In considering new ways of working with Lidar I had started to superimpose a series of Lidar images creating a rotating vortex of space and time, to then be used as the basis for a series of work. See the image below, Manipluted Lidar cloud point scans using Photoshop and printed onto acetate (A4 appox).
This is a direction that has connections with the idea of Earth Tides and the work of David Hockney's 'Joiners', listen below...
Part of my aim over the coming year is to build into my work the use and results created from using Lidar, taking scans from a specific area
What is Lidar?
Lidar is a 360-degree scanning method that measures distances to a target by sending a pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. The resulting point-cloud map can be used in combination with stills images to create a coloured navigatable space map that can be viewed from any angle.
See how Lidar has been used in artworks through The Entropy Project and Semblance directed by Asad Khan (PhD student at Edinburgh College of Art)
Why use Lidar?
Lidar gives me the opportunity to move around a site which walking does not allow me to do easily or quickly, to see and explore a space from many positions in quick succession. This, therefore, allows me to jump to various positions quickly to see the scene from different viewpoints and perspectives. If working in a studio context and working from a point-of-reference subject, such as a still life or life model, you could easily walk up to it/them, work around and see the subject from different positions gaining an understanding and insight for the relationship of space and form. Working in the landscape this is not as easily achieved. I had thought of employing the use of a drone with a camera attached, but as I have mentioned earlier in my blog, photographs distort space and perspectives and this is where the use of Lidar is of value to me because it creates a detailed and accurate spatial point-cloud map, which I can access and navigate to positions not easily obtained through walking or climbing.
What are the aims for 2019?
My first aim is to gain an insight, as to how to use the technology. This will start with an induction in using the equipment, a Leica BLK360 and then use of the Scanner over a period of time between 18th December 2018 and 7th January 2019. If I feel this is a technology that could be employed in my practice the next stage is to focus on specific location within the UK before employig this methodology to the Alps and to locations I have been walking for many years.
I shall post some of the results from my first Lidar scans here in a Padlet site, as I explore this technology.
What are the challenges?
These are mainly practical in nature, accessing the site and the technology has to be used in certain temperature ranges, weather conditions and has a limited range of 60m.
What impact might this have on the work?
The very nature of making these scans takes away from the event itself and therefore means revisiting a site with the relevant equipment. So this aspect takes away from experience and becomes more scientific in nature.
The challenge and interest here for the artwork is to combine the detailed information gathered (just as I am already doing with photographs) whilst working more intuitively and responding to memory aids.
Echoes of past works
In the past, I have explored creating maps, sections of landscapes in a series called 'Landmarks' 2009, https://www.oliverreed.me
Untitled 2010: Chalk pastel on paper 70x1000cm
Untitled 2010: Chalk pastel on paper 70x1000cm
This idea of isolating and containing has returned to my thoughts, but I am unsure if this is a particular focus I wish to explore? I which to fuse those specifics, to some degree, with those of the visceral of aexperience.
Future Memories, a bit of an oxymoron, but what is the opposite of memory? The possibility to see into the future, to have foresight? With this in mind, where does the work go next? I have many questions and areas of investigation to explore, both within the studio and the fieldwork research aspect of the work, questions such as:
Stay with the square format or move to circular.
Combining botanical or other details into the more expressive abstracted marks and forms.
Frottage is something else to explore and utilise within the work.
Working form the moving images incorporating and responding to repeated sequences of video footage rather than still images.
Turn my focus to the Highlands of Scotland and employ the methods I have been working in the French Alps into this landscape and see how the work changes as the geomorphology changes.
However, I am still keen and have a desire to be amongst these higher alpine landscapes, for the vast array of rock formations, glaciers, snow and ice. Yes, some of these features can be found in the highlands of Scotland and closer to home and can often be more atmospheric due to the latitude and climate conditions, but it is the variety of nature, of hanging valleys and the geomorphology that attracts me back to the Alps, as well as the warmer climate, wine, and other cultural differences and nuances.
Chaptering is an approach to explore to help contain working ideas, possibly using single terms and phrases that are linked to walking, climbing, the weather conditions and glaciated formations, terms such as, whiteout, snowdrift, foothills, plateau, high plateau, pinnacle, gully, hanging valley, cirque or corrie, crevasse, fjord, cairn, false peak, scree field,tundra, ice sheet, glacier, u-shaped valley, snowline, ice wall and moraine along with many other words not listed here.
One branch of contemporary art is focused on creating ephemeral works, which in themselves are therefore based 'in' memory or having a finite longevity. I myself, have made sculptures in the past which have echoed life-cycles, a piece of works have been conceived and made, placed and 'lived' in the landscape before then being destroyed and burnt to create charcoal, which in turn was used to created and develop Memory Drawings of that particular sculptural form.
The artist and sculptor Atsuo- Okamoto created a project whereby he cuts up a granite stone and sends each section to friends around the world, to keep for a period of time (between 1-5 years) before asking for them to be returning to complete the stone form once again, he states, "In that process, the each stone changes subtly by absorbing the color of plants, air and environment. After some period of time, I collect each piece and restore them to the original stone. A stone scattered to the various places of the world and infiltrated by the color and memories of the place and people is restored again. But it isn't an original stone already. It's a volume that contains memories of each of its surroundings and cultures of the world."
