When Fiona Hingston brought a collection of bird-eaten apples to ‘show and tell’ during a Prospectus planning meeting in February, it sparked something in me and in other members of the group too. Winter fuel for Blackbirds, Starlings and Fieldfares they had been pecked into incredibly pleasing sculptural forms, the flesh disseminated to leave just the (sometimes almost transparent) skin and core remaining.
Having grown up with an apple orchard it was a phenomenon I had noticed myself, had thought about responding to in some way, but perhaps it was enough just to have noticed and enjoyed them? Similarly, Fiona stated that if she hadn’t had the meeting they would have stayed on the ground and rotten.
In the context of many attempts to conceptualise ‘what is learning’ this represented a simpler parallel facet, namely how coming together as a group of artists could cause us to act on things that might otherwise be neglected and how, sharing, listening and discussion could reawaken ideas or ‘noticings’ already within us.
Sue brought a Tate giveaway postcard of the work, ‘The Loop’ by Francis Alys, charting the artists circumnavigation of the globe to avoid the fence dividing Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, USA. In the context of this intelligent and thought-provoking work, observations around the apples broadened from the rhythms of nature, to market economies, climate change, global politics and beyond. More often in recent years the lack of harsh winters means the fallen apples aren’t such a vital foodstuff and the warmer temperatures cause the apples to rot before the ‘sculptures’ are formed. The decline in native starlings means there have been less birds to create them and so these aesthetic objects are imbued with a host of other resonances.
Of course, the apple is the most loaded of symbols from Eden to Newton and the archetypal ‘rotten apple’ and so stereotypically associated with Somerset. In many ways, it exemplifies ideas of ‘localism’ that can be a rich vein of material but also a barrier that impinges on many artists practicing in the county.
Maybe it was with this in mind that Anna invited us each to bring an apple, or apples for our first group task at Huish Academy. I brought the last three remaining boxes of slightly shrivelled and distinctive smelling apples from the previous year’s crop. Anna provided each of us with a word with which to ‘treat’ our apples; separate, join, squash, put, bruise. Issy put her apple in her mouth to provide energy for her activity whilst Anna’s act of dropping her apples down the art department steps provoked a visceral association for Fiona with the beating of a teenage asylum seeker reported in the preceding days.
My word was perform, after a little hesitation, I decided to dissect an apple, slicing it horizontally as thinly as possible before laying out these slices in a performative or even ritualistic act to present a full cross-section.
The residue left on the paper allowed me to echo the processes used in my previous milk-paintings, applying heat to colour the traces of sugars and starches left on the paper.
As the slices dried they curled into unexpected sculptural forms creating starting-points both for works created on the photocopier following Sue’s workshop and a fantastic interplay between light and shadow, transparency and opacity when utilised for Lisa Cheung’s cyanotype making workshop.
As I seek a new language with which to explore that other most loaded of subjects with which I have come to be identified; the legacy of conflict (itself initiated by my WWII studio building, sited in the very same orchard) the process was a reminder of the importance and pleasure of experimentation out of pure curiosity and without a destination in mind. When the weight of my subjects sometimes causes me to think myself to a standstill, the rules of Sister Corita Kent, circulated by Sue, most notably number 7, ‘The only rule is work’ and this exercise proved that even the most loaded of objects or symbols could be dismantled by the process of doing.