“Photograph: a picture painted by the sun without instruction in art.”
“The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his environment.”
David Herbert Lawrence
Snippets of a conversation
Me: “Photograph something on the ground and it’s just a photograph. Photograph a few different things on the ground and it’s art.”
Marc: “It’s only art if it’s in black and white.”
Me: “This business of making art… it’s hard to take it seriously sometimes.”
Over the last few days my wife Des and I had the pleasure of entertaining two of my closest and dearest friends, composer/painter (and, OK, now photographer too, I suppose!) Marc Yeats and his partner, Mark (or as I refer to them, the Mar©ks) on one of their always much anticipated visits. Along with the usual eating and drinking (especially the latter…) the also usual intense art discussions ensued, eventually getting around to the oft engaged subject of complexity vs. minimalism in art, with me, as I am accustomed to doing, assuming the role of expounding the virtues of the latter tendency.
For “minimalism” here I suppose you could substitute “simple” (or even “simple minded”, which possibly explains my enthusiasm for it…) but that would be a mistake as, though Marc and I have our differences here, on the virtues of “simplicity” (or “economy of means”) we find ourselves much more in agreement I believe. Be that as it may, last Friday we all had occasion to visit an “environmental” multi-(well, two; sound and sculpture)-media art installation in a water park near our home in Walthamstow, north-east London. On arrival we discovered one of the “media” (to whit, sound) wasn’t actually working but as someone was attempting to fix it we decided to wait nearby on a bench with the merciless sun beating down on us while the unfortunate technician sweated manfully (but ultimately unsuccessfully) at his task.
Up to this point I had noticed that, for a public area, the park was remarkably litter free (this is unusual, trust me. Londoners notice stuff like that…) Apart from the dog/horse/waterfowl shit, that is. However, I did notice that around the bench where we sat there was some discarded litter (though by no means a great amount) in spite of there being a large waste basket adjacent to us. Whether or not this was related to the aforementioned merciless sun I cannot say for sure, but I decided there and then, on the spot as it were, to document said articles of detritus with the tiny digicam I had brought along with me no doubt for just such a purpose (for a possible explanation of my motivation see “Snippets of a conversation” above). Naturally my innate aesthetic tastes prevented me previously from documenting the shit. But I digress… I actually found eight discrete pieces of litter. Though here I tell a lie; there was actually one other somewhat larger “blot on the landscape” but I knew that Marc would eventually have to rise from his prone position and accompany us back home (he was driving…) Besides I had no intention of taking the rather broad hint and photographing him. I believe it’s called “the withholding of gratification”…
Well, anyway, on Saturday morning, sadly, the Mar©ks had to leave us to return to Somerset and home. At this point the images I made had remained unviewed and unedited. With peace and quiet at last I took the opportunity to peruse my handiwork whereupon the notion struck me that in some strange way these images of detritus forced their way on my attention not because I am inordinately observant (which I am not…) but more as a function of time (our pausing in that environment) and furthermore that these small pieces of (not that prominent) detritus could be seen as a partial metaphor for our experience of that environment and also a record of those who had preceded us. All of which brought to mind Marc and his “SATSYMPH: on a theme of Hermes” project (created in collaboration with another two friends, poet, Ralph Hoyte and recording engineer and programmer, Phill Phelps). You can read the details of this extraordinary piece of work from the link below, but, briefly, SATYSMPH consists of an App one can download (free) to one’s smartphone (once again, link below for details…) and which, in use, delivers an ever-changing soundscape (both verbal and musical) to one’s headphones dependent on one’s location in the environment. As I say, that’s a shamefully brief description but, yes, once again… link below.
The kind of experience offered by SATSYMPH rather than being a distraction actually has the effect of heightening awareness of one’s surrounding environment, especially one’s visual awareness, the one sense that the piece does not engage. Who knows… you may even be more likely to notice the tiny pieces of detritus that your fellow human beings no longer find any use for. And that thought is my gift to you. No need to thank me…
One last word… I doubt this will be the last you will see of these eight images. As is my wont I shall doubtless attempt to wring every last possible use from them (“economy of means”, remember?) as an ongoing project where I hope to bring to bear the cool/intense, playful/serious dichotomy that I like to bring to every project I undertake.
One further “last word”… the preceding text is intended to be only partially facetious. I shall leave it up to the reader to glean which parts are and which parts are, in fact, deadly serious…
Extracts from SATSYMPH: on a theme of Hermes, Marc Yeats