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LISTEN TO AIR

The word ‘listen’ is often used to begin a story. Every story needs a storyteller and a story-listener, because while the one offers the necessary words, the other gives necessary silence. Children were traditionally taught to pay similar attention to the land, ‘to listen intently when all seemingly was quiet’. Listening lets the outer world be re-created within you. Listening means being willing to let one’s borders be porous. Listening does what light does for a seed, asking it to swing upwards into life and giving it a reason to do so.  Jay Griffths  1965- ( Kith, The Riddle of the Childscape  )

Installation with objects, poems and participation

An offering of an experience of being Artist in Residence at Bunces Barn, East Sussex

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I found the poems in the fields and only wrote them down. John Clare ( 1793-1864 )

Bunces Barn is a 17th century reconstructed barn in the middle of wildflower meadows whose seeds are gathered for the Seed Bank at Kew. Over three years I have ‘collected’: writing, photographs, a dancers in landscape collective, live events with music, poetry, performance including artists who have bees and  a walking event about poet Edward Thomas, and exhibitions in the Barn. This work is an experiment in trying to bring a lived experience of nature and landscape  into an inside space with the hope of evoking thoughts of being outside, looking at flowers and being in the open air.

The whole project is full of questions about turning ephemerality and lived experience into evocative objects. The reason for the work is the experience of place.  My work is about treasuring beauty, the landscape and wildflowers, with the hope of sharing awareness and care of biodiversity.

‘Beauty will save the world.’ Dostoevsky

There are three parts to the exhibition.

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COLLECTION VAULTS

Using the project spaces across the hall I have filled one with wire, one with green ribbon, one with seeds, one coloured by wildflower petals, one with wildflower books, and one of the film I made of Bunces Barn when I flew over it during my flying lesson as research for the piece. Audiences could visit this space first. In some ways I see it as a ‘storage’ of the raw materials of the piece, much like a fairytale has the piles of straw to spin or the seeds to sort, those ‘tasks’ that one has to go through to journey forward.

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LISTEN TO AIR

An individual instruction film using green ribbon, wire, scissors and wildflower book to put the viewer in the place of ‘making’ with their hands and looking at the book. There are instructions to follow outside when they leave. Only the hands and voice of the artist are seen and heard, but a personal exchange is had.

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MEADOWBOOK

Following ‘book instructions’ one is lead through a series of installations of wildflower books immersed in wire writing. There are factual texts, poems, wildflower petal paper, old scent bottles, pillows and photographs of the books ‘on location’ at Bunces Barn. The audience has to read, observe, lie under tables to see images and texts of the poems and fairy tales. The audience also becomes a choreography.

The final instruction is to lie down and look up and to look through the window to a wire sign attached to the top of the building saying ‘listen to air’. This is a way of changing the scale of the installation and leads to a subtle plea to go and lie down outside on the earth and look up.

This is followed by a glass of elderflower cordial  from a tea trolley as a touch of humour and another ‘gift’. So three gifts, a glass of elderflower cordial, an envelope with a wish, and a seed.

Our tendency to idealise and romanticise nature is as dangerous as uninformed fear.  We begin by listening to the earth, using the resources of the body.  As we attend to underlying patterns, we recognise that body is part of earth – inseparable. Each individual is not alone but a participant in local and bioregions, just as every cell is part of us.  Through place, we can focus rapt attention on one particular site, opening perceptual gateways and softening our habits of projection and association.  We engage our multiple intelligences through writing and story telling, drawing and visualising, moving and making, listening and vocalising, cooperating and connecting, and thinking and feeling. This connection to place involves being who we are ( rather than who we might construct ourselves to be) in the grander scheme of things.
Andrea Olsen, Body & Earth

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A wildflower walk through the installations

One opens the door into a large project space with many walls, corners and areas.

Each area is given over to a different material, and each material is abundant, in fact all of them overfill their spaces so that the boundaries and ends of them become never- ending, this abundance, this open ending is an attempt to undo the edges, undefine the material, so it can become that which is in nature, in landscape, ever extending.

The wire seems to come from the centre, extends down to holes in the wall and over the tops of walls where it could continue on. Next there is a bookcase of wildflower books whose top shelf you cannot see to the top off and the same below, these shelves could go on into infinity in each direction. From two doors in the next room a sea of green ribbon enters, falls down the wall and lies on the floor, where do they lead to, what are they growing out of, is this grass that is gradually taking over a space?

