Resonance of the self
What is home is it an actual place? Is it just a sense of place within a chosen space? One thing that I know Is that I have never had the same sense of belonging to an environment since I left seven years ago. I was raised in Uley and spent the first thirty years of my life there, obviously there were many memories and emotions that provoked this strong sense of unity with the landscape yet the sense of a connection was far deeper, it wasn’t just a case of a comfort zone my whole being seemingly resonates with the energy of the place, it’s as if feeling a rhythm running through me, a direct link.
The issue of the relevance of a space was confounded by the social narrative of the landscape, it has a visual presence of habitation that runs for well over five thousand years. Over looking the village is Uley Bury a hill fort that saw many tribes fight for the prime vantage point of southern Gloucestershire and out into Wales with the prime resources of the forest of Dean in between. from 300 ad this location changed hands before the Romans finally removed the pagan druids from the site.
Dotted around the hill tops are older sites such as the neolithic burial chambers that can still be entered now, 5000 year old mounds that prove the location was more than just a battle fortification it had a spiritual relevance that ran beyond it’s convenient vantage point. The Iron age, Pagans and Romans all had spiritual sites within the same location and up until today the hill is always the center of any mythical events that have happened in the village to the extent of a spate of black magic ceremonies being held upon the hills in the eighties.
All of this narrative began to make me think that perhaps there was more to my connection with the landscape than just lived experience, maybe the shape of the landscape plays some part in the makeup of our being. Their are obvious links to the landscapes effect on our growth such as social circumstance, if you grow up surrounded by fields, woods and rivers no matter what your wealth childhood has a far more idyllic quality than say if one was brought up in an inner city block of flats. There is far less fear of letting a child play on their own allowing far more freedom in creative play, there is no need to be supervised at all times on leaving the house, you can head out the back door into a big playground.
The strange thing about living in a valley is that it is like being surrounded by walls one feels protected yet isolated by the hills surrounding the village, it’s easy to forget the world on the other side. This sensation creates an even greater internal response when climbing the hills to be confronted by not walls of trees but wide expansive views that seem to roll on endlessly before your eye’s. I like to think that for over five thousand years people have experienced this same sensation, walking out of the nurturing environment of the valley to the vast open view.
I think much of my sculpture tries to capture this freedom of childhood play but does not emphasise the actual relevance of the landscape itself , I decided to create a series of sculptural works that both highlighted the makeup of the landscape and engaged the viewer with a landscape they had little or no knowledge of, could I create a sculpture more than just an emotional response? Over six months I set about looking at the topographic shape of the environment breaking it down into a series of statistics of heights and lengths using my childhood home as a base point at which all of the measurements led to, a kind of three dimensional map of the landscape but also a subtle response to my personal experience. This would lead to not only interesting and unexpected sculptural outcomes but to a far greater understanding of a place I thought I knew inside out, surrounded by hills perhaps one of the things I had never thought of was what the shape of the landscape was like from above, for thirty six years not once had I wondered what shape the valley I called home was when not situated within it. It sounds so basic but it was a revelation and completely changed my whole perspective of the landscape, it felt like a new freedom one usually only attained by birds in flight or those lucky enough to be able to charter their own plane or hire a glider.
The question was where to start? how could I strip away my emotional baggage in order to allow the viewer an experience untainted or forced by that of my own. My usual response is a spontaneous action of building a sculpture from materials that make up a site. For the beginning of this thread I would have to break type, sit down and deliberate a way to strip away the emotional response and begin to look at the environment with a fresh view, that of the neutral viewer.
The first stage was to begin to take away the emotional response, Using an overhead projector I began to create a series of drawings that broke the landscape down to linear measurements of height and length of the topographic makeup of the environment. These drawings became virtual walks around the area, up and down, walking each contour with pencil or pen. Whilst the act of the drawing became almost autonomous the internal response shocked me, rather than escape the emotional response walking the gradients became doorways to forgotten memories and experience.
Although a simple act the tracing of the physical identity of the landscape was the revelation of looking at my own identity, the contours radiating around the map felt like staring at my own finger print, a psycho geographic breakdown of my own being. The nature of the drawings with their subtle weight of line began to create a far greater interest of the landscape with all who viewed them, the emphasis of the work was now on the physical nature of the environment not my emotional representation.
