|Introduction to the Arcadia
Arcadia id est, a Latin name for this project for two reasons: firstly the association of all plant names in their Latin families and secondly because - id est, more commonly known by its abbreviation 'i.e.' is the descriptor for many of these works, in that they are 'nature in other words.'
The purpose of putting this exhibition together was to show some examples of how nature and the landscape are used within the format of the artist's book. Many other artists use landscape and nature, and the 112 works in this exhibition were selected to show the variety of ways in which nature and landscape are interpreted and utilised in a book format.
The works included in the exhibition range from a celebration of the natural landscape, and our relationship to it, to nature within an urban landscape, or to despair at our destruction of the global environment.
The exhibition has been curated quite slowly, I have gathered books from the artists at bookfairs, exhibitions and via the internet over the last 18 months. I asked each of the artists to tell me about their work, and allow us to photograph it for the website archive we have put together for the project.
For this introduction I have tried not to overlap too much with the books covered in the in the catalogue essays which can be read separately.
Some examples of the book as document / observation:
Patricia Collins and Jorg Seifert's Behind the Scenes.
This book was produced with reference to a found object – a gardener's diary of 1928, given to Patricia Collins as she gave up her own gardening career.
Patricia suggested this diary as the basis for a collaborative work with Jorg Seifert as an investigation into the life of a jobbing gardener to give an insight 'behind the scenes' of the 'English Garden' and into some of the tedium of a gardener's life. The photographs were taken at various famous gardens:- Kew, Hampton Court and Sissinghurst.
Lin Charlston's Oilseed Rape File
Is also a book of observations and photographs, taken by the artist at monthly intervals throughout 2001 beside a footpath on the Suffolk Heritage Coast.
Lin then collected data on oilseed rape from field, books and the internet between May 2000 and November 2003. Images of the plant and the fields it grows in, are contained in pockets at each end of the book where she says they are easily overlooked and forgotten. The first page is a botanical description from 1853 and the last page is the same text, modified through a spellchecker. Between these, is a selection of quotes on oilseed rape from internet searches throughout the period.
North Uist - September 2nd to 15th, 2000 by Laurie Clark
The book was conceived, and the drawings made during the artist's stay on the island of North Uist in the Western Isles. A boxed set of fourteen books, each one contains a drawing of a single wild flower selected on the date shown, for fourteen days on the island. The blank pages in each book set the pace for reading.
Jane Kennelly's Florilegium is a collection of prints from her ink drawings with accompanying texts translated from Francis Ponge's Flora and Fauna of 1946. The original ink drawings were made by the artist at the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, which holds over two million preserved specimens. Many of the specimens are two hundred years old. As the artist states: They are a reminder of the fugitive, transient nature of plant life, yet paradoxically they survive.
Jane Hyslop's Wild Plants Collected in Midlothian
Is a collection of the plants drawn in sites the artist knows well, over the course of a year. Each page in the book represents one month, and unfolds to reveal a continuous frieze from January to December. Much of Jane's work examines the landscape of Midlothian, particularly its numerous industrial sites. Jane has documented the decline of the mining industry and railways, and the closure of the factories, and records the evidence of decay in the buildings left behind.
Space and Time by Ken Leslie is a double-sided, circular, die-cut book. One side considers the concept of Time, the other Space. Each subject is considered laterally. Space, is a study of one year's worth of weekly photographs, taken from 52 successive points within the same garden. In this way, the earth has travelled with the artist, allowing a full 360º montage of images that bring us full circle through the seasons, as well as a round trip through the garden. Time, is made from one photo per week for a full year, from the same location, the circular structure therefore is ideal for this landscape, moving simultaneously through Space and Time.
Finlay Taylor's Trail is part of his ongoing project investigating snails, sites and species within landscape and natural history. The 'Search Site' works made shortly before 'Trail' presented images eaten into by hairy backed snails, either at random, or spelling out specific texts such as 'holy land' or 'occupied territory' which gave them the appearance of conscious intelligence. The eaten areas carry specific marks left by the snail mouthparts, along with deposits of faeces and silvery, snail trails. 'Trail' presents views of a garden from a snails-eye view, with texts eaten through the pages, including the word 'song thrush' - a snail predator- and 'shelled'.
The Political Landscape:
Susan Johanknecht's Subsequent drainage on folding rocks refers to locations off the coast of Sweden, Russia and within the landscape of the USA, where nuclear waste has been dumped or processed.
The book is concerned with the alterations in surface and depth in the natural landscape, through industrially initiated change. It includes a CD which can be read as a series of tables and illustrations of 'waste management'. The boxed charts show the difficulties of containment and outline the possibilities of waste leakage. As nuclear waste is reprocessed into glass pellets or graphite rods before it is buried, it could conceivably, in the future, be dug up as fossils from a historical landscape.