Reflecting on my research over the past few years and my investigation into memory and visualization, I feel there is now less solidity to my ideas than at the time of my initial investigations. I am also aware that the more I focus the more I notice changes taking place and that nothing is fixed, grounded or constant as to how the world reveals itself to us, morphed by our own constructs slightly changing every minute of every day, as our own inner world evolves through the pliability and plasticity of our neurons in the brain. As we visit and revisit an object, subject, event or location, it has changed slightly, it is a reconsolidation of a memory, as you yourself have changed slightly, a different person with a slightly different perspective of yourself and the world you inhabit. Therefore, as we navigate the world we live in, we need to try and grab hold on to some form of our own reality and these aspects are starting to impact and manifest themselves into the work.
During the BBC programme, Imagine… Hockney, The Queen And The Royal Peculiar, 2018. There is a sequence that its shown which dates back to Hockney been interviewed in 2006 talking about the series of works he was working towards which became known as, A Bigger Picture, an exhibition in 2012 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London based on painting around his home in the Yorkshire Wolds. The segment opens with Hockney Plein Air painting and we are introduced to Hockney working on an easel painting in the woods. We learn he has been there some time, but the weather conditions have changed..."I’m still painting the mist...You paint with memory even when your here. No such thing as objectivity. You're painting from memory of yesterday morning. We always see with memory and seeing each person's memory is a bit different... we can’t be looking at the same things, can we? We’re all on our own."
To finish with, a quote from the book The Little Prince by Antonie de Saint-Exupery (chapter 21), "It is only in the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye".
I am now prepared, about to set off on a walk, the route has been planned, the rucksack packed, water, food and map are priorities, lunch spots suggested and alternative routes and watercourses noted; just in case any encounters with Pyrenean Mountain Dog or the temperature gets too hot for the dogs or we just feel like changing the route or shortening the walk for some reason. The first steps are made following a track whilst making the additional minor adjustment to the rucksack or clothing.
The American artists James Turrell has been exploring space and perception through the untouchable phenomena of light and someone whose work has had a lasting impression since first experiencing his exhibition 'Air Mass' at the Hayward Gallery, London 1993. Turrell’s medium is pure light. He says, “My work has no object, no image and no focus. With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? ”
For me, seeing this work for the first time was a real physical and emotional encounter, disorientating my own perceptions and sense of space.
The ability to be able to reach out and extend a limb or move the body into a space as a means of understanding is innate within us, and therefore the perception of space is only an illusion until we change our position and move through that space and time. Have you ever reached out to do a simple task, such as hang your clothes on a single clothesline stretched across the garden? In my experience, confronted and focused on this single line running horizontally across my vision, with the background foliage out of my focus, when I have reached out, I can sometimes miss the line with my hand or not quite grab hold of it, the perceived distance and spatial location of the coloured and translucent plastic line is not where I have imagined it to be.
There have been many books written in recent year utilising the word touch in their titles, using the word touch as a metaphor for reaching out internally to something within, either a spiritually or existential understanding, books such as;
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (1988) about a climber who was left for dead and his amazing self-determination and got to safety - exploring the edges of the human condition, mental strength and looking within - the void being a metaphor for the soul and mental strength
Touching the Rock by John M. Hull (1990) about a lecturer who slowly becomes blind.
Touching from a Distance (1995) about Ian Curtis of the UK late 1970's post-punk band, Joy Division.
Touching Distance by James Cracknell (2012). British Olympic rower who overcame the impact of an accident of the frontal lobe and later a seizure.
The use of the word touch, of a haptic as a metaphor for a form of perception is one area of research that has developed and grown in recent years.
Haptic perception means literally the ability "to grasp something". Perception, in this case, is achieved through the active exploration of surfaces and objects by a moving subject. The ability to experience and interpret things based on touch and movement, as would be common to practice for partially sighted or blind people.
Merleau-Ponty philosophy deals with the nature of consciousness and argues that our engagement with the world moves beyond that of just the brain but of activities of the body's engagement with the world, this is outlined in Komarine Romdenh-Romluc book Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, were she states, "...we need to recognise that the body is a form of consciousness. Moreover, since it is the body's interactions with the world that constitute mental states and activities, consciousness is not separate from the environment." (Romdenh-Romluc: 3)
In his article about Sensory Experience, "Phenomenological approaches to landscape archaeology" (2008) Christopher Tilley says, “To understand landscapes phenomenologically requires the art of walking in and through them. to touch and be touched by them. An experience of landscape mediated by trains or cars or air planes is always partial or distanciated. The view from the airplane is, of course, inhuman. We do not normally see or experience landscapes in this manner. The view from the car or train window is sensorily deprived: experience is reduced to vision. The phenomenologist acknowledges the multisensorial qualities of our human experiences of landscape, that a landscape is simultaneously a visionscape, a touchscape, a soundscape, a smellscape, and a tastescape. These different perceptive experiences occur all at once. Thus, our experience is always synaesthetic (a mingling or blending of the senses), whether we realize or acknowledge this or not.” (Tilley: 272-273)
I use haptics in two ways, as part of the experience whilst walking, as a means to reinforce my memory of the texture of a space and place back in the studio, but I will also collect stones and rocks, 'borrowing' them from the landscape (a further project is remembering where they all came from and returning them) to examine back in the studio, studying their colour, form, texture and have them visible whilst working, just as I would a sketch or photograph.
