A Tentative Stroll Down the Garden

Et in Arcadia Ego

Balby Garden Sculptures June/July 2020

The Garden is not strictly a theistic or spiritual phenomenon. It has its roots in more basic impulses: to carve off a portion of the landscape, and distinguish it from ordinary places. This is suggested by the origins of the word ‘sacred’: from the Indo-European ‘sak’, meaning to separate, demarcate, divide. The opposite of the sacred is not the secular but the ordinary, from which it is set apart. In this light, the garden is one of the original sacred sites, preceded by groves like the Lyceum: an area cordoned off from purely natural or human activity, but which explicitly unites both. While perfectly secular, its walls, fences, ditches or hedges symbolise a break from ‘common sense’. “

Young , D (2019). Philosophy in the Garden. London: Scribe Publications

Balby Garden 5 in situ

Balby Garden 5, June/July 2020

I have two works in progress at the moment that explore the occupation of spaces separate to the world. One of them is a series of small sculptures that take elements from untended patches of garden and ‘elevate’ them through the application of gilding and oil colour. The other is a virtual reality work that traverses a series of yards and gardens highlighting, without explanation, elements of (auto)biography constructed through family photographs.

VR Glover Street

VR Glover Street, looking back past the introduction

As is often the way with the gestation of new works these works have both existed, in a kind of cinematic soft focus, well in advance of their articulation. The use of the garden as both a means of separation and as a motive for building or making has been at the centre of my work for as long as I’ve made it, but it was only reading the quote at the top of the post on July 12th 2020 that I clearly understood it.

Before this event, reading something that resonates is always an event, I had been struggling with ways to describe works that look to this “break from ‘common sense’”. A desire to show, not tell, by pointing at things and not expalining. I began with the Four Quartets, where in Burnt Norton

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened”

and through Baudrillard

Fiction is not imagination. It is what anticipates imagination by giving it the form of reality. This is quite opposite to our own natural tendency which is to anticipate reality by imaging it, or to flee from it by idealizing it. That is why we shall never inhabit true fiction; we are condemned to the imaginary and nostalgia for the future.”

Baudrillard, J (1988,1989) trans. Turner, C America. London: Verso

in the end encountering Poussin’s ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ and through this the Arcadia of Jacopo Sannazaro and the awful dream that induces his return to the city (Naples) through a dark tunnel.i

Balby Garden 3 (detail)

Balby Garden 3 (detail)

Maybe because of the way I was educated the development of the piece and the underpinning philosophy of the piece are both happening during the process of making. As an example I had struggled with the two tall pieces in the small sculptures series until one morning (this morning – 14/07/2020) when I saw the grass on my run, there is a tall grass that branches leaves like a crabgrass. I drew it a lot for the Balby Carr paintings I did in 2012, but I hadn’t thought of it until today. This realisation helped me resolve the need for the space around the ‘stems’ to be more active. It could also be considered a bit of cheat as plants are inherently interesting sculpturally and it turns the object into a sort of plant.

Balby Garden 2 (detail)

Balby Garden 2 (detail)

That also highlights the contrast in qualities I want to be present in the sculpture. The objects should appear to be plant like and an ideal might be that they are only occasionally noticed when in situ. So that they appear suddenly, demanding interrogation, emerging from their surroundings. At the same time I’d like them to be difficult to see, which is where these versions fall down. Looking back to my opening quote the objects should lift the environment from the ordinary by emphasising its sanctity. There will be another set. The first set are documented in the garden on this site Gardens Sculpture

VR Greenway View

VR Greenway View (still)

The VR piece has been hanging at the back of my mind for a year now, pushed back by the geranium project, and will step through a set of stories from gardens. Using a series of photographs (untitled) and some way of telling tiny stories as you progress through the space (currently experimenting with written notes in the space). This short film shows the beginnings of what is very much a work in progress.

The VR project will be updated irregularly and, when finished, be summed up here ‘et in arcadia ego’

 

iAll of this comes from a need to understand the desire to stand separately as an artist and look at the world from an imagined outside which is becoming more crucial to me in the age of ‘participation’ ‘community’ and ‘wellbeing’ in the arts. I don’t object to that but I don’t think we should all do the same thing, I don’t think ‘art’ should be defined, and no one is telling me what to do, or what not to do.

Lockdown 10 (almost a fortnight since the last one)

And what have I been doing since?

Finished the June ‘draw every day’ gallery and started July.

