Study event review: In conversation with Naomi Incledon
OCA virtual study day
Conversation with Naomi Incledon on her alternative Land Art exhibition ‘Time Works.’
Naomi Incledon has been my student since HE5 and she has almost finished her Sustaining Your Practice unit (Painting pathway). All was ready to go ahead. She had worked extensively with the organisation of her Land Art artists tour where the audience would have an experimental walk through her Land Art in the woods of Frome, Vallis Vale. Then came the lockdown a week before the outside event. Without being deterred or disheartened, Naomi had to quickly think of the next best thing….we have all had to adapt, to accommodate and be as true to reality as we can.
Participants were instead invited to view her work through a video documentation ‘Time Works’ emulating Cinema Verite- quite a Blair Witch style film where we walk through the Land Art works whilst being informed of her creative intentions, contexts and physical making in a serene and contemplative tone.
‘Time Works’ Video
Tumuli Bank 2020
It begs the question which she has been investigating for months or more over, her thirteen years of study with OCA. What do we leave behind for future generations, how, do we as artists, make a mark on human existence and can our legacy be at one with nature?
Naomi plays with scale from the micro to the macro, she uses skin as the natural landscape, she contests an art exhibition outside of the gallery space and overall, she pushes herself with physicality as a performer finding unity in nature.
This is her interview from the study day. I hope those of you who are due to have an exhibition in the next few months can see that it is possible to have an alternative. As artists, we respond to situations, we become inventive and we turn obstacles into possibilities.
https://padlet.com/naomi515313/p4zal06stfad (website, catalogue, essay & press release)
Questions for the audience to consider:
DA: Was it a good decision of Naomi’s work to be outside? What has been gained or lost with it not being in a gallery setting?
Questions for Naomi:
DA: Can you talk about the physicality of the work? As a performer, a maker?
NI: I made all these during the day, while my son was at school, so I had to walk or run or cycle, about two miles from the town that I live in down into this old disused quarry. Carrying all of my equipment with me. I used to take a big Canon camera at one time. So that I could record my work really beautifully. But that got too bulky and too much of a stress. So, I just ended up taking my iPhone with me in the end.
Some of the larger pieces took about four sessions to make, especially the big one on the old hill fort that had Roman coins found on it, that one took me, three days of working in the sun, and I had to carry enough water with me to keep me going. That was all quite a cathartic experience scraping this version of myself on top of the fossils and it took a lot of endurance to complete.
With regard to the making process, I began by being inspired by Eva Hesse’s large skin like hangings made from latex. I thought: wouldn’t it be great if I could make something like that, but with a real cast of my actual skin. So I began making latex casts of my skin. As I hung them up to the light they didn’t really work. So I began experimenting. I discovered that close up views of these casts were far more interesting and that by adding tiny figures, they became a landscape, not just a hanging sculpture. The skin was the landscape. So then I wanted to make these landscapes in real life. How could I make a landscape that looked like human skin? It took a lot of experimenting and determination, but eventually I found a way to do it. By using features of the landscape such as rocks and cliffs as the physical form and adding details in the form of marks made with natural materials. So the diorama of tiny figures on latex skin casts were made as part of the process of me hatching plans for larger pieces of Land Art.
As I completed some of these large pieces out in the landscape and people walked across their surfaces, my ideas came full circle. I loved working out in public spaces with people watching, I wanted to see what reaction they would have to my work, I used it as feedback, to either spur me on or make me rethink what I was doing.
DA: So are you a performer with the endurance side of your making process?
NI: I enjoy the fact that it’s in a public space and I enjoy the interaction with the unsuspecting passers by, who come and ask me what I’m doing and say ‘Very nice’. And some of them walk across the drawings that I’ve made and their dog scamper about on them. That’s exactly what I had been aiming for when I made my tiny diorama, I’d imagined my skin as a landscape being used by people. So yeah, I enjoyed that element of it.
DA: So you’ve exposed yourself as a performer, as well as the artist, allowing people to walk over your work.
NI: Yes, that’s one element. I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest element of what I’ve done but it’s one that brings me joy as I’m working.
Newbury Cliff 2020
Member of the audience: Did you need to get permission from anybody to make these large drawings and have you gone back to see how they’re progressing and have there been any additions been made to them by other people.
