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art reflection

reflection

Today revisiting my work of the last few months; considering what ties it together. Thinking about how to select work for exhibition, what story to tell, and how to tell it. I have not answered the questions which I have raised, but I am making a start.

I will show work made at the mountain, at the time of the drawing down of dark, the limits and ends of perception. Enclosing darkness: dusk, falling light, colours glowing up then fading out. Seen, unseen, disappearing, dissolving. There is a blind spot in our eyes: it makes vision possible. There is a fuzzy edge of shadow, where information and noise mingle.

Why look at these things, why paint them? I might have wanted to make the mountain into an observatory, to be able to find truth and share it, to say “I saw that. I went back to the same mountain every day, and this was revealed…” Any truth that was was revealed to me was not a bright mountain. Looking into the fading light, what I saw from the corner of my eye was the hard strangeness of the ordinary; small, dim, partial, multiple, murky, changing, mysterious.

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art reflection

thinking with my hands

I made some short videos today, of myself, making little books out of post-it notes. The work feels good and also not yet quite right, both at the same time… I’ll share the most succinct, a tiny, quick book about book-binding. This was work of thinking with my hands, feeling my way towards something important.

The videos go together with some other work in progress, which perhaps appropriately, is about unresolved and open pieces of work. For example these groupings which I laid out today :

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reflection

a credo

Thinking it is a good idea, I start reading the brief for the work that I am doing for my college course. I find with surprise that by the end of this course I will have worked autonomously to develop a portfolio “of character with a personal credo.”

A credo. Suddenly we are in deeper waters than I had expected. “Any formal or authorised statement of beliefs, principles or opinions.” From the latin – credere, meaning to believe.

A word that carries a lot of tension – the online etymology dictionary says that it can be derived from two root words, meaning “literally ‘to put one’s heart'”. My immediate feeling or reaction, that I have never been able to agree with this, which seems to be an invention and legacy of the Christian church: this telling us where we ought to put our hearts; that we ought to fix it, write it down, make it formal, give it authority. The human heart – does it always go where you want it to go, or stay where you put it? There are many wonderful aspects of Christianity, but the Credo is not something that I am interested in or have ever been interested in.

When I was about seven or eight, I was invited to join the Brownies, and I wanted to join, because I had friends there and they did fun stuff; and so I read the little booklet that they gave me – and there was a bit where there was a pledge, you had to say something about allegiance to Queen, and about believing in God. And I said I can’t say those things, the Queen means nothing to me and I do not believe in God, I can’t join; and I didn’t join. In so much, I am still the person I was when I was seven or eight, and things are as simple to me now as they were then. (Probably, hopefully, they got rid of that from the Brownies, but I expect the church has kept its Credo, or perhaps Credos.)

A personal credo. In secular times we have invented the ‘personal credo’ to attempt to replace the authority of the church, and now we expect it to be able to be both clearly stated and put in front of people for judgement. But are we actually sure that we want to encourage people to carve these things in stone on a mountain? Who outside of myself authorises my personal credo I wonder, and how will it be possible for an examiner to give a percentage point to it? Or is it a one / zero sort of question? Has she got one? Tick yes, cross for no.

And so, do I want one, do I have one?

I wrote a letter to myself on the 10th of March, drawing on the work of David Whyte, and which may be the closest to a personal credo that I have right now. [With the proviso that I reserve the right to change my mind every day for the rest of my life.]

You are assembling something, and just because you can’t see it whole yet, can’t see what it is, does not mean that it is not something whole or beautiful, or maybe for a moment profound.

Yesterday you wrote about the strangeness, the unfamiliarity of the ordinary. This is a fundamental perception, that we don’t know reality until we go out of ourselves to meet it; we mustn’t assume or pretend knowledge. Reality is brutal, it has hard edges, and we want it tame or knowable, but this is a failure of courage. The roughness of rock, this is part of what the mountain is. These elemental conversations. The spin and orbit of the planet, the depth of time. The seen and the unseen, the ‘tidal conversation’ in us. There is no standing still.

