Discover more from Into the Deep Woods
Creative Disobedience and Connection
Summer almost arrived today. It was here from midmorning to late afternoon before it was dragged away by winter which appeared over the Blorenge in an evil cloak of cloud and wind. This is the way of the Brecon Beacons in March. I’ve found it difficult to focus in the past cold weeks, my energy sapped by the last of the long winter dark and the launch of Two Lights. I realise now why Anne Lamott said that the weeks before and after the launch of a book are the most miserable of a writer’s life. But I’m pulling myself out of it now, there’s work to do. I’m on Masquerade this week, trying to gather focus and energy for two projects: non-fiction book 2, and an art installation project I’ve been itching to do ever since I helped build a theatre set from waste materials back in London in the 90s. The set was crude but it emanated an atmosphere which was enhanced hugely by the use of borrowed projectors to throw images across the space. You can turn a shed into a painted chapel with a beam of coloured light. I’ve been wanting to develop the idea ever since and I now have the time and space to do it. As with all my work my aim is to tread as softly as I can. Everything I need can be carried in a backpack, working completely off grid. I’ll only use light and sound, nothing three-dimensional, nothing attached to walls. The work will appear briefly, then vanish. It’s possible to throw huge images across cliff walls these days, or the sides of skyscrapers. I prefer to work small. I’m identifying locations, looking for neglected, disobedient spaces. I think I’ve found the perfect place.
Today I walked under Bridge 63 in perfect light. Here the canal sweeps into a fold in the land, a mountain common to the north, a wooded hill to the south. The main road towards the city of Newport, which runs close to the canal in places, recedes here, so there is no noise at all from traffic. Wind through branches, woodpeckers foraging, chaffinches and robins singing, rooks racketing in their nests. The bridge seems to act as a sound funnel for these things, like a handmade ear. It also collects light and colour. On one side many of its bricks have been painted in fading primaries. On the other side white, pale green, and orange lichens have radiated and abutted. From gaps in the centuries-old mortar, mosses and ferns have grown, forest and lime green. The line of moss extends almost halfway beneath the arch, then stops, marking the edge of sunlight, creating a permanent emerald shadow. On the light side of the arch there are thousands of hanging spiders’ webs, they swing and dither in the funnelled breeze. Below this, from the water’s edge almost to the zenith of the arch intersecting rings of light grow and fade back. Some are pale, four or five rings chasing each other as they radiate. Others begin as single dark pools, little tunnels or horse eyes, then start to glow, fringing with white. Some begin at the surface of the water, little mirrored ripples. Others start high up and flow down to the water. The patterns change endlessly. It’s almost celestial.
Most bridges on this canal were built to allow farmers to move their livestock across the water, but the land has since been split up, sold and resold. Many are not needed now, they’re fenced and wired off. Their purpose is memorial, aesthetic. Some seem to resist this repurposing, they look as good as new, feats of engineering standing out from the landscape. Others embrace it, like bridge 63, which has become both work of art and ecosystem.
Our tools rust, split, fracture; our paintings and photographs fade; our buildings lean and collapse. The materials want to move on, to become the building blocks of other things or the sediment which holds them together. Forms tire and disintegrate, or become integrated into something new. Everything resists its purpose in the end, becomes disobedient to its maker. In these times, when new systems desperately need to be birthed and developed perhaps its the job of artists to build disobedience into their work and encourage it in their audiences. It’s the difference between art and craft and it’s a difficult thing to do. For me, it took a long time to find the required courage to even start showing my own work, for most of my life it has been stashed in a drawer and then thrown away. Two Lights almost wasn’t written. I told myself that the practice was everything, the end product unimportant. Which was very wrong. The work needs to be shipped, as Seth Godin says, because other people need it. They need examples of creative disobedience to give them the courage to create something themselves. Or just to find their own shape. That alone takes a lot of work when there’s a commercial culture built like a prison around you. The disobedience of creativity can be a bridge that provides a rescue route for someone, and eventually, if iterated, if it acts like the ripples radiating out under the bridge, for everyone.
It’s like a little theatre, bridge 63, one in which you get to stand beneath the proscenium arch and witness the stage lights up close. I’m not yet sure how I’ll make the most of the space. I think I’ll need to spend some time with it first, watch and listen for its input. The bridge itself will be the audience to begin with, before we show the work to the world. How long, I wonder, is it since it funnelled the sound of curlews? What would its curved ceiling do with the shape of a wolf?
Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.