Friday, 20 September 2013

Ramble 1 - Week 3

Description at Cambridge Botanic Gardens
Glimpse of a laid hedge

The week where everything reduces down. Where all of the possibilities that the Ramble could accommodate, where all of the directions it could go decide to go in, gradually get smaller and smaller, until there it is the 'thing' you've made.

Or should I say the four things you've made:
  • August
  • Fur and Feather
  • Feast for Goldfinches
  • On Considering The (English) Hedge
Ramble 1 has resulted in four cine-poems of quite short lengths (between approx 1 minute 40 and 4 and a half minutes), and it's all quite exciting.

We've decided not to release them (like birds into the night) until they've been installed somewhere - and this is what we're working out to install them.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Week 3 began with me writing.  Untangling words and then running them past straybird.  Then once these were fixed we recorded them with Duncan Whitley (another great artist). Next they were edited and 'cleaned up' and then the video editing commenced, drafts were shared, commented on, re-shared and then final edits were made. 

I'm making it sound easy (and in some ways it was), but it was also pretty full on. 


All, however, I am pleased to say worth it though, as the results are great... 

Something we realised along the way was that every comment we heard or made to each other, or watched or shared or experienced, ended up being absorbed into what we produced.  Even down to a label-maker I mentioned I had at one point that then became useful for producing the title for On Considering... Even down to continually getting lost... Even down to finding a cracked egg-shell under a tree...

Sometimes it can feel like you're doing nothing but you're're amassing knowledge and making decisions and creeping closer to whatever it is you're actually making....and...then hey presto it's done. It can be surprising. It can be more than the sum of its parts. It can be something very different to what you imagined. But you get there. Becky reminded us of something Jonathan Burrows says - that the piece you're going to make, is the piece you're going to make.  No point trying to predict what it will be, or trying to be strategic. It is what it is. It'll be what it's going to be.

Which reminds me of another thought I like that seems relevant here, by Corinne Julius in Crafts Magazine:

"I'm a complete nomad now. I don't belong to a tribe. I'm not a crafts person. I'm not a potter. I have no allegiance to a particular skill. Bigger isn't always better. It's not to do with scale. Scale can be a red herring. It's to do with feeling that you are using all your skills and not forcing it. It's appropriate now. It's maturity." p51 Crafts no.240

I love the comment about scale and I love the idea of being a nomad - between disciplines, between skills and of finally having the courage (or maturity) to simply follow an idea...wherever that takes you.

Which then made me think of this, sent to me from my dear friend Caitlin Newton Broad, way back when I first started making work:


Dear Sheila

This is by Anne Carson and she is referring to the myth of Ariadne's Thread and the Minotaur - the woman who in order not to get lost in the labyrinth, trying to save her lover I believe, painstakingly leaves a trail of thread like a spider to help her on her way back out...


Save what you can, Emily.

Save every bit of thread.
Have you a little chest to put the Alive in?
            (Emily Dickinson letter 233 to Thomas Higginson)

One of them may be
By Cock, said Ophelia
            (Emily Dickinson letter 268 to Thomas Higginson)

the way out of here.


Love Caitlin.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Ramble 1 - Week 2

A re-visit and  re-think week.  So that shooting could take place and a kind of refining or de-cluttering of ideas that didn't fit, or were too complex. Working fast means that you have to acknowledge quite early on that not everything is going to make it into the final work. It just can't! 

But we still found time to meander.  To visit Wittgensteins grave, to see a pale blue butterfly, to get lost (again), to film MANY hedges, to wander around the Botanic gardens, to find a golden field. 

Map reading with Lucy, Photo credit: Becky Edmunds

We also found an old well-used recreation ground near to where we were staying and had a good chat there with someone who worked for the council as a litter picker but had a secret passion for botany.  He spotted us eyeing up the elderberries and thought we might be foraging. I have to say, one of the things I've noticed so far on this project is that there seems to be no trouble meeting people.  Just stare at, photograph or poke about in a hedge for a while and soon people will be asking you what you're doing.  It's quite a good way to begin conversations...and people generally have a bit of information to impart once we've explained.  Either that or they laugh and wish us luck.  I really like this aspect of the work...The ridiculous way it sounds when we describe what we're doing: "oh we're just filming this hedge." and the way more often than not it provokes the sharing of some nugget of information, or a story, or a tip...

Hedge shots
 Anyway, by the end of this week we had decided we would definitely be making 4 cine-poems for small-screens (telephone size) and that these would exist as both an installation AND something to be watched alone.  We really wanted them to be downloadable (so people could keep them) but couldn't find an easy way to make this possible which was a real surprise to me... (I thought it would be as easy as making a podcast, but there we go, it seems it isn't).

