One of my favourite books of recent years has been ‘Wanderlust – A History of Walking’ by Rebecca Solnit. She has some fascinating things to say about women and public space:

‘A woman who has violated sexual convention can be said to be strolling, roaming, wandering, straying – all terms that imply that women’s travel is inevitably sexual or that their sexuality is transgressive when it travels.’

I’ve made a lot of solo trips – I’ve walked alone in the Himilaya and the Alps. I’ve travelled alone in Turkey, India, Nepal, Dominica and Guatemala. I’ve been alone in Mexico City, Istanbul, Delhi, New York, Rome, Reykavik and Barcelona…The key to feeling confident alone as a woman traveller is to have a sense of entitlement. That you have the right to be there. Because few women in few places in this world do have that right. To freedom. And space. And movement.

I’m with Solnit when she says: ‘Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.’

The yearning to travel, the wanderlust, is a very particular freedom for a woman as it can never be for a man. Sylvia Plath said: ‘I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.’ This is the spirit of endeavour, historically always denied to most women.

Most ‘On the Road’ type male odysseys are mapped by women who stay put, who remain immobile. And wait. I am not one of those. I have always wanted to be in the world and of the world. Whatever the risk.

To meander is to be unproductive. It is a luxury of sorts to travel aimlessly, at a slow pace, without the pressure of the shortest route from A to B. That is how these drawings came together really. By taking a meandering route. Where travel is more important than arrival. That is inherent in the creative act – and certainly in drawing.

I’m in an interim moment. Studio based artwork is made and scanned. Next, I’ll be working at ZenEssex design studio to create a layout for the billboard. The Independent Free State takes a pause for breath. It’s down to the other people I’ve enlisted in this project now to help make my vision a reality…

Stop Press: Westminster Council have now given permission for the billboard to enter their Exclusion Zone for one day, which is amazing, as a number of ‘public artworks’ have been denied this privilege. So I’m assuming they must like the visuals I sent. There are some conditions – the logos (Arts Council, National Lottery, Metal) must be discreet and there must be no other text apart from the title and no reference to any exhibition or event. That’s all fine by me. So now I’ll get my dramatic photographs of the billboard ‘in situ’ against a backdrop of central London’s iconic landmarks.

I have yet to direct the routes for the remaining 2 touring days. I’m considering: 1. a tour of all the main London galleries and gallery areas (outside of Westminster) and 2. All the main travel hubs of London. Both of these routes will yield really interesting GPS tracking documents which will fuel further work.

My 3rd and most complex route idea is to follow, as closely as is practically possible, one of the drawings I’ve mapped out – ie so the GPS tracking route will re-form the drawing itself. The female form will be realised though the route taken. This would take some working out and would be at the mercy of traffic and time to complete on the 8 hours hire per day. But it’s got to be worth a go…

Advertisements

‘The demand for freedom is universal and political, but also intensely personal, and one which can require courage to follow…for its path sweeps lonely to the summit, no map, no guide, no god at your heels…If you want to play safe, you should never have come up here, to the site of freedom…Modern, urban, work-oriented societies teach people that freedom is something you outgrow…Our innate freedom is dulled and dimmed, deadened and demeaned by detail and deadline and caution and clocks. But roaring underneath all this, still, freedom growls in the dusk. Freedom is because life is, and to be most alive is to be most free.’

Jay Griffiths from ‘Wild: An Elemental Journey’ 2007

So where did the title for this project ‘Independent Free State’ come from? Partly, it’s a personal narrative, I am now an autonomous artist, having taken ‘voluntary redundancy’ from the public sector a year ago. (ie ‘If you don’t jump off the cliff we’ll push you…so what’s it to be?’) Alongside a whole generation of creative people, I’m part of the recession-fallout with its crippling arts and education cuts. So, I’ve worked for the State for around 15 years and now I’m out on my own. It was the right moment for me. As a product of the early 80s Art School scene I was never going to be happy being complicit in the new regime of the aggressive business model that art education (all education) has become.

