Thursday, December 26, 2019

Do you know the Muffin Man? Walking in Da Lat.

On 24th November 2019 Dr. Blake Morris initiated his latest marathon walking project entitled '52 Scores'. The envisioned plan is for a walk to take place each week throughout the coming year, spanning 2019/20. Once again this project allowed for other participants to join Blake, walking either in person or remotely in response to the score composed each week by him.

As Blake outlines on the 52 Scores website, "Every day I am picking a piece of scrap paper to add to a weekly walking collage. After 7 additions the collage will form a walking score, i.e. instructions for walking. Each score will be finished on Friday, made public Saturday, and walked on Sunday."

As Nina and I had greatly enjoyed participating as remote walkers in some of Blake's previous walking projects, I immediately suggested joining him on one of the forthcoming walks. As we had planned a trip up country, to Da Lat in the Central Highlands, I thought that responding to one of Blake's walking scores would be the perfect way to discover and negotiate this small town that was completely new to us. Thus Sunday 2nd December became the assigned day of the walk, designated as score No. 5.

As the day approached I picked up the composed score on Instagram and sat down with a nice Vietnamese coffee to allow the collaged texts to trigger possibilities and suggestions.

Score No. 5 (Photo: Blake Morris, posted on Instagram)

The traditional nursery rhyme 'Do you know the Muffin Man?', sometimes also sang/recited as 'Have you seen the Muffin Man?', provided the motivation for the walk which therefore developed as a search with the phrase 'We need you!' adding a sense of urgency. The further clarification 'Dough Bake Assemble' helped to focus our attention on a search for small baked confections. The important element here of course being the local contextualisation of the guiding instructions, how to interpret the score within the local setting.

'Seven Magic mountains' supplied a suggestion for the number of the confections to discover, 'Ring' suggested that the search could be conducted around the periphery of the local Xuan Huong Lake, and the word 'Sunset', along with the accompanying photograph of the setting sun acted as a reminder that the search should be completed within the day. The exclamation 'Sings!' became meaningful as the walk commenced when a street food vendor cycled by broadcasting a recorded advertisement for his products recited in the local Vietnamese dialect, punctuated with musical inflections to add emphasis to each line.

Xuan Huong Lake at Da Lat (Google Maps)

The walk began with breakfast in a local bar/cafe called 'Woodstock', which suggested the famous song of 1971 by Crosby, Stills and Nash pilgrimage describing a musical pilgrimage to the famous concert in 1969. Of course our 'pilgrimage' today was not toward 'Woodstock' but away from it though the connection put a smile on our face and the lovely cafe also provided our first confection of the day.

 Woodstock bar/cafe, Da Lat (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Croissants / pastries - section for breakfast (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

After breakfast in Woodstock our walk continued downhill toward the lake and along to Da Lat Market where a rich vein of delicious and sometimes mysterious confections were found.

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford) 

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Da Lat Confections (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

The search for confections lead us through the streets and markets of Da Lat, around the lake and our discoveries are recorded in the photographs posted here. The walk could have had other focuses: fruit, drinks, local basket-ware crafts, clothes, flowers etc. and each one of these topics could have resulted in alternative experiences of Da Lat. 

At the end of the afternoon, the sun dropped to the western end of the lake, closing the day's explorations. The orientation of the lake provides picturesque sunsets, especially when viewed from one of the lake-side restaurants. This was a great way to become familiar with Da Lat and once again, Blake's walking projects have provided an unforgettable and rewarding experience. 

Sunset over Xuan Huong Lake, Da Lat (Photo: Patrick S. Ford)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

International Drawing Dialogue Phase 3 - 2019-20 (Second Stage)

The second of the three-stage drawing dialogue project draws to a close. Only one stage remains, with the drawings making the final exchange before heading off to the exhibition venue(s).

For this stage I was responding to drawings initiated by Andrea Thoma in the UK. Once Andrea's drawings arrived I first laid them out under a stack of other work in order for them to have some time to settle down and to unroll properly after their journey from the UK to Vietnam in a cardboard tube.

After giving them some time to settle down I took them out and spent some time looking at them. As the sculptor Philip King once said (paraphrasing here) "looking tells you more than if you think about it" (1:00), its about trying to 'feel' or 'sense' what an appropriate response to the work would be.

Overall, in response to the drawings I developed an urge to counter what was already going on in the drawings. For example to answer the fairly light marks already laid down in the image I added darker, heavier elements and in some cases I introduced straighter lines / marks to counter the movement set up by Andrea's work(without closing the drawing down by preventing the eye from wandering).

