For the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting my thoughts and responding to the theme of ‘artists in lockdown’ for a project run by Discover Dearne. For me, this period of time has provided an opportunity to try and reconnect with some of the feelings and emotions I felt and still feel from the past 16 weeks from when the word Coronavirus became all too familiar.
Working as an artist, my job is mostly done in isolation anyway, thinking, pondering, looking out of the window, jotting notes and sketches on bits of paper that usually lead to a period of physical activity that results in a piece of artwork whether this be a painting, a piece of sculpture or a film or installation.
Lockdown was and is a struggle, I couldn’t listen to the daily news and coronavirus statistics because they became too distressing and increased feelings of anxiety. I am immensely thankful for the efforts of the NHS and key workers that saved lives and kept society ticking over. We seem to be in a period of easing slowly into a new abnormal way of living involving masks, washing hands and avoiding physical contact although there still seems a real threat that we could easily go back to a full lockdown if infection rates start to get worse, especially as it approaches winter, I pray this doesn’t happen.
My experience during lockdown was about being forced to refocus priorities, who you could help, and how, how to protect yourself and family, have I washed my hands (the 100th time today) did I just rub my eye! As anxiety built and stress overflowed it changed our perspectives of ourselves and our immediate locations. I remember appreciating the chance to be able to walk around my local field, as being a highlight of the day. Our living rooms became mini universes of fascination that reminded me of the feeling that you get as a child when you make a tent out of a blanket and a couple of chairs and it creates a special/separate space out of an everyday one. Whether in the house or walking in local fields it felt like my own tiny isolated planet. I remembered my dad saying that he had once heard the author and theatre director Jonathan Miller being interviewed and asked where he would most like to go on holiday and he said that he would like to spend a week in the house opposite his so he could study his home. I think for the past 16 weeks it felt a little like this, being able to slow down and see our spaces differently.
One of the most important aspects of the lockdown was trying to maintain a connection with nature. Whether this was watching and drawing birds in the garden or walking in our local park.
Above are drawings of a song thrush and blackbird. Their songs were greatly appreciated this summer.
One of my favourite places to visit during lockdown is a short walk to some fields where the rivers Dove and Dearne meet and there’s great views towards Broomhill Flash.
For this project, I have created some small worlds (above) that condense a small part of my landscape and turn it into a globe. The reason for this is to try and visually convey the way these places became our worlds over the last 16 weeks.
The fields towards Broomhill Flash have a timeless quality, when walking in them and nearby houses start to disappear from view, it could be 1520 instead of 2020. The features that help make this place special are the presence of the rivers, the large body of water – the ‘flash’ – towards Broomhill that attracts large numbers of birds and the presence of Cob horses that graze in these fields. The horses add a great deal to the landscape, they have a peaceful but strong quality to them that is unaffected by their circumstances. Typically when we have heavy rain these fields flood and the horses simply move to the areas of highest ground and wait for the waters to recede. For me this behaviour metaphorically connected with the way we were feeling, affected by circumstances out of our control and mentally and physically having to move to another part of our field waiting for waters to recede.
The image above is a small world showing a view of the river Dove on its way to join the Dearne.
During lockdown, I found it difficult to concentrate for long periods. I found poetry provided a lens to refocus and energise my mind. There were so many pieces that resonated, here are a few:
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
A surprise activity that I found left a powerful impression was when everyone started clapping in support of the NHS. This element of lockdown seemed to bring us together even though we were far apart, I remember hoping that this communal compassion could last beyond the lockdown. It also reminded me of this poem.
By Siegfried Sassoon
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields; on; on; and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears and horror
Drifted away … O but every one
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
I’m a visual person and I find it very interesting that during the lockdown words seem to have had the biggest impact. The above examples use birds to help describe complex emotions. I have also used birds in this way, please take a look at some of my other work ‘Belonging’ for Liverpool Biennial.
Image: Belonging installation at Walker Gallery for 2012 Liverpool Biennial. A version of this installation is currently being shown in Damme, Belgium, please see https://www.facebook.com/watch/stichtingijsbergvzw/
“Hope” is the thing with feathers
By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
For this project I wanted to create a new piece of work that resonated with my local lockdown experiences and the importance of nature to me. Like the poems above I wanted to connect with an animal to help explore emotion and I couldn’t think of anything better that symbolised a graceful strength and hope than the horses in the nearby fields.
So in my next blog post I’ll be updating about the sketches and preparation stages of creating a small horse sculpture made from clay.