With this kind of freedom comes insecurity and precariousness but also excitement, renewed energy and curiosity, you have to be resourceful. Above all, you have to believe in yourself in order to keep getting out there and to make things happen. Freedom can go to your head. I may be out of the stifling bureaucracy and Health and Safety clampdown of the state sector (with its heavy handed infantilization of the thinking adult) but there are still rules, negotiations to be made, mediations to broker, when working in the public realm with public money…

I’m waiting to hear back from Westminster Council (re its ‘Exclusion Zone’ for the billboard) as to whether my artwork will be deemed to be an advertisement after all. The Advertising Regulations are certainly broad. I’m not sure what exactly the artwork will seen to be ‘advertising’: myself? The Arts Council? Art? As a former colleague pointed out recently when we were discussing the project, the mix of irony and truth of art appropriating the language of advertising then in turn being defined as advertising is pretty interesting here.

Westminster have sent me the regulations that define advertisements:

“any word, letter, model, sign, placard, board, notice, awning, blind, device or representation, whether illuminated or not, in the nature of, and employed wholly or partly for the purposes of, advertisement, announcement or direction, and (without prejudice to the previous provisions of this definition) includes any hoarding or similar structure used, or designed or adapted for use, and anything else principally used, or designed or adapted principally for use, for the display of advertisements”.

Apparently a number of public artworks have recently been defined as advertisements by these regulations, they’re that broad.

I’ve had to seek written confirmation from the Ordnance Survey people that I will not be breaking any copyright laws by using OS maps in the artwork. I was concerned, as were other people I spoke to, that to display this work in public would be a breach of copyright. I’ve been told that if I own the maps (I do) and they are not to be reproduced to be distributed as maps then it’s fine. Which is great news. Appropriation is so commonplace in contemporary practice – the use of other images and representations to make ones own – that copyright seems an antiquated notion. Everything’s ‘up for grabs’ in the age of the World Wide Web isn’t it…? Even our entire identities can so easily become someone else’s property.

I’ve been talking to other artists, writers, film makers and lecturers about this project. There’s been a lot of interest. There have been a few cautionary conversations around my use of the World map ie ‘contested’ areas and Islamic countries. That my super-imposing figures that could be interpreted as ‘naked’ on an Islamic State could certainly spark controversy. I’m not interested in courting controversy in this way – it would detract from the project. So I’ve pretty much decided to avoid depictions of these areas. When I showed a friend the map of the Westminster ‘Exclusion Zone’ he remarked that it reminded him of the ‘Ring of Steel’ that was de-marked around London during the IRA bombing campaigns. He also said that the billboard would seem to ‘legitimize’ anything I put on it particularly with the title being ‘Independent Free State’ it could easily be perceived as being sponsored by The State.

I’m considering the map images working as pure visuals without the title, the intrigue and ambiguity of these images are enough. ‘Independent Free State’ will still appear but as the title (brand?) alongside the Arts Council, National Lottery and Metal logos, who are my funding bodies. However, it will still appear ‘written large’ on the reverse side, a kind of ‘blueprint’ for ‘freeform’ human figures where the public will complete the drawing at Village Green arts festival.

 

 

 

 

I work in a communal studio space. I have my own ‘territory’ within this space but may spread out as necessary depending on what I’m working on.  It’s an unusual set-up which comes down to the economics of slicing up a large space to make it affordable but avoiding the ‘rabbit-hutch’ enclosures of many other studios. It’s an intense way to work. Cross-fertilization occurs. A black abstract mark on one wall re-appears in a graphite drawing of a disembodied dress that stares back across the divide. The studio is cluttered, stained and smeared with the detritus of 12 years of creative practice. It’s dirty and rich with the history of creative endeavour.  People have ‘spilled their guts’ here. It is a kind of psychic battleground. It is also emotive and intimate: all your ‘stuff’s up there on the wall for anyone to see. Your failures as well as your ‘breakthroughs’.

The work unfolds. I get my hands dirty. I breathe in noxious fumes of spray paint, adhesive, graphite powder…

After 2 weeks in the studio I’ve made a kind of break through: broken through my prescribed processes and something unexpected has happened. A kind of euphoria kicks in, a ‘revelry’ of the mind and spirit. You suddenly think you know exactly what you’re doing and why. It doesn’t last long, but while you’re in that zone it’s the best thing in the world, you’ve glimpsed a tiny universal truth all of your own. By the next day self-doubt returns but you’re on more solid ground from which to ‘take-off’. You’ve made progress

I’m working with Ordnance Survey maps now. They are exquisitely beautiful. The soft colour palette and contours are, for me, inherently female. They are on a human ‘walkable’ scale rather than the macro World Atlas maps I was previously working with. Now I have large scale ‘micro’ OS map images counterpoised with tiny ‘macro’ world map images.