In his book Human Haptic Perception by Martin Grunwald explains that historically psychologists has emphasised that, “…touch did not function as effectively as vison in detecting outlines of shapes, because the touch is less important than vision.” but goes on to say, “However, this situation has changed lately (speaking in 2008). During the last decade a number of laboratories around the world have dedicated a great deal of effort and research resources to studying how to touch works. It is true that human vision is outstanding perceptual modality that allows sighted people to rapidly gather highly precise information from objects in space and the spatial relationships. However, when human perceivers actively explore objects with their hands, a larger number of sensory inputs and high Quality of sensory information are extracted the further processing.” (Grunwald: 183)
Exploring further the ideas of haptics, memory and walking, in a recent book, The New Mountaineer in Late Victorian Britain, Materiality, Modernity, and the Haptic Sublime by Alan McNee, McNee introduces the phrase called the Haptic Sublime which builds upon the phrase, The Sublime (a theory developed by Edmund Burke in the mid-eighteenth century and refined by Emanuel Kant, Sublime meaning to a greatness beyond all possibility of measurement, elevating the mind such as physical, spiritual, or artistical). However, McNee suggests that 'The Sublime' was rarely used in Victorian times by mountaineer writers and suggests that a new aesthetic of mountain appreciation, the ‘haptic sublime’ emerged (as he calls it) an expression of this new emphasis on physical engagement. McNee says…“The sublime, so important to eighteenth and early nine-tenth century theories of aesthetics, might seem to have been banished from mountaineering discourse by this stage. Yet it stages a dramatic reappearance in the second half of the nineteenth century, reinvigorated and transformed by an infusion of physical exercise and hazardous contact with mountain landscapes, and by a heightened concern with materiality.
There is a certain irony in the fact that materiality and vigorous physicality were the very qualities most closely associated with the New Mountaineers, the breed of climbers accused by some commentators of being immune to mountain aesthetics. Many of the same writers who took positions on the New Mountaineer question also emphasized that the ability to estimate the true nature and magnitude of mountain features was at least partly contingent on the prior physical immersion of the viewer in that landscape. In many cases they presented that physical connection as directly responsible for creating a powerful, even transcendent emotional experience in the climber. For all that mountaineering writers rarely used the word ‘sublime’, I contend that a new version of the sublime is precisely what they were claiming to have experienced.” (McNee: 149)
“The haptic sublime involves an encounter with mountain landscapes in which the human subject experiences close physical contact – sometimes painful and dangerous, sometimes exhilarating and satisfying, but always involving some kind of transcendent experience brought about through physical proximity to rock faces, ice walls, or snow slopes. Like the eighteenth-century sublime, it is to some degree an aesthetic of mastery, of overcoming a threat or difficulty.
To this extent it represents continuity with the sublime of the previous century, and can be seen as continuing a particular type of human subjectivity into the late nineteenth century.” (McNee:151)
“It also involves the presence of real danger, rather than the potential or imagined threat that had previously been associated with the sublime. This change is connected to the wider preoccupations of the period outlined in the previous chapter; in particular, to the growing interest in and under- standing of the physiology of effort and fatigue, and to theories about the physical basis of aesthetic feelings and the physiology of the mind. Above all, perhaps, it is linked to the unprecedented phenomenon of human beings taking pleasure, or at least a kind of satisfaction, in physical effort, exhaustion, and deliberate exposure to discomfort and danger.” (McNee:152)
“The Victorian mountaineers privileged this supposed ability to make sense of the mountain world through which they moved, and made ambitious claims for their superior quality of experience. They emphasized their own embodied understanding of the mountains, in contrast to that of the tourist or artist – the ‘merely contemplative observer’ – who viewed the mountains from a safe distance, eschewing the danger and discomfort of physical proximity and contact. This close proximity to the object of sublime experience is what above all distinguishes this new form of sublimity from its predecessors.” (McNee:152)
“This discourse of the sublime was haptic rather than tactile in that it involved the whole body, and it did not claim to replace visual with physical perception. Instead it assumed that the two types of perception were inextricably linked – that the quality of visual experience was heightened by physical experience. This claim was made explicitly and repeatedly by a number of mountaineering writers, most notably Stephen. It conflicted directly with Ruskin’s position that the ‘real beauty of the Alps’ was available to any observer with the correct tools to perceive it, and with his earlier insistence in Of Mountain Beauty (1856)” (McNee:153)
Although unaware of Alan McNee’s writing before my own approaches to recording and engaging with the landscape, it is a good deception of my processes and experiences to help inform the creative aspect back in the studio. This sense of the 'Haptic Sublime' of the physical experience helps to create and reinforces my Haptic Memory and as I have already mentioned that Grunwald stated, “..when human perceivers actively explore objects with their hands, a larger number of sensory inputs and high Quality of sensory information are extracted the further processing.” (Grunwald: 183)
One aspect I haven't explored is the use of frottage as a visualization aid. Laura Donkers, a contemporary Hebridean artist talks about making works in the landscape and her desire for engaging the senses says, “In an attempt to unify these senses, I employ frottage. This method defies the analytical mind allows drawn, responsive marks to emerge through the intra-action of my contact with the surface of the subject and the apparatus of drawing. The frottage process turns haptic encounter into a visual realm through and counter with the world-as-it-is, using touch to guide what comes to be seen, in counterpoint to the ‘pictorial turn’.
