Stuff on Stuff: Residency Reflections

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‘La Mola’- the site of the old the mill at the bottom of the village was where we were based throughout the residency. Across from this was freshly ploughed field with furls of earth, was too tempting not to test the clay for its ‘tack’. Habits of a ceramics background and knowledge of clay ‘feel’, I put my hands into the earth and had a squeeze in my hands – it held shape- it was good for building.

One of the things I like about clay is it baseness, its ordinariness and non-imposition in its original state. The value of earth for most of us is bound by stuff we can make or take from it; ploughing, growing crops, making pots and containers, to material to build upwards of mud or brick. Clay has always been a substrate to culture, a means by which to extend ourselves. It’s a measure of how we pulled our primordial selves up the ladder to the tower block on height and will certainly be the place we will retreat to in the end. The fact that clay it has many morphing guises has completely infiltrated our lives, now hidden in plain site we can hardly conceive of it in the everyday and we have rendered this material almost inert in our minds.

Our fallible belief that the earth is still and that it will always be there for us – always fertile, always underfoot and always ready for use – has a heighten in my senses since being in Italy.  People never seeem to be ready for the earth to move; yet earthquakes have time and again pulled the rug from under feet of towns, villages, cities and even entire civilizations. Questions of the safety in future in the Lazio region are apparent with recent devastation and destruction in areas that follows the intersect with between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates. This leaves unrest in the smaller communities such as Pietrafitta, where the aftershocks keep resurfacing in the people as well as cut through the ground.

I bagged up a few kilos the La Mola clay and hauled to the top of the village where a construction site stood overshadowing the other buildings in the area. This skeletal concrete construct became the space to import my ideas.

Outside in the open the models I were building remained too connected to the backdrop, lost in schema of nature and empherma. Inside the vacant grey inners became my personal gallery space. Free to build, stack and construct, room to stand back at distance, able to see and feel the presence of the structures I was making within space, measuring myself against them and interacting in their balancing performance.

I built several structures from materials I had scavenged-  wood, brick, steel and insulating foam and the clay from La Mola. The clay from the field at La Mola had meaning and urgency to be part of these structures, combined in the layers of the works at the construction site, it became sandwiched in the ideas of effort and  labour, culture and progress. Labour not for me getting it uphill, but in its in conversation between working with the land and our dominance over it.

Much of the ideas, sketches and structures I made during my time in Pietrafitta are still only the starting points for what is to come next for The Ulster Festival next year. Unraveling all the work and editing a focus will push forward the questions of what process and approach I will import back to Belfast? What meaning will this have in a new place? And how will this resonate with people and culture back home?

This grumbling notion of strata, stuff on stuff, layer on top of layer keep mulching over in my mind a restless mixture of the organic, chemical and anthropomorphic. There’s something in this thought but its evading my logic, but I am keen to persist in the uncertainty see where it might go and whether my concerns can be realised post-Pietrafitta.


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