Earthbound: a fascination with what lies beneath our feet
"The artist enters a specific state of mind when he is walking, enabling a creative space to appear. There is a reduction in conscious attention, a letting go, and the mind is able to slip into a different gear."
Artist/papermaker Jane Ponsford and ceramicist/curator Kim Norton explore the similarities and differences in their approach to working with landscape and place. Both Jane and Kim work with materials collected or foraged from different environments to explore materiality and their site-specific creative responses.
They have been engaged for many months in a collaborative exchange project, called A6. This involved each sending a series of parcels of collected and made objects, to which the other would respond. The only rule was that they work within the A6 paper format.
Follow their conversation. (from the most recent)
Jane Ponsford April/May/June 2020
I have found this iteration of our exchange both one of the most fascinating and the most difficult to actually carry out. During our previous exchange the impending pandemic came ever nearer and lockdown was imposed part way through but this exchange was carried out completely within those restrictions so the landscape explored was entirely local. Oddly I didn’t find that this restricted me at all. This landscape of the home ground seemed to have been waiting for me to find it or actually I had been dawdling until circumstances compelled me to see what was in front of me. There was no shortage of materials to explore even though the actual space had shrunk to a few square metres of slightly dishevelled back garden.
Thinking back to the beginning of the lockdown, some of the characteristic qualities of the period were the extraordinary quietness, in which usually unheard birdsong was loud. There were many days of sunshine with blue skies and the air was clear. The simply structured days with nowhere to go and nothing to do seemed very long with the kind of intensity of detail that reminded me of my childhood.
To make a start on this iteration of Earthbound I began with the simplest things. I picked dandelion flowers to make dye while at the same time I began to dig up an overgrown flowerbed. These two things directed all the subsequent work.
Dandelion from dent de lion or lion’s teeth because of the serrated leaves, also known as pissenlit because of the strong duretic effect of the plant’s roots. All parts of the plant are edible and the flowers can be used to make yellow dye either through drying the flower heads and grinding the yellow petals to make a pigment or by seething the fresh flower-heads to make a dye bath. Dandelion can be used to make wine, coffee and as an ingredient in dandelion and burdock drink.
Culturally rather than practically they can be used in various ways; we make a wish by blowing the seeds from a dandelion seed head or use it to tell the time as a dandelion clock. The dandelion along with the daisy is arguably one of the most familiar plants in in Britain and across Europe
I used the yellow dandelion dye to colour beaten cotton rag pulp to make paper and the remaining exhaust dye I used for dip dying cast paper and scraps of cloth. Initially I made sample sheets of A6 paper and then I used the pulp to work through some basic forms; a circle, a set of small pinches of pulp along a thread, some small stick-like elements and began to think how they should arrange themselves. I decided to make some more dye but found that the dandelion heads had all gone to seed. I had run out of time.
Meanwhile in digging the flowerbed I found domestic archeology. There were shards and fragments of pottery and glass, bits of rusted iron, broken stems of clay pipes, broken bricks, bits of black polystyrene from a plant tray and scraps of woven biodegradable plastic. Some of these things were Victorian or earlier and some from much more recently.
Alongside this processed industrial material were other things that were ‘natural’ but not natural from this area for instance pieces of limestone, flint and coal, all of which had been brought here. These are materials from geological time not historical although everything has been made from material that has existed forever in some form or another.
Digging deeper I found clay at the base of the garden wall. This material was definitely local; the nearby village is called Claygate and there’s a Kiln Lane not far away. Brick making was a local business. The village is at the start of the clay deposits around London and in the past provided bricks for much of the surrounding area including Hampton Court Palace. The Claygate Beds, the most recent layers for the London Clay take their name from from Claygate.
Far from being a reduced palette of materials, there were almost too many. I felt rather overwhelmed and reduced to arranging fragments of broken things for a while. These things weren’t just materials either, they were broken bits of quite specific things that spoke of previous lives.
The dandelion was a dyestuff but also a metaphor for time and elusiveness. The broken things I had found were remnants of industry but also spoke about the passing of things.
