Geographies of Hope - Mapping human connection in a time of pandemic
Geographies of Hope is an interdisciplinary, cross-institutional initiative aiming to move the narrative of geographical study towards hope for the future. The first conference was held at the University of Cambridge in 2019 and this year ‘s conference was held at UCL Department of Geography on 25 May. The event brought together an array of speakers from a diverse range of disciplines including artist-researchers Lucy Sabin and Dr Sabrina Chou, Professor Emma Mawdsley, writer Anita Sethi, architect John Christophers and myself.
In my presentation I outlined how I have engaged with the archetype of the boat in recent years, before discussing Do the Little Things, a global participatory postal project that I developed during the pandemic. The artwork sought to animate threads of human connection at a time when relationships were painfully compromised by social distancing, travel bans and the limitations of screen-based communication. Lastly I explored how art practice can generate hope through fostering human connection, highlighting our interdependence and inspiring us to be emotionally present to each other. I ended with the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes which, although written 20 years ago, seem so apt for our times;
“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to
show mercy toward others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”
I am loving this time of year. The light has been beautiful in May and I have been very active in the studio. The garden is always an inspiration, the the flowers are singing. I am excited to be developing some new paintings for exhibitions later in the year. More news to follow.
Green Space Day - Education and the Climate Emergency: reimagining our future together
The climate crisis is the most significant threat to humanity we have ever faced. It is already impacting the lives, economies and neighbourhoods of millions of people globally and it is the defining social justice issue of our time. It is increasingly recognised that schools need to be at the forefront of responding to climate change, both in the way that they model sustainability and develop ‘climate literacy’ across all age ranges.
In my role as Assistant Professor and Subject Lead for Art and Design at Warwick University I have initiated and led ‘Green Space,’ an annual climate education conference for trainee teachers. This year Green Space Day, held on Monday 24th April, attracted 250 international delegates online with presentations by leading practitioners in the field as well as school pupils, including one veteran (aged 11) of COP26. More information and recordings of the presentations can be found on the Green Space webpage here.
Colour and Landscape
In recent weeks I have started a new series of oil paintings. Birmingham, where I live, is one of the greenest cities in Europe with over 600 publicly accessible parks and I walk in nature every day. In April I spent a week in North Devon where I walked some of its stunning coastal path. I am often influenced by the colours that I see on my walks but also like to work intuitively with colours that resonate with my emotional landscape.
Earlier this year I saw Jadé Fadojutimi’s exhibition ‘Can we see the colour green because we have a name for it?’ at The Hepworth Wakefield. In the exhibition catalogue interview she talks about colour’s capacity to affect mood or emotional state, something that I myself am fascinated by.
”I am increasingly aware of my dependence on colour to soothe my emotional spectrum. Colour leaves an imprint on our memory, even just moving around day today, the shifts in your environment can provoke a shift in mood or atmosphere. I’m interested in how the way we register or understand colour is cultivated within us over time; how if you grow up in a desert landscape you’ll have a higher colour sensitivity to browns and yellows compared to someone who was born in a city.”
Playing and reality
‘The capacity to still feel wonder is essential to the creative process.’
Donald Woods Winnicott
I have always loved collage. Recently I have been developing my use of the medium, drawing on to collaged compositions with colourful inks. It is a wonderfully loose and playful way to work which takes on a dynamic life of its own. I am currently working with re-cycled paper off cuts and adding free, calligraphic brush work to the pieces. The pieces ‘chop and change’ - random, snippets of collage segueing with hand drawn calligraphic marks. This integrative technique feels fitting for these disorientating times, a way to honestly incorporate breakage and dislocation whilst, at the same time, celebrate flow and regenerative hope.
‘The Blue and The Dim and The Gold’
This year for Holy Week St Andrew’s Church, Shifnal will be hosting ‘The Blue and The Dim and The Gold’, a large scale painting I made in 2012. It shows a lake at sunset, with rippled waters, brooding, forest-clad hillsides, shimmering golden light and a single boat containing a solitary figure.
Revd. Preb Chris Thorpe has prepared some beautiful Holy Week resources using the painting as starting point for his reflections.
Chris has written ‘What is it that brings you to tears? Is there a ”cup” of suffering that you wish could pass from you? Do you feel abandoned or betrayed sometimes? Jesus promised that ”the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), encouraging us to face our fears and worries, to give time to let things surface for us. St John said ”perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) so we can bring our deepest fears and darkness to the Lord, knowing that we are loved completely. The prophet Isaiah said ”those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall rise up on wings as eagles” (Isaiah 40:31). Perhaps this Holy Week can be a time of waiting on the Lord and renewing our strength.’
Chris’s Holy Week resources are available free of charge here.
Over the last 10 years ‘The Blue and the Dim and the Gold’ has toured nationally to a number of venues including the Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham, St Luke’s Church in Holloway, All Saints Church in Kings Heath, Birmingham Cathedral, All Saints Church in Warwick, Aston University, Greenbelt Festival and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.