frottage / land art / embracing a site-specific practice

I've been back from Paris for just over a week, which I'll write about properly in a separate post soon. It was just what I needed; Falmouth is the most wonderful place but it can be quite a bubble. Without realising it, you forget there's a whole world outside of Cornwall. 

My first day back at uni after Paris I had a crit. The idea of painting with light through non-traditional methods of photography in the case of artist Susan Derges was discussed and alternative methods of drawing by Tania Kovats were explored. Virginia introduced me to Helen Chadwick's series 'Viral Landscapes' in which she makes use of the diptych form. We spoke about Antoni Tapies' use of texture to create arresting abstract imagery. We also spoke about various process painters, where the methodical process behind the making is almost more important than the finished work.

After Paris, although in awe of the work I had seen, I was overwhelmed and found it difficult to get back into the swing of things. I felt that everything I was happy with from this year was either digital, written or conceptual. I had been in the studio for almost 6 weeks but I had little physical, tangible evidence to show for it. To put the doubts at the back of my mind I spent the week focusing my energies on writing my current essay assignment. I think that the writing of my essay, the contemplative thinking and intensive research into my area of interest, was just what I needed.

In comparison to where I was at the end of first year, my practice is leaps and bounds ahead. I finally have an area of concern that drives my work, of which I enjoy researching thoroughly and learning more about. My contextual thinking, reading and writing is constantly developing and evolving. I am past the point of interested in mapping and cartography, I'm near obsessed, forever finding ways to look at the world we inhabit in new and alternative ways. There is meaning behind the making, there is purpose. 

I'm trying to think of it this way; I have spent the past few weeks building a sort of foundation for the type of work I want to be making; thinking about what I'm trying to say, how I'm going to say it, how I'm going to own that work and make it my own. I have weeks left before hand in to let my practical develop now that I have a basis of thinking, context and historical research behind me.

Since starting to write my essay and in turn learning more about the Land Art (or Earth Art) movement, I have been thinking more about process-led making and the nature of the automatic, generated mark. Artists like Richard Long, Robert Smithson and Michelle Stuart make work directly with earth - they play with this idea of 'mapping' landscape but take it one step further, moving beyond the bounds of existing artistic vocabulary, diverging from established ways of working with and commenting on the world.

I feel that the way to break the disengagement I feel with my practice at present is to work in complete alliance with the landscape. I am inspired to fully embrace my subject of ‘earth’ in a more conceptual way and move away from making with materials like paint. Trying to translate the landscape with the artificiality of acrylics isn't genuine enough now; I want to go about creating work with conceptual suggestions that reach far beyond the surface.

Just as the Impressionists I admired the work of in galleries in Paris went out to practice their painting en plein air, visiting their site in different conditions at varying times of day, I want to use separate field trips to collect data for my own work. After all, I'm looking to map place in my work, not just a moment in a place. My concept of creative mapping is different to simply making work about landscape because temporality plays a part; by re-visiting the site numerous times I am attempting to eradicate the anomaly of 'a moment', trying instead to focus on the permanent spirit of place.

My separate trips will serve different purposes; a collection of data such as colour samples, elements of the natural surroundings, pencil studies in my field work sketchbook and free writing.

As I have mentioned, I am interested in moving away from the artificiality of paint and start to make materials myself, from scratch. I have been trying to learn more about the natural dye process; making vegetable, plant and fruit based dyes from the earth I am attempting to re-map, using the land's available materials such as pine needles, berries, earth and leaves to create tones. 

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Although dye, writing and collecting will form the basis of the work, the heart of the final piece will take the form of frottage. Frottage is a technique that originates from Surrealism, which involves taking rubbings from an uneven surface to form a work of art. Large frottage works of the rocks and the earth would allow me to really 'map out' my surroundings. I'm not sure yet whether or not to work on paper or linen; I will be trialling both. Linen could later be stretched as a canvas or simply be left raw edged, to hang pinned onto the wall either on its own or, running with my preferred diptych format, alongside a photographic print.

As much as I'd like to take digital photographs to hang alongside my 'earth-works', getting them printed on a matte, textured, high quality paper is a little out of budget. I don't want to carry on printing using the university printers, which give a glossy finish that just wouldn't sit right next to the organic elements of my work.

Remembering my discussion with Virginia about Susan Derges, I decided it would be interesting to push past the problem and think about taking up a new skill, learning about alternative processes of photography.  Chemigrams, dye destruction prints, luminograms and photograms were names of processes that intrigued me when I began researching. It could be interesting to play around with camera-less photography outdoors, letting the landscape play a big part in dictating the outcome. 

The final of my current plans for this project comes from a performative aspect. I have always documented the process of my work through instagram, but seeing as the process of this project will be so different to simply making in a studio, linked back to the 'process painters' I spoke about in my crit, it seems like the perfect opportunity to spotlight this element of 'making outdoors'.

I will be taking photographs of my pieces in progress, lying over the rocks and the earth that informed their surface marks from the frottage, completing the cyclic nature of the work. It will be a documentation of the process of going to the site and making work there. These photographs will form a second performative, documentation work - even a video of the process and the work coming to exist in it's habitat could be filmed.  

Today I went out to my first site - Swanpool Headland. This site has always been a place that I could spend hours at, somewhere I love to go alone. The perfect spot for my first 'map' in this new project.

The photographs in this post are from today's documentation. On this visit, I took preliminary frottage drawings from the rocks and the earthy areas around the site as well as collecting a variety of materials including berries, ferns, flowers and leaves that I will attempt to make natural dyes from. On my next visit I will be using these dyes to stain a piece of linen with the site's natural pigments and making a larger frottage on the surface of the linen.