Through talking to Dr Rebecca Lawson, Institute of Psychology, University of Liverpool has written expensively of haptics as she stated to me,“…most of the work I have done with haptics involves small objects and near space (that's the nature of our sense of touch) so I'm not sure it would relate too well to our sense of larger landscape.”
Of course, haptics is about the objects in our ‘local’ vicinity that we can to touch, but what about trying to capture a memory of experiential haptics? A series of touches of different forms, spaces and shapes through different moments in time and then try and build a visual landscape of that experience in space and time through touch? Piecing together sections of an experience, a walk through what I shall call Localized Haptic Memory, (LHM). So, through a series of LHM's we can begin to build upon and add to our other senses, deepening our understating for the wider spatial environment, which I have called, Applied Localised Haptic Memory (ALHM).
Below are two rocks/boulders Ceillac, France 2017.
The colours, marks and texture is an aspect I try to reflect in the work, see below.
Four details of two works, VoP5 and VoP10 (2017)
The physicality of painting back in the studio echoes the physical movement through the landscape and my Employed Localised Haptic Memory. Remembering the feelings and emotions as your feet find their way, a level path or surface to follow, for instance, at times knocked or slip as you walk over thin shale of rocks and stones. As you paint, the knife or brush either glides or stutters over the unlaying surface. The palette knife is like the ice axe or crampon, carving and scraping the edge of the glaciated paint, scraping the landscape a visceral relationship ensues and echoes between both the hand and making and the hands and feet of walking.
In the book ‘Touching the Rock’ by John Hull, a University Lecturer in 1983 who during mid-career became blind and which lead him to write his book says, “If the blind live in time, the deaf live in space. The deaf measuring time by seeing movement if however the deaf gaze out on a world in which there is no movement such as the stars, the deserted street, or some mountain scenery, then there is a quality of permanence static consistency. In losing the kind of awareness of space, blind people have less awareness of and changeability. The world of the Blind is more ephemeral since sounds come and go.”(HULL: 93)
Tilley, C., (2008) "Phenomenological approaches to landscape archaeology" from David, B. and Thomas, J., Handbook of landscape archaeology pp.271-276, Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press.
So there I am, after a walk, away from the event, a time and place, but also separated and disconnected by a stretch of time and space from the studio. In the doldrums, a no man's land, with no purpose to recall events, revisit my memories of a location, to recall the textures of a rock or boulder field, employing my LHM, piecing together elements of a walk to remember a place in a time. Maybe this is an important aspect; to let memories develop, mature and sink in, to sleep on the event, and to allow for those episodic memories to pass over to the area of the brain that encodes long-term memories. However, when it's time to recall memories, what exactly will I be recalling, how accurate is my recall and what aspect do I find myself recalling? Is accuracy and details important? How much will my mind wander and my romantic imagination for the hills take over?
"Memory storage comes down to two factors: emotion and repetition," says Dr Fiona Kerr, "If you have a strong emotional or sense-related connection with a person, the storage path to their name will be stronger. "If it wasn't [an emotional experience] our brains slot it into our short-term memory and we tend to get rid of stuff that we don't come back to,"
"Names that are used on a regular basis are recalled easier due to repetition learning. By making your brain pay additional attention, your chances of recalling the names later are greater. You won't blank out if you have some sort of funny riddle or something that will make you remember that person's name next time," Dr F. Kerr.
Have you ever recalled an event with friends or family and are at odds with the narrative, the context; the location, the weather, “...it was sunny”, person A, “well it rained most of the time”, says person B, etc. That kind of thing.
There was the notion that memories were fixed, thinking we could recall memories again and again, but in the past decade there has been a paradigm shift. The neuroscientists Daniela Schiller says that we know now that this is only partially accurate. "At first, this does happen, but every time it is retrieved it is then restored in what’s known as ‘Memory Re-Consolidation’".
“Not only are our memories faulty (anyone who has uncovered old diaries knows that), but more importantly Schiller says, "our memories change each time they are recalled. What we recall is only a facsimile of things gone by." Schiller goes on to say that, "...memories are malleable constructs that are reconstructed with each recall. We all recognize that our memories are like Swiss cheese; what we now know is that they are more like processed cheese."
"What we remember changes each time we recall the event. The slightly changed memory is now embedded as “real,” only to be reconstructed with the next recall.
