These go hand in hand with the sound-sketches for the long barrows at Uley and Stoney Littleton, which I think of as sketches made of sound. The 3D drawings pictured below are ways of visualising my aural experience of the sites. For example, I used tracing paper layers to build up individual mound shapes, like in the composite audio from Uley. And the berries having a lung-like appearance, became a way to show the consciousness of breathing when inside the mounds. Creating these 3D drawings, and integrating a sense of 3D in my 2D sketches, feels like a good way to convey the physicality of my experiences of the sites, as they are real tactile places which I am exploring from all angles.
I am keen to integrate the aesthetics of Ordnance Survey maps (including gradients and inclines, colour codes and broken lines), as well as the cross section drawings of the barrows in my field guide and in Shrines and Sacrifice, which make me think of museum scale models. For future more recent sites, this could lean more towards the aesthetics of architectural moquettes. However this evolves, although I first used cardboard as a material immediately to hand from my house move, I like these possibilities and will continue using it, along with paper, found objects etc. Using these everyday contemporary materials offers me a playfulness and simplicity with which to approach some more spatial drawings for the next sites I visit. These can inform, and be informed by, the spatial aspects of each audio as it develops.
To see more images of these drawings visit the gallery page.
I have been reading about the cultural history of interest in ancient and heritage sites, in Christopher Woodward’s In Ruins. In the chapter Time’s Shipwreck he writes:
“The Picturesque only had such a profound influence in eighteenth century England, however, because it was the artistic expression of the new ‘philosophy of association’. At the beginning of the century [18th] beauty was judged by classical rules, and architectural design was based upon certain mathematical proportions. Perfect beauty was considered to be an objective quality, a configuration of geometry which was visible to the eye of a man of taste in the same way as musical harmonies are recognisable to an ear tuned by musical education. The Picturesque was the first aesthetic to suggest that beauty could be subjective, translating to the visual arts the theory that the mind works by association of accumulated memories.”
The Picturesque is still applied to ruins and heritage sites – in fact the notion of ‘romantic’ ruins comes from this sensibility. But the compositional element of the Picturesque was more of the 2d ‘frame’, a frozen scene viewed from a particular place or vista. “A real landscape could be composed like a painted canvas, and that the audience could step through a picture frame into a living scene. Nature could be improved by the eye of the artist, who adds living trees and rocks, sunlight, water, and old ruins to his palette.”
Although this tradition has given value to ancient sites, which has in turn saved and protected many, I think we can explore them apart from this 2d picturesque tradition, to convey these sites in more sensory and experiential ways, and for me, including the use of sound.
I currently volunteer at the Royal West of England Academy, invigilating once a week. The show on at the time I was making these drawings was called Shock and Awe, and presented artists’ responses to conflict, in the light of the centenary of WW1. Part of this was the landscapes of John (1893-1977) and Paul Nash (1889-1946), who both served in the army as war artists and in action, and used familiar landscapes to come to terms with their experiences.
“Genius Loci – The Spirit of a Place. For both John and Paul Nash the notion of place was as important to their work as the landscape itself. The featured hilltops and coastlines, woodlands and gardens, are not just anonymous backdrops. Instead they incorporate the context and history of a specific location with the pervading atmosphere and ‘sprit of (a) place’.” – RWA interpretation board for Brothers In Art: John and Paul Nash 19th July – 14th September.
In his paintings of the sites in the Avebury area, Paul Nash experimented with painting ancient sites and landscapes he knew well, from memory. I like how these are created from having actually being there, having spent time walking between and amongst these sites. The results feel more 3d than 2d, conveying sensory impressions which sometimes ‘look’ like sound. In particular: Landscape of the Megaliths 1934, Druid Landscape c1938, Equivalents for the Megaliths 1935, The Archer 1930-42, Landscape of the Malvern Distance 1943, November Moon 1942 and Landscape of the Wittenham Clumps 1946. (due to copyright I am unable to include these images here)
My favourite image is this last one, the frail pen and ink drawing Paul did shortly before he died of Wittenham Clumps from memory, showing the strong hold a connection to a landscape can have on the emotional psyche. The image is haunting, barely there, and offers an impression of not just what the place looks like, but what it feels like to have been there, and to recall it and draw strength from it.
The barrows I have visited so far still feel like active sites. It is not the materials or their sophisticated engineering alone that make them special; it was the fact they were constructed for use, and it is continued use that keeps them alive and relevant now. Successions of people have found value of various kinds in neolithic sites, all projecting their own meaning and creating a relationship. As Woodward says, “A ruin is a dialogue between an incomplete reality and the imagination of the spectator” (In Ruins p139). So, I don’t want my works to be ‘Picturesque’ in the sense of 2D, from a fixed position, a flat representation, but I do want them to have the quality of ‘association’. I want both my sound works and my 3D drawings to be very ‘unflat’ – motion-full, sensory, 3D compositions coming from real encounters of a living, ever changing place. I want to ask the places themselves what they are like, to listen to them, and creatively interpret that into something that hopefully will inspire others to visit. As timeless as they feel, these sites have never stood still – their value, role and interpretation continues to change over time. For me, the very fact that they are physically there to encounter, that I can be present with them here and now, is what has been the most striking feeling so far.