After taking part in the Basic Human Needs exhibition in the summer, I wanted to learn more about Permaculture and spend some time onsite at the Blaenffos Market Garden. So I arranged to be an artist-in-residence here for a few weeks in September.
Julian asked if I would like to write something for the website to tell people what I am doing here…
So, what am I doing here?
… being resident on site and occupying the studio
… learning about permaculture
… having time away from city life and day to day distractions
… experiencing the unknown
… hoping to develop ideas for work based on my experiences here
… making encounters with art and artists in the area
The site here is in development, so there is a lot going on. On my first night I found a great spot to pitch my tent and settled down to a clear night sky filled with millions of stars and many wild noises I did not recognise. In the morning I woke to find all the millions of stars were now on the ground and the field was covered in sparkling dew.
On my first day the weather was glorious so I set up my studio space, and headed for the Preseli Hills. The wind up there was pretty wild. The views across the landscape and out to the sea were amazing.
Day two – we were in the clouds, a find mist hung over everything, and it rained on and off all day. A perfect day for shutting myself in the studio.
I’ve been working on some ink drawings, after a basket of Damsons were delivered in the darkness of the evening before.
Over the next two weeks I am going to spend some of my time helping out Julian and Debbie with some of the garden work and also the straw bale house. This will mean I can learn directly how permaculture works in practice, and get my hands dirty…
So far I have planted some seedlings into trays in the polytunnels, and hope to see the first shoots next week. Then I helped clear some of the old bean plants ready for new plants to go in. I’ve also had a go at applying clay slip to the straw bales inside the house, followed of course by a swim in the sea!
Next update will be next week…
Week Two update
Last week I sowed seeds, watched seedlings growing, and picked ripe vegetables and also cooked with the freshly picked vegetables straight from the garden. The walk from the kitchen to the garden is less than the journey most of us make to our local supermarket. We have a perception of fresh vegetables to be those found in plastic packaging announcing ‘farm fresh’ etc. Yet we can eat the most nutritious food by growing and picking it from our own gardens or community allotment, and at the same time compost our waste vegetable matter to enrich the soil. Free from additives and pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Aside from the food, a garden and working in it provides us with a valuable activity which exercises our bodies as well as refreshing our minds.
Contemplating this idea, I decided to work on the concept of a ‘Garden Walk’ to explore the cycle of the food we eat. From seeds, to growing, flowering, fruiting and decomposing.
I was thinking of the idea of ‘green fingers’ and have been experimenting with hand gestures to symbolise the different growing phases, and these gestures will then be used to create the ‘garden walks’. I’m using ink and water to make the work. Water is something that is vital to plant growth, along with soil fertility, and temperature. So I wanted to use water to create the work.
I’ve spent the week experimenting with ink and hand gestures, and hope to continue working with the ideas when I return to my studio in Leicester next week. I’ve also helped with building and planting up new beds in the polytunnels, and watched the house-build take a leap forward. The Autumn Equinox was marked by artist Mark Treanor in a sand mandala at Mwnt bay – where I went to watch the sunset.
I’ve found the residency very regenerative, and have been able to go for some beautiful walks in the area, such as Ty Canol ancient woodland (Debbie and Julian kindly took me as it was quite tricky to find) and Dinas Island. The close proximity to the coast meant I could go for a swim and watch sunsets on the beach.
The night skies where the moon and stars are un-obscured by city light pollution on clear autumn nights have been breathtaking. Added to that there is the wonderful hospitality of Debbie and Julian who are brimming with knowledge and experience on Art, horticulture, and self-build houses, so conversations have been inspiring and amusing. And of course the are always Vegetables on the Agenda! I’ll be sad to leave but go with a basketful of fresh veg, a head full of ideas to work with and a pocketful of seeds, which might sprout…
Notes for potential future artist residents…
- Bring a tent, it’s worth it just to experience the wild noises, morning dew and midnight stars.
- It can be isolating if you don’t have a car, I drive so was able to come and go as I please for walks etc, the A478 where the site is based off is not suitable for walkers. There are buses that will get you around though and the stop is just a minute up the road.
- Bring wellies, I stayed in flipflops and experienced the grass underfoot, but the occasional bramble did slice my feet couple of times. And sliced feet are not as nice as sliced beet.
If you want to follow my progress, you can find my work at http://www.mitasolanky.org
UPDATE: Mita recently applied for a Jerwood Visual Arts award to continue this work and made the shortlist. She was also awarded First Prize in the Visual Arts category of the The Elbow Room Prize 2016 in Clerkenwell for the work ‘Sleep Walks’ which was shown as part of the Basic Human Needs exhibition.