NI: Good questions. So regarding the piece on the ancient monument, I didn’t know it was an ancient monument when I worked on it but I discovered that afterwards. I did ask permission to work on that site for this exhibition and the land owners said they were really sorry but they couldn’t give me permission for that. I didn’t feel guilty about my first experiment on the site because the marks that I’d left were so transient and it was made from natural chalk which I had gathered from a nearby hill. So I just felt I was rearranging the materials of the landscape, I didn’t feel that I’d polluted or destroyed it or left a scar. It rained within a couple of days and that washed the artwork away. I did really carefully document a lot of pieces as they deteriorated over about three months, I took loads and loads of photographs. I’ve had to edit it all down and decide what to present because otherwise it ends up being this huge catalogue. But yes, it is an important part of the work and I have documented that really carefully. If you look on my website, you can see the artwork when it was first made, followed by pictures of it as it fades, which gives the impression of the effects of time. As for desecration of the artworks, I’ve only ever had that once with the first mud work that I made. Somebody tried to destroy it with a big boulder. But I think that was probably just kids playing in the field. But apart from that, no, it’s all been left untouched. And one piece that I made. The piece that was layered on the cliff, where you could see the physical layers behind it, Vallis Rock, has had so many visitors and people going up to visit it that they had actually worn a path into the ground. So that was really nice for me to know that people are enjoying it, and interacting with it.
DA: Are you a vandal. disturber of nature, an interrupter of nature?
NI: I have no guilt because I was literally just rearranging what I had found out there in the landscape. Admittedly I used charcoal which was not found, but this is a naturally occurring material which I felt was doing no harm. The diorama are not left on location, they are gathered up and taken home with me.
As I make the work, yes I interrupt nature, but in a sympathetic way. I negotiate with nature, working with what I find. A good example would be Tumuli Bank where I wanted to make a large drawing of my foot which would really stand out from a distance across the valley. But the surface of the rock was covered with these beautiful lichen plants which looked almost like flowers, as well as ivy and water oozing through cracks in the rock. It took me three or four sessions to complete the artwork and the only way was to add my marks around what was already there. So instead of being this large statement of an artwork, visible from far away across the valley, it became this subtle intervention which was only visible if you looked really hard, up close and actually knew what you were looking for. Of course I went through a decision making process of shall I remove the plants from the surface so I can work on it, but in the end I realised it was far better to work around them and use them as part of the artwork.
Because the images I was making were organic forms made from natural materials, I felt that what I made sat as part of nature more than interrupted it. There were no scars left on the landscape which needed to heal, just natural additions which looked like natural phenomenon’s themselves, this was my intention all along.
DA: Yes, well obviously, we were going to be there, in the actual space. I love that sense of discovery that you have with the video, and if you’re seeing the video for the first time, you don’t know what’s coming next, then there are these tiny little figures and dioramas, compared to the huge space. Obviously you’ve had to find an alternative with the video. How many edits, did you need to make the video because I found the tone of voice and the pace really resonated. I felt that this was a really nice journey. So what decisions did you make to document it in a certain way?
NI: Every time I make a piece, I document it really carefully, I take films, close ups, distant shots and then I always take a film which includes the setting as well because I am aware that quite often, that’s going to be the only way that people will ever see the work. So I had all that recorded information already. Then as the threat of coronavirus was looming, I was becoming more and more aware that it was going to be quite important for me to have some really good documentation. It was one or two days before lockdown arrived that I went into the woods and made sure I had everything that I needed. I tried to do the narration in the woods. I filmed myself standing next to the artworks talking, it was absolutely awful, I was wearing a bright pink coat and it was so stilted, it just didn’t work at all, so I had to rethink. But while I was doing this, I felt under an awful lot of pressure because I had had the build up of creating this exhibition and organizing all the people to come and all the guided tours and getting all the publicity ready. So I was really pumped up and ready to go with this exhibition, then it all came to a head in just making a film. So I had quite a lot of nervous and mental energy to put into this film. I ended up fiddling about with the voiceover while my child was asleep upstairs, so I was under pressure that way, in case he woke up. Then I was under pressure because they had just announced lockdown. And I was thinking, right we’re all in this quite profound situation. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my work, I didn’t know what was going to happen with any of us. So that’s partly why my tone of voice is quite subdued and serious, it all helped to add to the atmosphere. So that’s the story of how I made it.
I made it on my iPhone using imovies because that’s all that was available to me. I looked into virtual tours of famous galleries and documentaries about them. I looked into using some software to do a 360 degree virtual tour, like you would see on an estate agents website, when you want to buy a property, but that all seemed very expensive and very long winded and like it would take be a lot of waiting for other people to help me. So that’s why I opted for imovies, because I could just do it quickly myself, have perfect control over the end result.