I responded to each of the four drawings as follows:

Andrea 1

Andrea + Patrick 1

In this drawing there was an obvious space left for me slightly off centre, towards the right and I began to sense either a building standing within a clearing or a yacht moored at a dock in the background behind the fence that linked the two groups of trees. 
However, as I worked, the image I was creating started to move forward until it had finally arrived in the foreground. I erased a little more of the fence to allow it to come through and at the same time allowed it to lose its definition as either a building or a yacht to become something that might possibly resemble an abstract structure set up a garden immediately in front of the viewer. Once I had sited this collection of lines and marks within this space, I stopped working and left it for the next participant to to resolve.

Andrea 2

Andrea + Patrick 2

This drawing had a couple of vacant spaces that I could attend to so I felt I initially needed to work within these two spaces. There were several parts of the drawing where Andrea had added small areas of shading that subtly began to define form and to push and pull the various elements within the space of the drawing. I picked up on these and began to adjust them, and in some cases link them together.

In the back of my mind I was thinking of early examples of analytical cubism (which I have always loved) in which the image appears to have been shattered, leaving broken fragments clashing with each other. The shadows created by these fragments caused the image to lose cohesion and disturb our understanding of the image. 
2D and 3D readings become confused and a little contradictory. I have always been attracted to this type of contradiction within art works and I guess this is what was urging me to reinforce the shaded areas of the drawing. Some areas didn't really change much but others did create a contradiction, appearing sculptural at one point and two dimensional at another. It was at this point that I ceased work.

Andrea 3

Andrea + Patrick 3

In the third drawing, the foreground was occupied by many plant pots, tubs and vases leaving a narrow vacant space in the top third of the drawing in which I could introduce something. For this work I imagined myself in a garden, gazing across the top of work table that was covered with pots as if a gardener had been hard at work potting and repotting plants. 
My participation here would initially be to introduce something into this imagined garden. Andrea had already added some feint garden chairs but they had already begun receding into the background. At first I worked on them, pulling them forward into the composition. As I worked I added other chairs and small tables, arranging them into a row across the background. Interestingly, the more I worked on them the more I began to interpret the resulting row of shapes as a bridge. 
Could this garden instead feature a view across a wide expanse to a large rail or road bridge? In the end the chairs became more spiky, perhaps in response to the soft curves of the plant pots below. I eventually decided to keep the shapes as half chair - half bridge, hanging in an ambiguous space (my tendency towards contradiction creeping in again) and I ended my participation in the drawing by literally drawing a line under the elements I had introduced.

Andrea 4

Andrea + Patrick 4

The fourth and final drawing took me longer to assess. There was a central element (a tree) around which were scattered other elements, most of which grew more defined the further from the centre they were. The composition therefore offered a kind of donut or torus-shaped void within the drawing for me to work with. 
I considered many additions / modifications to the drawing and eventually decided to trace an imaginary walk around the garden as if I was laying out a rope or line behind me as I walked or as if a long-exposure photograph had captured my walk while holding a light pen (the type of image Picasso had made so successfully) except that my drawing would be the negative image. 
I made the fairly thick line hover above ground level and allowed it to pulsate a little due to the action of the compressed charcoal, eraser and a little white chalk (my long-time favourite combination of materials, picked up at art college many years ago). 
For a while I stopped work but before I decided to cease work entirely and pack up the drawings for postage, I turned my attention to the circle in the lower left-hand corner. I began by adding some texture to it and this texture eventually replicated that I had used in other recent drawings I had made. These drawings featured what could be described as possessing calligraphic qualities, especially when thinking of written languages containing sensuous, looping strokes such as arabic. I tried to avoid thinking of the calligraphic roundels of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as that would have necessitated going off on a tangent and reworking the entire image. Enough is enough for the moment. For a while I considered treating the eclipse in the top right-hand corner in a similar way but  then decided against it. It would have look heavy siting up there in the sky and I didn't want to remove the sun from this garden. 

I packed up the four drawings and posted them to the third participant, Skye Williams and then moved on to another project which I will work on until the final set of Dialogue drawings arrive.

These drawing dialogues are not easy, but that is a good thing. I find the experience gained from such exercises as these is invaluable. Besides learning how to respond to the work of others, I also learn from the way others work. In fact, in every activity I undertake I attempt to put myself into a situation in which I can learn something from the experience. 

I believe that once we stop learning, we stop thinking.