In terms of creative output I’m a slow burner. I’ve chipped away at creative ‘work’ for getting on for 35 years, a fair bit of hot air has been generated, but relatively little doing-making-creating has actually taken place (am I an armchair artist?) as family life, life-in-general and work have given me an ideal excuse to delay production until another day (a case of ‘a round tuit’?). Perhaps only now, when I no longer have excuses or places to hide, am I finally getting to the point where I’ll begin The Work in a more practical, productive and concerted way?
Making a fresh start or new beginning is scary. If the when’s been dealt with (it’s now) so many questions remain — Why? How? What?
I’ve overcome my queasiness at committing to my main creative project – The Undersong Project – by realising that this moment is not really a new beginning at all but is the result of a long gestation period. The current ‘creative flowering’ if I dare call it that, has actually had more thinking-through than pretty much anything else in my life. Whilst the seed of inspiration (The Moment) for The Undersong (see PART I – The Clearing & PART II – Mr. Magpie) may have happened way back when, the narrative or the putting into words didn’t follow immediately. I feel that the inactive ‘fallow years’ shouldn’t be dismissed as wholly unproductive however, but seen as preparatory. I’ve been collecting elements of The Undersong – shards and hints, tones and tints – my entire adult life. This new beginning is actually more like a new middle as I’ve already lived through the beginning, the hard part. Now all I need to do is get on with it and bring the ideas to some kind of conclusion.
In PART I – The Clearing, I said:
I’m not good at the writing or the painting, not particularly original or talented, but it matters not one jot when you’ve got the itch you have little choice but to scratch it, so I write what I can in the best way I can, I put pencil, pen or brush to paper, board or canvas, I make my mark and tell my story. We all have a story to tell and this is my attempt to share my telling.
And, I’m sticking by that.
The Undersong Project will be a naked, ungainly and often clumsy project. It will all happen in the open and in public and, where possible, be recorded on this website. I envisage that alongside the written word (the posts, short essays or prose poems) and digital images (the worked postcards, photos and digital prints) will go discrete paintings; constructions/accretions called assemblages (collaged paintings/drawings/text combined with found items); urban flotsam, stones with holes and salvaged scraps of timber, paper, metalwork and twine in installations of ideas & imagery.
Over time, and in a large part sub-consciously, I’ve been gathering the constituent parts of the assemblages. The sub-assemblages are objects; some of which will be brought together in the wall-mounted pieces and others, the thin objects*, will stand apart.
I hope both will take me closer to a return to the feelings experienced in The Moment.
*Thin objects are those objects that don’t require adornment. The ones that can hold their own; the ones you pick up and hold and savour, sensing unique materiality and heft. Smooth pebbles, particularly the ones with holes right through; anthropomorphic clothes pegs; a Brown Betty teapot or something as large as an old iron boat could be thin objects. Identifying a thin object is highly subjective. It’s up to you. Thin objects are your portable roots.
“The passage of time (my History) leaves behind a residue that accumulates: photographs, drawings, the corpses of long since dried up felt-pens, shirts, non-returnable glasses and returnable glasses, cigar wrappers, tins, erasers, postcards, books, dust and knickknacks: this is what I call my fortune.”
George Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces
Thin objects encourage sensory and psychological archeology; they act as a generator or as a time capsule recording a threefold experience of aging: of the object itself, of the memories linked to it; and the impact of the use that’s been made of both the memory and the object.
Thin objects also combine two distinct elements:
- They act as focusing points or points of connection with something beyond their own specificity and enable a transition from the ‘mundane and known’ to a state of mind that feels significantly differently and where there’s a strong sense of the past being still present. A pressed flower from childhood; a tight-folded notelet; a lock of hair. Look around your room, in your desk drawer, in the tool chest, jewelry box, glove compartment. Give yourself over to your objects. Don’t think in ready-made ways. Discover what treasure’s there, in front of you, every day, in plain sight. Your objects may not be valuable, but they’re of huge value to you – as a vestige, that encapsulate a life. Your life.Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? All we know of the world is in those objects. Shells collected on that beach (you remember…that holiday, that very perfect moment?) or a pile of priceless art, in terms of identity which would you prefer to have?