So that's how we ended week 2.  With a set of decisions to explore 4 territories and lots of images and footage, but still a need to now do the 'making/knitting/sewing together of them all.  We also decided I needed to do some writing - so that was to be my main task for week 3, whilst Becky and Lucy each had to start editing and sourcing some archive footage...

Our four territories were: 

Elizabeth Brightwen (the original inspiration behind the project as a whole due to me stumbling across one of her books entitled "Rambles with Nature Students" last year).
August (the month we were working in - the 'site'/space).
Thistle-down (Its abundance and softness - the produce of a really spiky plant/weed).
Boundaries/Edges/Private Land (something we kept encountering).

These all also had connections with each other and when we drew all of these out they became a kind of webbed map for us to follow / get lost in (this time in a good way)...

Ramble 1 - Week 1

Residency at Junction Cambridge with Straybird (Becky Edmunds and Lucy Cash)

This post should actually be called the The Long Round Walk as that is my main memory of the week - a long round circular walk that we did full of lots of getting hopelessly lost and stops for refreshments when it all got too much. 

It all came about as we decided after spending a couple of days researching hedgerows and nature online/in books to get out and about in search of some 'good hedgerow'.  Tips from everyone we spoke to seemed to indicate that one of the first things we should do is go to Grantchester.  So that's what we did.

Becky points out the route Photo credit: Lucy Cash
It was a really hot day (of course it was) and one of the first things we seemed to do was spend a few hours circling Cambridge in search of where to start.  We came across a dragonfly, some green-blanketed water, lots of dappled light and an empty egg shell...  

Photo credit: Lucy Cash
We also found a fantastic security guard who was really nice, but didn't seem to believe we were doing a project about hedges. However it wasn't all good. Being surrounded by tennis courts and grand houses was a particularly low point, as was finding ourselves literally standing in the nook of a river (ie where it split in to two offering us no way forward).  We made it eventually though (as it really isn't that far to walk), did lots of talking and looking and definitely rambled.  

In fact, on reflection a lot of the key things we ended up focussing on in the four cine-films made at the end of Ramble 1, were encountered on The Long Round Walk.  Thoughts about August, wasps, thistle-down, boundaries and feeling like we were constantly being directed away from places or encountering private land and about how to look again at what we seeing.  

At the end of week 1 we drew together a list of all of the territories we'd covered unceremoniously titled "Hedge post-it note list".  It of course got edited in week 2 but here it is as it originally was:

Spider fluff, Photo credit: Lucy Cash
An insect / butterfly held in the hand
Different views of England
Notes in Hedges
Of 22 ministers 6 didn't go to Oxbridge
Not knowing what anything is called.
Mr Burdon & Mr Bowen
Pen and ink illustrations
Light loss
Enclosure / Inclosure
Cine Poem
'And little kindly winds that creep, Round twilight corners, half asleep'. Rupert Brooke
Dragonflies, insects and palm sized objects.
Places we couldn't access
The rotted fence
Circles and circling in search of a route
Hedged about with doubt
Eliza Brightwen - "Educated at the shrine of nature by no end of clever teachers."
Eliza Brightwen - Name and title - "A lover of Nature, protector of everything in fur and feathers".
"Unkempt about those hedges blows, an unofficial english rose'.  Rupert Brooke
Taking time, slowing down. Pace... Rambling...
Hedge weave
Hedge prefix as 'lowly'.
Thistle-down fluff
Hedge doctor
Eliza Brightwen: Recreations: Searching for beetles and everything that flies and hops.
Leylandii hedges: Anti-social behaviour act.
2008 "you wouldn't believe the misery hedges can cause".
Tracing history of land. 
Boa constrictor on the loose after being thrown into a hedge.
Hedging in writing: qualifiers, passive voice, quotation marks.
Land acts
Swing riots
History of Cambridge
Mrs Brightwen's pets and animals
"The saxon shits in his breech, the cleanly Briton in the Hedge".

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A seated ramble

In the last week of my residency at Pitzhanger I led two workshops at Michael Flanders Day Centre in Acton.  The first one had a Rambles with Nature focus and the second looked at A Place for Dreaming. 

Both were great fun.

For the Rambles with Nature workshop (pretty much the focus of this blog for the next few months), I turned up with a bag of fake foliage, asked participants to create their own piece of nature, photographed each of these and then recorded each person literally having a ramble about what 'it' / nature made them think about... 

The photographs and audio recordings were then shared at my final Open Studio event in mid July at Pitzhanger Manor Lodge.

