Red Oak Ice Disc
Back out of my cave to see autumn touch winter.
We've had some really low temperatures (for around here) over the last week and the earliest, widespread snow since the mid-nineties. Quite a lot had been dumped on the east, but over here in the west it had only made it to the higher hills. I was hoping that the cold lasted until the weekend so that I could emerge from my cave and experience the changes associated with the freezing point of water. I was in luck but also, when I opened the curtains this morning, there was a dusting of snow on the ground here too.
I find it fascinating how we live in a thin sliver of conditions. On a blue planet clothed in the thinnest of atmospheres and neither too far nor too near to our warmth giving sun. We all need water to live and yet it must be at a temperature to be a liquid. We sit in the middle between our kettles and refrigerators, occupying a slender space where we neither boil nor freeze.
Water is such an interesting substance, with its very own unique properties. But even in a simple game of aesthetics, it too, has exquisite beauty. Clouds, glaciers, icebergs, rivers, oceans. What else can really be said.
And so when I began to think about ice sculptures last night it dawned on me how important the transience of nature (and perhaps everything) is to me and my art. I've still been making sculptures and writing stories at the same rate that I always have, but I haven't been publishing everything. But anything that I have held back to be published later loses its potency for me once the day has passed. The anticipation, the going, the doing, the photographing, the storytelling, the sharing. All those things go together to form my art and once the day I did it on has passed, I only look forward to the next sculpture.
All of this got me thinking, about what the attraction of ephemeral land art is. And ephemeral is the key word here.
I used to do a lot of climbing. I wasn't very good and I always was very scared but still I chased after some difficult challenges to see what I was capable of. Climbing is addictive and the reason is is how the whole of the rest of the world falls away when you are on the sharp end, trying to hold it together, as you make life or death decisions. Of course you take safety measures to ensure that you reduce the risk and everything is not really a life or death decision. But often that is exactly how it feels.
Many times I have been climbing something and I have reached a point where I can no longer go up, but also I couldn't down. With many other activities you could just give up, say I have had enough, and go home. But with climbing you are playing a game where that isn't always an option. Sometimes you have to have a word with yourself and do something that every sinew is telling you cannot. If you cannot then you just go to pieces which just lands you in even more trouble but with the stakes so high, you soon discover inner reserves and the will to use them.
This all might sound melodramatic but it is, in my opinion, the main reason why people go climbing. I often felt the presence of my imminent death on very easy climbs that others could climb with their hands in the pockets and wearing wellington boots. But to me it was the hardest thing in the world and how other people could tackle it didn't matter to me as I pondered what injuries I might receive if I were to fall off. But if you can keep it together in the midst of this fear, the corner you have backed yourself into will give you freedom, as you have no easy choices and if you did you'd always take the easy option. When the easy options are removed, life becomes more vibrant and clear and you feel like you are truly living.
Now don't get me wrong. Land art isn't exactly about life and death. Well of course it is all about nature's cycles but it is rare I have had to face the consequences of death when choosing between an oak or beech leaf. Fortunately I only have to worry about ladybirds and rabbits and not grizzly bears.
But this train of thought is leading me back to the transience of nature and of experience in particular.
I don't produce land art images. No, I have experiences out in nature. Observing and experiencing what I find, discovering new things and wondering at what else is out there. A finished photo is just a byproduct like oxygen emerging from a photosythesising leaf.
I love ephemeral land art. I want to experience what I experience as I make something. And once that is done the experience is over and I am happy just to leave it to decay.
Someone once said to me "don't you feel like it is waste putting so much effort into something that may last only a few minutes?"
It is not a chore to put yourself wholeheartedly into something you enjoy, to feel connected with it, experience its intensity and have nothing but the memory left afterwards. We all do just that with many things we love every single day.
I take pictures to remind me of the experience just like a holiday snap of the family eating ice creams on the beach. But without the photo the ice cream was still lovely and the sun strong on your face, your shoulders and back.
Unless of course your beach holiday is in Britain, then your ice cream wil be full of sand and replace the word 'sun' with wind.
All of life is really about experience, the here and now, what you see, what you feel and learn. So as I pondered what to do with the ice last night, I came to realise that I am inspired when the anticipation of doing something new and interesting comes along. It isn't about thinking how to create a new style of image, but simply seeing a new colour, a new leaf or a new ice crystal spread across the water's surface. When something like that has me excited, then it seems it leads to a nice, new sculpture. But it doesn't matter what then happens as all I am doing is waiting for the next thing, that has me thinking 'well, just what can I make with that?'
I wanted to do a timelapse of it melting, but it was too cold and stayed frozen even in the sun. But still I liked how the light changed, you can see that here.