One implication of Schiller’s work is that memory isn’t like a file in our brain, but more like a story that is edited every time we tell it. To each re-telling there are attached emotional details. So when the story is altered feelings are also reshaped.
Schiller says, “My conclusion is that memory is what you are now. Not in pictures, not in recordings. Your memory is who you are now.” So if we tell our stories differently, the emotions that are elicited will also differ. An altered story is also an altered interior life.”
In an Abstract, to a paper by Fiona N. Newell 2004, she states, “Further evidence from neuroimaging studies suggests that the perceptual processes involved in object and spatial recognition are underpinned by shared neural resources. Taken together, these studies suggest that the traditional view of sensory systems processing object information in an independent manner is breaking down such that, conversely, the wealth of evidence now lies firmly in favour of sensory systems which are highly interactive all along the information processing hierarchy, and which can modulate and affect high-level perceptual outcomes.”
Multisensory Object Perception in the Primate Brain, Chapter 14 Visuo-haptic Perception of Objects and Scenes pp 251
The German artist Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) has produced a series of works that appear blurred that explore the use of photography and memory. He says, in a Guardian article by Tom McCarthy (22nd Sept 2011) Tom suggests that“…the blur serves as a perfect general metaphor for memory…” with Richter stating…"I blur to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant…"
Gerhard Richter's Townscape Paris. Photograph: Gerhard Richter/Tate
“When I paint from a photograph, conscious thinking is eliminated. I don’t know what I am doing. My work is far closer to the informal than to any kind of ‘realism’. The photograph has an abstraction of its own, which is not easy to see through.” -Richter
I agree with Richter here, photographs can give us an altered reading of what we think we see, it not only distorts the subject, at the time of taking the photography and our instant viewing and replay of the image, but then this has an additional impact on our memory of that event, scene or subject, which following on from Schiller, is distorted again, a further facsimile. The camera can changes;
Perspective - the lens distorts space.
Light - It can overcompensate - different lighting conditions, how many times have you taken a photo of clouds and have been a grey or blank muted tone, the aperture overcompensates. This is why when I am working ‘in the field’ and teaching I say to students take many photos of the same location look up, down. If using automatic settings or smartphones.
Colours - It distorts colours, in fact, every camera manufacturer and possibly every camera will not have the exactly the same colour signature, and then printing these out can be distorted again.
However, I feel photographs are double-edged, in that they can help and hinder memory. They can help to aid details, yes, but at the same time they distort the perspective and colours of a subject and in turn, distorts the memory of a location or event.
In his article, The Memory of Photography David Bate writes, "Thus, as “artificial memory” device a photograph intersects with a “natural memory” in complex ways. It can be said that photographic images do not destroy personal memories, but that they interact with them in very specific ways, which may not always be conscious. The binarism implied in the distinction between cultural memory and individual memory collapses as photography re-figures their relationship.
With photographs, memory is both fixed and fluid: social and personal. There is nothing neutral here. As sites of memory, photographic images (whether digital or analogue) offer not a view on history but, as mnemic devices, are perceptual phenomena upon which a historical representation may be constructed. Social memory is interfered with by photography precisely because of its affective and subjective status. So in the demand for an intellectual response to pictures or for the priority of their subjective affect, the concept of “screen memories” offers an alternative framework. As composite formations, photographs, like childhood memories, have a sharpness and innocence that belie meanings that have far more potential significance than is often attributed to them, which means that in terms of history and memory, photographs demand analysis rather than hypnotic reverie.
The Neurologist Daniela Schiller again, writing in a paper in 2011, saying…“It is now widely recognized that human memory is not an exact reproduction of past experiences but is instead an imperfect process that is prone to various kinds of errors and distortions.”
So here I am, in the studio, separated by a 1000 miles from the space and place I have visited, and disconnected by time, from those events by a month or so. Where to begin? Which event or walk should I start my artists/forensic investigations? Which drawings, photographs, rock samples do I review, mull over or print-out to aid my memory recall, to start piecing back together my mini-expedition?