I will be leading the workshop in other day centres in the future, but will also add in real flowers and greenery as opposed to just using fake flowers (for the scents mainly), alongside showing the Rambles 1 portable cine-poems (which have now been made)!  I'm very interested to see how they will be recieved and what memories/thoughts/musings they themselves might provoke.
Before the workshop

After the workshop

Exhibited results! Headphones modelled by my cousin.

A meeting at The Bear

A bear at The Bear
On Tuesday 16th July at about 4pm I got on a train to go to Wallingford to meet Helen, Sam, Scott and Jo, four PHD students who I was hoping might be able to tell me something about hedgerows from a scientific perspective... All four work at The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology with different specialisms and interests.  I wasn't really sure what might come out of the conversation (as I'm sure they weren't), but sometimes that's exactly what makes such meetings so interesting...

Our conversation in the main took place at The Bear (what a great name for a pub) and then we went for a short wander along a nearby hedge led by Sam, who was armed with an insect net.

My main impression from meeting the four of them - aside from how welcoming and knowledgeable they all were - was of how I needed to learn to look again at the hedgerow, with different eyes.  Sam as we walked kept finding different insects to show me - miniscule ones - ones I wouldn't have even noticed or paid attention to.  I was also made aware of all of the different species of plant that might make up a hedge, even the most basic of which I was hard pushed to identify.  If I come out of Rambles with Nature with one thing I hope it will be with a better eye for observing insects, animals and plants and a working knowledge of their  identification!

Other words/thoughts/images that stayed with me as the four of them talked were:

Corridor, barrier, an architecture (ways to describe a hedge).
The 'service' a hedge has.
A good hedge / a bad hedge.
The difference between a Natural Historian and a scientist.
Caterpillar eggs that hatch wasps.
A branch teaming with aphids.
An orange small worm on the tip of my finger. Barely discernable.
A moth that looks like a husk.
Techniques for measuring hedges, counting berries, sticks.
The need to talk to some falmers.
Cash incentives from the EU.
A nest of baby spiders eggs.
Beetles mating (literally stuck on one another)
A 'mother' - something taken over by another.
Managing hedges.
Agri-environment schemes.
The summer light fading.
Looking for reptiles hiding under old tin.
Being outside.
The sound of wings beating at the station and a line of track disappearing into the distance.
Being bothered by a wasp.
Standing opposite a man so drunk he looked like he might fall onto the track.
The Chilterns.

Aphid haven
Spot the Spider

A walk in the park (x 3)

Just before Rambles with Nature began, whilst I was artist in residence at Pitzhanger Manor and Walpole Park, I carried out three informal park 'rambles', went and met four phd Students at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and led a pilot Rambles with Nature workshop in The Richard Flanders Day Centre with over 65s in Acton... All of these were pre-project research.  A chance to practice talking about my ideas and to even try some of them out... 

Here's what happened on the 3 walks:

Informal Park Ramble 1 with artist Sue Palmer

The tree we 'disappeared' our heads into
Sue is actually going to be collaborating with me on Ramble 4 of Rambles with Nature, but we don't know each other that well as yet - there's a just a strong recognition of a shared interest - and on my part a huge admiration for Sue's work. I feel incredibly priviledged to be working with her. Anyway, because of this I invited Sue along to me my first visitor during my residency and we went for a walk in the park.  Here's a few random memories I have of it: 

A conversation about the word municiple, a wondering about who the contractors working in the park were, what they thought of the brightly coloured gentically engineered flowers they were planting, the packed togetherness of them (the flowers not the workers), the 'old school' designs they were being planted in, the dreaminess of the park, the lines of trees, plunging our heads into a densely packed odd shaped tree, a questioning of where nature resides, what a ramble with Nature could constitute, a conversation about masonry bees. 

The pathway we walked was an odd shape and slow, full of pauses and ambling.

Informal Park Ramble 2 with performer / maker Alyn Gwyndaf

The green insect on my jeans
I don't know Alyn at all apart from having briefly met him post breaking a Covet Me Care For Me heart. Alyn came along to my Preamble talk at BAC and took up my invitation to come and visit me in Walpole park (made at the end of that Scratch).  

My strongest memories of the couple of hours we spent together are the heat that day, our desire for an ice-cream at the end (which Alyn achieved and I didn't), breaking through the perimeter of the park and briefly getting lost, observing a squirrel foraging in a bin and then later a child, a bright green bug that sat on my jeans for a while and Alyn whipping of his hat and sticking his head into a hedge to look at its insides (as I'd told him about mine and Sue's experiments with this).  We also came across a fanatastic clock shop - which I'm not sure I'd ever manage to find again!  We discussed the type of talking that happens when you're side by side as opposed to face to face, about what the difference between a hedge and a hedgerow might be and of what a park was (its history, its present uses)...  