Onslaught of Night by the American artist Virginia Batson is a story of nightfall on the coast told through the sensory landscape of the body. She used phrases of her own poetry blended with newspaper accounts of "disappearances" in South America, where people often vanish in the middle of the night.
Decline and Fall by Foundry is a portable installation box, produced as a protest exhibition, and installed in front of the American Embassy in London, in 2003. A miniature Afghanistan, national flag was made for each Afghan civilian killed in the war, and planted on the lawn outside the embassy. Foundry managed to plant 1300 flags before they were stopped under the new anti-terrorism laws. This boxed set includes 25 miniature flags and a set of instructions for planting at suggested venues.
Examples of urban nature:
Tim Staples Observational Series
This series of postcards began when the artist noticed examples of situations where man seemed to be accommodating nature. For example, by building walls around, or lending support to unstable trees. Power Cut, shows a supply line cut through a tree rather than just cutting it down.
Boat Trip: Nothing But Flowers is by the TEA collective who are:
Jon Biddulph, Peter Hatton, Val Murray and Lyn Pilling. The artists have investigated the Manchester Ship Canal between Mode Wheel Lock and the heart of two cities, constructed around a boat trip on the canal. Each time the boat passed under a bridge or stopped at a lock, the site was noted.Their journey was later retraced in order to ask members of the public at each site, to add a commentary to form a documentary of urban nature, culture and history.
Tom Sowden's Winter Gardens is a photographic series of trees in local supermarket car parks; urban areas which form part of his ongoing search for life in non-space.
Flock, Gaggle and Herd - better known as Bill Burns, Trevor Gould and Mark Vatnsdal made Urban Fauna Information Station, to record their journey from Toronto to Montreal in the summer of 2002. All sightings of urban wildlife - whether living animals, toys or window displays - were documented as they were spotted. Bill Burns has also produced a book called - how to help animals escape from degraded habitats - which includes diagrams showing how to smuggle them out of unhealthy places in cases, shoes and cars and relocate them to a nicer area.
Unnatural or other landscapes
From an Elsewhere Unknown by Sian Bonnell is a photographic essay of landscapes interrupted by utilitarian objects: ironing boards, colanders, plates and glasses. These have been removed from their domestic environment and placed, in another ratio, to the surrounding landscape. Luminous jelly moulds therefore appear as glowing UFO's or unearthly structures within a natural, earthly space.
Menthol Daze by Jackie Batey is a fold-out sheet, containing spaces for collected cigarette cards produced under her own invented brand, Elysian's Cigarettes. The images are manipulated from Salem cigarette advertisements from 50s. The images represent the clichéd view of the 'delightful countryside', so often used in selling products – by attempting to make them seem 'natural.' The text on each card details reasons to be wary of the natural environment. The dangers here, range from: nuclear testing contamination, to infections caught from river water, and potential lawn mower injuries.
John Dilnot's White Poplars is a two-volume set of artists' books containing trees carved with graffiti along one avenue in Alicante. What must have started as a solitary message on one tree trunk, has grown into an avenue of graffiti, a continuous line of text and symbols, which the artist has brought to our attention by photographing each tree at eye level.
Éric Watier's Latescapes are also, in a way, based on urban nature. Each of these 4-page books are one-offs, culled from estate agents adverts of lands for sale.
Text as landscape:
Well, Well, Well Paul Salt
This tiny book contains all the Bristol streets with the word well in them. Part of Paul Salt's explanation for his interest in water is that as a child he collected things that fascinated him, put them into jars of water and waited to see if they would explode! This book, for him “reappraises our interdependent relationship with water.” Each name conjures up an image of its origin, and the importance that was placed upon its function such as 'Hotwells'.
The General Synopsis at 8 o'clock by Tony Kemplen - a book of poetic text generated by playing the BBC's shipping forecast into a speech recognition programme. The background images are 'voiceprints' of the names of the sea areas, read out by the announcer. A poem from this text by Tony Kemplen is reproduced on the Arcadia website with his image.
Lotte Little's Snowy Landscape is a tale of several journeys overlaid: her physical journey, driving through a cold, snowy landscape, -listening to the life story of a disabled journalist on the radio - whilst reflecting on a journey of her own.
The Waterfalls of New Hampshire in Winter by Simon Cutts Form, as he says - A perfect bound block of blue paper. A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire I and II, also by Simon Cutts use text to visually project the image. In Airfields I, a continuous line of the word 'poppies' is letterpress printed in red along the bottom of the page throughout. In Airfields II the text pattern runs across the top the page reflecting the uncut heads of flax.
Malbik Endar by Imi Maufe is a text-based record of her 121-day cycling trip to Iceland and back. Malbik Endar - Icelandic for 'tarmac ends'- takes one word or phrase from each day to illustrate her experiences of journeying in an ever-changing landscape.