There is a small boxed opening in the centre of a white wall, go up to it and it is full of seeds, as if behind this wall a huge pile of mixed seeds is gathered, some overflows onto the floor. Then another whole wall is covered in the pressings of wild flower petals right to the edges and beyond, weeks and weeks of petals over and over each other, as they fade and fade, petal after petal, in their never ending cycles. Some words are on the walls and floor like a giant notebook, handwritten as if in the field.

These ‘vaults’ are the raw materials that I have used to weave the work together: honing down, examining, thinking, writing, editing, conjuring, like making a performance it is a mystery of mixing processes  and these have been my elements, seeds, words, wire and wildflowers.

Back to the wire and one can follow the wire out of the door and up along the wall to the other room, as the wire goes it becomes ‘spun’ into a plait, into a rope, into hair, one has to follow the thread like all good fairy tales or ways out of the minotaur’s labyrinth. It takes you to a table where you can sit down with a wildflower book, some jars, scissors and a screen where a film gives instructions. So these are the ingredients from the vaults, how can one use them, think about them and have an experience with them yourself. How can one take these fairy tale elements and make them into ‘experience’ experience of being outside in natural  landscape  when what is really needed is to be there, lie there, open all one’s senses – and a seed to take and plant and watch grow is better than anything one can make. But in one’s quest for beauty  and for beauty shared, one wishes to make an offering of one’s own creativity.

So  it becomes my material, to make all the words that come from the books, all the wire, petals, seeds and all the materials are in one, words, books, wire, seed (there is a seed hidden in each book) and if you follow the Seven Book Steps you will be lead close to the objects, their journey from being made, to Bunces Barn, to this room. You will need to look close, lean over, lie under, crouch, lean up, pay attention, lie down and look up and see the sky, almost a seven ages of man, from spring, to yellow, to abundance, to story, to traveling to lying down, its own cycle, like that of any wildflower or person, and then you get up and are refreshed with elderflower cordial, and all your senses have been attended to. There is just the last instruction to leave with …to go and lie down on the earth and look up to the sky… and the boundaries open wide and wonder is possible –

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Final Show

I spent much of the spring making my wire books, The wire has been used to ‘write’ the names of wildflowers from the Observer’s Book of Wildflowers. During evenings at home I truly enjoyed the crafting of the words and objects, a long process where I could really ‘make’ something. These wire books came into the presentation and since then it has been finding ways to contextualise them. How to present them became a project in itself. I wanted it to be in a white box art gallery situation with podiums and labels. This grew into a new direction for the writing. Using the Observer’s Wild Flower Book I had been making all the wire words from, I began to organise them into ‘found’ poems and a fairy tale, these have become integral to the wire books. Both need to draw the viewer in and the whole exhibition Room 2 is about focusing in to the objects and the words and for the viewer to follow, it needs attention.

How Collection Vaults appeared.  It  was a flash moment of decision. There was a room available, I wanted to show abundance, the unboundaried the materials, and this idea came in an instant. Fill the space with the ‘materials’, wire, wildflower books, seeds, ribbon and wildflowers themselves. It is a way of showing the process to the objects and an explanation of my artistic process at the same time.

Sometimes there is luck in intuition, I had no idea what flower petals squashed on a wall would do, and that is my favourite piece in the installation.

Should the guide I choose
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way.
William Wordsworth The Prelude

My objects are to be seen as stimulants for the transformation of the idea of sculpture, or of art in general…everything is in a state of change. Joseph Beuys

REVIEW  Judith Alder

Listen to Air

An interactive exhibition, film, text and objects as part of MA PVP at the University of Brighton, Grand Parade, Brighton. September 11th – 13th 2013.

Clare Whistler has been Artist in Residence at Bunces Barn in the Sussex Weald since 2009. One of her ongoing projects has been based around thirty wildflowers harvested there for the Seed Bank at Kew. Clare’s practice encompasses dance, performance, writing and installation and she is a serial collaborator and enabler. During the three years of her Residency, she has worked with poets, visual artists, composers, dancers and a beekeeper, responding to and interpreting the location and its environment, creating events and performance. She has amassed a huge archive of photographs, video and writing which demonstrate the depth of the exploration which has taken place. Listen to Air is, finally, a crystallization of Whistler’s own personal relationship with this much loved place which has been at the centre of her life for these years and more.

This exhibition at the University of Brighton comes at the end of a two year MA in Performance and Visual Practices, during which, perhaps perversely, the artist has made the decision to exclude public performance from the work she is showing. Her years at the Barn have included many performative activities some of which I have personally witnessed and recorded, but there has been no performance here as part of this exhibition and no record of past performance is shown. Unless… might Whistler’s single flying lesson, taken in order to record the beloved landscape from the air and shown as a projection be considered a performative action? Or her ritualistic early morning visits to collect wild flowers for her wall drawing? Or the making of the drawing itself, rubbing, crushing and pressing the freshly picked flowers across an expanse of wall?

