Monday 1 September 2014

A Baxter Park Of The Mind

Last week I participated in a 'micro' residency in Dundee's Baxter Park as part of 'May Meet In Mutual' organised by Emma & Katie Reid. Charged with the task of creating a site responsive work I spent two days in collaboration with Pauline M. Hynd an artist who grew up in Eden Street right opposite the main park gates. It was a great chance for me to take my current practice and apply it to a new situation. As you may be aware I am very much engaged with notions surrounding local cultural value and the connection between creativity and sense of place. Baxter Park having been a kind of hub for generations of Stobswell residents served as a rich canvas upon which we could deposit stories and poems that sprang up from Pauline's memory.

As we accumulated our materials in the form of photographs, texts and audio recordings it occured to me that my modus operandi has become very much like a vessel into which I can pour any site specific content and then connect that content to the place through the combined use of a website and the lithographic plate technique of physical intervention into the landscape - the same method I employed in 'Songs Of The City'. Finding a plate attached to a building or bench is an open invitation for the casual pedestrian to make a direct cognitive connection between the actual physical landscape and the unseen inspirational landscape of the mind. It's a way of celebrating the spirit of the place and acknowledging its influence upon the character and nature of the creativity that flows out from there.

'Father Time' - litho plate in situ on Daisy Hill where Pauline went sledging as a child.
It seems at the outset that some of the residents have been moved by the articulation of these memories and that this work really resonates with people who know the area well. It is also interesting to note that there was for some of the locals a sense of anxiety about embracing the idea of an artistic practice and we later found out that several of them who knew about the project were too afraid to attend the presentation, as if it were somehow an alien or threatening space, perhaps the sight of us strange arty types through the glass walls of the rangers centre put them off a bit?

Pauline's texts and spoken word stories portray a local vernacular landscape rich in the Dundee tongue and also evoke a strong sense of her early years through a period when the park became very run down and neglected in the 1980's - 'Pivvy Wa' is a great example of this.

This project has extended the reach of my work and proved that this methodology can be transposed onto many scenarios. The addition of audio recordings is an exciting development and one that adds an extra layer of richness to the experience. Two days is not much time in which to gather, collate and assemble a website and to fabricate and situate several lithographic plates let alone write all the material, grade all the photographs and do a presentation! It was an exhausting stint but one which left us feeling inspired and delighted by our achievements. Here's to the next one!

A Baxter Park Of The Mind

Tuesday 5 August 2014

The North Uist Solargraph Experiment

Back in March of this year (2014) I took a 4-pack of Guinness, a box of 5 x 7 photographic paper, a pin, some gaffer tape and a few sheets of black card out to the Isle of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
The trip itself was something quite amazing during which some rather nasty weather caused a whole series of wonderful events to unfold. Our intended itinerary had to be thrown out as we became stranded on the Isle of Skye waiting for the Uig to Loch Maddy ferry to sail. After two rather wonderful and unexpected days of being holed up in a hostel in Portree, the storm finally broke and we were able to get over to Uist.

Uist seemed to me to be what I would describe as a 'thin' place. A place where the veil between life and death is quite ..well - thin. It is a place where nature encroaches a great deal into the life of the place, a place where ferocious storms can rip your home to pieces and where the mighty Atlantic Ocean can flood into fields and destroy agriculture for years. It is also a place where the power goes off and entire families and flocks of sheep are washed out to sea. It seems to be about 50% water with a road and a few pieces of boggy land leading up to modest mountains dotted with neolithic stones and barrows here and there. But it is also a magical place where the tenuous thread of existence can be seen for what it is.

And so it was that our group sat around playing music, drinking and fashioning 4 pinhole cameras or should I say 'solargraph machines' according to the technique prescribed by Justin Quinnell on his wonderfully informative website. These cameras are designed to stay outside for 6 months or more and the images they etch onto the photo paper require no chemical development, you just take them out and scan them - no dark rooms or safelights required for any part of this process.