Laying out the materials in a rough grid gave me a way into the exchange. I would treat them all as of equal importance and just work through making samples and objects in response to them. At the time I am writing this I have used many but not all of these materials / found things but need to send my (late!) exchange to you. I have made over 30 response / sample pieces so far although I’m not sending them all to you and I haven’t yet started working with some of the materials and ideas that interest me the most.
I was particularly pleased with some paper made from dried bluebell leaves, which I soaked and beat on a board to break down the fibres to make the pulp.
Quite late in the proceedings I realised that the cloths I use to blot or test dyestuffs or dry paper on were also part of this body of work so I tore them into strips so they would fit within our self imposed A6 format and sewed them together into long strips that can be rolled up or unfurled. In many ways they echo the journey through all the materials. There is clay, iron from both the clay and scraps of rusted material I found, tanin dyes, dandelion dyes and combinations of all of these things in a jumbled juxtaposition.
I have sent you some of the things I haven’t used as well as the ones I have. The materials / objects I haven’t used yet are mainly the fragments of pottery and glass.
Materials I am sending you:
This work is in the public domain http://www.illustratedgarden.org/mobot/rarebooks/page.asp?relation+QK99A1B5441737&identifier+0015
Photo of fragments from the garden
Materials I have worked with:
Test Pieces / responses:
Objects I am sending you:
This exchange is the first experience of us all being in complete lockdown.
THE PLANTS SE6
In response to some of the materials from Jane in exchange 4.
‘A plant that has with the help of wind and weather, self-seeded across huge swathes of unchecked, uncultivated land around our towns and cities.
The Buddleia or ‘butterfly bush’ has become such a significant marker of edgelands territory.’
Here is the layout for the redundant space behind the studio.
The photographs illustrate the space as you walk around it.
THE TEXT ON THE PANELS AND PRINTED ON THE BACK OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE THE SAME.
Telling a story of the space
Two materials have already been in previous exchanges
Binding------Wrapping---------------restricted------------------boundaries around distance ------------being confined to a particular place-------------lack of movement------------------------------------------------------------------------------enclosed spaces--------- small spaces
In relation to the bound branches
On top of the concrete
Natural vs Manmade
Sit ---------Side-----------by ---------------Side
Gardens are often cultivated spaces.
IRON --------------------In response to one of Jane’s pieces in parcel no:4 I was immediately drawn to the delicate wire circle with a small paper iron dyed element AND of course London clay is heavy with iron------ creating that distinctive yellow tone.
The redundant space behind the studio.
look at it.
The heart of the garden
The compost boxes
The secret space
The secret place
Lost and Scruffy
Full of possibilities…….
TWO spaces meet
There are no clear boundaries
Bridging the space
All fired to 1200oc
WEST SOMERSET a familiar landscape- we have family there. I collect and forage with every visit to Lower Vellow.
When it floods it appears to bleed………..
The Landscape has strong associations with Wordsworth and Coleridge.
This exchange has been a response to the Seaton Redstone and Charmouth Mudstone that Jane used and gave me samples in exchange no:3
The colours change -----------------
-------------- As you move -----
--------- Across --------------------------- the land
THE REDS, THE DEEP BROWNS
SOUTH WEST THROUGH ITS SOIL
THROUGH ITS EARTH
Kim Norton 2020
In our most recent exchange you sent some bundles and arrangements of twigs from your apple tree. I found these familiar things rather moving and although I had already planned a new more remote location for my next period of research, I found myself similarly entranced by extremely local materials in response, luckily as it turned out.
The materials are very humble:
I have mainly used the brambles either as a material or as a dye in making my objects and test pieces. The tannin dyes from the bramble shoots and tips make a pale brown colour, which alters in contact with iron - as you can see in the scrap of paper cast on the iron of the wire circle. This reaction formed the basis of the narrow range of colours that I used.
