Friday, 24 April 2015

If I could sink my teeth in to the whole earth...

I took part in an event at Newcastle University last week, along with three other artists, sharing ideas and work in progress on the theme of exploration of place. The event was titled, as above, 'If I could sink my teeth in to the whole earth', a line from a poem by Fernando Passoa.

Each of us are investigating a particular site, from the canal on my part, to a decommissioning nuclear plant, an old gunpowder works and artefacts from a post-industrial site in Norway. We invited an art historian and an archaeologist to join us in conversation, in a gallery space filled with objects, materials, photographs and work in progress connected to the sites. 

I took with me some photographs of the area between the canal and the river Severn at Pwll Penarth. Sandwiched between the canal bed (which is dry here, with two derelict locks) and the river, there is a nature reserve and a sewage works. 

The strange dome building at the sewage works near Pwll Penarth

Freestone lock, next to the nature reserve, is the last section of canal owned by the Canal & Rivers Trust. It marks the end of the part of the canal that is in water, before the towpath becomes a footpath along the dry canal bed which continues on in to Newtown, where the old canal basin used to be. 

A beautiful bird's egg I saw near the river bank at Pwll Penarth
This is one of several sites on the canal that have really drawn me back. I was interested in recording in photographs how some of these different land uses bleed in to each other and echo across the landscape.

During the event I also made a mixed-media assemblage combining rust transferred from an old corrugated iron sheet on to canvas, with a photograph of some frogspawn in the canal.  I was thinking about the combination of industrial remains with burgeoning natural life.

Assemblage combining rust from old corrugated iron transferred on to canvas, and an image of some frogspawn on the canal

The event was a chance to discuss different artistic ideas and approaches to exploring a site, and to pose some questions about the role of the artist in the renewal and restoration of post-industrial heritage. I asked whether artists can be providers or instigators of 'alternative reconstructions', where imagination and even complete reinvention can occur, but without impacting the original site or remains.

We discussed the idea of archaeology as investigative surgery on the earth, and thought about what artists and archaeologists can gain from collaboration. This was excellent timing as I am taking part in the archaeological dig on the canal bank at Maesbury this week.

Dereliction poster, designed to accompany our discussion about the restoration, reconstruction and reinvention of sites

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