DA: I think it’s real. You’re a great example of adjusting quickly overnight, so well done.
Member of the audience: I really enjoyed the video, but I felt like I could have enjoyed watching a half an hour or even an hour. I wonder if you had considered doing a long edit of the process may by including some of your photographs as well. One thing that made me think of this is, I don’t know if you’ve heard the BBC slow radio series, that they’ve been doing. In one example, they had a guy walking in the woods at night and it’s very slow paced and I just wondered if an extended version of your video might be interesting as well. It felt like it went too quickly for me.
NI: Thank you. Yes, that’s a really interesting point. I hadn’t thought about that before. But what I have done is I also made a version of the film without the voiceover and I put that on YouTube as well. Next to the one with the voiceover because people were saying they wanted longer to absorb the artworks. But what you’re saying is that you want the journey to be even more realistic by doing it in real time, basically. Yeah, that’s an interesting idea.
What I also did once I realized I wasn’t going to have a real exhibition is I put a lot of time into getting my website looking good. I put my essays on there and films and I made a really nice catalogue. So I was trying to draw the process out that way, but I hadn’t thought of your idea. Yes, that’s worth considering. Thank you.
Member of the audience: Another question I have is do you leave anything in the land, so when people come across your work, they can find out who made the work, have you considered leaving some postcards around or anything?
NI: It’s a really interesting situation that I worked in because I made some of the test pieces last summer and thought right this is going to be good for my exhibition. Then when I was planning the exhibition, I decided to ask permission from the landowners before staging and publicising an exhibition, because in the past I’ve involved newspapers and I would have invited journalists to come and have a look or contacted newspapers to send them my story. The landowners were really kind and said, yes, we support you with this, but they could only give me permission to work on a couple of little rocks and one small cliff that was situated a long distance away. They said, there was too much overhanging rock here or it was too dangerous for me to work there. That place where I did the huge foot on a cliff ledge Monument Cliff, is a really important geological site called the Dela Bleche nonconformity and it’s basically where geology first started, so they said, sorry, but we can’t give you permission to work there. So I thought, I can’t stage an exhibition on two pieces of rock. My next move was to contact local galleries, one of them was really enthusiastic, a really lovely gallery space in the middle of town. But I couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice my outdoor setting. Because I felt so strongly that I wanted people to experience the work as it was part of the landscape and have a real life experience and experience a connection to the deas I had had as I made the work. So I ended up actually using the two stones they had given me permission to work on and then the rest of it was made without permission. Because I thought I’m not really doing any harm. The rain will wash it away.
So it’s all been a bit of a covert operation and I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m not, advocating this way of working. It’s just that I felt these were my options. I used to lie awake at night thinking I’m going to get arrested and there’s going to be this task force set up to work out who’s done all of this artwork.
Member of the audience: Like another Banksy.
NI: Yes, well funnily enough, my brother is a graffiti artist in Bristol and my sister knows Banksy. So I think that’s probably had a bit of an influence on how I work. I did contact my brother and say, shall I hold this exhibition or not. And he said, yes absolutely.
DA: I think, as artists, we have that license to show artwork in the right context. Not hide it away in a gallery.
Member of the audience: I love the work, the only thing was that I didn’t get enough of it. I got frustrated because there were moments when I thought, this artwork is beautiful, why am I not seeing it? I think if I had gone on the walk I could have examined it, I could have looked at it and that was the shortcoming. I thought of the video, was good, it was good that we went on a journey, but I felt that it showed too much of the surroundings, because I wanted to see the work so very, very badly and sometimes I didn’t manage to do that.
DA: Talking about the context of your work rather than just the video, you make a big claim when you say that you’ve layered yourself and your presence in geology and history. Why do you think that is important for you as an artist?
NI: Well, in one example I took natural rock from the landscape in the form of chalk from nearby Cley Hill, and used it to create a version of my skin, a magnified view of my skin. This was placed as a layer on top of layers of rock. Rock which I had evidence of being a jurassic seabed on the equator. I spoke to some geologists on site who confirmed these facts for me and they were also available on geological survey websites. As I worked on this particular piece Wadbury Camp, I added my layer of chalk on top of fossilised oysters and an ancient seabed. Because my drawing was of a real view of my skin, I felt I had added myself to the fossils and rock. Like a self portrait or even a graffiti ist leaving their initials to mark the fact that they were there. Not only that, but I also allowed the weather to wash my marks away within a few days. This emulated the fleeting qualities of my presence. It was not as permanent as the fossils. I liked that, here today, gone tomorrow, just as my existence is. If I had made those drawings on canvas with acrylic paint, all those points of reference to history, time and place, would have been lost. This particular spot was also an ancient hill fort, so not only was I adding my presence to natural history, but also to human history.
