It’s that time of year again. The end. To outsiders it looks like a quiet time. True, most of my work takes place outside, and the better the weather the busier I seem to be. The truth however is not quite like that. These dark, cold winter months are when the real work behind the projects happens. It’s when I sit down with the big list of stuff and think about what, how and when generally. So before I get really stuck in to next year’s work, here’s a quick reflection on all the 2011 stuff.
It’s been a year of outside. Of rediscovering my passion for music and photography, and what makes my creativity tick. It’s also been a year of probably taking too much on and occasionally suffering the consequences. But on the whole it’s been a good year, if not a great year. It’s certainly been an interesting journey….
The early weeks of the year were mostly spent on site visits for later projects in the UK, but the first piece out of the stable came in China.
Boxed was a reflection on landscape – the rugged Cumbrian one vs the rapidly growing Shanghai one. In the end it was the fast-paced Shanghai ethic that won through – due to a customs mix-ups the piece was built and installed within a couple of days! The time spent nervously waiting in China did however afford me the opportunity to blog in much more detail about the piece, and in many respects made it a much more solid piece.
That was March. April seemed to not happen. A mix of Easter hols, bank hols, & royal hols.
This year I did a couple of projects with schools. For many artists, this is bread and butter work, but for me this was a bit of a first. I’d kind of steered away from it for a variety of reasons – the same with running ‘workshops’ generally. However a couple of interesting takes on working in schools came my way, and besides, it’s good to take yourself out of your comfort zone once in a while. The first of these to finish was in the village school in Wreay near Carlisle.
It became apparent quite early on that they’d actually quite like a nice big, ambitious installation really, because. Just because. That in itself was quite a fun prospect. For them it was a chance to do something big and ambitious. Big and ambitious are things that don’t really happen in the national curriculum so for them it was a chance to go outside their comfort zone too. I loved this piece. It was a great school to work with and the staff and kids were all incredible. The final piece did all the things I wanted it to do. There was a ‘wow’ factor in the scale of it, and there was enough detail in the little bits which kept it interesting. Above all, it was and experiential piece – the sounds of the windmills, the way the wind moved across the meadow in waves. The movement of colour. The playfulness of the whole field coming alive. It was a difficult thing to document – not even the video footage comes close to capturing what it was like to be there. Pure magic. And you really had to be there.
A last minute change in plan meant that June was spent finding locations and securing permissions again for other projects.
July saw the start to the silly summer. At one time it looked as though there was an installation going in or coming out every week for the whole summer. A prospect, which when I sat down to work out how, realised I just couldn’t do on my own and resulted in employing a regular assistant – Beckie. And the madness began.
The centre piece for the summer was always going to be ‘SevenSpires’ – an installation of giant red spires along half a mile of the Oxford Canal. Before then though was another workshop (one of those years) and the resulting ’84 Spires’ piece in Oundle.
TreeCreepers (2 of them to start off with) were installed in the woods and big paper installations were assembled and disassembled in the studio, along with the seven spires.
For the whole of the summer the studio became a hive of activity. It even remained reasonably ordered throughout. I’m lucky that I have a reasonably sizeable studio / workshop. However, 5m spires and 3m cube paper installations pushed its capacity on occasions.
Every one of the spires tested and finished in the studio before being shipped to Northamptonshire – all the fabric panels being sewn on my trusty machine into the early hours. ‘SevenSpires’ was another enjoyable installation. It took the best part of a year to plan and realise it, every last detail and logistic covered so that the final install went in without a hitch. The install teams were brilliant, and it. just. Worked.
The next piece was done on a much shorter timescale and minuscule budget and sort of didn’t…
The ‘twisted’ pieces for the Wirksworth Festival in Derbyshire should have been even more impressive. I had an entire mill building to play with for a start. On paper it was fairly straight forward. A few thousand metres of thread woven between two wooden frames. The festival would build the frames for me and even supply all the extra pairs of hands needed to make it in the four days I had between other pieces. Simple. Only it wasn’t. The frames weren’t ready on time, and the volunteer install teams were different each day, and sometimes not there at all. Beckie and I managed to build the smaller piece in the twisting alleyways of Puzzle Gardens in a day and hinted at what could have been with the bigger one. For a whole host of reasons the bigger piece never got finished and was subsequently dismantled. It’s sad when things go so wrong so quickly. It’s still a good piece, albeit in my head for now, but it’s going to have to stop by in my ‘to be continued’ file for a bit.
Still, no time for mourning. There were still more pieces to realise.
I sweated a bit over the next piece – ‘Pinched’. A three metre high paper installation at a trade fair in Monaco. The piece had been in development for months. Test pieces were built. Changes made. Details refined. It took much longer to get the piece to work as well as I had wanted it to. It must have changed shape, colour, size, construction method countless times over the development stages. The final 3,000 pieces of paper were die cut and the piece was part assembled and shipped over ahead of us. Again the weeks of planning and testing paid off as the piece had to be installed in just one and a half days. Despite some last-minute hiccups with automated lighting and French fire regulations it was still up and finished in time, and it was all worthwhile.
Working in the south of France for a week may sound great, but there was yet more to do back in the UK.
The other school project was due to go in before the start of the Autumn term. However, fabrication and budget issues were delaying things and the busy summer schedule meant it was October before we could get back to it. The Learning Path at a school in Kendal consisted of three main pieces – ‘self reflection’ – a Perfect circle mirror polished into a bank of lockers; ‘text + book’ – a 12m long text piece along a glass corridor culminating in a book crashing through a window; and ‘pencilcase’ – a display theatre constructed from 2,800 red Cumberland pencils. Although I personally really like the pieces, and it was an interesting approach to working in schools, I’m still not convinced they didn’t actually want a mural or a mosaic after all. At the end of the day, the subtlety and layered readings of the presented pieces might just be lost in the mayhem of secondary school. Time will tell. Either way, despite a fantastic experience with the first school and some great kids and occasional staff at the second school, I’m in no hurry to make schools work a staple of my work. Still, it was good to have a taster.
The year ended with the delivery of the wonderful woven blankets from the previous year’s Clad installation. Just in time for the hard winter that’s bound to happen up here on my mountain.
So it’s been a busy year. The projects above were only half the pieces I made this year. In addition to all that there was also presentations and research in rural Sweden and Paris, other projects worked up and costed which never came off, various articles and features, lectures and a divorce. So, before I dive into the start of the 2012 projects, time for a sit down and a nice cup of tea.
There. That’s nice.