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.

Is it still Lockdown? (Twenty days later)

Frustrating month trying to get my head in gear to work on the gardens project. I’ve got a chanace to put this out for feedback through the CAST scratch night but I’m having real difficulty with the animation and scene loading in Unity/Steam so I’m reverting to the travelling through tunnels, or dropping down holes to progress.

In the meantime I finished the set of five sculptures and placed them in the garden. The  Garden Sculpture website can be seen on this link. I’ve set it up seperately so I can send it out for applications.

The sculptures are smaller than I’m used to and I’m not sure about them yet. I’m working on a piece about the garden as an inspiration and a site for sculptures that will be posted soon. (don’t hold your breath).

I also set up a site for the paintings I’ve been working on over the last couple of months.

There are three series of five, one completed – still life – and two in progress. Edlington Woods, the one above is the latest in this series.

And paintings of my garden like this one. The site can be seen here Learning to paint

I’ve also been drawing on my iPad each day, since May 6th, so I’ve got 82 drawings/sketches up ’til today.

The rest of my time I’ve spent staring at computers, 3d modelling, getting VR wrong and checking over my application for a new Lottery Project grant from ACE.

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 Eight (Too busy to think)

Another lazy post, been too busy gardening and prevaricating since the last one.

small painting gif ‘fox jaw’

I made this small painting, and I entered the last one into an online competition…

It’s there on the right, you can click this link to vote for it https://www.doncasterartfair.com/?pgid=kb84pw6k-c20b0fd7-b161-42b3-ac0a-0086832b9f2e but I don’t really stand a chance, the final 30 are picked through the online vote and half an hour in some of these had 500+ votes. I don’t know enough people online. It was free to enter though.

I’ve been continuing to work on the ‘gardens’ project, tentatively titled “et in arcadia ego” the viewer moves through a series of gardens, all the gardens I’ve spent time in. I think its about the pursuit of quiet spaces, the expanding and contracting nature of safety – mental and physical – and the chimeric nature of confidence (for a start).

This is the first space, the back yard at Glover Street in Birches Head, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. The spaces will eventually lead to the garden I used for geranium and I’m working on a post explaining the concept fully for a new funding bid (small funds but tech support).

I’m building sculpture this week, I’ll post it next week or on the internet as I go.

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!

Lockdown Five (a continuing, if erratic, saga)

A bit of a mixed couple of weeks (12 days as I’m writing) doing a variety of different things.

Lots of gardening, lots of preparation for a series of small sculptures – nothing to show there yet – drawing, painting and so on.

Looking through Instagram, which I just rejoined, I came across #draweverydayinmay2020 run by ‘Marigold the Maker’ under the auspices of The Big Draw. Part of it is to use the additional hashtag #stillpointsketchingchallenge and place some creative limitations on your daily sketching. I decided to use Autodesk Sketchbook to produce all the drawings on my iPad, work between 9:00 am and 10:00 am each day and remain in my seat at the kitchen table.

painting of lemons

Teaching myself to paint

I also bought myself some boards, 5mm ply 25 cm square, to do some small paintings, just to keep my hand in. These lemons were started the same day I drew the two in the dish in the gallery.

I also applied for the Yorkshire Sculpture International Network 2020, which is a set of online meetings fortnightly from June until October where Each of the participating artists will be invited to contribute to developing the content of the network’s programme and to the research and development for the next Yorkshire Sculpture International festival. This programme will enable us to ensure we are building the future artists’ professional development in the most useful way for artists.” I should find out if I’m successful next week, I can’t imagine there will be many people my age applying.

ArtBomb Video  

Flickr Video

Art Bomb Video

I’m posting this again to remind myself, the arts group I did this with has done a zoom meeting with all the videos played, I wasn’t invited (or I missed the email?) I know it’s not great but it would have been nice to be asked.

More Lockdown (less success)

I’ve got the WebGL down below seven minutes consistently, with data caching, it’s still too long though. www.ian-latham.com/geranium/build_newmirror

Began thinking about meadow forms for sculptures.

07/05/20 tried loading the WebGL again, took 20 minutes to do nothing, 12 minutes to load, then twice seven minutes to load each time with no sound! Next step is to upgrade the Unity programme which means a complete rebuild. Love this game!

08/05/20 Too nice a day to mess about with Unity so I did some sketching in the garden and started to work a maquette for the meadow forms.

buttercup sketch

buttercup sketch

I’ve started to draw on the iPad in the mornings as well, posting them on instagram. [@latham_1959] The maquette is air drying clay and will be varnished and cast in plaster.

common orchid maquette

common orchid maquette

I’m thinking of different finishes, certainly mounted on a stem.

meadow forms sketch

meadow forms sketch

Since these, a couple of days ago, I’ve had to update Unity to try to resolve the load issues.