With a 2 dimensional drawing their was no sense of the rolling nature of the landscape, with this in mind I began to bring in a three dimensional element to the drawings, driving nails into an mdf stretcher at the point of heights on the projected O.S map a visual narrative of the landscape began to form. My childhood home was marked with a red map pin the silver nails radiating out from this point starting to create a basic sculptural form. Driving the nails into the points of the map did not give a vertical scale but prompted thoughts of how to give the drawings this element to really begin to emphasise the terrain of which the work is based.
Projecting the map allowed me to up the gauge of the scale, taking the grid reference scale of the map and the projected reproduction I created a formula that allowed both vertical and horizontal scale with in the drawings, the question was now how to turn that into a sculptural form. The earlier use of nails prompted an idea to give both a vertical and horizontal scale whilst also creating a sculptural form not a geographic map purely based on measurement, each was marked with the relevant height to the corresponding hill and laid out on their place within the map with a scale of one centimeter = 100ft, this sounds easy enough yet the transfer of feet and miles to a universal form was complicated.
Once the nails were laid out in their respective places I began to drive them into their scaled heights creating a visual narrative of the landscape, a topographic sculpture of my childhood. A light was passed around the stretcher in a 360 degree rotation representational of the sun and creating another visual representation of scale that of the shadow.
It had taken about four weeks to get to this point with about twenty individual drawings representing a scaled environment, with a depth of understanding of the geographic makeup of the landscape I began to add a far greater personal relevance to the practice I had undertaken, my childhood home would become more significant, a central point at which the land resonated out from as if this site was emitting a sound wave that bounced off the gradients of the landscape.
Resonance of the self
The Land Resonator
Adding the strings to the sculpture was perhaps the defining moment, it was as if finding the key that unlocked a door, as soon as they were attached one could not help but wonder what sound would be emitted if you could produce sound relevant to the gradients on the map. In theory the concept was easy enough to envisage yet how to make it produce sound was way out of my comfort zone. I am not musical in any way but through the use of the internet and a friend who plays guitar I began to create a sound based measurement system reflective of the landscape of Uley. The Land Resonator was named long before the concept had even got off of the ground the name just felt right as I had discussed with my friend the way a resonator guitar emits sound and thought this could be a way to begin the mechanics of my sound based sculpture.
At the beginning the drawings had been a way to develop a sculpture that would allow viewers to engage with a landscape they knew nothing about, the Land Resonator was seemingly the perfect evolution, an amalgamation of viewer, artist and the landscape, a way to explore the routes of my childhood with a personal intervention of their own, the viewer can explore the landscape in their own way, they can dictate their own experience.
The resonator uses all the same gauge string a low E, The use of a same string across the board allowed the setting of a universal tone that was created by the gradients of the landscape not premeditated sequences of notes as with a western musical instrument, the low E gave an earthy tone and was also strong enough to withstand constant use with out me changing snapped strings all the time. The pegs are actually able to be tuned in order to attach the string but again rather than create just a musical instrument the pegs were used to tighten the string but the string was not actually tuned. The interesting thing is that it could be tuned in a conventional manner or it could be tuned by personal relationship to the routes on the map each viewer can dictate the tone to how they think it should sound through their experience of the landscape.
As you can can see from the photographs the Land Resonator has a very different form to the piece ‘Resonance of the self’ even though they are based on the same measurements as each other, this is because the circular structure was to complex to achieve the desired quality of sound, instead the strings were lined up in an order of North to South across the surface. I feel a circular model is not impossible to achieve but this version is a kind of model, a sculpture to test out the methodology and working principles of a much larger structure.
In June I had the chance to test the work within an exhibition a chance to see if the public would interact with the idea, this would prove to be a success with many people exploring the piece in a variety of ways. What I did not expect was the individual styles of play, even when groups of four or more each person found sets of tone that felt right to them, groups of strings that resonated with their own core. The other revelation was the ways it was played some chose to pluck with fingers others a plectrum, some even liked hitting the strings with sticks, something that felt quite apt considering my other area of sculpture with branches. The result was the same in whatever way they engaged with the sculpture, each person found a way in which the environment connected with their sense of self.