My life comes back to me through images and textures frozen in time…moments from within an ordinary life. How do I communicate these mundane things which are part of living as a farmer…a way of living, rooted in a condition of perpetual porosity to the effects of the material world. Tim Ingold says that in a caftsman’s process of an art of inquiry, “the conduct of thought goes along with, and continually answers to, the fluxes and flows of the materials with which we work. These materials think in us, as we think through them” (Ingold,2013, p.6).
I think through:
sharp metal foot shears
bodies, -non human – human and so on… And they think in me.
My work is concerned with telling the stories of farm life.
As Ingolds asserts “To tell has two related senses. On the one hand, a person who can tell is able to recount the stories of the world. On the other hand, to tell is to be able to recognise subtle cues in one’s environment and to respond to them with judgement and precision.’ (Ingold, 2013 Making p.110). I think my work attempts to conflate the two – to use the former, that is narrative, to make the latter – visible.
“The key thing about stories” Ingold says “is that they provide practitioners with the means to tell of what they know without specifying it. They do not so much carry encrypted information as offer pointers of where to go and what to look out for”
The stories I tell are laced with emotion, images and materials… “Not describe the world, or to represent it, but to open up our perception to what is going on there so that we, in turn can respond to it”
What is material thinking?
Blood, red, against green, against my hands, against the grey bread-basket tied to the front of the quad bike with yellow bailer twine.
Blood on soil, and in the empty eye sockets of lambs, whose fragile organs make quick meals for Crows and ravens.
I remember when I was around the age of seven or 8, cradling a lamb. It was an older lamb and the fox had somehow not quite finished the job and had instead stripped it’s back-end raw and bloody.
In that moment of pain, I was there trying to comfort it. I remember vividly a rag…made from a pair of hideous mustard curtains from my Nain/grandmothers house…the same colour as lamb or calf poo on the third day after birth…when the black, tarry meconium has left the body and rich milk passes through the system for the first time.
Materials are mnemonic morsels, cast within the moments of the everyday….things that glue themself to one’s memories of time, place, and senses. When I close my eyes. I can still remember the very particular smell and texture of that rag which I had wrapped around the lamb as both blanket and bandage…later it became its shroud as I learnt of ethics – that death is sometimes kinder.
This is my material reality. Not of a body bounded by fleshy impermeable membranes, but one whose boundaries are in flux, whose contact with textures, materials……stuff, shape them in some way.
It is in the tactile nature of my childhood that I find the tools, images and ways of expression to enable me to understand who I am in relation to the world around me.
It’s not just blood is it…
Material thinking is:
afterbirth, strange membranes drying in between my fingers in the warm sun.
It’s the wool, the wool of lambs plastered to their bodies as they were born…slimy and scented…a warming and comforting scent…the smell of home. Of care, and gentleness.
It’s hay, permeating and prickling through my trousers. Scratching my Skin below…The same for wool.
After wrapping the wool into tight bundles on shearing day I spent the evening with the Sellotape, trying to get every last fibre out from between the weave of the fabric of my trousers. Learning quickly that it’s best to keep one pair of trousers for both jobs: shearing and unloading hay.
Material thinking tells me how to go on, how to continue existing or to better exist within my context.
My film and performance work takes on the materiality of childhood work and play on the farm, by reframing the everyday aesthetics of such materials, textures, and images.
Films like Ode to perdurance, which stop-animate over objects noted in my Taid/grandfather’s diary…with materials like:
rushes, which as children, we plaited on the Esgair or the mountain when we got bored waiting for the sheep to come in our direction during gathering.
Gritty clay from the riverbank in different ozidised hues, which we tried moulding into simple shapes.
Material thinking is:
wool, which features in the objects or images from Dear Mick Jagger;
It is grass and soil – in my mouth, in my hair, on my knees on my hands and under my nails. The smell infusing with all that is me.
It’s pain…the pain of seeing sheep hungry and eating thistles due to a dry and cold spring
transposed in the long, slow, painful, and empathetic thistle eating sequence for the film Dear Mick Jagger.
It’s objects, like the night nurse bottle, at least 25 years old and still in the possession of my parents…a constant presence from March to May…there to feed ill or abandoned lambs. It’s been in the background of many of my film-shots or fieldwork photographs.
It’s the old shearing benches which bare the palimpsest of over fifty years of farm work…engrained with the greasy marks of sheep and people, the pitch and raddle stained wood worn smooth by time. Featured in most of my film and performance work, the bench becomes, without realising, another material aesthetic choice for my work. In later years, it has become a place where I look for traces of my late brother…remembering him keeled over and sweating from a days’ worth of shearing.
It’s the animals themselves, the sheep and lambs, the flock. I became me, alongside them, my family and the flock speak of a oneness, a genetic entanglement too complex to unravel. They are aesthetic, and material in their physical ‘beingness’, their complex relationship to us, a constant presence of moral and ethical ambiguity in my work.
It’s always been in the surprise of the everyday – the everyday textures, materials, space and time…in the ordinary. It’s in the embodiment of the ordinary.
Since the end of the second world war, the general population have become distanced from the experiences, ethics, labour and emotional entanglements of food production. My own practice engages with a material thinking which attempts to find and work with the tactile images and aesthetics from everyday farm life, as a way to create a space for an audience to engage vicariously with the sensory experiences of the farm; to make visible the entangled and embodied farm knowledge and to explore the temporal connections of past, present –futures through a repertoire of images centred around common farm materiality.