Notes from the Invisible Landscapes Seminar – Deborah Westmancoat

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The Invisible Landscapes one day seminar at OSR, West Coker, Somerset on Friday last week was really interesting. The premise was ‘exploring embedded approaches to place-based contemporary art practice’. Simon Lee Dicker introduced the day with a short explanation of the work of OSR Projects which led into Sally Watkins, Co-Artistic Director and Curator of b-side festival, speaking on their engagement-based residency work on Portland and how they aim for the academic and the ‘real world’ to co-exist meaningfully within the island environment and community. Owain Jones, Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University followed with a rousing lecture on the need for us all to re-imagine what we are, what our community could be like and how we can exist positively within the natural world. He challenged the artists in the room to make change through their practice, stating that “modernist science won’t do it….abandon scientific paradigms and return to transforming the world through art and philosophy….an ongoing aesthetico-existential process…”. He is currently involved in a project, Water City Bristol, which seeks to ‘connect people with water and through water’….proposing that the state of a community’s water systems “palpably and vividly shows our ecological condition” and that “unloved rivers = unloved communities, places where ecocide runs amok”. It was an energetic and powerful discourse on the need for change, and how we as artists might take a lead on this, and I have certainly thought much more over the last few days about the drive for what I do and the reasons why I work with water specifically. The afternoon brought a site visit to the wonderfully atmospheric and haunted Dawe’s Twineworks and an engaging talk by Sally Laburn, Visual Artist and Co-Director of The Drawing Shed, an artist based project based in London seeking to work with an unheard resident community amidst local development. Sally ended by posing a question (a quote from Lucy Lippard) which really stuck with me – “I wonder what will make it possible for artists to ‘give’ places back to people who can no longer see them”. The last part of the day was devoted to a choice of three workshops run by Alexander Stevenson ‘The Artist as Explorer’ micro-residency, Jethro Brice ‘An Exercise in Deliberate Anthropomorphism’ and Tim Martin ‘Artists: Useful or Useless?’. I wanted to do all of them but chose the micro residency option and spent a very amusing hour with my team, including Gordon Field and Morag Kiziewicz, making a one hour performance-based residency art piece about the noise and danger of traffic through West Coker. Great fun….but the group working with Jon England made a very evocative and memorable piece in the local church, focusing on unpulled bell-ropes and a ticking church clock in the silent tower, and I still have hairs rising on the back of my neck just thinking about it. Thanks to everyone at OSR for a really thought-provoking day.