Art-Think Outdoors: David Nash

I’m always interested in artwork that fills the space between what we experience and what we can adequately express with language.

David Nash is one of those artists for me that communicates with work what I don’t have a grasp on intellectually. I used to find that very challenging – not being able to think my way to an adequate conclusion – now I enjoy it more than anything else.

David Nash, studio, Wales, 2007

Photograph by Anne-Katrin Purkiss

I remember reading an article with Nash a few years ago about his living sculpture The Ash Dome’s unexpected short life: the monument which was designed to outlive him by many years was suddenly going to die before him because of the ash dieback fungal disease that is decimating the UK’s Ash tree population. It struck me then as a personal tragedy. It strikes me now that this has given the work a global significance that it might not otherwise have had.

But we won’t dwell on tragedy for long. Nature never does. Let’s always look for the light between the trees, and chase inspiration.

What I’m interested in is the human compulsion to monument nature, one way or another.

What is it about? How do we tend to prefer to do it? Why do some materials sing out loud, and others stay uninhabited by the spirit that moves us?

Why do we make ‘stuff’ to access and engage with other ‘stuff’? And I suppose the ultimate question is: are humans capable of feeling like they’re communing with something if they’re not in some way disturbing it?

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David Nash: 200 Seasons. Installation view, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris.

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I keep being reminded of Anselm Kiefer’s work as well, which has always been about living and dying in my mind, explored though the trickiest of materials: the soft metal lead in Kiefer’s hands is so fluid and malleable and natural as a wave, yet so poisonous and dark and deeply occult. David Nash’s sculptures are riddled with inherent deception because they speak so much of life and living things – they still glow with the woody vitality of their origins – yet wood as a sculptural material is dead. Otherwise it would still be a tree…

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Ash Dome. Image from Artnet

I wonder if that’s why his living sculpture has met such an end..? If it is only becoming what it was used for: stuff, to make stuff, about nature – no longer nature itself. The fungus is rather like an aggressive critic – this is nature, actually: Me, what I’m doing. Sorry. I can’t help looking at those original sketches and seeing them as rather clairvoyant.

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If Nash had set out to make monuments to nature, it was in the ways in which those monuments fell that he inadvertently managed to capture its true character. The Ash Dome falls sick, and his Wooden Boulder rolled into a river and is lost to the tide…

Nothing is forever. Beauty, calm, tranquility – these are things that we value, but they were never the whole story. There is decay, renewal, destruction and chaos. Those things are as much as part of nature as the bark of the trees and the blue of the sky, and how we respond to it? How we edit it when we think we are immersing ourselves in it? – well, that will ultimately determine our spiritual resilience.

Because if you can love a thing when it is at its most dangerous, and you can find joy and inspiration when confronted with chaos and difficulty, then you’ve probably discovered the very secret of life on earth: it thrives wherever, however, whatever. If it’s still comfort we seek, even after all this, then we can comfort ourselves with the details: there are creatures thriving in poisonous sulphur lakes, and in caves that haven’t seen sunlight for a thousand years; there are multitudes swarming around the boiling undersea chimneys of doom, and there are plants colonising the abandoned contaminated places in the world where radioactive wolves run free and trees are king once more.

We humans are part of something so much bigger, and our will to survive is a family trait.

I don’t think monuments are really about nature at all. I think they have always made us feel better by providing us with something permanent in disguise. Our monuments at least don’t change so swiftly as the landscapes around them. While we are busy writing Nature’s epitaph – as though it is on its last legs –  are we guilty of projecting our own mortality onto something that never dies, it just never stays the same for very long?

When I think about the Ash Dome in this context, I don’t feel bad for Nature: we’ll have resistant trees making a comeback in 50 yrs or so. If not them, it might be the great age of some other tree for a while. When trees fall, it will be the age of the ferns, or moss, or succulents. Or swathes of terra firma will give way to underwater forests of wavering fronds…

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Or, if my garden’s anything to go by, the weeds will have their day – those survival-of-the-fittest champions in their many endless forms, being exceptional at what they do, and burdened by nothing, contained by nothing, put-off by nothing.  And why not? They’ve got the qualifications – they pass muster. They’re adaptable, that’s all that counts in the end. The rest is archeology.

No, it’s not nature I think that will collapse and disappear.

…I look at Nash in his studio and feel a little bit sad.

9th Jan 2020: Not dead, just dormant…

When I titled my last post Preparing to Move Indoors, I didn’t think I was being literal… but I guess the old adage is true, you become the things you spend the most time with, so I went dormant. From the outside at least, on the inside… wowsers.

Most winter rituals involve a great deal of plotting and planning – fantasising over seed catalogues and drawing out new areas to be renovated and transformed. I haven’t done that yet this year, and last night I dreamt that hundreds of bulbs suddenly appeared in the garden overnight, and there were purple tulips and bright gold something-or-others trying to push their heads out through carpets of thick frilly weeds, and I woke up thinking, ‘okay garden, I got the message, thanks. I’ll think about you more in the front part of the brain.’