Let’s leave the questions and explore some of the work. The wall drawing is one of the most successful pieces in this show where the artist has unselfconsciously explored new ways in which she might make art. Covering a large expanse of wall in the space which Whistler calls The Vaults, where she has gathered together her materials, the wall drawing is a thing of beauty, reminding me of dappled woodland, Monet’s Garden, faded wallpaper and a summer dress all at the same time. Once a week for six weeks Whistler’s fingers smudged and smeared, crushed and rubbed and spread the pigments from wild flowers collected from the meadow at Bunces Barn, building up a patina from the crushed petals of borage and vetch and buttercup and dandelion (to name but a few). Each week the colours faded and changed before the next application of pollens and sap were squeezed from the flowers onto the once white painted surface of the wall. The plant remains lie below, heaped at the base of the wall, testament to the process which has taken place. The drawing enlivens the space as a celebration of Whistler’s meadow.

At right angles to the drawing, a bare, unadorned wall stretches across the width of the room. In the middle, at about hip height is a single small rectangular aperture with a hinged flap propped open. A plug of straw-coloured STUFF seems to have been squeezed out through the hole, extruded, swelling, as if pushed by a tremendous pressure of more STUFF behind the wall. The “stuff” seems to be a mixture of hay or grasses and seeds and vegetative debris. Bits of it have fallen on the floor and lie beneath. It reminds me of Ralph Rugoff’s writing in the catalogue for The Serpentine Gallery’s exhibition, The Greenhouse Effect, of “a dreamlike sense that the building itself is no longer an impervious container, but has become porous, unable to prevent the “nature” surrounding it – the chaos of uncontrolled and unwanted growths – from invading its immaculate preserve”.*

In the second part of Whistler’s show a different atmosphere prevails. Her second room across the corridor is light and airy and a circle of 7 plinths and stands are placed in pools of light in the centre of the room. A green ribbon “ties” a book placed on the floor to a window high up on the wall, open to the sky. A tangle of gold wire in the centre of the room sends out long tendrils to each of the plinths where Whistler has placed her series of altered wildflower books, “Meadowbooks”. For these works she has referred to many sources, exploring wildflower names and uses, myths, magic and medicines, “Enchantments for Spring”, “A Charm for Journeys”, old wives tales, poems and fairy stories. From each strand of wire stretching from the central tangle she has painstakingly twisted flower names into the tendrils of gold which now entwine themselves into and around the books on the plinths, sometimes almost smothering them, sometimes reaching beyond the book towards the ceiling, like bindweed or beanstalks.

The breadth and depth of Whistler’s work can not be appreciated in a fleeting visit; it requires an investment of time to engage with her instructional video which will guide you through a process of looking and listening, touching and exploring, reading and learning. It requires some physical commitment to lie on the floor and explore the images and texts she has positioned underneath some of the book stands. It requires an interaction with the artist herself as she invigilates or “watches over” her work and as she offers gifts of seeds and elderflower cordial and tiny envelopes with a hand written message inside which mimics the golden wire: “Listen to air, after this moment in here, go outside, find earth, some grass, lie down, look up to the sky, feel the air on your face, let go of time…”

There are challenges regarding the siting of the exhibition in a performance room with the associated clutter of stage lights and wiring which threatens to undermine the simplicity of the work and makes me cry out for a more sympathetic environment in which to enjoy it. But whatever the difficulties, there is no denying that this exhibition represents an honest attempt to share a deep and meaningful experience of a place where Whistler is at home. You can expect no slickness here, no well worn art pathway or formulaic art product, instead you will find an exploration of how an individual who has spent a life time engaged in the arts can re-invent and renew her creative practice in order to share a precious experience in a new way.

*Ralph Rugoff & Lisa Corrin, The Greenhouse Effect, London, The Serpentine Gallery, 2000

HYPERLINK “https://listentoair.wordpress.com/” https://listentoair.wordpress.com/
HYPERLINK “http://www.clarewhistler.co.uk/” http://www.clarewhistler.co.uk/

EQUIPMENT

2 dvd players
1 projector
lights
1 headphone
Podiums and tables in space
Fixing wire writing to roof.
in exhibition, seeds, wire, books, paper, ribbon, scissors (1 pair dull)
jars, pillows, glasses and drink, photographs

Clare Whistler
September 2013

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