wills
Continuing his examination of Dartmoor, he read out an extract from the ‘Art of Richard Long: Complete Works.’ Using a strong west-country accent, he played out the role of a rambler asking Richard Long a parade of questions regarding his whereabouts in the woods and his reason for making a ‘living from walking.’ The ‘illusionary’ play ended with the artist explaining all questions with the simple answer ‘because I’m an artist;’ resulting in the rambler exclaiming, ‘well, that explains it then!’  Despite the humour, the re-enactment exemplified the hostility and suspicion artists can come across outside their studio spaces.

Concluding his talk, Crumpton went on to discuss his next line of work. He will be completing the ‘Mariners Way Walk,’ a journey which sailors in the 15th and 16th century carried out in order to get between the ports of Biddiford and Dartmouth. Once being the main importers of tobacco, the sea-men would carry out this journey in order to make a wage. In a commemoration to such an enormous walk, Crumpton will make a ‘passage house’ from rope, the structure of which comes from the traditional architecture of a house in Dartmoor. One house includes the famous walk right through it, a sign of respect for walks in past eras. Considering the historical context of the piece, he will be tying a sailors knot in the rope for every step he takes. Calculating the walk to around 140,000 steps, he will strategically tally his steps as he goes and create the sculpture in his Devonshire based studio. Listening to him talk ignited the passion and love for art I adhere to. The way in which he goes about not just his work, but his life style demonstrates his excitement for the subject.

As the air of inspiration could be felt around the room, Paul Stewart, University of Lincoln student and founder of the ‘Alternative Art College’ (AAC) shared a quick explanation of his protest-come-project. The ‘alternative’ school aims to share the freedom of knowledge in opposition to the rising cost of tuition fees. The school offers free lectures based and work shops, organized by the third year student, and involving not just art students, but lectures across the institution. Meeting every week in the homes of other participants including Toni Hankinson and Ross Cummings. 

The Beacon Bimonthlies 4 event was a study trip for The Alternative Art College. The event was filmed by Paul Stewart for inclusion in the ACC events archives.

Beacon from Paul Stewart on Vimeo.

Many thanks to guests and attendees at the Bimonthlies 4 and to partners below, who have made this programme of events possible.

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