- They take you beyond yourself and closer to wonderment or to what might be described as the sacred. Not sacred in any kind of specifically religious or necessarily New Age sense, but more in terms of accessing a fundamental experience. Don Domanski in his essay Poetry and the Sacred reproduced in Reliquiae Vol. 2 by Corbel Stone Press explains ‘….how each thing holds a mystery, simply because it exists, because existence itself is sacred. The fact that something exists at all has continued to amaze me, and the forms, as well, amaze me. I don’t mean this in a sentimental way; true amazement asks for more from us than the recognition of beauty and form…’ ie. the thin object takes you beyond its outward form, and prompts amazement in the perfect is-ness of the thing-in-it’s-own-right.
is-ness + vestage = thin object
I envisage that The Undersong Project will be exploratory, combining word-smithing and mark-making. It’ll be about mapping the journey back home.
In practical terms perhaps the processes of walking, inland boating, collecting, sifting, attaching, layering, echoing, glimpsing, destroying, rebuilding, editing, constructing and so on… may one day come together as a single coherent entity or a series of ‘visual novels’ or ‘memory cloths’ – I’d like to think so – but doubt it. In the meantime I’ll go on looking, and making.
It’s more likely that The (impossible) Undersong will – by definition – be a performative, temporal artwork evolving as fragments of fact, memory, fieldwork, fiction, historical research and quasi-autobiography combined, broken down, re-combined and generally played about with to create a dense, layered personal response to The Moment and my interest in the narrative of belonging, longing, loss, identity and memory.
The web-based content will also aim to:
- point readers towards wonderful websites across the internet
- act as both an archive and resource base
- integrate a broader examination of artistic forms of mapping that take place in documentary, visual arts & literature and which explore moments of transition, historical shifts, and the emergence of identity in a spatial context.
Overall The Undersong Project will aim to:
- explore the transient nature of things: Listening. Dwelling. Enjoying the moment and the history. Building up a sense of place by valuing the senses, knowledge and affect equally. Noticing, and savouring what is glimpsed from the corner of your eye.
- express a poetry of the commonplace: with the inexplicable and the obvious talking to and residing alongside each other.
- poetically ponder the extremes of the ordinary: and portray the dense network of social and personal connections that constitute a life
- go in unfamiliar directions: Losing sight of myself along the way. Following my nose or going in familiar directions and trying to see things in a new way.
- slow things down! Finding opportunities for ‘slow’ encounters with objects that reveal how echoes, glimpses, associations, memories and the seemingly inconsequential are of value in mapping the narrative of identity, our sense of self and our connection to place.
- assert the necessity of attending to the fleeting and changeable aspects of existence: in order to recognise the complex personal and social dynamics of the political world.
- explore a ‘hidden landscape’: of atmospheres, histories, actions and characters which charge a sense of place.
- make connections: but without obsessively pursuing a dominant narrative.
- give permission: for leaps in the dark.
- ponder the interconnectedness of personal interests: what might they say about your approach to surviving the 21stC? How do genealogy, deltiology, documentary, folklore & art, landscape, language, vernacular architecture, old maps, journal writing, list making, digital sunshine, photography, inlanding, social history, memory & myth, poetry, industrial heritage & psychogeography talk to each other?
- be involved: in both research and imagination, encouraging a broad unfolding of a story, over time.
- expose hidden stories: Scouring diverse source materials, old books and maps, postcards and posters and drifting across their stories.
- gather people around the stove: talking and looking again, and seeing whether, in the re-tellings, we can make any more sense of the present in relation to the past and the present.
- be active: Standing in my circle and by my mark.
- take me on a journey: ‘navigating’ the story, walking the story, float inland with the story…
- go on: go on, it’s time to go on!
At last The Undersong Project has begun. I’m spending more time making and less writing about making. The result will soon begin appearing on the website.
I’m absorbed by process.
And, I find I’m whistling as I work. I think that may be a good sign.