4.2 Interacting with the Environment

This project calls for us to make small drawn interventions in the physical environment using the materials found within that environment. The objective is to affect the way a visitor would perceive that space.

I selected a local area called The Gravel Pits, a 19th century quarry for road stone which is now a leisure amenity, with trees, paths, picnic tables and open areas. It is a small area of perhaps two square kilometres but intensively used by local residents, pedestrians, dog walks, runners, the local kindergarten and drivers stopping for lunch, in a green haven a the side of the A road.

My personal objective was to make small, subtle interventions which called attention to the natural characteristics of the space, to act as an indicator of small beauties. At this time of the year, I get great pleasure from the colour of new leaves, catkins etc but I wonder sometimes whether some people pause to notice these things. Perhaps I could say to someone, ‘hey, stop and look at this for a moment’.

I made lots of small interventions, but only some where successful. Most were physically small, and would probably go unnoticed by most. On a sunny Sunday, the Gravel Pits were quite busy with dog walkers, pushchair pushers etc and people were curious about what I was doing. Once explained, people were intrigued and offered comments. The two gentlemen sharing a bottle of wine and a music score at a picnic table, when asked if I could included them in my photo and explained, were enthusiastic about my wood ‘sculpture’ and felt that it added to the space. When I revisited a couple of days later, the wood had been added to but then presumably fallen down.

Although I did pick some dandelion flowers, a lady’s bed-straw stalk and some wild garlic buds and a leaf, I am confident that those strong, invasive plants were not harmed by the act. The oak shoots were found on the ground having been already been nibbled off by squirrels.

Are these drawings? I read a definition recently that a work is a drawing if it is an enquiry rather than an assertion. By that definition, my detailed observation of the space and its materials would be the drawing and the interventions an assertion. However, I think the pieces where I have arranged materials to call attention to line and to spacial relationships could be termed a drawing, such as the ransom leaf and buds.

The two fallen branches propped up to make a sculpture is definitely a drawing in space.

Perhaps this could be viewed more as a performance. I deliberately chose a busy time for safety, but the several groups of people I spoke to were engaged by the idea. Two small girls liked the idea of picking dandelion flowers and making them float in space at the end of dry stalks, and continued to do this after I moved on.

I think the most successful of the interventions is the crack in the bark of an oak tree, filled with a line of lime green oak flowers. It is a subtle comment on the scale of the oak, the ephemeral, delicate fragility of its flowers compared to the age, and strength of its trunk.

Thinking carefully about how I wanted to present these ‘drawings’, linking them in a video seems to me to give the best sense of progressing through the space. I returned and recorded the local sounds of traffic noise and bird song to add to this sense of place.

I found this a very rewarding project because I came to appreciate the importance of this little urban oasis to people and nature, I met and talked to locals I would never have met otherwise and I heard my first warbler song of the year. I don’t know if I made anyone else look at it differently, but I do hope so.

Creating art in this way is completely different to ‘wall hang’ art or art intended to be seen within a curated space. The visitor to such a space enters with a preconditioned expectation, but creating art in the public environment means that anyone might see it and possibly be engaged, in whatever way. Their response to it is not influenced by any external idea of what they should think about the art. They come to it with out any pretensions and the art itself, formed from the local materials, is unpretentious. It is accessible to anyone to make, to see and enjoy and to connect to others using the same space.




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