Any solace can only be found here. David Whyte has written that “to be consoled is to be invited onto the terrible ground of beauty upon which our inevitable disappearance stands”. So an invitation, into mystery, strangeness. Of course he expresses it so well, but if you could, if you can, this comes to what you want to express in the drawings, the paintings.

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reflection

making a poem

Here I will share a letter that I wrote to myself yesterday:

26 March 2021

Dear Sian

Perhaps you are a overwhelmed with the tasks you’ve given yourself. You do not need to do all of these things, you need only to do some of these things. You do not need to resolve them, tied up tight, only to present what you have, loose and lovely.

On Wednesday, you remembered P for a moment. That one class he taught, the lesson where he stopped us all from rushing around in the college print studio, the whole big chaotic group, frantically making our work. Shouted “stop!”, shaky almost, upset. Called us over to make a circle. Told us “you need to remember what you are doing – what you are doing is making a poem”. All art is that, isn’t it? A song; a poem. That is the test of what I am doing, what I am working on : is it a poem?

And the mental state (the spiritual state) which you need for the job is a particular one – unhurried, not thinking about outcomes, schedules, deadlines, those things. You have to do other things – the schedule things, the stuff – but they are incidental to the real daily work, the important good work.

Yours sincerely

Sian

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reflection

leaving it unresolved

Pondering on leaving things open and unresolved – creating an encounter rather than an outcome, say.

Unresolved means open. To change. To sky, air, possibility, encounter. Like an open book, leaving space for dreaming.

This reminds me of the process of making collage, the part where I lay out the pieces in relationship, and leave them un-pasted, sometimes for days, returning and making changes as I see them.

Philosophically, it comes down to how I think the world is, what I think the universe is like. I am coming to the view that reality is in encounters, meetings, interactions.

So, am I paying attention to encounters, in my work? And when I am sharing my work, am I creating the conditions for a real encounter by another real person? Which is to say, how am I putting my work into someone else’s hands? As a gift? And in that case, I must let go with my own hands at the right moment. There is no space in a gift economy for seeking to control the use of the gift. Generosity is making it as best as you can, and then letting it go, to make its own way in the world.

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reflection Uncategorized

on simplicity

What is simplicity? Not something narrowing, or closed. In the context of multiplicity, abundance, a full universe, what do we mean by looking for what is simple, longing for the simple? Is it elegance: like the use of Occam’s razor say – a direct route? Or is it to do with leaving behind that which is not needed, with paring back? Is this what simplicity is?

Thinking about this, feeling uncertain, I took the step of looking up the word in a beloved dictionary of word origins.

The word ‘simple’, it turns out, is not itself without complexity. It comes from root words meaning ‘same’ and ‘fold’ (‘ply’). And the meaning is described in the dictionary as “not multifarious”. Sameness runs through the word then, linking simplicity it to the idea of unity: perhaps we can understand that the underlying meaning of ‘simple’ has to do with unity in multiplicity.

But to me, the loveliness of the word is in the surprise of the element ‘ply’, which the dictionary says comes from the latin ‘plicare’ (or ‘fold’): this is the part of the word that pleases, touches the heart. This is because I feel this word, this folding action, in my hands – and that means that this word carries inside itself a way of thinking with the hands.

Imagine folding clothes or sheets, or a sheet of paper or putting a letter in an envelope.

And then, notice too that the words multiplicity, complicated, and implicated are also built around this word root ‘ply’. How wonderful.

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reflection

contrasts

Both today and yesterday, I stopped on my way home from work. Same hour, same place.

Yesterday, golden light slipping over everything, warm and soft. I sat and shared a rock with a thorn tree and just enjoyed the warmth, the moment, dazzlement of sun, greening shoots, redness of bracken, blackness of soil.