Materials I have sent you:
Jane Ponsford April 2020
Responding to our last exchange my initial thoughts are that I want to cast the net wider for collecting materials. While I will always be fascinated by chalk and the Downs which are the material and the setting from my childhood, I want to take the journey further. At one point I know we talked about walking the length of the path either between our two starting points or for the full extent of the link between our research areas and although I know that was an impossibility for all sorts of pragmatic (I almost wrote ‘down to earth’) reasons, that thought made me want to collect from further flung locations. So I collected materials myself and asked people to donate materials.
Materials I have sent you
To be arranged in a shoal.
There is something very satisfying to me about the density and flatness of these pigments and I am very drawn to them because they come from landscapes where my family have lived for generations. In my previous text about the second exchange I said that I intended to work from domestic materials for instance, dust but actually I find myself wanting to move further outwards. Next I am planning to collect material from the Fens where the other side of my family originated. I look forward to finding out what the black soils of Lincolnshire and the silt of the Great Ouse do and the marks and pigments they produce. Earthbound will then draw a line across from one side of the country to the other in tiny A6 episodes.
Books I have been reading:
‘Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.’
COLOUR PALETTE BROWNS, RED BROWNS, CREAMY GREENS.
Annotated notes form the illustrated booklet
It enables me to experience subtle changes that occur throughout the year in much the same way as my garden
LINES_________ORDER_______FENCES_________DIVISION_________OF SPACE______ALLOTMENT PLOTS ___________ FIELDS _____LAND_______WALKING_____MOVING _______
12 BUNDLED APPLE BRANCHES 1 FOR EACH MONTH
BUNDLES________GATHERING__________HAY______ STRAW BALES______TO CARRY_______MOVEMENT_______THROUGH SPACE
LINES, MAPPING, LOCATION, DIRECTION………………………….
THE TRANSFORMATION OF MATERIAL
Clay collected from Beckenham Park Pace sent in parcel No1
‘Before firing, the London clay would be mixed with sand, chalk, ash from domestic fires and bone scrap collected back doors nothing salable was ever thrown away by thrifty Victorian households
Kim Norton 2020
3x hand carved chalk chunks from Sombourne quarry,
Responding to Jane’s first parcel using chalk, it was through this very material we both met in 2015 whilst exhibiting at 10 days Winchester-Chalk
Colour palette winter white
INK LINE DRAWING FROM THE WHITE HORSE
FROM CHROMA DEREK JARMAN
White is the
The snowdrop, galenthius nivalis (candlemas bell)
Cold snow-white winter
Milk flowers of the snow
Responding to our first exchange, my first thoughts are:–
My second response to your objects and material was to make an echo, a nesting set of hollow rather than compacted, cone shapes which explore that inside / outside, skin / mass of your two shapes and then to continue by making objects that can sit within each other or be piled or stacked or placed together in relationship to each other. The last response was to make some sticks, dipped in chalky liquid, which could fall or be thrown in an informal arrangement, neither a massy weight nor an empty container.
I used a little of the earth dust that you sent me to colour some of these forms. The clay is built into the cotton pulp before couching the forms. I loved using it and enjoyed the colour but too late in the process, realised that I should have gone to the place it came from to find a stronger connection to the place.
Materials I have sent you:
Circular Piece (wire, cast cotton rag pulp with chalk dust)
In November last year we each started with a place that spoke to us or was familiar and exchanged materials and objects we had made in relation to these places. The two photos show some of these things. Kim’s photo shows her notes and visual references and Jane's image is of a sheet of handmade paper coated with a rough chalk gesso photographed on chalk.
Jane Ponsford November 2019
2. Circumference Piece (linen thread, cast cotton rag pulp elements with chalk dust)
3. Two sheets of cotton rag paper, one smeared with coarse chalk gesso, one with chalk built into the sheet
Two photos of the site (from one of the chalk paths near The Whites on Box Hill), one photo taken in February and the other in October 2019
The solid diamond (wet weight 376) (dry weight)
The carved rectangle. (Wet weight) (dry weight)
Both pieces were made using clay soil from Beckenham Park place in South East London
Dug out of the ground to construct a new swimming lake in the park and had been redistributed the other side of the park resembling a freshly ploughed field.
THE URBAN LANDSCAPE