When my friend Laura who lives on Uist returned them to me in August I found that many of the cans were crushed and deformed, and also leaking with water in them. They had, after all been thrashed by the elements for nearly half a year as they hung bravely on - tethered as they were to various fence posts and boulders.

And so it was with some trepidation that I opened the tins and pulled the sodden photo paper out and onto the scanner. Amazingly there were images there! Ghostly dreamlike things that brought back memories of that strange and magical trip.

Suspension bridge leading to North Uist's very own camera obscura.

Mysterious poly-tunnel appeared sometime after this camera was mounted

Really messed up but I like the little angel lights at the top of this one.

See how the trace of the sun climbs daily higher in the sky during the onset of summer.


Saturday 19 July 2014

Songs Of The City - mapping the inspirational stratigraphy of Dundee


At the moment I am midway through a masters degree programme at Dundee's Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD). The MFA is named: Art Society and Publics and as such has a tacit focus on socially engaged art practices in the wider community. It also embraces notions concerning the nature of art writing and explores ways in which approaches to publication and writing can be delivered in non-traditional book forms and how creative research methodologies can be expressed in new and perhaps unorthodox ways - re-framing the essay or book into new modes of dissemination and exploring the boundaries of publication; for example performance and sculpture as book forms and other tangential approaches to the definition of text.

As part of this research I have created a project which focuses on local cultural value systems and attempts to identify the strands of vernacular creativity within the city of Dundee. I have used poetry as the vehicle for the first phase of this research, Dundee being deeply imbued with a strong tradition of writers and poets and also an historical cultural identity associated with printing - both journalistic and Fine Art.

Through the use of lithographic printing plates I am attempting to illustrate a poetic cartography of the landscape of Dundee. By taking site specific poems and physically placing them in the places to which they refer, my hope is to visualise the inspirational landscape of the place and to show how the urbane has also been the source of the creative wellspring - an inspirational landscape layered upon the prosaic urban environment.

The project also addresses issues surrounding cultural value systems, the commodification of art works, the ownership of work released into the public domain and the notion of creative expression linked to deep sense of place, artistic inspiration as a 'gift' and the influence of the 'genius loci'.

It is my hope that this methodology can be translated onto other situations and places forming a gentle intervention within public spaces and drawing awareness to the cultural riches which invisibly surround us all.

Songs Of The City

Any comments are most welcome.


Wednesday 21 May 2014

Writing Time - a creative writing workshop

The time for flexing my dormant creative writing muscles was long overdue. What with elongated and protracted academic manuscripts for my doctoral thesis and a plethora of articles for popular music journals to complete - I had been feeling a little 'dry' and in need of a creative lubricant.

When my partner and inspirational provocateur Rebecca Sharp asked me if I'd like to attend her creative writing workshop I needed no persuasion. To be honest, I've always toyed with idea of creative writing and poetry but have never quite managed to approach it properly; with the obvious exception of songwriting - and so I was really interested to see what would come of this opportunity.

Rebecca's workshop Writing Time combined elements of critical theory (which was fascinating and sparked enthusiastic group debate) with a practical toolkit for story making from 'evocative' found objects and went on to propose lateral ways of thinking about literary creative practice in the context of archaeology and visual semiotics. I was already familiar with the concept of radical geography and now here was a notion of radical archaeology- great!

It was wonderful for me to be able to incorporate a visual aspect into all of this, again finding ways to transcribe one practice onto another and realizing (again) that in the realm of creativity - worlds so often collide and coalesce in beautiful new ways. Okay so beforehand Rebecca had warned me (if that's not too strong a word) that this was really a day about creative writing and not to think of it as a visual art workshop - but in reality I found the two things informed and inspired each other in a naturally cyclical and reciprocal way - that's what a good workshop can help you to see - that there are connections and interchanges to be made on many different levels, and that all signs and signifiers inform the underlying fabric of how we build our perception of the world around us.

