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’. “
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.
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
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.
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
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.