Tallies – ho!!

Progress is being made towards realising my proposals for the new Community Park in Tranent.

Under the project title of A Place Of No Importance? I have been preparing ideas that will have public participation as a major part of the final scheme.

Sharing personal stories & making a ‘Miners Tally’ is the way I intend engaging the public through the project. This is quite a complex commission with many different parts of the jigsaw requiring to be put in place prior to its going live. One of the first steps has seen me making a couple of prototype Tallies that will be sent off to Archibald Youngs Foundry in Kirkintilloch to be cast in bronze.

APONI tallie prototypes

Made with air drying clay I have formed two sizes to assess which will be most suitable. I got two sample aluminium numbers made which I have used to stamp into the clay, I love the the imperfections of the prototypes the way the surface has a life of it’s own and the way the numbers have picked up the buffed-in colour. Each one will be different and show signs of their being handmade, unique to the individual who made them. I have painted the prototypes to show to the clients how the finished tallies will look.

Read the background to this exciting project at – ‘A Place Of No Importance?’

Two exhausting weeks

Forfar South WallRecovering from a broken leg is not the ideal physical condition to be in at anytime, continuing with it whilst constructing a series of drystone walls some may say is just downright foolhardy! Nevertheless this is the position I find myself in as work continues on the Forfar Botanists Garden.

I am now two weeks into the project, two weeks that have proved to be tougher  on my body than normal. Limping about on site has been exhausting, having rested up for the last 6 weeks it is almost as if my feet have forgotten how heavy I am! However I have found as long as I don’t push too hard and keep topping myself up with my happy pills I still appear to be making steady progress.

Working closely with the clients some exciting additions to the scheme have been agreed and further details of this project as it develops can be found on the Forfar Botanists Garden Blog page.

Breaking Ground at Forfar

Forfar Breaking Ground photo shoot

Though past the age where my complexion will benefit from the May Day morning dew, nevertheless the beginning of the month brought me my first early start for a long while!  My leg is now well on the mend and site work is back on the agenda. Ground was broken today on ‘The Forfar Botanists Garden.’ Situated on a rectangular plot where changing rooms for the nearby sports field used to stand, the site will be the focus for my efforts over the next few weeks.

First days on site are always the worst; is everything organised, what unforeseen problems will crop up, will deliveries turn up on time, logistically they can be a nightmare. Fortuitously today couldn’t really have went much better, the sun shone, the site was cleared and the foundation trenches were dug without a hitch. Concrete gets poured tomorrow and I’m eager to start working with the 50 tonnes of stone sitting there waiting to be built into the walls for the garden. Pictured above is some of the committee lending a hand for the local press.

Forfar Botanist’s Garden

The tale of the Forfar Botanists is an inspirational one.  Five local men, who were all born into poverty, with little formal education, all achieved lasting fame for their contributions to botany.  Their love of plants and their dedication took them to the far corners of the world and the heady heights of academia.

The Friends Of The Forfar Botanists, a local charity group have raised funding to create a garden at Myre Road in their honour. Designed by Inglis Thorburn, the garden will provide a physical memorial to their work and provide a lasting legacy that will tell their story to the locals and interested visitors through planting and interpretation.

I have been appointed to construct the walling for the garden which will provide the structure for the area and to design and make a sculptural centerpiece.

Forfar Inglis Thorburn Design

Perthshire Open Studios – A New Challenge

POSApplication form completed, fee submitted there is now no turning back!

After thinking about it for a long time I have finally decided to take the plunge and committed myself to taking part in this years Perthshire Open Studios.

Public Art by definition is not a studio based practice; my career has focused on designing, creating, & making work to commission, often these are constructed on site and I can be away from the studio for months at a time, very little to see back at base. Taking place between the 7th-15th September the event is little under 22 weeks away. Recent changes offer new possibilities, my aim over the next few months is to use the POS as a catalyst to exploring these in positive & productive ways.

Opening a studio, or in my case – ‘The Shed’ – necessitates making a to-do-list of things requiring attention to make the visitors experience safe, interesting, & hopefully fun, my worry at the moment is that my list contains so many items that have nothing to do with creating ‘art’ that I wonder if I’ll have anything to ultimately exhibit!

Please check back as the year progresses to see if I manage to reduce the to-do-list, fingers crossed I’ll be able to put on a display that will be worth coming to view.

Chips Off The Old Blocks

Carvings2

carvings5678

After many months of hard graft building the drystone walls at Tonguey Field House the project is nearing completion with only the final touch to be added, installing the eight feature carvings that will become focal points within the walls.

If I was given a choice stone carving would be my preferred medium, there is something special about the process, looking at the raw block imagining it’s possibilities and then knocking ‘seven bells out of’ it to reveal the form within.

To be set within the eight alcoves that I have already built into the walls I have always had a firm picture in my mind since the design stage of how I wanted these to look. Abstracted, organic forms each with a different character but relating to one another in size and feel. They needed to be simple forms that are not too fussy in detail as they will work as a group across the facade of the wall.

For seventeen years and one house move I have had four of the rough blocks kicking about my garden, awaiting the right project to come along. The granite carvings have been made from an old broken gate post that I picked up from a stone merchants. Not 100% sure of its type but I’m fairly confident that it would come under the definition of ‘Balmoral’ Granite probably originating from the Aberdeen area. Hard to work it takes on a brilliant polish that has opened up lots of potential to play around with contrasting texture and colour.

