Mothership Residency  - Dorset 2016

In March I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in Dorset participating in the Mothership Residency intiated by artist Anna Best 

My time at the Mothership coincided with a springtime explosion of primroses, wild garlic and slowly, but insistently, appearing bluebells - punctuated by stars - a full moon - Storm Katie - mud - wood smoke and an abundance of winter salad from the poly-tunnel. A rumbling energy, sounded in the studio’s creaking roof, felt in the morning chill of the outside shower, sensed in the enveloping night time darkness and echoed in the bounding affection of Anna’s dog, (the inimitable Curly Wurly).

A seasonal drama that I watched through the picture windows of the studio while inside a more tenuous process of cutting, sorting and assembling gradually found its daily rhythm of doing.  A routine framed by the architecture of the building, within which, viewed from the outside, I resembled perhaps a figure in a Hooper painting, caught in the mise en scene of the studio. I had come to Copse Barn to spend time with my work and that’s what I did, living and making in the same space. Engineering a kind of creative detox, working in the studio and walking in the woods to dissipate the underlying anxiety unleashed by withdrawal from timetables, forms, committees and the exhausting but perversely reassuring flow of endless emails. Recalibrating my brain to allow for spontaneity, tangential thought, staring into space and messing about, a process supported by the generous lack of expectations attached to the residency. 

It has recently been proposed that the impact of human activities upon the planet has so significantly altered its ecosystems as to occasion a new geological era - the Anthropocene; collapsing the longstanding dualisms such as human and non human, nature and culture. Like many artists, theorists and commentators recently I have been influenced by this geological ‘turn’ and related concepts of vibrant materiality, geo trauma, assemblage, dynamic earth processes, the Capitalocene and Chthulhocene etc. Not only was I ‘in’ nature but it was also my subject - working title - Studio Geo or Modern Nature. Nature represented, examined, sampled, harnessed, explored, managed and marvelled over. Ladybird books, John Hinde postcards, National Geographic, Shell Guides, ancient rock drawings, JG Ballard’s Crystal world, satellite imagery, pipe lines, open cast mines - collected on e bay, in bookshops and remotely - traced and collaged together.

Choosing to forgo the possibilities of plein air or field work, Richard Long’s 1975 Cerne Abbas Walk was undertaken a few miles away, while the lovers Nash and Agar used objects found on the beaches of nearby Purbeck to create the assemblages that led them to coin the phrase seaside surrealism. Abandoning community engagement, research in local archives, dialogue with enthusiasts and experts the studio instead became my focus, a space in which to address both nature as representation and the representation of nature.  Combining aerial and subterranean, global and local, human and non-human pictographically to achieve a form of imaginary travel unhindered by the logistical ecological and ethical challenges of actual journeying.

That said, as Bryan Doherty observes in his 2007 article Studio and Cube, ‘every studio has to have some traffic with the outside’. Dorset is the Jurassic coast and Geology is big business so the cliffs of blue lye between Eype and Lyme were the destination for several outings.  While families, dog walkers, keen amateurs and fully kitted out Scandinavian geography students hunted for the fossils with which this coast is famously associated, it was the slithering, slipping liquid clay, from which they are washed that drew me. At Lyme a former landfill site slides muddily down to the sea from the cliff top above, churning up and out bedsteads, washing machines, wheel hubs, man made components of the future fossil record. Not landscape but matter, abstracted, malleable, and energetic. For Anna a bucketful transferred back to the studio and encountered out of context was reminiscent of one of Smithson’s mirror displacements: ‘…the sediments, displaced from its original site, blur distinctions between outdoors and indoors. A thought echoed perhaps in the impulse to assemble flints from the stream outside of the window on a bed of silk.

The ten days I spent in Dorset were both peculiarly intense and fleetingly slight. Making work, as I should know by now, distorts and consumes time. Packing everything up after ten days and loading the car for my return to London was hard. Somewhat like dis-assembling a theatre set or museum exhibit in which the artist stages an encounter, without an audience, between herself, the studio as site and nature in order to try to understand something about all three.