It sends missives and emissaries like this: a cackling magpie to make me glance outside; a particularly loud dawn bird tapping its stubby little beak on my old crumbling window frame; leopard-printed slugs coming up through the kitchen sink. Little passive-aggressive callers from the wild.

You might say I should change my name – that no compulsive gardening has been in evidence over these past months – but that would suggest a rather narrow view of exactly what gardening means… 😉

 

All Photos by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

18th Sept – Preparing to move indoors

Before the first frost, some folks will be getting plants ready to go indoors. I’ll probably only take the basil in, I don’t tend to plant anything that isn’t hardy enough to stand a winter outside. But I do have houseplants, and if they need re-housing before the cold snap, I’ll probably do it now. The worst thing is those long months of central heating when your roots are cramped and tangled (I’m just imagining there are people who have really dry hot houses in the winter, rather than draughty damp abodes that stand impervious to radiators..?).

To avoid rot, mildew, and dehydration, I like a good clean out in Autumn, so everyone has time to settle in before the lock-down, and everyone has fresh soil full of goodies to see them through!

Desert planter

This pot was a birthday gift in July and I put in some nursery desert plants that all needed similar care. They’ve turned into a little family now, I hate to break them up, so I’ll probably just get some cactus food and leave them in there.

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I don’t actually even now what this funny little guy is, but he started life looking like a minuscule bunch of bananas, then sent out these wavering tentacles, which seemed to have pollen, so I did a bit of pollinating with a paintbrush, just in case, and it got all dry and sad, but he’s come back very happy. No clue what to do with it, but he seems alright in here?

Spider Plant

This spider plant is part of a larger one that has been in our family for years. YEARS. I keep splitting it into these large plants, and have pots and pots of its babies all over the place, and it was the first spider we ever owned that actually flowered after we left her outside for a full season. Beautiful.

Kalanchoes

These kalanchoes both need re-potting, and the red is in need of a it more pinching out because she’s getting a bit leggy. I think the red one has been flowering since February, non-stop! What I love about these plants is that they will last about as long as you want to take care of them. Potentially a friend for life.

 

I’m not good with plants, pets or people who make a lot of demands. I like to get to know a thing and take care of it well, rather than experiment and let anybody down.
These guys are my gang for the winter. We’ll all make it out alive, I’m sure…

14th August – capturing Summer

Trying to find more interesting ways of recording the plants around the place at certain times of year, I pressed some of the plants back in June.

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(Honestly, learning proper photography is genuinely high on my priority list – you will see an improvement at some point!!)

I think the delicate grasses and smallest, most fragile leaves came out the nicest.

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It’s not even a fraction of what’s out there.

It’s an absolute privilege to be able to stand out here, listening to the breeze in the grasses and the ticking of insects, and the high, mournful cry of a buzzard being chased around by skraking crows.

Butterflies, slow-worms, grass-hoppers, bees, frogs, toads, spiders, fleas, flies, dragon flies and birds… by the time the deer flatten the grasses with their evening gatherings, we’ve seen more business than Piccadilly Circus, and yet, tranquility reigns.

Only nature can be its most busy, its most industrious and still soothe the nerves and nourish the spirit.

Wildlife is great…

 

7th August – herbal mash-up

 

Someone took a comedy bite out of my courgette.

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I’ll be honest, we haven’t been overrun with produce from our new veg patch, but it was late going in, and the micro-climate here makes everything late on top of that, so I’m not worried. I’ve still got things coming along in the growing tent, and didn’t have unrealistic expectations for the first year.

The herbs are more than enjoying the new sunny spot, and I’ve been extremely grateful for them!

 

 

It’s gardeners instinct to grab hold of your own personal rescue remedy when you’re in a stressful situation. My go-to recently has been mashing fresh mint leaves and lavender flowers and taking a great big sniff when I need a bit of a brain bath after getting stuck in a funk, going over the same stale thinking that inevitably grinds everything to a total halt.

 

 

Nice when what you need is a reboot, a rinse out, a sharp smack to blast out the cobwebs. The menthol hits first, like an ocean wind clearing through a strip of thick fog, then the mellower tones follow through.

I find that the fresh plants are miles more effective than any essential oils – I wonder if it’s the inclusion of that Green that comes with a fresh plant that you just can’t bottle? That sense-connection between the ancient animal in you, and the foundational properties of a living plant?

It’s rescued me a few times of late. A little balm for the frayed nerves, or at least the introductory level to regaining my perspective.

I guess even brains need a spring clean. Especially if, like mine, they’re prone to ker-lunking along rather than easy riding…

 

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2nd August 2019

 

Roses are great. We have such luck with roses (none of my own doing I can assure you), that I’m guilty of taking them a bit for granted.

I’m always looking at the gaps and problems in the garden and thinking up ways to solve them; sometimes you literally do have to wake up and smell the… well, you know.

 

 
Also my pet project: a rescued Venus Fly Trap.

I love that the flowers have to be on such a long stem so that the plant doesn’t accidentally eat its own pollinators…

So charming.