In the book ‘What is Painting’ James Elkins writes about the Studio as a kind of psychosis...“Painting is Alchemy. Its materials are worked without knowledge of the properties, by blind experiment, by the feel of the pain” he goes on to say that“…painting is born in the smelly studio were the painter works in isolation, for hours or even years on end… the artist had to spend time shut up with oils and solvents, staring at glass or wooden surfaces, smeared with pigments, trying to smear them onto the surface in turn. Painting is peculiar in that respect. Writers and composers are much closer to the finished product: their words or notes appear instantly and cleaning on the page – there is no struggle forming the letters ABC or writing the notes – but painters have to work in morass of stubborn substances. For Those reasons the act of painting is a kind of insanity.”(James Elkins 1999: 9, 147)
He goes on to say, “Sooner or later every one of the painter’s possessions will get stained. First to go are the studio clothes and the old sneakers that get the full shower of paint every day. Next are the painters favourite books, the ones that have to be consulted in the studio. Then come the better clothes, one after another as they are worn just once into the studio and end up with the inevitable stain. The Last object to be stained is often the living room couch, one place where it is possible to relax in comfort and forget the studio. When the couch is stained, the painter has become a different creature from ordinary people, and there is no turning back”
” Working in a studio means leaving the clean world of normal life moving into a shadowy domain when everything bears the marks of a singular obsession. Outside the studio, furniture is clean and comfortable; inside, it’s cold and unpleasant. Outside, the walls are monochrome or pleasantly patterned in wallpapered; inside, they are scarred with meaningless graffiti. Outside, floors can be mopped and vacuumed; inside, they build up layers of crusty paint that can only be scraped away or torn up with the floor itself. The studio is a necessary insanity. Perhaps writers have insanities of paper, or of the erasers, but they cannot compare with the multicoloured dementia caused by fluids and stone.” (James Elkins 1999: 148, 149)
Once I am back home from my travels, I do not start painting immediately, I reflect on the various walks and consider those that had a particular resonance and stuck with me. That may be to do with height gain, distance, the weather or the geomorphology, or it may be to so with something small or feature, an ice bridge of rock fall, a wall of scree. I shall remember, visualizing a walk, thinking about the various changes of textures, colours, light and forms. If I found a particularly interesting rock on a walk that I picked up, I shall touch and study it, turning it over in my hands and examining the colours within whilst thinking about the walk.
These rocks become visual reference aids, helping me to visualise the nuances for a location, making it more tangible and real, rather than simply looking at a series of single viewpoint photographs, which to some extent, are false recording of the space, as I have already mentioned, distorting the perspective, colours and lacking any sense of the emotional and visceral experience.
In a recent paper by Laura Donker entitled Drawing: Knowledge as Process at a drawing symposium in Plymouth (an artist and ecologies who lives on North Uist of how her artistic engagement with the landscape is a physical one, working ‘in’ the landscape rather than ‘in’ the studio) she states, “My process of drawing does not seek to create pictures of my seeing but is about finding a way to really see what I’m looking at. A face-to-face encounter with the substance of place, and how I just my gaze and my perception, only when I’m caught up subconsciously in action of ‘coming to see’: A blind engagement that gains sight as the drawing progresses.”
It is only then that I start to focus on a location and search out those images related to that site or space. These are not just images of one subject or place, but images that are taken at stages along a route, path and walk. This often includes images taken on the return journey, when the lighting conditions have changed, as the Earth has changed its position relative to the Sun and the Sun appears higher or lower in the sky.
I will then print out a selection of images both in colour and black and white, sometimes printing them out onto acetates and overlaying them, cutting sections from one image and adding it to another or drawing and painting over the top of an image or underneath an acetate to making a series of collages, creating hybrid space, and the beginnings of something that may begin to resonate with me about a walk or space. This becomes a way of moving from the photographic depiction and allow me to visually collage my memories to capture an essence of aspects of a walk or location, similar in a way to the way Richter worked by blurring his works. I will also surround myself in the studio itself with images, images of the same walk, which in some way acts as a form of virtual view, akin to my prereferral vision during the walk.
This use of collage and manipulating the scene is not new, Pieter Bruegel's (1525-1530 – 1569) painting, 'Hunters in the Snow' which includes a vast mountain range in the background something not found in Holland and therefore defiantly not a typical Dutch landscape. Bruegel has superimposed an imagery expanse of cliff-faces and sharp peaks, a memory after a visit to the Alps.
3438 ET Embrun, 3637 OT Mont Viso, 3537 ET Guillestre, 3630 OT Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, the recognisable blue Institut Géographique National, (IGN) maps are a quintessential element of travelling to the French Alps, the equivalent of the 1:25000 (orange) OS Maps in the UK. They open up a realm of possibilities of roads to follow, walking routes to explore, and peaks and circs to tackle. Giving you an understanding of how one valley or pass is connected to the next or what peaks you may be able to see in the distance when at the top of another. How the geomorphology changes as the geological strata changes, and which regions have glaciers to explore or rivers and woods to follow. As you look deeper into the map, your finger picks up a route and you begin to follow, as you do so your memories start rekindling, taking you back to those places you traversed the previous season or from some years ago, with your finger pressed against firmly into the map, as those the harder you press the more you will remember, saying to yourself, that was where we saw that ice bridge, that was where we could see Mont Viso, that was where....
"Many cultures around the world use nursery rhymes to soothe, entertain, and teach their young children. Simple, repetitive songs are often the first steps in learning language – their rhyming and rhythmic structure helps babies, and children and adults too, to remember and retain words." (Dr Jessica Mordsley)
Look at other areas of life where we may use repetition to Learn and reinform, such as through sport and religious practices or as in rehearsing Tibetan Buddhist sacred scriptures or 'Beating the Bounds', an event that takes place in English and Welsh Christian Parishes, traditionally on Ascension day, a common occurrence, especially in those times before maps were easily available, a parish community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, sharing the knowledge of where they lay, and pray for protection and blessings for the lands. This ritual, one of many that we find in cultures and religions reinforms to build stronger synaptic connections to remembering events, embedding those important aspects of our lives and a sense of stability and continuity.