The map and the female form have become one. They’ve synchronized and melded, each transforming the other. The figures have an exuberance in their ‘liberation’ from the map – just as a sculpture is ‘liberated’ from its stone. This seems a powerful statement: feminization of the map. Her territory. Occupied territory. It’s a strong image and I think I’ve found what I want to form the triptych on the billboard.

The map’s flesh tone urban sprawl become her. Defacement/reconfiguration. I’ve been morphing drawn images to incorporate the terrain of the map, seeking out existing lines of rivers, roads, railways and coast – ‘drawings’ that already exist. In so doing I’m imposing my own order on the world and creating new abstracted figures that have an immediacy and seem to spring out from the map with an energy. They’re striding across the face of the land and out of the enclosed confines of the map. I think of those ancient figures carved into physical landscapes. I’ve created whole new space and place with these map-figures. My creative vision starts spinning out – what if I could actually physically map these figures out on the land/cityscape? How would I go about doing that?

Justin Hopper, curator and writer sent me a great historical reference for map and female form – specifically Europe as Queen – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_regina

The maps are of: London and the Thames Estuary down to Southend-on-Sea. A ‘personal geography’ that incorporates where I’m based, where the project is launching from and the route it will travel up the river to London where it will tour. Beyond the personal narrative these locations have become intensely political. The Thames gateway is a hotly debated space with the impending new London ‘super-airport’ plans. Historically, it’s one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world. The East End of London is of course about to host the Olympic Games and has undergone radical transformation in the last 4 years.

The Olympic site has become a contentious one. Just the other evening I was being driven through London heading East back home to Southend when we noticed a massive glow in the sky which got brighter the further East we travelled. Suddenly we were upon the Olympic site which was drenched in the most powerful of flood lights as work continues round the clock to complete for next month. It was like Encounters of the Third Kind. Like a spaceship had landed in the grubby old East End. Shocking and exhilarating.

 

 

Working with maps as raw material for artwork carries a charge of Politic that becomes almost too hot to handle. Maps are of course aesthetically beautiful, particularly the old Atlas dated 1902 that I’m currently taking apart: flesh pinks, palest of coral blues and greens, meandering contours, fine graphic lines and tiny italic type. Much of this world map is now meaningless: many of the countries no longer exist. I reflect on how so much territory has been re-drawn as I re-draw and ‘whitewash’ as I feel fit. It’s a powerful act to re-draw land mass. With a subtle flick of the brush or pen, hundreds of square miles of territory has been eradicated. Oceans wiped out. Mountains obliterated. When I’m absorbed in other ways of seeing and I’m teasing out a human-like form from a map, I’m barely aware even of what country it represents. I’ve reduced whole communities, populations, borders, war-zones into colour, tone, contour. Isn’t this how world leaders have always thought of the map – in terms of its physical properties, regardless of what lives may exist there – take a pencil and re-draw a border where one did not previously exist?

Every time I stumble on a contested space on the map: Israel, Iraq, Korea, the old Russia and Yugoslavia, India and Pakistan, China and Tibet, I feel they’re beyond my use, that I cannot negotiate a way to use these areas as mere material for my visual imaginings. A map of course is an entirely man-made imagining. Physical territory may have natural ‘borders’ of river and mountain but mostly they are convenient carvings-up of power. The artist shifts space and mass around like the hand of God at Creation: re-draws and re-configures on a whim.

I’ve considered taking out all the place names. I’m aware I can make all kinds of transformations in Photoshop but call me old fashioned, it’s important for the processes to be ‘tangible’ and ‘physical’ rather than ‘virtual’ in this work. I’m working with real maps with real Indian ink, white paint and graphite, hand-rendered drawings in real time. It’s slow and intimate for what will be a far from intimate scale. The map represents a ‘macro’ reality on a micro scale. My workspace is small. My vision is big. If I erase the place names does the map still carry political inference? Unknown territory. Unknowable territory?