Kurt Johannessen's Steinar is a collection of 22 small stones, a record of a two-day hiking trip around the area of Finse, Norway. The stones in the book are the ones that the artist selected over the two-day period, to tell each one a Norwegian fairy tale about trolls.
Colin Sackett has been publishing text-based, landscape-related works for many years. His main concern is 'reading' and demonstrating the power of particular words, through placing together, or through the repetition of a particular word or sentence.Typewritten text, recorded birdsongs, or map references are all part of his published works, which although, are seemingly about listening or speaking, are all based on aspects of the English landscape.
Alison Turnbull has produced a visual translation of Yukio Mishima's novel, published by Book Works; Spring Snow. This book is ordered by colour which plays an important part in the novel. Turnbull has condensed the whole narrative into a colour palette, which details over six-hundred shades, in the order they appear in the text - creating a solely visual narrative.
My own artists' books are concerned with some of the darker aspects of nature, human nature and landscape. I made GM Future in 1999, nearly at the millennium, when there was plenty of discussion going on about the future possibilities of genetic modification for food crops.
The book contains a series of texts, outlining the possibilities of a wonderful GM Future. It all seems very positive at first, but as the texts progress, examples of possible GM disasters start to appear. The catch though, is that everything in the book is actually disastrous, but historical data, from real events that have already occurred, not future predictions.
The images used to intersperse the rather clinical looking texts were cut from over 100, old gardening manuals. These were used to add both colour and historical elements, and also ensured that no 2 books out of the edition of 200 have an image in common, so are totally the opposite of genetic modification.
Nature Trail; when out for a walk in 1996, I was surprised to find a pair of pink, high-heeled shoes nailed to a tree trunk in a wood. I imagined that the farmer who owned the land had put them there as a joke, but when I asked, he knew nothing about it.
So, after checking that there wasn't a body dumped there that went with the shoes, I photographed the area, and set about constructing a version of how they came to be there. I had recently found an old 1930's police manual detailing how to investigate the scene of a crime, so the selection of text, images and inserts in Nature Trail, act as clues to unravel the mystery. To help with the investigation, each box has its own set of tweezers, with samples of the tree bark and a pink flower taken from the scene.
Beyond the Forest takes a kind of ethereal walk through the woods. It looks lovely as you step in, a classical forest view, but the deeper you go into the woods, the more unsettling it becomes. This book is based on all the fairy tales of bad things occur in the forest - Hansel and Gretel, trolls, witches and strange beasts - but the threat is left to the imagination of the viewer, always more effective than providing the imagery straight.
In this book, I gave each of the images a Latin classification. It can be very confusing looking at Latin plant names, as a lot of them are so similar. These words could refer to the family name of the trees but are actually indicators of the darker side of the forest - its presence, and its depth: the dark and hidden places.
For example; roboris (red/blood) I found this tree on a walk in Lynmouth. It is called a money tree as people hammer coins into the tree in the hope that it will bring them good fortune. Over the years, this tree had had so many coins stuck into it that the red sap was leaking everywhere making it look more like something out of a horror film.
I don't think I am alone in looking for spooky places in forests; Tim Edgar's Rookery is a photographic essay of dark places used by nesting rooks, in various areas of Dorset. These images project a real feeling of menace, particularly as they are devoid of the occupants. Their presence is implied by the evidence of their use of the place, and you get the feeling that they could return in a crowd at any minute.
On a lighter note, two more works by Bill Burns, both in the format of foldout blueprint books: Safety Gear for Small Animals from 1994 which includes safety glasses for rabbits and hard hats for pigeons, and Footprints of Small Animals Wearing Safety Gear from 2000, which has tracks of animals wearing the safety gear. The joke being that their footprints will, of course be exactly the same, with or without their protective headgear.
The award for the person with the most books in this exhibition would have to go to Stuart Mugridge, whose work is based on many aspects of nature and the landscape. This book, NTL/VTC is an observance of a glimpse of wildlife.
Mugridge explains: NTL is used to mark the tidal limit of rivers on Ordnance Survey maps. The tidal limit in this case is on: Vallum Tremayne Creek [VTC], which flows into the Helford River in Cornwall. The book is his record of time spent sitting at the water's edge observing the comings and goings of the estuary's birdlife.
One clean, white page in the middle of all the dirty brown pages represents a fleeting glance of an egret, which made him wonder how it managed to keep so clean in its muddy river environment. The book's cover is made from a waterproof poncho he bought in an army surplus shop, which he states, has a suitably damp and muddy smell.
All of the artists' books from the exhibition are now archived on the website with the artist's contact details. The exhibition will be touring to Australia and Cyprus over the summer and will be back in London at the Eagle Gallery in November. In the meantime, I would like to thank all of the artists who have contributed to the Arcadia project by including their work. I would also like to thank Tom Sowden and Paul Laidler for their help with photography, Vikki Hill for helping to decipher the forms into data for the website, and Ivan Eastwood for all his work on the Arcadia website.