Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Inspired by Location: a review from 2007 & the artists' work now

One of the pleasures of going through old files is find out what folks are up to now.  I'm a fan of both of the following artists and their work now is as interesting as it was 11 years ago.

My review for Lancashire Artists' Network, March 2007 follows images and links.

Catriona Stamp:  Syrian Toddler (detail)

Dead Good Guides:  from WILDERNEST PROJECT, Baycliff, Ulverston

Inspired by Location:  Talks at The Sultan Gallery, Brock St. Lancaster

John Fox:  ‘Vision of One Rock in Morecambe Bay
Catriona Stamp:  'Relationship with the Land' 

Light, airy and full of beautiful objects and images: the first impressions of The Sultan Gallery were good and the comfortable seating, good acoustics and excellent food didn’t disappoint either but … let’s talk rubbish.

Catriona Stamp and her “Relationship with the land” seemed to be nurturing with a mother’s inherent instinct to see what’s best and to tidy anything less than perfect.  Her most recent book, “Beach Findings” (funded by Arts Council England) is a beautifully produced, aesthetically pleasing artist’s book that fitted well into the contemporary setting of the gallery and would grace anyone’s coffee table.  Maybe it says more about me than Catriona but I was waiting for condoms, tampons and other “nasties” of Morecambe Bay to be documented.  I wanted the renegade paper that changed shape as it tried to stretch over the bulky collagraph plates to be the shape of the pages and I would have liked a messier & maybe a sticky cover to the book...  but my way would have alienated the sometimes too discerning public and Catriona’s message of reassessing our relationship with the land is too important to be ignored in the way we ignore the nastier rubbish on our beaches.   
Catriona’s way with prints and poetry, raises awareness of our need to counter our predominantly throw away society (whether objects or people: remember the cockle pickers?) and to take responsibility for our actions without shock tactics and by doing so has created something very beautiful out of an ugly part of our lives.

Catriona’s work seemed to be very much about the finished piece whereas John Fox’s work was equally about the process.

John has been called many things from prolific artist to visionary.  He and his wife Sue Gill are very well known for their pioneering celebratory projects that involve the whole community and their inspirational work as Welfare State International (WSI) which is just that, inspirational and international.  All of which makes John Fox sound very grand.  On hearing him speak I quickly realised he was in fact, the exact opposite.
John gave us an overview of the development of WSI and how a nomadic tribe interested in making art free for everyone, in the way the country’s Welfare State made glasses and dentures free for everyone, evolved and over those 38 years made art that was “connected and useful”, literally with casts of thousands.  

“Eyes on Stalks not Bums on Seat - May your eyes wobble in their sockets, your creative juices boil over and your bum never ache.”  John Fox; Eyes on Stalks  

The story of WSI up to its operatic finale is interestingly and amusingly told in “Eyes on Stalks” (Methuen 2002).

During his talk, John used a parish church as an analogy to describe the closing work of WSI and as such needed iconology, a religion and a place.  The latter was Morecambe Bay, a dangerous place on WSI’s doorstep in “the hinterland of death” (nuclear submarines, BAE weapons systems and most recently, cockle picking); the religion was to celebrate the bay through stories, song, performance etc. and the armature or icon to hang these on was The Rock:  the soothsayer, storyteller and holder of ancient wisdom.  A silent witness of the Bay whose life far, far exceeds ours. 
John showed the first of two films at this stage:  a piece by Dan Fox and Tom Lloyd made in collaboration with the Geology Department at Lancaster University.  The film documented the microscopic life around the rock but the editing and the rhythm it was set to gave an aesthetic sense to the piece and as John pointed out, the tiny creatures were not dissimilar to angels.  
The second film captured the atmosphere of the celebratory final gig of WSI.  “Longline the carnival opera”, the culmination of three years work connecting with the communities of Ulverston and the Bay.  The vibrancy and honesty of the event shone through while the far from perfect circumstances around its implementation as related by John, generated a deeper understanding of how WSI worked.  If there is a will, there is definitely a way, particularly when so many people want it to happen.

“…where boundaries … dissolved like warm candy-floss.”  John Fox: welfare-state.org

“Longline” was also a rite of passage for Welfare State International and a fitting start to John and Sue’s new company Dead Good Guides, a company which continues to explore the area between theatre and contemporary ceremonies for rites of passage: secular ceremonies at crossroads in our lives, all delivered with warmth, humanity and appropriateness whilst challenging our conveyer belt and commodity culture.  Beautifully and appropriately decorated cardboard coffins (Irises for Iris) and meaningful ceremonies (a final journey by bike) demonstrate that indeed “poetry’s always under your feet”.  As artists I think most, if not all of us can relate to that but maybe we need to do more to help others appreciate it too.   
Meanwhile, John is working on “The Weatherstation – Icons for an Unknown Faith”.  He’s recording the meteorological and psychic weather of Morecambe Bay … from a shed with very big wings I hope!  Definitely not a grand man but it was a real inspiration and pleasure to listen to and meet a great one.

The evening rounded of with networking which gave me the opportunity to meet someone I hadn’t seen for 10 years; someone whose work I knew but had not had the chance to meet and many new friends who are becoming more like old ones (friends that is).  All in all it was a very successful night and well worth the effort to go.

 March 2007

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