In celebration of a beautiful weekend, I have a very special treat for you all! I recently became acquainted with the work of ecological artist, Linda Gordon (see November post). After viewing her works and perusing her website, I asked her if she would mind being interviewed for my blog and she graciously agreed! I must say I have learned a tremendous amount through corresponding with Linda, and I hope you all will enjoy getting to know her a little better through reading her responses below. Enjoy!
What inspires you most when you are in the natural environment?
I would say it is my feeling of connection with the earth and air, and all of its life forms. It is not so much any particular aspects of the natural environment that attract me – the beauty of plants and leaves, the texture of stone or the strength of trees for instance. All this is a vital part of my experience of course, but I am not setting out to look for these things – the beauty arises naturally out of my process of connecting.
I am not terribly interested in labelling and categorising natural phenomena (though it would be useful to know a bit more about edible plants and fungi)! I am always thrilled to go out with people who can talk knowledgeably to me about plants or the local geology or cultural history, and I absorb as much information as I can, for it deepens and enriches my total experience. But it is not my chief motivation for immersing myself in the natural world.
The feeling of belonging, of being an intrinsic part of the movement of life, and being at home in my immediate environment – for me this has to come first. Not just a superficial everyday sort of cosy feeling – but operating on all levels of being – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
How do you go about creating an ecological art installation in the natural environment? What is your thought process?
This is a fairly typical process for my small-scale transient pieces. On first going out, I breathe in the fresh air and the energy of the life all around. I feel a sense of expansion. My senses begin to open and I become more and more relaxed. The rhythm of my breathing and my walking slow down and become one, and worries gradually drop away. This is such a habit with me that it has become second nature, though for workshops, I might give people little breathing exercises, or ask them to pay attention to the sensations in their feet as they cross different types of terrain.
After a while, I start to develop a sort of heightened awareness of forms, shapes, patterns of growth etc. – they sort of jump out at me, and it is then that I tune in to a sort of vibrant aliveness in everything – and I can often be quite moved by simple things like raindrops on grass, or the way a branch of leaves is growing. Then I start to pick up materials. I might play around with them for a bit, and have a few trial runs, then put them in a bag and take them home until my ideas have matured. I eventually bring them back to make the final work. The actual making of the work is pretty quick and spontaneous (I don’t like to plan very much in advance – only the practicalities, like remembering to bring my camera).
I have always made short-lived works, often involving photography and written text, but until fairly recently I have kept them largely private. Now this way of working seems to be dominating my practice, though I hope that I will still make large installations from time to time. In the current economic climate, opportunities for suitable commissions and paid residencies are becoming more and more difficult to find. It is not just for this reason however, that my work seems to be changing, though I haven’t, as yet, quite figured out what is going on!
Large-scale installations follow a similar pattern to what I said above, but involve more time and resources. For me, my work has to come out of my interaction with a place – which is why I have often been attracted to a residency situation, which gives me time to fully experience my surroundings and allow my ideas to develop. I enjoyed very much my year-long residency in a remote area of rural Northumberland. For ‘The Way of the Swallows’, which I made there, I knew I had a huge barn to use for part of my final exhibition (I was not obliged to use it but I couldn’t resist the challenge of activating such a large space) – so this was a starting point. For this sort of work, my aim is to make the space ‘sing’.
Various aspects of the place and my surroundings were playing in my mind for some time, such as the moors and woodland, the farming, the passing of the seasons, and the summer swallows flying through the barn, always on the same trajectory. The idea took shape, but I didn’t hurry it – I spent weeks and weeks in paint shops everywhere I went, because I particularly wanted JCB yellow the same as the farm machinery I saw around – but could not get it in non-gloss, So in the end I got it specially mixed . I tell you this to show the great lengths I will go to in order to make sure my response to a place is precise! And I am perfectly sure nobody noticed!
However, I also think on some level, whether we acknowledge it or not, we all sense the difference between a work that ‘sings’ and one that doesn’t.
I should mention that for all types of work, I take masses of photos right from the beginning – not so much as an end in themselves, but as a good way of homing in on characteristic detail, and reminding myself of things afterwards.
Based on your own experiences, what do you see as the benefits of exploring the natural world through art?
The intimate and immediate contact with the natural environment is the most important thing for me – a full embodied experience, putting me in touch with life on an infinitely vaster scale than my own, and feeling myself to be a tiny, but important part of it all. It is like aligning my personal creativity with the creative energy of the universe.
There are many other benefits too! With regular explorations, one is continually developing more sensitivity, wonder and respect for non-human life. Your blog post and pictures of your children’s environmental art project reminded me that this is something we are probably all born with, and which can be so easily stifled as we grow and learn to survive in a harsh human world.
Again, like a small child, one can try out a huge number of passing ideas outdoors in a very short time – arranging and rearranging found materials, flitting from place to place, without intellectualising, or worrying about being tidy.
On my group walks or workshops, I think it gives people a deeper and more rewarding experience of the natural environment, and greater confidence in their own unique creativity. People can discover new forms of expression and ways of interpreting the environment through art-making, and for quite a few this has become a permanent hobby.
There is also the stimulation and support of being out together with like-minded people. We all absorb a lot of information and sharpen observational skills just through our interactions with the environment and each other.
I have only mentioned the benefits to us as humans, but of course what also benefits as we become more in tune with the environment, is the environment itself – which is, after all, our home.
What is one piece of advice that you might offer to teachers wishing to incorporate environmental art into their classroom curriculum?
I suppose like most things it comes down to planning – other than introductory talks, pictures or videos of practising artists, and discussions about the natural environment, the most important thing for me would be a preliminary visit to get a full sense of the place, before the actual ‘making’ day.
It might involve a range of pleasurable activities: perhaps sitting under a tree and listening to relevant stories, poetry or music – leaf and bark rubbings – or writing lists of, say, everything you can see that is (for example) not green – or everything you can hear within a given time. It could involve fun things like rolling down a grassy bank.
Students might also perhaps be allowed to pick up and take away ‘treasures’ (leaves, stones, twigs etc) for inspiration.
Thank you, Linda, for indulging my questions and being so wonderful and willing to share your stories! I hope all of you will take a moment to look at both her personal website and website concerning her walking workshops for even more inspiration! There is so much to be learned from not only creating your own works of art, but also learning about the processes of other artists/lifelong explorers!
‘Til later…Happy Explorations!