I looked into the materials and techniques that cave artists used and experimented with the same media as a way of connecting my activity with theirs, natural pigments on rock, depictions of human anatomy.
Member of the audience: I would like to say how much I enjoyed looking at the video and the article online, I had a look beforehand. And I do agree, it would be nice to see more of the the full nature of it. Going out there, it seems you are isolated when making work and I’m just wondering, I get these feelings and the emotions as I’m viewing the work, and I start to connect with the work. I’m just wondering what the feelings and emotions were like when you are producing the work, you were quite isolated, how was that affecting your connection with the nature that you’re grappling with.
NI: Thank you. That’s a really good question. Part of my curatorial strategy was relating to Walter Benjamin’s ideas about the reproduction of artworks in the mechanical age. I’m sure some of you are aware of that text. He was talking about how at the turn of the century, with industrialisation, an artwork used to be something that was quite spiritual and he described it as having an aura. He wrote that if you print a picture of, say, the Mona Lisa and put it on shopping bags and tea cups and T shirts, it loses its aura. So it’s lost that kind of a special connection and that emotional attachment that people would have through the real life experience of walking into the gallery and actually seeing the real painting. And it becomes something different. So the advantages are that the artwork can reach a wider audience and more people get a chance to experience it, but the disadvantages are that you lose that emotional attachment to the artwork.So that was something I was really aware of with this film because I had made that brave decision with my exhibition to go out in the wild and to work without permission. To test whether I could entice people to walk and trudge through the mud and travel for miles. Which did work, it was exciting, I had lots of people that wanted to visit this exhibition. It turned out that on the days it was scheduled to be held, the sun shone and the birds sang, it would have worked, but I was really worried that in presenting the film I’d lost all of that and it would become me presenting just a version of the artworks that was watered down and I’m getting a sense that the experience has been watered down because people wanted to pause and experience the artworks as a lot of people have said, which the film didn’t allow them to do. But at the same time, when you say that you did get an idea of that emotional connection to the artwork from watching the film that’s also reassuring, so thank you for that.
Member of the audience: Where there any times that you felt like giving up? It sounds like quite a gruelling process that you were undertaking.
NI: My mantra was: ‘make yourself uncomfortable’ So I thought, right, what can I do that’s going to make me feel really uncomfortable. And that was forcing myself to go out there, into the landscape because it’s very easy sitting at home to think: I don’t think I’ll bother today, actually, you know, it might be a bit rainy and I might get a bit tired and you can always come up with excuses not to do these things. So it was an interesting process of forcing myself to pack up my gear and travel across the landscape on foot or push bike. And then it takes quite a lot of bravery to make a mark in a public space, because you’re always thinking, someone might attack me or they might take the mickey out of me, or tell me its awful or be upset that you are leaving a mark in a shared space. So there’s that element to it, but then on the flip side of that, there was the fact that working as an artist, you’re in quite a lot of isolation. As I got used to the process of going out and doing these things. I actually found I looked forward to it because it gave me a chance to get out, to interact with the real world, to interact with the public. So it actually became the opposite, in the end, I was getting all this positive feedback from the public. And on top of that, I was getting the exercise because I do exercise regularly. So it became part of my morning exercise routine to get up, get my gym gear on, go out there, make some artwork. Then I found that the ideas behind me having a real interaction with a time and place wasn’t just a bit of art speak that I came up with because it sounded quite nice, it was the real experience of being on these geological sites and making versions of myself. It was quite an uplifting experience. I felt quite ecstatic, it was a feeling of triumph, almost as though I had marked my territory or left my mark on the landscape, with the birds singing and the sun shining and the wind in the trees. That was the part of the experience I really wanted to share with the audience. I wanted them to see this lovely natural landscape which, when I made the film was still looking a bit muddy and the trees were bare, but now it’s absolutely blooming and gorgeous and that kind of exhilaration of the wind in your face and the smell of the wild garlic and the sound of the birds singing.
DA: Was there ever a point at which you thought, I am going to give up?