And hey, what about the archaeology (apparently you can also spell that word without the second 'a')?
Well, the day also involved a full on visit to an incredible hill fort on the East Lomond hills near Centre for Stewardship on the Falkland estate. The site is thought to be one of huge significance to the ancient powers who presided over this part of the country. At this point I must also thank Joe Fitzpatrick, project leader of the archaeological dig that was happening when we visited. His guided tour of the site left my head spinning from the dense richness of his exposition on all things antiquarian.

To conclude I'll just put a couple of images here, extracted from one of the composited A5 sketchbooks that Rebecca had us construct from layers of specially chosen papers - I like to think of it as a form of 'on the fly' field printing, the images these tools produced are so full of blurry possibilities - a layered stratigraphy of 'almost things' and 'could have beens'.

Seized Latch

At some point in time
I became stuck
Detached - as I am now
I can't remember when or if
the door was closed
or open

#poetry #archaeology #creativewriting #artandarchaeology

Thursday 8 May 2014

Birkhill Art Group and Gallery - B.A.G ²

We are very proud to share here the inaugural exhibition of the newly opened B.A.G² gallery here in Birkhill Estate and it is with great pleasure that we welcome artist Gretchen Blunt to exhibit her collection of massive watercolour paintings and sculptures. The work is entirely site responsive and draws its inspiration entirely from the environs of Birkhill Estate itself where Gretchen spent several months walking and sketching in preparation for this show. No one can deny the arresting impact that these substantial works confront us with.

On the opening night a select invited audience were enchanted, not only by the work on display but also by the impressive space that the new gallery provides for the housing of such huge works, some of which are as much as 6" long and 3" high. As you can see from the photos of the night, we had a very good turn out and many of the attendees promised to be back for our next exhibition - which will be announced in the near future.

As co-director of B.A.G² I must report what a great pleasure it was to host Gretchen Blunt - Field System and also what a pleasure it was to work with such a well established and talented artist. Our gallery staff have been fantastic in supporting the installation of this exhibition and we are very much indebted to their sustained efforts over the last 6 months bringing the finished gallery to fruition.

We do hope you enjoy the small sample of images presented here but please be sure to visit the gallery website for more details about Gretchen Blunt and forthcoming exhibitions. Thank you.

#bookshelfgallery, #microexhibition, #artscenes

Sunday 23 March 2014

What Is Magic Today Shall Be Science Tomorrow

Below is an essay I wrote as part of my Masters Degree in Art, Society and Publics. 
It accompanies a cassette release of music created using the bamstick and was printed on a scroll using waterless lithography and screenprinting. It was a limited edition of 15 housed in recycled tin cans. I gave them all away.

 What is Magic Today Shall be Science Tomorrow

When T. C Lethbridge published Ghost and Divining Rod in 1963 the world was reverberating with the shockwaves of socio-seismic activity. John Kennedy murdered, the Cuban missile crisis narrowly averted, the appearance of The Beatles first album and most importantly for myself, the transition from amniotic cocoon to dislocated consciousness.
As these momentous global events unfolded Lethbridge was busy scrutinising the liminal world of energetic resonance at sites of pre historical significance taking measurements with his para-scientific apparatus to reveal the sources of invisible energy vortices, all findings being documented with typical precision and the application of a strict scientific methodology.

Lethbridge was a believer in resonance and the ability of the sensitive human subject to receive and channel energetic vibrations through the use of analogue amplification devices such as dowsing rods, pendulums, scrying machines and the recording of electronic voice phenomena (EVP). Forces or energies which have historically been associated with and attributed to esoteric factors such as ley lines, spirits of the deceased, communications from disembodied deities or even imprints left in the akashic records by tumultuous events taking place at focal nexi in the space time continuum. Lethbridge had a theory that these phenomena are all ultimately empirically quantifiable. We are after all, electro-mechanical beings who can unconsciously respond to the stimulations of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and other (sub-liminal) phenomenological disturbances.

