Returning to write this post after a significant break from the Prospectus project and the best part of a year since our ‘residency’ at Huish Episcopi, it is somewhat at odds with the immediacy of many blogs. If some of the subtle nuances of the moments may be lost, what’s left is the things that have been filtered, reflected on, or re-remembered; the lasting details and the broader impressions that remain.
I recalled Mary Caddick’s words during our workshop; “feel free to copy someone else’s work”, with that in mind I decided to re-read everyone else’s posts as a route back in to the headspace of the project. I found that Sue had recounted this in one of her posts, how for her it ‘unlocked some unspoken rule’ of originality. Was it Sue’s post or my uneasiness at Mary’s words that caused it to stick with me too? Perhaps both, but as the posts expressed the meeting of our individual ideas and collective activity, much remained (or had become) pertinent to my thinking.
Firstly, Issy’s use of palindromes; looking to the centre from both sides, or as she put it, ‘reading its significance backwards from where [I am] now’, seemed a very apt echo for reflecting on Prospectus, both the motivations for my participation and what has changed since.
Natalie, in considering the work of Raqs Media Collective introduced the idea of a ‘school as factory’, ‘in which malleable material enters and is changed/formed or altered in some way’. I guess the major motivation for my participation in Prospectus was to become malleable again. Drawing on the language of Issy’s concern with land and rocks I feel I had thought myself to a standstill, become calcified, static, stuck, the weight of my subjects creating sedimentary layers of thinking, slowly compressing the same ground as I strove at once to make a living from my art, maintain integrity, and move towards a greater level of criticality. These pressures had led me to the point that I wasn’t really making any art at all. Prospectus was a chance to dig up that ground, to take on the characteristics of clay, to create a mould for a new form.
Having made work about the legacies of conflict and most particularly World War Two for a period of over ten years, I had become increasingly uneasy with many of the social, political and financial aspects of ‘remembrance’ culture. I had always accepted the paradox of my own ‘remembrance’. At the heart of my making had been an attempt to create tangible connections to that which I cannot ‘remember’; the often intangible, abstract or frankly incomprehensible. As Oliver Flexman once wrote about my work, ‘an unattainable gap but one that is most keenly felt’, but even then, it became hard to feel that my work would not inevitably be a sanitisation or even a romanisation of those events.
Instances such as a cut-out photo-frame encouraging me to put my head through and ‘Picture a Great Day Out’ at the National Memorial Arboretum (home to over 300 memorials to war dead), well-meaning friends buying me gifts from the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ juggernaut, the plethora of beers branded with the technology of war; Spitfire’s, Lancaster’s etc. had all begun to stand out to me and made me question their impact?
How do such paradoxes, acts of dissociation and cultural references, repeated millions of times over manifest themselves on a national or global level? How does the all-pervading nature of that conflict manifest itself today? Was (is) the apparent British obsession with WWII and its role in the creation of a national psyche a factor in voting to leave Europe? Far from George Santanaya’s celebrated phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Is ‘remembrance’ culture in part to blame for the rise of nationalist agendas across the globe? Can I make work in this arena without commodifying the trauma of others?
Huge questions that I couldn’t even begin to dissect during Prospectus. None-the-less the intensity of the stimuli encountered, and the debates engaged in as well as the introduction to new perspectives and sources of information can only accelerate the process of learning. This type of learning; challenges the normative, causes me to ask questions I may not have done ten years ago and brings about the potential for new ways of thinking and making. In Sue’s words, it helps me ‘to be awake to new ideas’.
Returning to the metaphor of malleable materials I recently picked up a catalogue from the exhibition ‘Heavier than Air’ by Mark Fairnington and Mark Dean at the Imperial War Museum, in the foreword, Angela Weight, Keeper of the Dept of Art wrote; ‘artists are the worms who aerate the compacted soil of history by the exercise of their imagination and allow fresh ideas to flourish for the benefit of us all’.
I aspire to be that worm; asking questions, uncovering histories, dissecting the mythologies that stand in for the embodied complexity and hopefully continuing to make work in new and challenging ways.
We are inescapably a product of our surroundings and the experience of working with the Prospectus artists and everyone who contributed to the programme of talks, workshops and events was a strong contributing factor in my desire to surround myself with more forward-thinking, sharp-minded creative individuals by enrolling on my MA at Bath Spa University.