The pathway we walked was looping and expansive and as i've already mentioned left the grounds of the park itself.

Informal Park Ramble 3 with writer (and Actionette) Maddy Costa

Like Alyn, Maddy too took up the invitiation to walk post my Preamble talk.  We had however already gone on a kind of ramble together at the beginning of my BAC week when Maddy interviewed me as part of her and her colleague Jake Orr's Small Talks... because of this Maddy already new a lot about the intentions of Rambles with Nature, so we didn't need to chat about that. 

Walpole Park's curved path
We talked instead about my wondering about wanting to collaborate with others after all (a fundamental part of the structure of Rambles with Nature) as I'd had such a fantastic time on my own during the Ealing residency, about how I'd made a very definite decision not to record the conversations on the park walks and about the affects this might have.  Maddy recounted a story about a dinner she'd had recently with another artist in Exeter which was recorded and how the conversation had somehow turned out to be a bit mundane,  whereas the next day out of nowhere (when not being recorded) an 'electric' and 'exciting' conversation had taken place. Again the question of the difference between a hedge and a hedgerow arose and the idea of it being a boundary, perhaps a boundary between different histories / time. Somehow later on whilst eating almond biscuits after our walk I discovered Maddy was also an Actionette - a night-club dance troupe I've long loved! 

The shape of the walk with Maddy was round, curved, without pause and direct.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Preamble Ramble

So, first things first...
Just to be clear.
This is not the 'work'
This is the PREAMBLE
This is the bit
Before the making begins.

Where the rules get set
Where the rules are written

Where 'Rambles with Nature' is laid out like a map.

Rambles with Nature

That is the 'work'.

A body of work. 

A body of walks.
A body of thoughts.
A body of talks...

And at the heart of them all the hedgerow.


Not the heart.

More the spine.

That bit of the body from which everything hangs.

A place to set out from.
A place to disappear into.
Or a connecting line, simply to follow.

literally, metaphorically, ecologically.

The hedgerow.

On the edge.
In the middle.
At the border.

Rooted and breathing.
Changing with the seasons.

An outdoor place. 

A habitat.

Full of species, plants, animals, roots.
Hybrids, lineages, power-struggles.
Fashioned by hand.
A woodland relic.
An ancient pathway grown wayward and wild.

Teaming with myths.
Teaming with histories


Of Britain.
Of the Enclosure Acts.
Of an impossible to remember Common land.

A tangly mass of boundaries.

Not always pretty. Sometimes selfish.

This bit is mine. And this and this.

Dusty with petrol,
Full of rubbish and stuff.
Cigarette butts, cans, condoms, wrappers.

Sometimes suburban. Fairly mundane.

A bit like Ba's privet hedge outside her council house.

I miss that hedge.

I used to surprise my brother by pushing him into it
And take clippings of it for stick insects to school in a bag...

Green, solid, constant and green

I miss that hedge.

This piece of writing will go in The Book.

The book that I will make about The Body of Work.

Inside it I imagine will be pictures like this -

But (just to be clear), I can't draw so I will invite people who can to Ramble with me.

Illustrators, Amateurs, Photographers, Artists.
Foragers, Scientists, ecologists and others...

All weaving together a thorny thicket of stuff.

Making the book. 
Making performance
Making installations
Making plans.

So far

Ramble #1 will be in Cambridge and involve screens, videos.
Ramble #2 will be in Shoreham using stories and sound.
Ramble #3 will be in London a series of conversations about site
Ramble #4 will be hands on and all 'doing'.
Ramble#5 might involve dreams and sewing.
Ramble #6 might involve glass.
Ramble #7 might involve writing a really long, unwinding bit of text and performing it, in front of people looking.
And Ramble #8 who knows...

It's going to take some time to get through it all...

It's going to take some chance meetings.

But thats OK

That's right on track.

To Ramble
  1. To move about aimlessly.
  2. Walk about casually or for pleasure.
  3. Follow an irregularly winding course of motion or growth.
  4. Speak or write at length and with many digressions.
Which reminds me...

On Tuesday I lay down under a soft red blanket and thought about getting old. I remembered burning sticks and dried banana skins behind the estate, and an old white Datsun rolling softly down a driveway. And Matthew's face - the boy who always stuck rocks up his nose and looked at me blankly when I said hello. I wonder where he is now?