I’m drawing human-like figures on a map. It’s very simple really. They’re not quite human, they represent what their makers perceived as human. They’re all based on human-objects. Simulacrum. Props. Often ancient human-likenesses that have been found as fragments by archaeologists, by which they’re pieced together some semblance of the human story. This has taken a lot of imagination and leaps of faith. Just like the artist. These figures are juxtaposed with map fragments to create culture-collisions, a ubiquitousness rather than a specific. So an ancient Greek statuette now becomes Africa, an African fetish figure now becomes Washington DC, a German automaton doll becomes Indonesia. There’s no rhyme or reason. It’s the human story not the territory that’s important here.

Most of the figures are female. As I am. Most territory has been fought over by men. Women are not familiar with having territory to call their own after all. Ownership of land, of property, of children, of her own body is a modern concept for womankind. So land becomes body. It is of course an old idea that landscape and woman’s body are one. Back to ownership again. The ideas of ‘discovery’ and endeavour, unknown territory and ‘staking your claim’ (think of America, Everest, the Arctic…) can all be applied to a woman’s body. It’s all sexual language.

As I re-draw human-like contours I also reflect on the geology of these shifting continents  – movement of tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes…all a state of flux, as is the body.

We are of the land. The land is us. Our sense of place informs who we are. Our culture. Our identity. The Independent Free State is an impossibility: ‘no (wo)man is an island after all. Independence is lauded and aspired to in the West and along the way we’ve lost so much of our sense of community: where ‘independence’ is counter-productive and inter-dependence is the thing.

I’m working in the studio everyday. It’s an adduction. A compulsion. For me, it takes around 4 hours to get into ‘the zone’. The psychic space where something shifts and you take a risk, make something more random happen. As I work, I’m thinking: is this an entirely conceptual project after all? Perhaps this makes more sense conceptually than as a physical reality…

Studio based experiments exploring the Independent State of Mind and Selfin and of the physical and psychic worldfrom Saint to Dummy and all States in betweenwithin and without the Grid. A Blueprint for the Simulacrum or Human Prop.Is the Modern Crisis one of De-personalization? Do Dolls have Souls? (‘I-dol’?) Are they Improvisations of the Unconscious? Humanculus – of the Human Image. They were there at the beginning of the World – made of stone, dirt, animal. Primeval and Fundamental.

 

 

While on residency in Tortola in the Virgin Islands for 2 months earlier this year I initiated drawing workshops and a live drawing/painting event on a beach front stage next to a gallery studio/workshop. The drawing workshops really brought people together in what is still a divided community of wealthy ‘ex-pats’ and a poor local community. Tortola is  very small island, only 12 miles long and 4 miles wide, it’s a fascinating platform from which to look out at the world. Whatever you do there has an immediate impact on the place and its people. There is little mediation. There are therefore all kinds of ‘culture collisions’ as people come up so close to each other but also clearly evident divisions. Just as there are everywhere. One night, I was one of three artists making work in the very public space of a ‘Full Moon Party’ on the beach which drew an audience of around two hundred people. It was an incredible ‘buzz’ drawing live, for the artist it is both a vulnerable and powerful position to find yourself in: there’s nowhere to hide.

I have long been  interested in the viewer/participant’s relationship to drawing through my education work – leading drawing workshops and more recently the live drawing ‘events’ I have led as an artist. For example, ‘The Curve’ interactive drawing wall at The Southbank London, a live drawing installation on a chalk board sculpture designed by Jane Woollatt for Metal in July 2011. ’15 Artists 15 Days’ at Firstsite 2009 where I transformed an empty shop unit with drawn ‘interventions’ in the physical space and a live drawing performance ‘TEFLtastic’ in Whitechapel Library for Five Years which produced a visual narrative on a 25m long ‘scroll’ of my experiences teaching English in the Far East in the 1980s.

These all presented ‘free association’ for both artist and participant. I’d like to ‘test’ this out further in the public realm.  The performative drawing ‘event’ presents the drawing process as ‘spectacle’, drawing as shared experience with the audience’s direct contributions to the work.