This is not unique to religious communities, sportsmen and women also go through a sequence of rituals before performing in an event for instance, as seen in examples, such as a high jumper preparing to jump over the bar, simulating the movement of their body and the shape they need to create as the approach and jump, or as you may see Owen Farrell, England's Rugby Union player as he prepares to kick a conversion, who tilts and moves his head and eyes, visualizing the trajectory and path, drawing an imaginary line, from the rugby ball to the point he has focused on, beyond and between the posts, or as seen by a skier preparing their movements for a downhill run (visualization 1) and a final example, as in the film 'Rush' whereby the actor Chris Hemsworth, playing James Hunt, is laid on the floor, imaginary he his in on the racing circuit in his Formula 1 car, wheel in hand and turning it whilst he flaps his feet to indicate the dip of the clutch, change gear, break or to accelerate, visualiaing he sequences of quick movements needing to take place, so they become more intutive and instinctive.
As artists, of course, we often do this through making sketches, studies, maquettes and cameos of ideas, reimagining and rehearsing how something may look before being developed and refined. My own actions of revisiting locations and repeating walks help to remind me, and reinform my own memories for a space; its terrain, geology, geomorphology, light and flora.
Laura Donkers writes, “As contemporary lives become increasingly encoded and distanced from the land, so there are fewer opportunities to directly connect with the places where we live. To address this concern I use ‘field research’ methods such as drawing, fieldwalking, and digital recording, to collect primary observations that trigger understandings of connection, presenting experiences of living “first hand”, in touch with the environment, community and self.”
Whilst walking, features emerge and disappear within the blink of an eye, reveal themselves then fade away. Deep Time is also present in my thoughts, imagining how a stone was part of rock which was part of a mountain, which was under a 1km of snow and ice, which once travelled through the equator. For me, returning to a specific location and repeating a walk, helps me to remember and reinform those memories, yet at the same time, see the place anew, with a different focus and interest. In essence, when I am walking, 'in' a landscape, I feel my mind is living in the Quantum world and the theory of Quantum Mechanics, whereby different aspect of my brain and sensory inputs can be both on or off or on and off at the same time. I am receptive to the conditions I experience, have a certain level of knowledge for the place I find myself, yet can experience the same location as though for the first time, seeing the same things as though anew and yet for the first time.
Alva Noë (Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley) whose work explores perception and focuses on, perceptual presence and thought presence, as being linked. He states in this book Varieties of Presence, “the world is not simply available; it is achieved rather than given”. This resonated with me, he goes on to say, “The World shows up for us in experience only insofar as we know how to make contact with it, or, to use a different metaphor, only insofar as we are able to bring it into focus. Reason why art is so important to us is that it recapitulates this fundamental fact about our relationship to the world around us, the world is blank and flat until we understand it.”
Whilst visiting locations, I will often make watercolour studies, take numerous photographs and collect rocks. The combination of the experience of the walk, making direct drawing and paintings along with physically engaging, examining and collecting rocks or ‘memory stones’ as I may call them, act as visualization aids and triggers for memories and my perceptions of an event and space when returning to the studio, and when detached from the physical location. In fact, it is arguably this binary relationship between the embodied experience of ‘being in’ the landscape and being in the studio that is central to my enquiry, exploring how we might convey the sense and memory of a place through the process of painting.
In the book entitled 'Whistler' about the American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) it describes how Whilster researched his series of paintings (known as the 'Nocturnes') made around the river Thames, London, in winter during the 1870's, Richard Dorment one of the co-authors of the book states, "Several witnesses had left descriptions of the memory technique in action. Thomas Way remembered Whistler leaning on the Embankment wall, looking out of the river, then turning his back on the vista and reciting what he saw in 'a sort of chant’ "The houses, the sky is lighter than the water, the house darkest. There are eight houses, the second is the lowest the fifth highest. The tone of all is the same. The first has two lighted windows, one above the other; the second has four.” With his back still to the view, Whistler would then say ‘Now, see if I have learned it’. It was up to Way to correct any mistakes in the recitation that followed. Back in the studio, it was important to commit this mental image to canvas as quickly as possible. With the painstaking technique he had learned in Paris this was hard to do." (Dorment: 121-122)
For the past few years, I have made a sketchbook before travelling. The reason for making my own sketchbook is that I cannot buy the size and format I would like with the range of watercolour papers inside. Before a trip, I may stain some of the pages with diluted ink, just to have the option of working on a colour ground and a slightly different starting point and atmosphere.
The works created within the sketchbook are often more representational than the finished larger paintings. As I am working on-location, I am working directly from life, I am capturing a sense of a specific space, trying to record the forms of the land; trees, rocks and water. This process may inform me of shapes and connections between natural forms, but more importantly, these direct observations, are in fact informing my memory for shapes and spaces, textures and colours, visualizing through the process of drawing and painting and allowing me to experiment with the actions of the brush or pencil various types of strokes and marks to capture a subject, which are then mirrored back in the studio.
