Well Summer is drawing to the end…..and it seems fitting that we spent most of August’s Sculpture 30 activity outside with the sculptor version of Ray Mears.
As an artist, a business person, a career person, a stay at home saint or any other type of busy bee, do you take the opportunity to get outside and appreciate the outdoors. Now I mean, REALLY appreciate – look around you, taking in the smells, the shapes of natural objects, the light…….
If you look closely enough, beauty and sculpture can be found and created in almost anything. Taking time out to do this is not only imperative for your mindfulness and inner wellbeing, it is also crucial part of the creative process; allowing yourself to think, reflect, reimagine and to get lost in the world around you, that you may see every day, but not take in.
That’s what we focused on during August with our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month Jane Gower. We got outside with different groups; adults, children, artists and creatives a like and we got using the natural world and materials around us to make beautiful sculptural pieces that both created meaning in the present and complemented the landscape.
I spent an afternoon with Jane during a family Land Art workshop in Thornley Woods…..it was a fantastic afternoon spent making our names from natural resources around us and picking special objects during our trail.
Whilst on our object hunt, we often stopped to talk about why we’d picked certain objects, why they visually seemed special to us and the beautiful colours, shapes and textures. It was fascinating to share perceptions and discover emotional attachments to inanimate objects.
Jane had also scattered on our route, several pieces of her land art that she had created making the afternoon feel like a mini sculpture trail of natural discovery.
We used our materials to recreate the Gruffalo’s foot-steps – a series of footsteps with natural materials, to reimagine what he might like to eat and we ended our session making him a den.
I had a fantastic afternoon – I found it grounding in the sense it reminded me of the creative possibilities that exist all around us every day and how these possibilities are constantly changing and evolving with nature. Moreover, this type of sculpture making is very accessible to everyone and something individuals, teams, groups and families can do as a collective.
After the session, I caught up with Jane Gower, our artist of the Month for August, to probe a little deeper into her practice, to find out what it is about the outdoors she loves so much and what exactly, ephemeral art is……?
Hi Jane, Tell me a little about yourself?
I love walking, especially with friends and family and ravelling around and camping in my converted transit van; also getting totally lost in creating a piece of work when I forget time, to eat and other people. I also love collaborating with other artists on projects.
Meeting new people is endlessly fascinating especially if I’m researching for a commission and find out about a whole different way of life.
I did a degree in Textiles and an M.A in Fine Art. My jobs from a previous life include; Stage-Management in London West End Theatres, running my own knitted textile business, clothing designer/production manager for a Fair Trade company, Art Foundation Course Lecturer and Community artist.
I have two children who have flown the nest.
Tell me about your practice?
I have been described as an eccentric art-scientist, experimenting with different materials: melting, shredding and generally deconstructing, then re-constructing the remains into some other form. This approach employed man-made materials. I’ve transferred this questioning recently, into testing the physical qualities of natural elements out in a rural environment. In doing so I’ve dropped the need for tools and equipment, finding the necessaries in a ‘make-do-Ray-Mears’ approach and adapting whatever’s lying around or re-thinking the process. This is very liberating. It involves trusting a spontaneous response to the natural environment and going with it.
I also describe my practice as socially-engaged; involving participants in the creative process, using a range of media and techniques that is relevant for both the participants and to the installation site. The constant thread that runs through all my work is the intricacies of communication in the cultural realm: the disparity that lies between intention and interpretation.
Social engagement has decreased in recent times as I’ve been exploring this new direction in my practice.
Past commissions and residencies include; The Great North Run, The Sage Gateshead, Newcastle Riverside Sculpture Trail, The Tall Ships Race, Pallion, Cleadon and Gateshead PCT NHS Health Centres, among others.
Where can people go to see more of your work?
In terms of the Land Art work nothing can be seen in actuality as it’s so temporary but I’m on Instagram as jane_gower. I try and make one Land art piece a day, photograph it and upload onto the app every day.
There are two large-scale, permanent, sculptural installations in the Trinity Square Health Centre at West Street, Gateshead. One is inside the surgery and one outside in the car park. Both were participatory pieces based around the question: ‘What makes you better?’. They are both permanent. Fabricated from printed and engraved clear or mirror acrylic they are different from resources I am currently using.
Voice recordings are often incorporated into my sculptural installations as I like to make evident the work process in the final piece and they bring animation.
I’ve just completed a sound piece: ‘Coastal Viewpoints’ in collaboration with Nicola Balfour for Durham Heritage Coast. We’ve been audio recording people out and about on the coastal path between Seaham and Horden. Their responses to the question: ‘What’s your view of this coastline?’ are being edited into QR points on the information boards along the path. People can hear some of the recordings on the FB page; ‘Coastal Viewpoints’.
What are your ties to the North East?
There are several factors:
I ran away from a London-life 28 years ago, for a job as clothing designer/production manager for the fair-trade company Traidcraft in Gateshead, and never went back.
I live on the border of three very different county boundaries; Northumberland, Durham and Gateshead. The diversity in terms of landscape, communities and culture is so varied and engaging, that it constantly inspires me.
I feel the North East has been one of the few areas in England that has valued artists’ contribution to its regeneration. Even though there has been a noticeable dearth of available arts funding recently, it still feels there’s potential to make a living as a free-lance artist here.
The North East has been good to me. Both my children were born here, so the area feels like part of our DNA.
For those who don’t know, what is “Ephemeral Land Art”?
Land Art refers to an art movement that began in the 60’s in which landscape and art is inextricably linked. It’s about experiencing natural spaces and responding to them using indigenous materials to create art and placing it in the natural environment. The ‘Ephemeral’ derives from a Greek word meaning lasting only one day. This encapsulates the temporary period that the artworks are expected to exist. Due to the raw materials being used and the spaces they are created in, out in the natural environment, they will start to deteriorate immediately. Open to the elements, to animal and human activity, the artworks only exists at the moment of creation. Documenting that moment through photography is the only way to keep the piece alive and give it longevity.
Why is getting outside important for creatives?
Getting outside whatever the weather for anyone, regardless of whether they are an artist or not, is very grounding. Even in an urban environment, I think to feel the elements and to be in natural light helps get things into perspective. Being outdoors invigorates and you are dealing immediately with the here-and-now basics of life.
Having to find a way of working with the idiosyncrasies of a variety of natural forms, out in an uncontrollable environment, has its own particular challenges and rewards for creative people.
Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Gateshead homeschoolers?
I was asked to work with a homeschooling group and their carers based in Gateshead. We spent 2 ½ days in Thornley Woods exploring the landscape, looking at all the resources available and using different techniques to make land art, prints and photographs. Sometimes everyone worked individually and sometimes as a team. We did lots of playing and walking, and discussing the natural environment and our response to it. They were for me some very uplifting and informative days with an enthusiastic group of learners.
What is your favourite piece of Sculpture in the North East/the world?
One that always resonates with me is Cornelia Parkers’ Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) A garden shed she had blown up by the British Army and suspended the fragments as if suspending the explosion process in time.
Well thank you Jane, another fantastic Sculpture 30 artist of the Month.
As we draw ever closer to the end of Sculpture 30 Festival, I have to say I now view Sculpture in a whole new way. It is very accessible and incredibly diverse in art form, materials used, nature, inspiration…..I am also surprised to discover through-out the year, how “sculpture” is not really the isolated art form, I thought it was. It in fact infuses, permeates and influences Art and creative practices in a huge way….
Taking from Jane and I think we all can Culture Vultures; get outside more and really look at the natural world around you for it is full of undiscovered creative possibilities!