Part travelogue, part art …
If you believe in accident, that is. I find it more useful to hold to a karmic definition of accident, not as in the popular sense – of ‘retribution’ – but as a dynamic and creative, harmonising process whereby order can be brought out of chaos.
Art can be said to be an attempt to bring order. An accident in art, then, is a moment when say, an unintended mark made, combined with a certain kind of ‘frisson’, opens up a new path that, if taken, leads to some new order. Some recognise this as Synchronicity, a term coined by Carl Jung and defined a ‘significant coincidence’ (in a very small nutshell). Others, a gift from God.
My first experience of this phenomenon was when I was about 9 or 10, at school. We were to paint pictures, entitled ‘The Race’. It was for a competition being run by the Brooke Bond tea company. I liked drawing people so I painted a scene of kids running a race at a school sports day. During the process, I accidentally dropped a big splop of black onto the paper. It landed under the feet of one of my runners. I saw that it looked like a shadow and that it made the day look sunny. I put black shadows under the feet of all the runners. I won the competition. That year I was awarded the school’s prize for art. It thus became the general consensus that I was ‘good’ at art. Years later, I went to university and got myself a bachelor’s in Fine Art with first class honours and a few prizes.
It was many years before I understood why I won that prize. I came to see that it was probably because I had entered the elements of ‘ temperature’ and ‘weather’ into my painting, by the creative use of an accident. It is almost frightening to contemplate how much of my life has been the result of that ‘accidental’ plop of black paint onto white paper in that certain place at that certain moment!
The butterfly in the photo here led me on a journey through ‘The Butterfly Effect’, not the movies of that name, but a metaphor in Chaos Theory that “… encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions …”; where, ” … small differences in the initial condition of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long-term behavior of the system”.
In researching The Butterfly Effect, I came upon The Lorentz Attractor. During the years of my fine art degree, I would sometimes drop in on lectures in the Physics Department. One of these was called: “Can the present predict the future?” It was about the Lorenz Equation. The lecture inspired me to make a drawing. It was a figure floating passively on the surface of a swimming pool. He was surrounded by the letters and numbers of the Lorentz Equation.
The concept of Karma , Synchronicity, gifts from God and the mathematics of Lorenz seem all to address the question of the future consequences of present and past actions and with the purpose of bringing order to chaos. I am aware of constantly seeking ‘order’ in my life and in my art. Is it that ‘accident’ persistently directs attention to new methods of achieving order?
I’ve been making art for a good many years. My ‘progress’ (and I question if there is such a thing, like the idea of evolution) has been halting and disjointed. That’s been in parallel with my life path. I’ve had to create ‘on the run’ to a large extent, with too few stationary periods. Another move is on the horizon and in the sorting out process that comes with every removal, I realised that I’ve amassed a huge amount of material that needs referencing, developing or chucking. As I began this classifying work it came to me that nearly all of this material has come to me as a result of walking.
‘Material’ equals natural objects such as driftwood, shells, fossils; manmade ‘junk’ such as broken car mirrors picked up off the street. It also equals artistic techniques. It is also memories, reflections and stories that bring significance to my collections of found objects.
I want to share these memories and stories because in part in their re-telling, I more deeply grasp their meanings. It’s also a way of sharing order.
Walking then, on the metaphysical level, can be understood as bringing order.
The physical benefits of walking are well-documented elsewhere, so I won’t repeat them here, except to mention the role of endorphins. It is the increased use of the breath which releases endorphins (endogenous morphine) into the system. Endorphins act like opiates, they are analgesic and bring about a sense of well-being – a sense of freedom. I think a sense of freedom is necessary to creativity.
Breath is at the core of walking. It’s at the core of life. ‘Breath’ and ‘spirit’ can be seen as synonymous (the English word ‘breath’ comes from the Latin ‘spiritus’ which means ‘breath’). Are there any forms of meditation which do not concentrate on the breath?
Walking meditation is the practice of meditation in action. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tse, the founders of all the great world religions, travelled extensively and are reported to have walked, often significantly alone.
When walking, one is walking away – from the chaos of the world – and also towards – order. The purpose of treasure found on the trail, then, is for bringing order.
“More walks than works.” This seems to be true. One walk doesn’t equal one work of art.
For some artists who walk, the walk IS the work, like Hamish Fulton. He describes himself as a ‘Walking Artist’. At his website read: “Take Photographs. Leave no footprints”. It speaks of his philosophy of treading as lightly as possible on the earth. Another statement reads: “This is NOT Land Art”, for unlike Land artists (such as Chris Drury, Andy Goldsworthy , Richard Long)he doesn’t ‘do’ anything with the landscape, other than walk. I went to an exhibition of Fulton’s at the Tate in London a few years ago and there was nothing much on exhibit apart from a few photos. Yet I found it exhilarating. He had managed to bring back something from his walk more important than objects: himself renewed – in a different order. Here’s an extract from an article about Fulton’s artistic practice:
“Fulton’s time as a student at St Martin’s College of Art in London (1966-68) and his journeys in South Dakota and Montana in 1969, encouraged him to think that art could be ‘how you view life’, and not tied necessarily to the production of objects. He began to make short walks, and then to make photographic works about the experience of walking”.
Also, that he “… came to prominence in the late 1960s as one of a number of artists …exploring new forms of sculpture and landscape art. A central characteristic of their practice was a direct physical engagement with landscape”. http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/hamishfulton
Yet this concept and practise of the artist ‘engaging directly’ with landscape truly comes from an earlier 20th century artist. Had the St Ives artist Peter Lanyon lived long enough into the 20th/21st centuries (he died as a result of a gliding accident in 1957) to have had one, his web site would have read: “This is NOT abstract art”, for although he was one of a group of artists which included, for example, abstractionists Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson which gathered, during the war years of 1939-45, in St Ives, he never considered himself to be an abstract artist. He was native to St Ives and saw himself always as an artist of that landscape of abandoned tin mines. His greatest inspiration was Turner and that his own work belonged to the British Romantic landscape tradition. For me, Lanyon foreshadows such as Fulton and the Land Art Movement in that his works were referenced by his physical presence in the landscape. He had a practice of lying down and stretching out in the landscape he was painting and later, in flying above and across it. That he ‘became’ the landscape and the landscape, him, is seen in that many of his ‘landscapes’ were vertical (i.e. ‘figures’) rather than horizontal.
The Tate has an extensive collection – a feast – of Lanyon’s work at: http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ArtistWorks?cgroupid=999999961&artistid=1467&page=1
The world is disorderly. It’s often overwhelmingly so. These are the times when lightning strikes. Walking helps conquer chaos (you’re less likely to be struck by lightning if you’re on the move!) . I believe I’ve moved on from my drawing of the figure floating passively in that swimming pool surrounded by Lorenz’s ‘equation of chaos’ (my term). If I were to do that drawing again, I’d probably be stirring them up with a few ripples.
Part travelogue, part art. ‘Poetic Mapping: Walking into Art’, is going to be about the ‘places’ I walk and the art that springs from them. I’m cataloguing. I’m ordering. I’m journeying.
And sharing all that.
“All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don’t sit looking at it – walk”. Ayn Rand