Today I hurried through, pushed by a cold unfriendly wind. The sky was overcast and all colours faded out, vegetation winter-burnt and retreating back, only blackbirds keeping low in the bushes were still believing in the spring.

Strange contrasts, but not surprising; the universe is stranger than we like to think it. Completely wild, and in no way tame, even in its local and quite ordinary manifestations like sky, wind, rock, grass, bird, person.

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reflection Uncategorized

a letter about work

I’m still writing letters to myself first thing every morning, as part of my contribution the wonderful upcoming letters project with brilliantmess.com . Here is another letter – one which I wrote to myself on the weekend, based on a conversation which I had with the artist Jen Smith about our creative practices, and about a bird and an oak tree.

I read a really wonderful book called ‘Emergent Strategy‘ by adrienne maree brown, which encourages readers to learn from systems and patterns in the natural world, and I think the discussion and my letter were based on that work.

****************************************

Dear Sian

Yesterday you compared yourself to a jay burying acorns, and although you started with the feeling that to be a jay is a bad thing, and a random scattering of energy, you may have stumbled into something that is worthwhile, and that could be true.

A few months ago, your friend S. told you that almost every oak tree in every forest and hedge is planted by jays. This is how it works: the jay hides the seeds – all around. Of course, many of the acorns will be put in places where they cannot grow, but a few will be planted in a perfect place. The bird remembers well, and later returns to eat the seeds, digging them, pulling up the flesh. But in the meantime, the acorn has put down a deep tap root, and although it releases its flesh, it holds its place in the ground, and has retained enough of what it needs to keep growing. Like this, the germ of the tree is rooted and ready for the spring.

This is very hard to think about, and relates to what you think work is, and how you think it happens. And to the mistakes you have made about that. […] You have always had a job, you have never been without one – and so it seems that a job is not only a matter of money, but is also a psychological prop for you. Because you sell yourself very short, that is also clear.

So what is needed now (this year), is not a job but your own work, and a way of trusting that if you do the work, things will grow. And you have started to understand that there is a possibility of something that feels true, and of abundant growth, and that the constant self-pruning that you have been about is not your work.

To return to the jay and the acorns. Am I the jay, or the oak, or the acorns, or what am I? Can we see them separate? Well of course the jay is a bird, it flies away while the tree stays rooted. But the tree needs the bird, the bird needs the tree; they are a process, an encounter.

The work of the bird, the scattering and burying (planting) is its own reward. Providing that it can remember, then it can return to retrieve, and the reward is the eating.

To be seen, to be part of something, to be needed. These are what will never go away, and what work may hope to satisfy.

So for the jay, the work is the reward. And the strategy of the jay is interesting, because it is broad-based. The acorns are not all buried in one place, but widely. This makes sense. For the tree, the strategy is very simple, to offer from its own flesh, and with sufficient abundance. And where the opportunity is open, to take root deeply and in good time. The bird will come back for its reward, that much is given; the acorn is the token of an exchange.

To summarise. To narrow down on one thing only – this is not my strategy. To withhold the offering – this is not my strategy. To root shallowly – this is not my strategy. To follow the strategies of the jay and the oak, there must be faith in abundance, there must be patience and an offering, and there must be reciprocity.

Yours sincerely

Sian

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reflection

a letter about fear

I’ve been writing letters to myself first thing in the morning for the last two weeks.

This is something which came out of a conversation about an exciting upcoming project with brilliantmess.com – and the feeling that writing a letter every day to anyone, including oneself, could be transformative.

The letters are quite personal, as you may imagine. They are mostly about my work, and are powerful in places, rambling and unexpected in other places. Reading them back to myself it seems like a gift, giving me a whole clear pathway for my work.

The first letter was about fear. I share it because fear and courage are a real part of work – and in case it helps :

“14.02.21

Dear Sian

What is it that you are afraid of? Is it that you are afraid of admitting what it is that you are afraid of? Of writing it down? Well let’s write it down then. Go there.