Could the ‘electromagnetic field’ of the water be somehow to blame - that same ‘field’ that produces the response in the dowsing rod? Is it possible that such fields can receive the impress of an emotion, as the sling stone received the impress of anger, and transmit it later to someone who stands on the same spot? He invents the term ‘naiad field’ for the electromagnetic field of water, and advances the suggestion that mountains and open spaces (like deserts) may also have their own individual fields.1

Transposing this notion of divining rods and their usage as receptors for unseen energies into the present technological millennia we can consider the work of German sound artist Christina Kubisch whose audio investigations into the nature of EMF in the contemporary urban space clearly demonstrate the intense energetic presence of radiation beyond the audio-visual spectrum. Kubisch has noted through the duration of her famous electronic walks2 in various cities around the globe that the occurrence and intensity of EMF static has multiplied exponentially over the last 10 years. We are now being engulfed by an invisible deluge of radiations from mobile devices, routers and computer controlled machinery at every level of our day to day existence. Are they harmful to us?

The modern day sensitive who is attuned to these hyper-frequencies may find themselves tormented by the bombardment of voices and signals from the inaudible spectrum, indeed there are a growing number of cases of phobic or allergic subjects who find no alternative but to seek refuge in the hinterlands where such signals are weak, these individuals report symptoms such as nausea, headaches and stomach cramps when any type of mobile device is activated even several feet away from them. This syndrome is now recognized as ‘Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity’ (EHV). An online search will yield an ever growing number of articles reporting a disturbing trend towards this kind of debilitating condition. The case of Per Segerb├Ąck who is forced to live in the Scandinavian wilderness being just one notable example.3

Genius Loci (and the Muse).

Ancient Greeks and Romans (not to mention Victorian landscape architects) attributed the ambient conditions of specific areas or places to the presence of the Genius Loci or the spirit of place. The nature of this spirit entity being the determining factor in the numinous mood of specific regions or landscapes, each place having a uniquely identifiable character.
The 18th century poet and essayist Alexander Pope addressed the subject thus;

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise or fall;
Or helps the ambitious hill the heave’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale,
Calls in the country catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods and various shades from shades,
Now breaks or directs th’intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.4

It can be seen from this that any mortal interjection with the surroundings is subordinate to the will of the genius who channels the creative process through the human agent.

This is a digression.

The real thrust of this discourse is to present the reader with the fanciful proposition that the the attuned individual can resonate with the genius of a place and that the voice of the spirit may even become negated by the presence of artificial interferences, blocking out higher vibrations and leading to a supersaturated noise environment (albeit invisible) which in turn may ultimately lead to a detrimental disconnect between the human entity and his space, a cognitive dissonance, manifesting itself in dis-ease, mental deterioration and a malaise of spatial dislocation.

Music and Divination.

In assuming the mantle of clairvoyant or dowser, the musician is able to employ his/her inherent sensitivity for rhythmic and harmonic vibration by tapping into and channeling the electromagnetic flux into an aural manifestation, a process sometimes referred to as contacting the Muse. In an act of ritual meditation, the musician (hereafter referred to as the magusician being a concatenation of magus and musician) takes up his divining rod, and reveals through his meditations the underlying harmonic structure of a space, clocking into the metronome of the spheres which governs the tempo of all life on earth.

The single stringed diddley bow is a fine example of the musical divining rod being the apparatus of choice for the ancient shaman of the Mississippi Delta and also where the Genius Loci of Muscle Shoals exerted her beneficence upon generations of song makers. Where once the high priest of the blues, Robert Johnson, channelled the voices of the mystic. Legend has it that he performed a transaction with the evil one but I propose that he simply communed deeply with the Genius. In a mystical rite the electrified string of the bow and the barrel of the slide connect in the manner of a cosmic crystal radio set, the player becomes a meta-antenna tuning in to the spirit of the Muse, a conduit, a sound scryer entering into a musical psychomanteum, transmitting back messages from the collective unconsciousness.

The Necessity of Ritual in Music.