Watching someone draw is always fascinating, it’s the hidden process behind the final work we rarely see. I often run life drawing workshops and observe people drawing, I never tire of watching a drawing evolve, a visual manifestation of thought and perception. When I sometimes make demonstrations in these workshops it’s always a ‘performance’, a hushed concentrated silent audience. And it’s always intimidating for the artist…

I am interested in developing my drawing practice into a ‘monumental’ scale. This is my ambition as a maker of image, to achieve maximum exposure, taking the work out to an unsuspecting audience.

A really exciting development – I’m in discussions with a billboard company – Outdoor Plus – about giving the Independent Free State a prime billboard site for the artwork during the summer. An amazing opportunity which really ups the ‘maximum exposure’ for this project.

I’ve had discussion over the phone with Westminster Council – they were very helpful about enabling this project to take place within Westminster. It apparently all comes down to whether the artwork could be described as an ‘advertisement’ by the Advertisement Regulations. Both parties are studying these regulations carefully. It will be interesting to see how the people I come into contact with perceive the ‘Independent Free State’ – ie how political this notion can become. Its ‘power’ is in its ambiguity after all.

I have started work in the studio – which now looks like the ‘bunker’ HQ of a covert military operation. I am reflecting on copyright issues right now as I am appropriating images and maps for the artwork. I tend to use old out of print books for inspiration for my imagery – my eclectic resources include books on ‘Beauty Culture’, anatomy, pre-Christian figurines, the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, the history of dolls…these are all ‘simulacrum’ for the human figure. They literally ‘become’ the maps of the land masses they inhabit and so become ‘Independent Free States’ of their own. The maps are also from a number of sources, including an old Atlas from 1902, OS maps of the locality and East London, physical geological maps, road maps, satellite maps and the Tube Map.

Maps are of course political documents that chart territory and power and go out of date very quickly with the ever changing face of the world we live in. Most fascinating is the fragmentation of Russia and the German Empire, the Middle East, old atlases include maps of ‘Palestine in the time of Our Lord’ which seems as fantastical now as Tolkien’s map of ‘Wilderland’ in The Hobbit. I’m well aware that any map of Israel is going to be incendiary, in whatever form I choose to use it, even as a ‘veiled’ or obscured fragment which is how these maps will be seen. There’s a great book called ‘You Are Here’ which explores artists use of the map – they are such rich and vibrant visuals, seething with curiosity and intrigue. Irresistible to the artist.

I used to hate geography at school – how can a subject so close to my heart be made so dull? Since those days I have travelled half the planet – mostly solo trips, so my use of maps here could be seen as a personal narrative. I also have a mixed cultural heritage – my mother is German, my father’s father was Belgian. Both my grandfathers were ‘Lost Presumed Dead’ (one officially, the other ‘unofficially’) – one on the Russian Front fighting with the German army, the other in Brazil working in the diamond industry from Antwerp. These are both mysterious stories waiting to be told and integral parts of my compulsion to travel and seek – some kind of genetic imprint that feeds my urge to cross borders and boundaries and find my own ‘Independent Free State’. My son has four grandparents of different nationality: German, English, Spanish, Italian and a French father. He could be a mascot for the European Union.

INDEPENDENT FREE STATE IS GO!

The ‘Independent Free State’ is a drawing based ‘Campaign for Imaginative Space’ created by Heidi Wigmore, supported by Metal Southend-on Sea and funded by The Arts Council. I’ll be presenting new work at Village Green, a free one day arts festival in Southend-on-Sea, now in its 4th year, which attracts audiences of around 27,000 people. The project will include drawing practice as ‘live’ event and artworks located in the public realm.

The idea came about as a result of my participation in a 5 day ‘CultureLab’ at Metal in March 2012 which explored themes of ‘Protest and Propaganda’. The week long event was perfect timing as I had just returned (the night before) from a 2 month residency in the Virgin Islands via New York. My trip had been documented in a blog entitled ‘The View from Farway’ where ideas, observations and debate were presented in an informal structure around the effects of tourism, big business, cross-cultural and environmental change on a small island which can be seen as a microcosm of the wider world. (More of this in the next post).

The accompanying literature from the Arts Council confirmation letter states:

‘It is important to celebrate your success and to let people know how their communities are benefiting.’

