To make art these days means freedom to employ any pursuit as media; art can be made out of anything. My own work sometimes takes the form of meetings between people, the telling of stories, the collection of ephemera, the organization of feasting events, even the use of time to express meaning. Yet I find myself increasingly returning to the pencil. While drawing I set up boundaries and parameters to work within, formulae that I will follow obediently. Within limits I find much more interesting possibilities. The pencil itself represents constraint, an object that limits but with which you can do so much.
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
There is no such thing as a favourite book. There are too many times, too many contexts, too many good words, too many stories. But here’s one I keep coming back to, or even better nine-in-one.
I love to pick things. There is a rhythm, a time and a place for everything and I have memories and associations with finding and picking things at their particular time of year, in their particular place. Mussels when the tide is out on the rocks by my house in Seapoint, mushrooms on the roadside in Wicklow to be laid out on newspaper for categorization after, plucking sorrel from a grassy cliff side in Castletownbere and separating blackberries: one for me, one for the bag from hedgerows just about anywhere they grow.
I’ve observed a rhythm in the finding of things, the picking of edible treasures, whether from woods or seashores. Some time is passed idly looking with one or two lucky finds. There is mild boredom. A time passes where nothing, nothing at all is found. There is mild despair and almost a decision to give up. But no, you prevail, you hunt harder. Only then, after that empty hopeless feeling that no treasure will be got, after you have flung your empty basket into the bush and stamped your feet, only then from the corner of your eye will you find your bounty, whether it’s a hollow full of bushes laden with blackberries or a generous cluster of ceps.
The sea shore
Happiness for me is running full speed into a sea.
The Forest by Pawel Althamer
One of the most influential experiences of my life, and one which my thoughts frequent, happened at the Mobile Academy. The MA was a traveling initiative that gathered one hundred international artists in Warsaw to take part in courses structured as artistic projects, accompanied by field research, debate, excursions and presentations, under a theme of Ghosts, Spectres, Phantoms and the Places Where They Live.
One event was a field trip from Warsaw entitled The Forest, led by Polish artist Pawel Althamer. My knowledge of contemporary art at the time was barely existent, despite or perhaps because of just graduating from four years studying History of Art at TCD, and I had never before heard Althamer’s name. Since then, like a word just discovered, I see his name everywhere, listed in major exhibitions and biennales around the world.
The Forest was to be a re-enactment of a mythologized incident in Althamer’s past, where for his diploma project, he had ‘smoked three funny cigarettes, had strange sensations, escaped from the studio, left the academy, took a bus to the nearest forest, got undressed and ran into the woods’. The remake of this incident involved a group of about twenty of us, artists, dancers, dramaturgs, taking a number of buses out of Warsaw and into the woodlands at 10.00pm on a cool September night for a walk that was to last ‘a couple of hours’. Althamer met us at the mouth of the woods with a companion and, without a word, led us in single file into the lightless forest. At this point a member of the group, heavily pregnant, wisely stepped right back on the bus, not trusting Althamer’s estimated time or the darkness of the woods looming before us.
We walked for hours, led by a hand on each other’s shoulders and sensually deprived but for occasional faint glowworm light and the changing textures underfoot, sometimes tangled roots, sometimes soft earth, rotting leaves, or brittle twigs. The walking went on, and on, until we felt the space around us open up, the trees giving way to a clear night sky, the familiar crunch of gravel under our steps. We had arrived in a manmade clearing and in the moonlight of the open sky could just make out a modernist building, Corbusier-like, on columns with flat walls in the distance. We continued past the structure, two dimensional for the monochrome darkness, into another clearing. Althamer stopped and spoke for the first time to us. He told us how during the Second World War a village of people had been led to this part of the woods on a dark night, walking the way we had just come: men, women and children. They had been lined up and shot dead where we now stood. Years later the mass grave was discovered and a memorial built; a modernist building, a gravelled open space. As he finished telling us this story, some of our group began taking photographs. With every flash for an instant it was revealed what we were standing before, rows and rows, football pitches in length, of small white identical crosses. Flashed into visibility, burnt on our retina for an instant, and then disappearing again.
We left the clearing with Althamer, silent once again, and walked for hours more. Eight hours in total, enough to garner a small mutiny eventually from the dancers in our group who hadn’t agreed to an all night forest walk before morning rehearsal with an artist who would never tell us where we were, only that it was just ‘a little more, a little more’. The Forest ended with us emerging blinking into pink sunrise in a Warsaw suburb. Althamer stopped a man delivering fresh baked buns and convinced him to give us one each to eat, sticky sweet, waiting for a bus.
By Fiona Hallinan (Fink) notalittlepony.com
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