Where I live, I try to walk by the coast most days. The sea draws me in. That feeling of calmness you experience being by the sea is now being referred to as “blue space.” Over the last 10 years there has been quite a lot of research on blue space and how the soothing smells and sounds of water have a positive impact on your brain, health and wellbeing. I believe Victorian doctors used to prescribe the “sea air” as a cure for an assortment of ailments. But why is the sea such a draw? Is it evolutionary? I know that my own experiences as a child and adult are deep rooted and significant. I’ve certainly wanted to bottle up that whole coastal experience and bring it home.
The act of walking by the coast helps formulate my thoughts and ideas. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the late 1700s spoke about his whole being came to exist when walking and the movement of the body related to the movement of his ideas. I can relate to how the rhythm of the movement and the repetitiveness encourages the mind to reflect and think.
Rebecca Solnit (2006) also described walking as articulating both physical and mental freedom (1.) and German philosopher Nietzsche similarly conceived ‘only thoughts that come by walking have any value’.(2.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my own practice and where to place it contextually. During and after my MA in Textiles, I naturally called myself a textile artist but my practice is so much more than this as it includes drawing, printmaking, photography and making artist books. So, is this breadth of creativity a good thing or a bad thing? Should artists ‘go with the flow’ and do what excites them at any moment in time or might this appear to be dabbling and superficial? Certainly at this present time, I’m quite happy to ‘dabble’ and enjoy the creative experience to then see where it takes me.
Spending time at the coast, you start to notice subtle changes in the landscape. Although the tide comes in twice a day, as it has done for centuries, you have to look closely to see the evidence. Things will have been displaced, hidden or revealed. The tide will have altered things…the substrate will have been transformed.
Like many people I enjoy beach-combing to see what has been washed up. In my earlier work I would often use driftwood and rusted metal as part of my artists books. I like the idea that driftwood carries with it a sense of history, having survived turbulent waters. It and the rusted metal no longer fulfil their original function but carry forward with them a character and presence in their new role. Traces are left behind from their undisclosed journeys.
Like the artist Antoni Tapies, I enjoy utilising ‘mundane, everyday materials’ that often go unnoticed (3.) and light-heartedly remember the Wombles of Wimbledon making good use of the things that they find.
However, it does sadden me to see so much plastic being washed up. As a diver and member of MCS for over 30 years I’ve always been aware of ocean related environment issues. I was pleased when Sir David Attenborough in Blue Planet II highlighted the enormity of the problem and the devastating impact plastics have on our oceans. For so long, the sea has been treated as a dumping ground and as a result there’s now a plague of plastic that’s choking and suffocating the ocean. Scientists have shown that up to 12 million tonnes of plastic is entering our oceans every year – that’s a truck full every minute!
Having admired the camera-less photographic work of Susan Derges and Paul Kenny during my MA, I thought I would take a leaf out of their books to create my own photographic plates from washed up plastic bottles.
I’m intrigued by the journeys the plastic must have gone through and how long they’ve been exposed to the elements, moving with the tides. As plastic bottles take 450 years to biodegrade their journeys might have been very long. Every scratch is a memory and a trace of that journey.
- Solnit, R (2006) Wanderlust: A History of Walking London: Verso Books
- Nietzsche, F (1997) Twilight of the idols Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co
- Franzke, A. (1992) Tapies. London: Prestel Publishing