This blog is a way of communicating what the project is all about, its  progress and evolution. A lot of people have congratulated me on securing the funding for this project to take place, which is incredibly affirming, (even my bank manager) – people understand how hard it is, in these times, for an autonomous artist to win financial support for their work.

My Manifesto goes something like this:

The ‘INDEPENDENT FREE STATE’ is an unstructured/unbounded space, a site for transformation, the antithesis of the ‘sensory deprivation tank’ of the modern office/shopping mall/institution. It is a subversive space in that, instead of ‘keeping up with the machine’ it is a space for thinking, musing, dreaming, seeing.  My aim is to restore value to drawing. I see drawing as ‘live’ because it is a manifestation of the creative impulse, in this way it is an ‘Independent Free State’ in and of itself.

The project will encompass the following elements:

1. A mobile temporary billboard (10′ x 20′), an ‘occupied’ physical space, designated and clearly defined as the INDEPENDENT FREE STATE. Part of the artwork will be made on site at Village Green by the artist and the public as a performative drawing event ie drawing processes will be experienced and shared as ‘spectacle’ in the public realm.

2. The artwork will then go out ‘on tour’ over the course of three days around London landmarks, including the major museums and galleries, and seats of political power. The aim is to celebrate the spirit of endeavour and of drawing as an instrument of communication, here utilising the format of mass-(mobile) advertising.  The fact of advertising being that the viewer cannot choose to look away, the image is inescapable, there is no choice but to look. Mobile advertising reaches estimated audiences of 100,000 a day in high density urban areas, giving optimum exposure to the artwork.

The image is inescapable, there is no choice but to look.

3. A series of hand-rendered drawings printed on canvas banners wrapped around specific trees in Chalkwell Park. These will take the form of ‘Controversial Proposals’ by the INDEPENDENT FREE STATE for imaginary artworks. Each tree will be visualised as a ‘Planning Proposal’ for a contemporary artwork . The images are ‘blueprints’ for extravagant ‘flights of the imagination’, Grand Projects that may or may not be realised.

These Controversial Proposals are imaginative possibilities, they exist to excite the imagination, my work explores the correspondence between physical and psychical realities. They are also absurd reminders of how disempowered people can feel in the face of ‘development’ and ‘regeneration’.

4. The ‘INDEPENDENT FREE STATE’ free newspaper, presenting selected visual documentation from the project, including a blank ‘imaginative space’ for ‘the reader’ to fill. The newspaper will be distributed freely to commuters as an alternative to free newspapers (eg Metro) and as an art ‘intervention’.

I am interested in the ‘free’ newspaper’s all-pervasive distribution which also makes it ‘invisible’, immediate, irrelevant and redundant. It bombards us during its brief life, whether people want it or not.

It is 5 days since I heard I’d secured my funding. I was in Cornwall at the time where a dramatic surf beach, Trebarwith Strand and headland overlooking the Atlantic was ‘invaded’ and then ‘occupied’ by a tribe of over-dressed people for a ‘wild wedding’. (In the same way that swimming ‘out of bounds’ is now termed ‘wild swimming’). I then returned to 2 days of set-painting at the BBC’s iconic White City building, a ‘hallowed’ city within a city that echoes with the cultural history of this country since the optimistic times of the mid-fifties. I could only wonder at what a starkly different world we live in now.

My first priorities have been to confirm with third parties their involvement in the project, which has been a great pleasure, including Adrienne Coles at Mobile Media (suppliers of the mobile billboard) who is very excited about facilitating an artwork rather than the usual advertising campaigns.

My first ‘obstacle’ which is already turning into an interesting new twist is that Adrienne has now informed me that Westminster Council is an ‘Exclusion Zone’ for mobile advertising. She has supplied me with a map outlined in red of this zone. It is an immediately arresting visual, creating, as it does, an ‘Independent Free State’ of its own. My intention is to attempt to negotiate with Westminster Council who I’m reliably informed have a ‘Public Art’ department. If this goes nowhere then this ‘exclusion’ presents a new opportunity for the designated route for the artwork to travel: all around the perimeter of Westminster.

This first post has enabled me to re-consolidate the ideas behind and the aims of the project before studio work kicks in.

The work begins here – where a concept becomes reality. I’m raring to go.

All comments welcome!