NI: Last summer I made quite a few of the big pieces and I was having a great time, really enjoying it. In about January, I thought I had better start installing the pieces ready for the April show. The UK was hit by storm after storm after storm. There were barely any days where it wasn’t raining. So if ever it stopped raining, I was having to go out and work on that day. And it was icy and windy and my feet were getting frozen like blocks of ice, I was having to take three or four sessions to do what should have taken me one day because I was getting so frozen and having to give up and come home. And then we had a really windy storm and it bought all these old trees down across the pathways we were supposed to walk around for the exhibition. I was thinking I can’t lead people around this guided tour and expect them to have to step over fallen trees. So I thought I was going to have to clear the path with a bow saw, somebody else actually beat me to it with a chainsaw, so that was a relief. Then it all flooded and I had to wade through floods, to get to the sites where I was making my artwork. So at that point, I did question my decision to hold the exhibition outside. But I kept an eye on the long term forecast and it kept saying that in the last two weeks of March, it will start to warm up and start to dry up and that’s what kept me going, and that is what happened.
DA: I don’t know about anyone else but as the viewer I want to go through the endurance that you’ve been through to make it real. I want to climb over things and get my boots muddy.
Member of the audience: I just want to say how much I did enjoy the video, I would have loved to have walked down the valley and experienced the art physically, but what I got from the video which I wouldn’t have got on site is, is your very eloquent commentary about it and I really did enjoy that. So in fact, the video for me would be necessary to really have extracted the most of the art. It did strike me that I would also have really enjoyed seeing an exhibition in the center of town in a gallery and associating the two and it seems to me that you could still do that. There’s enough mileage here that you’ve got a whole other exhibition to go when you’re able to.
Member of the audience: How would you have made the show for a gallery setting?
NI: I would have imported stone into the gallery space and worked on that, rather like a sculpture. I would have framed up large photographs of the land art pieces and hung them on the wall. I would have projected a film, rather like the one we have just seen but without the voice over, onto the gallery wall. And I would have asked permission to make a mud painting on the gallery wall. A similar format to the one used by Land Artist Richard Long. But the problem with this idea is that I would have been referencing a long line of Land Art exhibitions and this was not my intention. My intention was for the audience to have a real life interaction with the landscape and the artworks. I have seen exhibitions before where the artist has taken stones from a beautiful, wild mountain top and placed them on a well manicured lawn in a gallery. The impact is not the same as seeing the work in its original setting.
Member of the audience: Was there a reason why the foot on Newbury Cliff was positioned with the toes down? I don’t know why but I wanted it the other way up.
NI: When I stood in front of the cliff, the shape of a huge foot came out of the physical features, it seemed there was an obvious position, slightly at an angle, toes down, semi obscured by the adjacent ground. I wanted this to allude to the idea of the disappearance of human presence, as well as the idea of the artwork disappearing. When I came to actually make it, I had misjudged the angle of the rock and I found that if I cut the top of the toes off the foot it became too abstract. I needed this to be obviously a foot, so it could appeal to people who were less used to looking at art. It worked because it was these people who tended to pick this piece out as their favourite.
Member of the audience: Why did you decide to show the complete form of the foot in the last piece Newbury Cliff, this contrasts with the other pieces which are more abstract.
NI: It does not necessarily come across in the film, but that piece is about 4.5 metres high. It was very difficult to make. At one point I was balancing on the top rung of a ladder on uneven ground, by myself, I had carried the ladder down to the site, my legs were shaking and my arm was fully extended to reach the top of the drawing, there was water oozing out of the surface of the rock I was working on, so it was tough. The physical exercise of actually placing the marks on the cliff was really difficult, I did not have complete control over what I was making. When I stood back to look at it, it looked too neat, almost like a Disney footprint, so I had to rough it up a bit, add more scuffs and marks, remove some areas.
I also wanted a variation in the artworks, I didn’t want seven or eight repeats of the same thing throughout the site. And again, the idea of having an easily recognisable foot print seemed to connect to the wider audience.
Member of the audience: I have archaeologists in my family, my brother works on dating cave paintings. Cave paintings are preserved and they have existed for a very long time. Your work is so short lived. Had you thought about that?
NI: That has been a big part of my work. I was fascinated by the cave artists and began this journey of research by asking myself the question: how can I leave a contemporary reply to them? I began by making plastic, dead looking hands holding broken mobile phones and it wasn’t really working, so I ended up using similar materials and techniques to theirs, to make records of my presence, in the hope of prompting thought about what we will leave behind. Do we want to leave behind plastic and technology for future generations? Or do we want to leave no trace of ourselves, or what do we want to leave behind, are we living in a sustainable way? I also wanted to prompt thought about how fragile our existence is as human beings.
DA: And isn’t that very fitting of our human existence at this very moment?