My response as an artist...
As a voracious reader of dystopian fiction and science magazines, my first reaction to lockdown in the Covid-19 emergency was,
‘so here it is’…
I realised I had been expecting something like this to happen for a long, long time.
As a country Veterinary Surgeon’s daughter I had borne witness to the terrible decimation of local farms by the animal disease Foot and Mouth. The culls of healthy animals on farms to prevent the disease spreading were awful, the carcases being burnt in local fields, the hard work of the Vets and Veterinary Ministery tracking and testing…I heard conversations about the problems of transporting live animals to ever decreasing numbers of distant abattoires, the overuse of antibiotics, the use of chemicals in agro industry. The very real problem that businessmen with no connection with the land were taking over farming, that pharmaceuticals were being sold direct to agro-industrialists to prevent disease spreading through overcrowded factory farms.
It made me into an Environmentalist and an Activist.
Sadly, the language of disease is now familiar to all of us.
Quarantine. Global Pandemic. Huge. Terrifying. Life changing. Expected.
And then the world stopped…
Just for a while, there was quiet, birdsong, clean air, neighbours talking, clapping.
Now as we wake from this unfamiliar dream world, the crowds are already coming to claim their rights, to use and sometimes trash our open spaces, to choke the roads with fumes and noise - and before we lose the idea of a new gentler more sustainable way of living we have to engage with the anger and frustration we are seeing, and show we are all equally responsible for leaving the planet in a better state for our children and grandchildren.
As the Climate Crisis has been in the forefront of all my work, it felt that through the pandemic we had been presented with an extraordinary opportunity to reflect and reassess, to rebuild our world in a better, less destructive way. To learn what is really important to us and the way we live. Humanity has been given a chance to look around and see the planet without our pollution, our despoiling, destructive use of our resources and see how quickly the planet recovers when we are not doing our ‘business as usual’.
This has been a timely rehearsal for an even bigger catastrophe than this pandemic, we need to work hard to mitigate the coming Climate Crisis.
For the last decade I have been making work about Climate Crisis so, in lock down, my studio work continues on my ‘Drowned World’ series, named for J G Ballard’s 1962 novel.
It grows ever more important and urgent to make this work, to make my paintings and films on Climate Crisis, and to continue with my activism, which has included being arrested with Geoge Monbiot and Jonathan Bartley in October last year in London.
Through lockdown I am attending zoom meetings with Extinction Rebellion - as we are planning how we adapt and continue working in the changed circumstances.
As part of my art practice I continue to nurture my wildlife garden but have over the last few weeks made and planted a kitchen garden. As most artists are pretty practical and my default in an emergency is always to plan for the worst and hope for the best, I quote Voltaire,
‘Il faut cultiver le jardin’…!
My studio has also been a place of reflection and contemplation on myth, faith, spirituality and storytelling as I work on a commission to celebrate the archaeologocal dig exploring the legacy of Saint Ethelburga and Saint Eadburg for ‘Pathways to the Past’ in Lyminge and its 7th Century Church. It is a small piece, gold leaf and ultramarine, acrylic on aluminium, a contemporary take on traditional icon painting.
Just before lock down I was privileged to work with Georgina Treloar (Climate Activist, local Green Councillor, Musician) and Memo Dumay, Sound Landscape Artist in Chile, to make a piece in response to the smoke from the Australian wildfires in Australia reaching the Atacama Desert in Chile.
We performed the film I made in response to the soundscape, with live music by Georgina Treloar, George Clift and Ross Blair at ‘Profound Sound’, in the Quarterhouse Folkestone.
For the same experimental music festival: ’Profound Sound 2020’, I collaborated with Anna Braithwaite and Luke Birch to develop further, ‘In the loop…’, which in its present iteration has three of us improvising - starting with tape loops, me with a rotating painting projected on to a screen, Anna Braithwaite making soundscapes and Luke Birch using dance and physical theatre. Lighting Ellie Blunt, Cameras Helen Lindon and Nathan Eaton-Boudain
We performed it in February and as it was filmed on several cameras, I am now spending time in lockdown editing the footage, here is a link to the trailer. The editing process during lockdown hs suggested another interpretation of our performance, that of being alone together on this planet…
For me, life is very much the same and completely different…emotionally close through videocalls, while physically completely solitary.
My work allows me hope and sometimes equilibrium.
We have been given a terrifying warning that we are temporary guests on this beautiful planet, that we need to protect her resources and need to make the world a place we all want to live in.
This I believe to be my artist manifesto.