Tim Ingold in his book ’Making’ (2013) talks about Learning from the Saami people of North-eastern Finland giving Ingold a practical task, but did not instruct him on how to complete the task. Although he initially thought they were being unhelpful he soon realised that “they wanted me to understand that only one can really know things – that is, from the very inside of being – is through a process of self-discovery.”He goes on to states, “The mere provision of information holds no guarantee of knowledge, let alone of understanding.” and follows with, “It is, in short, by watching, listening and feeling – by paying attention to what the world tell us -that we learn.” (Ingold: 1)
Both Alva Noe and Tim Ingold articulate exactly what I am aiming to do as a practitioner, through visiting and revisiting a location I am gaining an understanding of my surroundings through using my senses, developing my knowledge of the environment, making memory drawings before putting pen to paper back in the studio and disconnected from the environment I had explored.
The American artists James Turrell has been exploring space and perception through the untouchable phenomena of light and someone whose work has had a lasting impression since first experiencing his exhibition 'Air Mass' at the Hayward Gallery, London 1993. Turrell’s medium is pure light. He says, “My work has no object, no image and no focus. With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? ”
For me, seeing this work for the first time was a real physical and emotional encounter with the work, disorientating my own perceptions and sense of space. The sense to be able to 'reach out', extend a limb or move the body through space as a means of understanding is innate within us and without a physical action, the perception of space is an illusion. Have you ever reached out to do a simple task, such as putting the washing out on a single clothesline stretched across the garden? In my experience, when hanging the first item and reaching out to grab the line I have sometimes missed it altogether and my perceived distance is at odds with the physical reality and the line is not where I had percived it to be.
As I articulated in the text to accompany my solo exhibition 2017/18 entitled ‘Varieties of Presence’ after the book of the same name (2012), by Alva Noë.
“Observing an environment is not seeing it. The space needs to be explored and experienced through a symbiotic relationship between the objective and the subjective, the physical aspects, its perceptual and sensorial experience. We engage with the space through a combination of beliefs, emotions, senses, knowledge, space and time.”
The same place and space is constantly altering, it is not the same place and space it was a minute ago; the environment is active, the trees growing, the weather conditions changing and the observer themselves, are, constantly adjusting their position and focus, reframing their perspective for a space and therefore understanding of that space.
An understanding and knowledge for a location evolves through repeated visits, as one becomes more attuned to the specific aspects and nuances that in one visit may have been overlooked or ignored; exploring the geology one year and the flora the next, slowly the observer develops a greater understanding of a space and enhances their visually perceived knowledge.
It’s not until you set off on a day’s walk do you experience some of these nuances; the cold early starts when the sun is below the horizon and the narrow valleys and corries are cast in shadow, making these spaces look flat and dark, distorting the perspective and interpretation of the perceived space. Then, once the sun has risen above the high mountain tops, the nature of the space is transformed. However, you only become aware of these changes on your return journey, when later that day, and when the earth has rotated by some 75˚ over a 5-hour period, with the sun appearing to have changed position, making these supposed dark and hidden spaces visible, giving a completely different perceived sense of space, mood and therefore, reading."
In his book, Mountains of the Mind, Robert MacFarlane talks about Glaciers and Ice and his seeing how as the light changes throughout the day, changing the effects light on the ice. “The glacier had a different character of each part of the day. In the cold mornings it was crisply white. At noon the sun carved the surface of the ice into grooves of tiny perishable ice trees, each one only a few inches high: a miniature silver and blue forest which stretched away from miles up and down the glacier. The late afternoon light - a rich liquid light - turned the big dun rocks on the ice into tawny beasts and made the pools of meltwater which gathered in the glacier’s hollows, glint like black lacquer." (MacFarlane 2008: 109)
In my own exhibition text I continue to say, "As you walk, your perception of a space and time changes, objects and distances can appear close yet take many hours to walk to. Yet the reverse can be said, for a peak that may seem hours away you can find yourself reaching its summit in little or no time. Similarly, whilst part of the environment you are walking into may look flat yet steep, featureless and without form, can, from another angle, or change in light, appear sharp, jagged and not so steep as first thought. As you are walking at a steady pace you can become aware of how the environment changes the higher you climb; the feeling of the terrain underfoot, the colours, textures, climate, geology, fauna and flora, each playing on your perception and impacting upon your own reading of the space. You are simultaneously a part of the space as much as you are perceiving it."
A visual interpretation of seeing a scene from different viewpoint and perspectives can be seen in this work created in 1827 by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), 'The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidô Road (Kisoji no oku Amida-ga-taki)', one in a series of works based on a tour of waterfalls in various provinces (Shokoku taki meguri). The perspective and viewpoint of the waterfall in this woodcut, if different form the rest of the image. There is a natural regression of space from the figures in the foreground on the left and the cascading waterfall behind, yet when we turn to view the swirling pool of water from which the waterfall is cascading, this is view as flat and from above, defying gravity.
'The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidô Road (Kisoji no oku Amida-ga-taki) 1827.
Katsushika Hokusai [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dorment. R, MacDonald, M.F. 1994. James McNeill Whistler Tate Publishing
Noë, A. 2012 Varieties of Presence Harvard University Press.