Pass It On: Harvest of Wandering
I love happy coincidences and serendipitous events. About 3 weeks ago Dominic Campbell, an artist and producer, got in touch with me about a commission for an event he was putting together in collaboration with Wiltshire Council and The Royal Society of the Arts. I am always up for a challenge, and met Dominic one Sunday afternoon to discuss the Pass it On project, based from Springfield Campus, Corsham. Dominic had seen my work at the Frome Market, and thought it aligned well with what he had in mind.
Pass It On arose from the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) partnership with Wiltshire Council on their campus development programme, and sits alongside the partnership’s Arts and Social Change initiatives. The RSA seeks to support those developing, using or running a campus in finding creative ways of working, and will culminate in a harvest of creative work, open from September 16th to September 27th. Dominic describes the event as the fruit of a summer’s walking and talking in Corsham and surrounding towns displayed as exhibition, walks, talks and workshops. It collaboratively explores walking and mapping, how values are transmitted, and the use of digital technology in a rural environment.
Dominic has commissioned 6 pieces from me, and my work will sit alongside pieces commissioned from other local artists, designers and makers. We discussed at length the process of engaging with one’s environment through walking, in either larger group walks, led by someone, or in walks which were unplanned and not formally “led” by anyone: how the perspective of the walker changes from situation to situation, how people engage differently with their environment when on foot as opposed to by another method of transport, and of course, how people engage with one another: for me, this was a very important aspect: walking together with other people in a group allows for positive interactions and a re-connection of sorts with humanity and I was keen for this to come across in my pieces.
Dominic and I looked at the conversations that people had had on the walks, and we distilled the words and sentences down to phrases and words: this is how I work anyway, so it was a very natural process for me to go through: to search through human words and conversations and find the absolute kernel of what people were saying, and what I thought the underlying meaning might be, and reducing their conversations to one simple word or phrase. I then looked at the words and phrases we had chosen to depict, and through a fairly long and involved process I trawled through my paper ephemera collection in search of paper appropriate for each phrase to be cut from. This is a tricky process, as my studio is, shall we say, fairly maximalist: I have hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper, sorted (I feel) into orderly piles, although some may tend to disagree with me on the orderly bit. I also do not cut up ephemera in good condition, so I use items that have been discarded, or that have been damaged in some way and I work around the foxing, or the tears and marks on the paper.
The phrase “Some I knew and Some I Didn’t” was cut from a series of black and white and sepia discarded group photographs: initially, the walkers were referring to places they knew, and some places that they didn’t know on the walk, but I liked how this could also relate to the people one meets on walks. Group photos, particularly those taken at schools or workplaces, are similar: I know when I look back at some of my old school photographs, some people I knew extremely well- and some not at all, their faces smiling out from the photograph, blurred strangers I once stood next to, and shared a workplace with. Walking and being in a group helps us get to know our surroundings, but also allows us to engage with fellow humans we may never have had the chance to engage with before.
I cut “Nice People” from a vintage Roy Rogers annual: again, I liked the significance of the age old tale of misguided fear: we often presume things about people we don’t know, and if given the chance to interact, to talk and be with others, all of our ill-placed fears disappear and we discover that in fact, people are Nice People.
“We only Knew the High Street” was, for me, an easy choice: there has as we know been a real drive to return a lot of our outdoor spaces, and areas of farmland, to wildflower meadows. Luckily I have picked up quite a few damaged copies of wildflower images and plates, which I decided to cut this phrase from. These walks have taken people who once only knew their urban areas and streets back to their original past: the past of childhood, and areas where contemplative headspace can be rediscovered.
“Connect” has such lovely connotations: one word, made up of many curves, and several straight lines in the upper case Ns, E and T- the Gill Sans font I use as stencils echoing the curves and roads taken on the walks seemed at home in this word. It was cut from an old Gardening Manual, and I ensured that both text and the pruning images were used in the visible paper: I liked the link between actively taking care of our environment by engaging in walking, and by reducing a living thing through human intervention and pruning to ensure its survival and reinvention: rather similar to what I do with discarded paper in fact.
“Good for the Soul” I cut from a badly damaged Bartholomews map of the Bath and West Wiltshire area, and included Corsham and Chippenham, surrounding areas that may have been walked: this could have been cut from a variety of paper ephemera, as the phrase can mean so many different things to people, however, as is the theme in my work and on walks, a map seemed an appropriate choice, and certainly an older style map was perfect in this case.
The last picture, “Family First Army Second” was the picture that Dominic had originally approached me with: I liked how the phrase had been turned around, and how it seemed appropriate to cut it from the Salisbury Plain area, including places such as Bulford Barracks, and the small print of “Rifle Ranges”. I planned the letters carefully as I wanted part of the visible paper to fall over two other areas: Tilshead Lodge, and Andover. Tilshead Lodge was requisitioned by the army during the Second World War, and by the end of the war the house itself had deteriorated and it was eventually pulled down in the early 1950s. I in fact walk the area with our dog almost every week. Andover is home to current Army Headquarters, so I wanted to include this area too.
I’ve included a few images of the working process, just to explain pictorially how a piece comes to be made. I’m looking forward to seeing the work of the other artists and designers, and particularly how Dominic will exhibit these altogether: and of course, work commitments allowing, I hope to go on one of the walks that inspired these pieces.
I choose the ephemera from one of my shelves.
Then I choose the correct stencils from my collections (4 fonts and sizes)
I place the stencils very carefully over the images to be used.
I cut out each letter, using scissors and a scalpel: each letter has to be exact, to within a millimetre.
I align the letters on the paper: again, measuring distances in millimetres.
Finally I mount up each letter, and rub out any pencil marks carefully.
Finally each piece is framed.