Fabulous Creative Experience

A section of the installation showing the height increasing.

In September I was invited to take part in an Art Symposium in Neukirchen, Bavarian Forest, Germany.

The theme was Cosmos.

When thinking of Cosmos – the first impulse is to think of the universe. So when I took a look at my huge book by Alexander von Humboldt called ‘Cosmos’, I was surprised to find it more to do with natural science and geology than planets and stars – and that Cosmos can also mean order and harmony. Humboldt’s work had to do with the earth as an interconnected whole.

The objects are growing from the ground around an ant hill.

My concept for the Symposium took aspects of all. Based on my installation of 2019 in Norwich where I built pillar-like objects using armatures (wire structures) covered in plaster – I imagined these objects as a sequence growing out of the ground. The first of eleven was about 15 cms, the last over 2 metres. Symbolically, I was taking Humboldt’s earth and having it grow into the heavens.

The other aspect of my concept had to do with using natural elements and experimenting to see what would happen if I mixed them with cement instead of plaster.

At the Symposium, I met seven artists each with their own concept of Cosmos. We were able to choose to work in a former butcher’s/pub with rooms up above, post office or café (a sad sign of the times that villages are losing such services). For us, an amazing opportunity to develop our ideas and create.

The discovery of a neglected garden on site was the perfect spot for me to create. The Symposium and experimental nature of it, gave me the freedom to fail. It didn’t matter if the projects were complete or if your exact proposal was realised. It was the exchange and development of ideas that was important. For me, some of the ‘failures’ were the most exciting parts of my experience. One of them was mixing elderberries into the cement. All previous experiments worked wonderfully – so it was quite surprising when the cement didn’t set and crumbled when pressure was put on it. Also, my hope of colouring the cement purple turned to grey!

In the garden while clearing the long grass, I discovered several ant hills. Not wanting to disturb them, I used rubble found on site to ring each one, forming an ant hill constellation. It became part of my installation. My object placement therefore naturally included these mounds so that everything in the garden became it’s own system – Cosmos.

I started creating the elements of my sculpture using chicken wire stuffed with crumpled newspaper for my sequence of evolving objects. I was going to use cement. Other artists suggested that it looked good as it was. So, this part of my work was complete.

In the time I had left, I devoted myself to two further objects using my original idea of oxide coloured cement mixed with natural materials. Rain set in. The rods for the pillar-like sculptures couldn’t hold the weight of the wet cement. With the help of a couple of the other artists, we constructed a support system. It didn’t end up looking as I had planned – the cement set with the addition of rose hips, bindweed roots, stinging nettle stalks, seed heads, berries (not elderberry) that I added to it. In the context of the Symposium I wasn’t able to see what would happen over time but it was a wonderful basis for new experiments.

What this Symposium showed me was that embracing mistakes made it much more fun. They weren’t ‘mistakes’ they were just an observation of the state of things – the magical part of learning. So often we restrict what we do because we are so intent on getting it right the first time. We can get it right in the end but why not have fun on the way?