Ok – finally a minute to catch my breath a little, and catch up on other parts of life – including some writing here!
The Summer Solstice marked several related annual arts events at Harcourt House, including the openings for the Members’ show, the Naked Show, and the Artist-in-Residence Open Studio. Even a barbecue on the front lawn, for good measure! It’s a lovely event, and it brings together a wide range of artists and arts-supporters for the evening. It was a busy evening, in the end – we had about 250 people through the Annex Building alone, and I had many many visitors to my studio over the course of the night. I gave several demonstrations of gel-transfer printmaking, and had some fantastic conversations with people about the work I’m doing for the Residency, and about art in general.
… outside the Annex …
We were blessed with good weather in the lead-up, and for the event, so that helped things fall onto place relatively easily. Good thing too – since my fellow nest-installers and I spent a day and a half swinging from the high end of ladders in preparation for the visitors!
I had decided months back that one of the things I wanted to do during my time as AIR was to produce some work specifically for the Open Studio event; a subset of the work for the Residency as a whole. I thought it would be a great way to set a milestone for myself a little over half way into the year. Also a perfect opportunity to push my practice, and think of my work in a specifically public context: what it meant to make work that would be outside a gallery setting, that would be on/in somewhat unconventional places, and that would be viewed not only by people attending the event, but also passersby on the street after the fact.
This set of circumstances raised all sorts of new challenges for me – not the least of which was setting myself the task of working with new materials, in explicitly new ways: fun with industrial plastics, and three-dimensional work! Do I sound like a glutton for punishment? maybe a little … but the most general goal I had set for myself in the Residency was to really expand my practice and work in new ways and larger scale than I ever had before … . At any rate, it was a great process – an excellent learning experience, and a whole lot of fun, start to finish. The poor fellow at the plastics company I was dealing with must have thought I was crazy … and (not terribly surprising, this) he’d never worked with an artist before, so there were some moments we had over the phone in which we had to figure out how to speak each other’s language … but we did get it sorted, and he was very helpful in providing solid advice about the best choices in materials for what I wanted to do. But I digress …
I had set out to create a set of nest sculptures that would be eye-catching, both in scale and colour. And I wanted to install the work on or near both the Harcourt House Annex building (where my studio is), and on the main building (the home of the office and Gallery for Harcourt). I also wanted to draw from the research I had done on birds’ nests at the beginning of the Residency, and construct sets or groups of nests that were each based loosely on particular nest-building patterns found in nature. Keeping in mind that these structures were basically abstractions of the forms found on nature, I wanted to allow each type/shape to develop it’s own personality in relation to the materials … and of course, part of the process was learning about both the potential and the limits of the materials I had chosen. Making this work became a real dialogue, in that sense – the push and pull between the idea and the execution, the potential and the limits. Great lessons in process and attentiveness.
… and black ‘weaver’ nests in the stairwell …
The general idea around this set of sculptures is as follows:
21st Century Nesting Practices is a collection of sculptures that consider the connection and relationship between materials, structures, and notions of stability and security. Although birds are selective in their use of nesting materials, they are also highly adaptable and resourceful creatures. Nest-builders will often use whatever material is available, including bits of plastic – a material that has become synonymous not only with 21st century life (particularly in the more economically secure West), but also with environmental degradation and pollution. These whimsical, fantastical – and totally impractical – nests point to human use of natural resources and about what we consider appropriate levels of material comfort and security. Nests installed in various locations in and around Harcourt House and the Harcourt Annex are loosely based on the nesting structures created by African Weavers, Common Sparrows, Bohemian Waxwings, and Herons.
In the end, I was quite happy with the range of work – some nests were quite whimsical and simply fun, while others had a simple sort of elegance to them that I found striking in a completely different way. Each taught me a great deal about the use of negative space and grouping in sculpture, and about the dynamics between form, scale, and colour. And …there were other, equally valuable lessons in the whole process – making the work, installing it, the open house … all of it:
- the rewards of really seeing and paying attention
- how to remain flexible and adaptable in making work
- that some of the best results can come from unexpected places, and how important a sense of play can be
- and … how not to take it all too seriously.