Afraid of having nothing to show for myself.

Afraid of expressing myself imperfectly.

Afraid of being unsophisticated, stupid, wrong. Of being seen and exposed as such.

[Like the time when …]

Am I afraid of the breadth of my interest, that I hold so many disparate threads, that they cannot be reconciled, do not fit together? Yes I am afraid of that. That what I do does not tend in a direction. That what I hold is a shapeless heap. That it is beyond me to give it cohesion. And of course this is true. Even Sherlock Holmes has cases which he cannot solve, resolve; and he does not exist.

But again this is because I tend to feel that what I do does not have value, is not good enough – if it does not end in finality, in a conclusion… I want to believe that I will find something out. Reveal truth. And the truth that I do reveal is not a bright mountain; it is small, dim, partial, multiple, changing. […]

Meanwhile, I’ll remind myelf that the best I can do, the only thing I can do, is to show up, to claim the right to exist, to be good enough. Every day. Do one small thing.

Yours truthfully

Sian “

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reflection

on time, 2:

I am still reading ‘The Order of Time‘ by Carlo Rovelli.

From where do we get the word ‘time’? From a word origin *da ‘to divide’. It seems that perhaps from the very beginning we have done it – to divide things up somehow, to find a pattern, a rhythm. There is circular time (as in ‘tide’); and there is a global linear time, which we think we inhabit, but which at a closer look seems also to be something which we have made up (especially in the nineteenth century, for the sake of having convenient railway timetables).

As it happens, the reference to railways made perfect sense to me. Linear time has always reminded me of the railway lines that went past each side of my childhood home. I grew up near a village which had proudly grown up around a railway junction, developing itself with progress and ‘the march of time’. We lived half a mile outside of the village, on the far side of the railway junction between the divided lines. We saw and heard the trains from both sides: from the front along the embankment, crossing over the river at the bottom of the field, and from the back across the main road and down the lane to the level crossing, their tracks always running one way or another – onwards and West to the sea, backwards and East, as far as London Paddington.

If I have understood Rovelli right, using the equations of physics, we may be sure of the existence of interactions and events. But time, no. It is no longer needed, according to the author, as a variable in the equations that teach us about the underlying structures of the universe. Time is a perspective caused by entropy. A partial view of things. Time is the way we have of encountering events, unique confluences of points touching and then dividing. Being something that exists from a point of view, from the inside; being so subjective, it seems that there can be no true measure of time.

And so, as the author says, studying time keeps leading us back to ourselves. We exist in the present, each one in our own present moment, holding our own past and futures within ourselves.

So, from the inside, what are the things that travel across time? Well there are memories, and with them are emotions. Memory is the trace of the past in ourselves. I have been told that to make a memory we need both an emotion and a place or a sensation, to latch it on to. And maybe here is a clue about time. Emotions do not travel through time as a train might run along a railway, orderly and linear. They surge up like a tidal wave, battering us, taking our feet out from underneath us. Loss, grief. Love. This is how one can meet a person who one has not seen for a decade, and suddenly be overwhelmed with the fierce and protective love of the six year old self.

Or in another metaphor, time is a cloth, and there can be a fold; two times touching through the fabric. Our emotions pierce the present from another time, pinning and sewing the crumpled fabric into layers. Anger too. Rage, which is a kind of love after all, can travel into our bodies from before we are born it seems, down through the generations. Cloth sewn onto cloth.

Dreams, it seems, take no notice of linear time at all. Although having said that, my anxious dreams will often be railway dreams: running for trains, missing traings, catching trains, jumping in through the doors, struggling with piles of luggage. And this is fear, travelling through time, the luggage that is always getting in the way, bumping against my legs and holding me back from crossing thresholds.

I still have not finished my book, where doubtless there is more to learn and clearer understanding to be found. But perhaps, for now, all of this may help me to understand how growth can be non-linear, and why presence to one another is so important, so transformational – just the pure value of making it count for something when we coincide.