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Archive for December, 2010

The Snow Sculptor

I guess the sight of the farmer taking his sheep off the field by the track should have been warning enough.

Farmers around here have been saying for months that it’s going to be a bad winter. It must be particularly bad, or drawn out for them to bring the sheep in (see post about Hogg Houses).

That afternoon it snowed heavily. By next morning it was up to the top of the walls.

We’ve had snow up here for the past few years, so it’s nothing new really. Sure it’s an inconvenience – everything has to be sledged down the track from the road when that’s open – food, coal, kids. Driving, even with a 4×4 isn’t always an option. Still, it keeps me fit and I probably spend more time outside when it snows than I do in the summer.

Its relative rarity in England means for many snow is fun. Schools close, people work from home and tobogganing and building snowmen become a national past-time.

It hasn’t always been like this. up to 150 years ago, winters were regularly fierce. Snow was a certainty and meant real hardship. The land was dead beneath its white funeral pall. Livestock. people died. Lots. It certainly wasn’t fun. Ever.

Things change and on the whole we cope with it now. The coldest countries obviously cope with it better than the south of England. But now the risk to survival has more or less gone, we no longer fear the snow and can have fun with it.

Every year I tell myself I’ll make the most of the quantity of snow we get on the mountain and make some art with it. It’s on the surafce a really easy material to work with. When the consistancy’s right it moulds, carves and sticks beautifully. You don’t even need special tools.

Red Solid

Anish Kapoor & Future Systems 'Red Solid' 2004 Photo: Jeffrey Debany

In 2003, freelance curator Lance Fung created the first SnowShow in Finnish Lapland. Pairing contemporary artists with architects and designers, the exhibitions were as much a lab in exploring the technical capabilities of snow and ice as creating great things of beauty.

Much as I’d love to really explore the qualities of the medium, the snow is just too variable on North Stainmore so I’d have to be much more modest in my expectations. Still, last year we did build an igloo in the traditional manner – casting blocks of compacted snow and ice, mixing with water to get the right consistency.

Walking up the track yesterday though, I was simply bowled over by the work of a far greater snow sculptor – the Pennine wind. The light was just right – lying low in the sky as happens at this time of year and only lasted 20 minutes or snow before everything was obliterated by a succession of fresh blizzards. Armed with my trusty Leica, I decided to shoot these in black and white. although digital I processed them in much the same way as I would have printed them in the darkroom:

Sometimes I miss shooting on Ilford FP4, printing on Agfa Record Rapid and splitting the mid-tones with Selenium toner. But those days are long gone, as has most of the stuff I used.

Still, life continues despite the weather. My studio is as busy as ever with a number of big pieces for next year. So far the only casualty is not being able to get to the opening of the Beyond Pattern show at Durham Art Gallery. It’s the touring show I created ‘Clad’ for in Wales last year, and features and smaller version of the installation made from fleece recycled from the original. Incidently, the rest of the fleece is currently being scoured and spun in Cornwall and will be woven into unique blankets / throws back in Wales in the New Year.

'Clad' - part of 'Beyond Pattern' for Oriel Davies, Newtown, Wales. Photo © Mark Thomas 2010

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