On Wednesday I used my legs and went on a hunt around Clapham. I wanted to buy some of those small model sized hedges that railway enthusiasts use and to take photos and cuttings of the surrounding greenery, but the shop had GONE. The books I wanted weren't there. And the hedges I saw well they were really quite something, but I didn't quite dare take cuttings because they all seemed so neat and the photos weren't right, too flat or something – so instead I trailed my hands along and inside them and came back to my room for a cup of tea.

On Thursday I read about Rousseau and Wordsworth and was reminded of the Situationists, of their ideas around drift and psychogeography and wondered - What am I up to? What are the specifics? 

So I wrote some rules.

Here they are so far:
  • A ramble must begin with / follow / explore the hedgerow. This can be quite tenuous a connection.
  • A ramble doesn't have to involve walking.  
  • A ramble might not always be interesting. It has the right to refuse. It is after all a ramble.
  •  A ramble feels like it might be a scared thing, easily frightened away like a deer or water vole or bird. Give it space. Give it time. 
  • Some rambles can happen in darkened rooms. 
  • A ramble doesn't have to be undertaken alone. In fact preferably not. 
  • Some rambles can happen in bright sunlight or drizzle or fog. 
  • There is a difference between a ramble and a wander. Its hard to say what this is exactly, but it's something to do with robustness and vigour. 
  • A ramble is a resistance to getting and spending, but that doesn't mean getting and spending aren't allowed. We might need food, props, a dog or a car. 
  • At the end of each Ramble I / we will make something together. This might be the Ramble itself. This might be something different 
  • At the beginning of each Ramble I should make this clear – I am an artist. I do make art. Don't be surprised if our Ramble transforms, shapeshifts, becomes something solid, turns into a video, or a blanket or a song. Or does none of these things. Or perhaps this is it.  
  • Anyone involved should be credited.
These rules need more work.

Another thing I thought of was that I'd make some small cards.

To give out. 
As a start. 
As a way to find conversations.

They might say:

Sheila Ghelani

Open for Rambles with Nature
starting with / exploring / The Hedgerow
I am an artist.
We don't have to walk.
Although walking is ok and can be a good place to start...


This text is part of the Preamble I wrote at BAC for their Scratch Festival in May. Preamble was my first chance to start thinking about Rambles with Nature.

Catching up with myself

I was trying to work out what's been keeping me so busy of late (yep turns out the Go Slow plan is harder to stick to than I realised). It's all felt a bit PACKED....although with room for each thing to go on for longer (so in that sense perhaps the Go Slow mantra has worked) and I realised that since January I've:

Made From Me To You With Love (a project in two day centres for over 65s)
Re-made Rat Rose Bird and  then shown it at Chelsea Theatre and Z Arts
Led a childrens project at Chelsea Theatre based on Rat Rose Bird.
Been Artist in Residence at Ealing Council's Pitzhanger Manor and Walpole Park for three months (resulting in A Place For Dreaming).
Led a Performing Medicine SSC module at King's with 3rd year medical students.
Made an artistic set of 'conversation starters' for Rajni Shah's Beyond Glorious symposium
Written some text for a friends new publication...
Presented a scratch at BAC called Preamble... 
Been on another LADA DIY to Yorkshire Sculpture Park...
Performed at Sheffield Doc Fest and East Street Arts in Leeds for the ever lovely Blast Theory.
Spent a weekend away with the artist group I'm part of.

And... I'm bound to have forgotten something...

So ignoring all the public events and workshops I led during my residency in Ealing - that's a lot of new work:
  1. From Me To You With love greeting card boxes (available to look at / buy on my shortly to be announced v exciting NEW website)
  2. From Me To You With Love large-scale performative photographs of Millman Street Resource Centre and Riverside Centre X 2 (these will be hung at each centre).
  3. A Place For Dreaming - a new work in which people are literally invited to doodle and dream into a library of notebooks (WORK IN PROGRESS).
  4. Rat Rose Bird (well... not really new but at least finished AT LAST and something I'm finally very happy with).
  5. A short video document made with Ashburnam School.
  6. The sculptural conversation starters in which audience are invited to 'become like botanists'.
  7. Preamble – well this is just a text really and was research for the project I'm currently working on:
Rambles with Nature

Yes it's here at last. My project about the hedgerow....

I was lucky enough to get Arts Council Funding for it, so am going to start using this blog to document the rambles as they unfold.

The first thing I'm going to do is post some of the Preamble text I produced for the BAC scratch as it provides a great introduction to what Rambles with Nature actually is....

Conversation Starters, photo Sheila Ghelani
New Look Rat Rose Bird, photo Adam Levy