Lockdown Continued… (notice the calmer Title Case)

The VR world from the geranium project on simmer – www.simmer.io/@IanLatham/the-geranium-project – takes 8 minutes and 7 seconds to load.

The latest WebGL build on my own website – www.ian-latham.com/geranium/build – takes 11 minutes and 39 seconds to load.

I’ve spent hours trying to work out how to make the things load more quickly but everything I try seems to make little or no difference.

I participated in an online event for the Doncaster New Fringe art group, a kind of delayed open studio evening in which artists film their work and upload the videos to a website. This is the video I made Art Bomb Video for Doncaster New Fringe I found some old 3d models I made for sculptures over a number of years and built a VR environment for them, I then made an awful video of my studio and me explaining what I’d done in fluent gibberish and placed that video inside the VR world. I recorded that through the computer and there you go.

Other than that this week has been a lot of gardening, building a greenhouse, and the endless frustration of Unity!

greenhouse

My New Greenhouse

I finally got the WebGL build down to 6 minutes and 17 seconds! Or at least below 7 minutes over several tries, the load bar doesn’t work properly though.

LOCKDOWN BLOG POST – First of ?

START: 17/04/2020

After moving from my studio as detailed in my last post I’ve been unable to write anything. Perhaps incapable is a better word. Obviously the latest Grant application was abandoned and I’m left in a kind of limbo. Fortunately I don’t need the money to live, only to work effectively and make the appropriate investments – time, contacts, equipment, etc., – so I’m one of many who is just happy to be ok and creatively feeling a bit numb.

garden drawing 13/04/20

garden drawing 13/04/20

So I did a drawing, A1 size or thereabouts, in charcoal, pencil and watercolour (a couple of dabs of white). This one took about four hours on one of the fine days we’ve been having.

I’ve also been working on new models for the geranium project, rebuilding them so that they can be played on desktops or through browsers.

geranium project page with an embedded WebGL game

I’ve uploaded a fairly straight version to a site called ‘simmer.io’ there is a link on the page for the project. It takes up to two minutes to load and it doesn’t work on Safari, it also doesn’t allow you to look up or down for some reason and has an annoying walk speed and sound.

I’ve been resolving those issue though and hosting new attempts to sort this on my website. Here www.ian-latham.com/geranium/game

This one is just one garden at the moment and has no sound, but it loads quicker and allows you to look up etc., these are both controlled using the mouse to look and arrow keys, or wasd, to move around.

I’ll be updating this location as I try out new things and bring in more gardens.

A final thought. I’ve been reading a lot of ‘art’ stuff,

[…] I want to speak loudly for what art has always been — something done against the rules of advanced capitalism. Art isn’t about professionalism, efficiency, insurance, and safety; it’s about eccentricity, risk, resistance, and adaptation. Mike Egan, owner of the visionary Ramiken Gallery, writes to me, “Art will not survive as some dull thing, some social good that we must support out of consensual responsibility to the social good. Art will explode with the desires of the people to see action play out, with tears, screams, harmonies, and some death.” He goes on, “Watch what happens next. Galleries will go under — unless they survive. How to survive? Passion. Obsession. Desire.” Indeed, in this time of sheltering-in-place, he just moved his gallery to a decrepit building across from a garbage dump and told me he opened “a secret show.” I thought I felt the rumble of art’s old thunder when he wrote this to me. In this and other similar gestures, I imagine a new “First Days of an Art World.”

https://www.vulture.com/2020/04/how-the-coronavirus-will-transform-the-art-world.html

Jerry Saltz waxing lyrical about the effect of Covid 19 on the “Art World”, April 2nd 2020, notes that a large number of galleries have reserves that will last a month or two at most. In the UK commentators are noting that the closure of the gallery closes the gallery shop which for many is a major income stream. ACE has launched an emergency funding scheme that seeks to mitigate the disaster that has hit a majority of those self describing as artists. Friends of mine are working to maintain connections and bolster the support networks that run alongside practice for a good number of creatives. The thing for me is that a lot of this points up the commodification of ‘art’ and speaks to a constituency that judges artworks according to their social value. The ACE parameters are that you earned more than 50% of your income from funding streams (not necessarily theirs) and can demonstrate this loss of income. It’s either this or hopeless idealism it seems. I’m interested to see what remains after COVID-19, but also extremely nervous.