Edlington Woods 1

Edlington Woods 1

Edlington Woods 2(primrose)

Edlington Woods 2(primrose)

Started some new paintings and finished some others. I’ve got two series on the go at the moment, one is a series of Edlington Woods paintings, details of the floor mostly, and the other is a series of collared doves and pigeons in the garden.

Collared Dove

Collared Dove

I’ve continued work on the five/six Balby garden sculptures, trying out finishes with oils and gold leaf with varying measures of success.

Balby Garden 2 (in progress)

Balby Garden 2 (in progress)

I’ve also continued to work on the VR piece, ‘et in arcadia ego’, a journey through a series of gardens with photographic memories inserted withour explanation. This piece was put forward for the Cast theatre scratch night initiative in Doncaster. The tentative working title gives the clue to my intentions. For me the beginnings come from Poussin by way of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, but rather than the merely elegiac I want (now) to look back to Sannazaro’s original interruption of the idyllic retreat with a dark dream that forces you back to reality where things have inevitably changed.

The last thing for this post is that the piece was accepted for the Scratch Night, so it should be going online somehow, as a work in progress, to draw comments from a panel of arts professionals.

ACE announced that the Lottery Project Grants are returning on the 22nd of July and Barnsley NHS have been in touch to advance the organ donation memorial.

Lockdown Nine (the most bored week so far…)

This gallery has the continuation of my ‘draw every day’ attempt, so far I’ve managed every day since the 6th May

and now through June since the 6th.

I continued with the scyulptures, making six maquettes last week.

These are using the cast plaster rocks and the steel rod. I managed to submit for the Cast ‘Scratch Night’, that might be interesting (if I get it) and continued working on the ‘et in arcadia ego’ models.

I finished this painting.

Still life with fox jaw, lemon and dried rose

There is now a set of five of these,

each 10 inch square, oil on board, an attempt to relearn painting by drawing directly with paint onto the board. The middle one is in the Doncaster Art Fair competition on line and I’ve got my fingers crossed.

I’ve tried gilding the first of the small sculptures, that and painting being the next step, and it looks like this now

 ‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

 ‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

 ‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

‘Balby Garden No5 (June 2020)’ plaster, steel rod, paper; 1’x1’x1’6” approx.

Still thinking about the VR work and how to build a structure to house the experience. Also varnishing BGNo5 and finishing the others.

Still difficult to focus thoughts on the work as its impossible to get away from it!

 

Lockdown Six (and on, and on, and on…)

Lazy post this week…

The gallery has been updated with the daily drawings.

I’ve also spent quite a bit of time working up the parts for some maquettes, the series of photographs tell the story…

paper drying in the sun

paper drying in the sun 25/05/20

mould making for rocks

mould making for rocks 27/05/20

mould making for rocks 27/05/20

mould making for rocks 27/05/20

finishing the moulds

finishing the moulds 28/05/20

Outdoor workspace

Outdoor workspace 28/05/20

Solid Castings

Solid Casting 30/05/20

Solid Rocks and half rocks

Solid Rocks and half rocks cast in plaster of paris 29 & 30/05/20

Outdoor workspace 31/05/20

Outdoor workspace 31/05/20

Plinths

Plinths 31/05/20

I’ve made a whole series of parts for the maquettes I’m planning.

I’ve also modelled the old backyard from the house I grew up in in Stoke on Trent for the VR piece I’m working on.

Onwards and onwards!

Studio Strike (Two weeks to leave)

Upstairs Studio Cleared

Upstairs Studio Cleared

The upstairs of the shop is now cleaner and emptier than when I moved in.

I’ll be leaving my studio next Wednesday, no prospect of a new one yet, everywhere is shutting up shop, and I’m hopeful my van driver will honour the contract. We live in interesting times.

Shop ready to empty

Shop ready to empty

So all of this is now here…

Stacked Garage

Stacked Garage

Apart from the bits that are here…

Attic Studio

Attic Studio

Ready to work in isolation!

For the sake of future reference ACE effectively canceled all the National Lottery Project Funding currently pending in order to create a support system for freelancers who are seriously compromised by the current closure of everywhere. So all my plans are on hold along with everyone else’s. What I’ve decided to work on now is a Web GL version of the VR world and see what I can do to finesse it.

Studio Strike (four weeks to leave)

I’ve got three weeks to pack up and leave the studio and, as these things do, it’s come at a time when there are other things to do. I’m losing two days for the Future Now conference in York (C-19 permitting) and two days with Barnsley College to help out and begin the NHS maquettes. I’ve also got to find a new place and I’m still working on developing new ideas and refining the geranium VR. This obviously calls for a diary, even if only because it will keep me focused on the things I need to do.

So the first thing is to take the studio apart and pack everything while I look for more space. The shop now looks like this…

One Days Tidying

One Days Tidying – Monday 9th March

I think I can pack everything up by the middle of next week, I’m in York on Thursday and Friday. On Monday I sent some emails, took down the exhibition and the walls for the workshop downstairs, and added more sounds and animations to the VR for geranium.

geranium_march_2020_medium from Ian Latham on Vimeo.

Also this morning, Tuesday, I got the acknowledgement of my next funding application to ACE, so I will find out if I’m successful at the same time as I give the keys back to Axisweb.

Wednesday Tidying

Installation Dismantled – Wednesday 11th March

Wednesday I took down the installation and started to disassemble the panels. I also took the opportunity to film the installation without a roof.

The first chance to see it with decent light.

Friday I finished the panels and started to pile everything up downstairs ready to move. Another day should see it done.

Upstairs Tidying

Installation Fully dismantled – Friday 13th March

Downstairs Friday

Downstairs Tidying – Friday 13th March

The Geranium Project (R&D) 34

This last week has been spent planning next steps and finessing parts of the VR. The video run through is below.

I had a few visitors, only one set I didn’t invite directly, who were uniformly enthusiastic about the work. I had another today who took the number who have tried the VR to 50. People remain as enthusiastic about the installation as they do about the VR.

Next steps are to make the physical presence more robust so that it can be moved for exhibition and get the piece out to new locations. All of this is of course subject to funding. The final report can be seen here http://www.ian-latham.com/geranium.html

 

The Geranium Project (R&D) 31

Monday was spent making further adjustments to the VR world. One of the difficulties of working in VR on your own – the way I do it – is that you are continually moving into and out of the virtual as you make slight adjustments in Unity. It is hard to tell what effect they have had without taking the time to try out the world. On Monday I spent time doing this having been frustrated that I forgot to copy the bird_knot animations onto my portable disc so I couldn’t bring them into the model.

You get a sense of the small iterations I mean from the video above.

I’ve managed to work out the PIR for my arduino for the thunder inside the installation but part of working it out meant I discovered a collection of new parts I need to make the finished article. I tried to get the webcam working to cover this on Wednesday but there is a fault that means I can’t adjust the motion detection subtly enough to detect movement when I want it.

Friday was a chance to copy the current version of the VR before I attempt the build again and to shoot a view of the installation in its almost finished state.

I’ve also managed to set up a projection of the VR experience.

Projection from VR

The Geranium Project (R&D) 30

Monday 20th January, finally managed to work on the textures for the gardens and the bird knots. I painted another, final?, coat on to the installation as well.

Starling Texture One

I overworked this one a bit, so it needs to dry.

Starling Texture Two

This one is better.

entrance

This is the entrance to the installation,

looking back from the screen

Looking back from the projection,

towards the entrance

and back to the entrance.

I think I’ll have to call it a day if I want to get the other things I’m working on done for February 10th.

On Wednesday I had a visit at the shop from Juliet Farrar who runs Doncaster Creates for the council. She tells me that the target for the project is to develop knowledge of the arts presence in the town, at least I think that’s how it breaks down. There isn’t the investment for a city, or town, of culture, and there is little to no value in a festival yet. There is a strong offer in the arts in Doncaster but it is disparate and therefore has no discernible presence. Once again we seem to be at a point where things might happen, there is a lot going on, but it may be another false dawn.

On the Tuesday I made a new version of the geranium project installation projection. This is a low resolution version of it.

The rest of the week was interupted by Vets, Dentist, and rats in the garden. I managed to do some more work on the animated birds and Luke has pretty much resolved the AR for the installation. It may well be that we make a version that works externally to the installation, or can be carried in to it.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 29

On Monday I managed to do the second coat of the installation drawing, adding in some lighter shapes over the very black lines of the first version from Friday.

newinstallation back wall

new installation back wall

I worked on the VR world that I have to recover after the difficulties I had last week. There are still a few things that need to be resolved but it is progressing well.

This week I had to go in on Tuesday afternoon as well to have my photograph taken for the free press.

Doncaster Free Press Report

It was in on Thursday, fulfilling another project aim with publicity. I was intending to get in on Thursday to work on finishing off but toothache intervened and I had a trip to the dentist instead. On Friday I worked on the VR while Luke and Kim got the AR into gear and that will be finished up on Wednesday next week. I also got the installation lighting rewired to help with the AR.

This leaves very little to do to finish off now, I need to model the installation into the VR and have a final runthrough with the appropriate sound files and we’re there.