While working up at Beinn Eighe Natural Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe installing some gateway signs in 1995 a guy, can’t remember his name, stopped to have a chat, he was the quarrymaster at a marble quarry up the road and he invited me up to see the Quarry. If you have any interest in stone at all a visit to any quarry is like being allowed into the best sweetie shop!! The quarry was owned by an Italian Company and was in the process of working the face down to get the best quality marble which is many meters down. Ledmore is a special stone in that it has a fantastic mix of greens and browns through it which I believe is pretty special in terms of marble. Loading the trailer with the biggest blocks I could lift I returned home with them to see ‘what lay within.’ Seventeen years later I have finally been able answer that question.

The remaining four carvings are made from Forest Of Dean Sandstone. Once the set are completed I’ll do a page which details my process in more detail, from initial sketch design through to completed installed carving.

But why ‘cloud’ ?

icloud, cloud computing, cloud storage, soundcloud, ‘The Cloud’  – these terms abound at the moment defining some element or service associated with the internet, but why ‘cloud’? Why choose a word for ‘a condensed mass of water vapour within our atmosphere’ as a metaphor to describe one of the most important developments for human society in a generation?  and what concern is it to a Scottish artist/waller?

Rather smugly, perhaps, I believe there is a direct link to the use of the term and myself! Observant viewers will have noticed that my logo is a carved ‘cloud’ which I undertook within one of my very first public commissions, a garden wall for Meadowside St Paul’s Church in Dundee.

But why a – ‘cloud’? According to Wikipedia – ‘The name comes from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in network system diagrams‘ –  illustrated thus:-

Which to me, is a rather tenuous theory. Trawling further around the internet to see if anyone understood the true origin of the term (as defined by me!) I discovered that there was great debate and controversy as to who used it first and that it is of considerable monetary value to the likes of Apple & Google.

Differing theories as to its first use range, from an attempt to patent it as a trademark by Netcentric in 1997 to Google’s Eric Schmidt using it during a search engine conference in 2006. (source: http://www.johnmwillis.com/cloud-computing/who-coined-the-phrase-cloud-computing/ )

Trendy buzzwords have been a feature of ‘tech-speak’ ever since the first chip was attached to a board, my personal favourite has always been a TWAIN device, used usually to describe an external component that connects to a computer, it stands for – Technology Without An Interesting Name!  ‘Cloud’ is just the latest word used to describe some part of the diverse world associated with computers and technology. But why it and not something else?

Consider what the word has to encapsulate, the vast network of computers and servers that make up the internet. A worldwide bank of human knowledge, resources and services, everything is now ‘online’. Consensus by use appears to now reign  but why ‘cloud’ and not something else that describes a vast untouchable thing –  Galaxy? Universe? Milky Way? Surely there must be a more significant profound reason for it’s use other than a dodgy sketch around some computer terms.

Correctly attributing the origin is obviously an important matter and as no other source has put forward a believable hypothesis it seems incumbent upon me to enlighten the debate.

Many years ago whilst still at Art College I purchased a book from a stall selling ex library stock, it’s sub title intrigued me – ‘A Humanist Account of the Space Age’. Purchased for little more than a few pence the book has had a profound effect upon me and my perception of the world and society. Written in 1970 by Loren Eiseley – Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. ‘The Invisible Pyramid’ is a series of essays that eloquently describes the rise of man from ‘forest dweller’ to the present day ‘space age’ Using mythical metaphors, describing the sun as ‘The Star Dragon’ he explores fundamental questions and theories about the human condition, our relationship with nature and our place in the cosmos; it is a beautiful book written with ‘imagination and grace’.

Following the evolution of man he discusses factors that have contributed to our species alone developing beyond the natural world – ‘Man is no more natural than the world. In reality he is… the creator of a phantom universe, the universe we call culture’. His concepts are stated non religiously but neither does he in a Richard Dawkins way attempt to debunk organised religions, he leaves the way open for his insights to be interpreted by the religious with equal relevance and meaning. Science and religion are two faces of one coin, both are attempts to comprehend, rationalise and explain our genesis, ‘first cause’ – God or nature and our subsequent existence.

Eisley quotes a contemporary of Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace who identified that it was ‘this remarkable solitary product’ the human brain that had allowed man to transcend nature – ‘and had passed out of the evolution of biological organs and had entered upon what we may call history’. The evolutionary development of the brain is as a direct consequence of the power of communication through man’s ability of speech, evolution had ‘literally created a superorganic structure, unimaginable until its emergence.’

‘Language, wherever it first appeared, is the cradle of the human universe.. in this second world of culture, forms arise in the brain and can be transmitted in speech as words are found for them.’ 

This singular power; to be able to process the world internally and then express it externally  has freed man from the ‘prison’ of the natural world. Free to imagine things past and things still to come, free to use this imagination to shape the world to his own will and then to record and share those experiences. Initially this was passed orally. As mans world expanded his knowledge grew, so too did the need to have a tangible method of saving what had been gained and so written history emerged. ‘Man is not a creature to be contained in a solitary skull‘ – the internet is just the latest technological development of mans desire to record his existence.

Loren Eiseley’s thesis is that the human brain and communication has allowed man to become – ‘the creator of a phantom universe, the universe we call culture – a formidable cloud of ideas, visions, institutions which hover about us, indeed constitute human society, but which can be dissected from no single brain’. Is that not an eloquent summation of the  internet? This I believe is the true source of the use of the term ‘cloud‘. After I had completed the carving I thought it was an ideal symbol to use to define what I was all about, that there was this latent outside force, creativity, that was alive with future ideas and potential that I hoped to tap into with my artistic practice.

Now that I alone! – have proven the true origin of the term – is there money in it for me??

The Invisible Pyramid by Loren Eiseley, ISBN 0 246 64046 4