Walter Benjamin in his seminal paper The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction draws our attention to the loss of what he calls the aura, a metaphysical quality that is inherent in an object or work of art and manifests itself in a symbioses between the situation or physical context of said objects and the viewer. The creation and multiplication of the subsequent facsimile removes this aura from the work. The original placement and location of the artwork imbue the object with layers of signification and content which are now subordinated and ultimately lost through the process of repeated mechanical reproduction.

We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual – first the magical, then the religious kind. It is significant that the existence of the work of art with reference to its aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function. In other words, the unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value.5

We can apply this model to the present trend in digital music streaming. The currently eviscerated vessel of audio delivery has evolved from wax cylinder to vinyl record to magnetic tape to compact disc to mp3 and finally into an ephemeral stream of invisible data.
The sound of music (live performance notwithstanding) has in fact always been mechanically reproduced ever since Edison's first ethereal recordings but up until recently it still had a physical presence, being enshrined in a delivery medium which in turn imbued it with a fetishistic value, a sacred totem if you will. The record collection was and still is for some a reliquary of spiritual significance, a place where the acolyte can worship at the altar of the magusician, a place where he can ritualistically ‘connect’ with the soul of the artist and partake of the audio sacraments which are set before him.

This was music for a new religion, with the record player as domestic shrine. The private nocturnal consumption of these records assumed a devotional, even sacramental aspect. Psychedelia’s links with shamanism are well documented. The shaman invariably uses sounds and symbolic images to help him navigate his ecstatic flight through the otherworld. All religions have their symbols, altars, shrines, icons, and mandalas, combining still images with music to facilitate the devotee’s passage from the worldly light of the image to the unworldly light of divine vision. Featuring the same symbiotic conjunction of music and image, the record was a portable idol, the worship of which afforded illicit glimpses of otherworlds and forbidden gods. Prog-gnosis.6

Music must return to a ritualistic action which involves context and ‘reverence’ if it is to be saved from the meaninglessness and devaluation with which it is currently afflicted. This is what has been lost to the non-entity of the perpetual wi-fi stream. Aura and ritual have been subsumed into a morass of background noise. As a culture we no longer actively listen to music, we simply have it on in the middle distance.

In a gut reaction to the homogenisation of musical culture in the digital age, the underground artist has embraced a return to the older formats. Vinyl is king but equally demands kingly sums for its production. The cassette tape is also favoured not only for it’s meagre price, but sometimes also for its sonic properties (noise, black metal and ambient artists) even more crucially for its ability to rescue the aura, the very thing which Benjamin identified so many years ago. The old model of commercial success is now roundly rejected by the avant music producer in favour of a non commercial hand produced, limited edition, totemic product which serves to personally connect with a minuscule but appreciative public. It is no longer a question of finance or success, there are far greater stakes at risk here.7 It serves to re-establish the ritual of actively listening to music and the re-evaluation of why we listen and what we value about the experience. It asks the question; what is music really worth to us?
The democratisation of arts production in the digital age has inverted the old world meritocratic relationship between artist and fanbase. The well known Warholian axiom on the nature of individual celebrity status has been fundamentally and irrevocably subverted.

Nowadays, everyone can be famous for 15 people

                x - artist                                                                 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx - artists
               xx                                                                              xxxxxxxxxxxx
           xxxxxx                                                                              xxxxxxxxx
         xxxxxxxx                                                                               xxxxxx
      xxxxxxxxxxxx                                                                               xx
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxx - audience                                                             x - audience

  Old World Model                                                                  New World Model8

2 Kubisch, C, Electronic Walks:
4 Pope, A: An Epistle to Burlington, 1731.
5 Benjamin, W: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, section IV:
6 Shaw, N: Why Does The Devil Have All The Good Tunes?:
7 Momus: Pop Stars Nein Danke!, 1991 :
8 Figure 1: The relationship between audience and artist in the age of digital democratisation.

Ghost & Divining Rod available free on Bandcamp here: