This post tells you the backdrop to one of my current projects. The Time to Think project is the culmination of many ruminations over many years which have finally come together. It started with an island hopping holiday in Greece, draws on many numbers of years working in social research and was bounced around as a proper idea after reading the Guardian one day.
The seed for the idea was sown in a church on the Greek island of Tinos whilst on holiday with a friend in 1994. We visited the Church of Panagia Evangelistria which holds a reputedly miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. Tinos is also the centre of a yearly pilgrimage that takes place on the date of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (August 15, "Dekapentavgoustos" in Greek). This is perhaps the most notable and still active yearly pilgrimage in the region of the eastern Mediterranean. Many pilgrims make their way the 800 metres from the ferry wharf to the church on their hands and knees as sign of devotion.
The pilgrims’ route up to the church is lined with people selling religious sundries, some of them souvenirs but many of them to be used with a purpose during the visit to the church. Amongst the little plastic bags of incense crystals, miniature portable icon triptychs and so on, there were piles of small metal rectangles with motifs pressed into them and a hole punched so they could be hung up. These little votives have a special purpose, the ones with an imprint of a baby are for those saying prayers for babies, hearts are for those saying prayer for those with a heart problem (physical or emotional? I don’t know that it matters), legs for those with leg ailments and so on.
I bought several of these and wanted to use them myself in the church. I do not practice a religion but the concept of using a tangible object to mark the thought or prayer you were having for someone else seemed very powerful to me. At the time my father was having heart problems so the gold coloured heart votive was one obvious choice for my needs at that time. I bought several more votives to take home. I still have them now and they are emblems of thoughts and hopes and, you could say, prayers, I have had, and still have for other people in my life when times are difficult for them.
Here we are many years later from that visit to Tinos and I am printmaking and using small rectangular pieces of metal to make images of something that I think is relevant or important to me. I work from a studio in my home and I buy in my printmaking supplies and get on with it on my lovely Rollaco press. http://www.rollacopresses.co.uk/index.html It feels good to have this freedom but sometimes it feels like it is very insular too and I know that as artists we spend a lot of time on our own but sometimes it is good to reach out.
A quote from Michel de Montaigne (more about him later) to illustrate:
‘’It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.’’
Like a lot of artists I have another job. Mine happens to be working in social research. This has involved getting to know the various techniques of surveying the public and how to coerce people into taking part in something for no obvious gain to them as an individual but which would, with mass participation, help shape policies that will affect people like them in the long run. Surveys of this type are voluntary but there is always a deadline and there are many reminder techniques used to persuade people to complete them and not take too long about it. Surveys still depend on the goodwill and co-operation of other people to succeed and I still marvel at the abundance of those qualities that are out there.
That being said I think there are so many deadlines hanging around our daily lives and so many instant needs for responses to communications we receive that, although I wanted to reach out and encourage participation in this project, I wanted it to be on the terms of the recipient. I wanted the person invited to participate to have freedom to make a real choice about whether to take part or not. It was also important that there was/is no time limit to when people respond. It could take years for people to reply and that will be fine. My hope is that this project will just keep going and growing.
Something that fed this project idea was reading an article in The Guardian in January 2011 called Montaigne and the Macaques by Saul Frampton. It talked about how, four hundred years ago, the great French essayist Montaigne recognised that our inbuilt capacity for sympathy depends on our physical proximity to others. Recent neurological research appears to back him up. It is a great article that served to introduce me, not before time, to Montaigne. I would encourage you to read it in full but here is a little excerpt
‘’These neurological findings not only help us to understand human and animal behaviour, but also to explain and in some ways legitimate whole swaths of the history of human culture. The philosopher David Hume argued that "No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences, than that propensity we have to sympathise with others". And Shakespeare's theatre can be seen as a great neurological hall of mirrors in which characters both reflect and fail to reflect the emotional states of others.’’http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/22/montaigne-macaques-saul-frampton
What struck a chord reading this article was that the ability to empathise with others is a key attribute that serves to reinforce the bonds between us as human beings. My hope is that this project is underpinned by that most amazing human ability of empathy. By taking time to think of what it is like for an other in a particular situation, we are doing something so very important to us all as a whole.
There is another strand of this project. It is an affection and respect for the postal system. In a world where something that is not a mailshot landing on the doormat is increasingly unusual I thought it would be good to make use of the postal system for this project. Sure stamps have gone up to 60p but I happen to think that is amazing value. To be able to send an actual thing, not a virtual thing, anywhere in the UK in 24 hours for 60p seems marvellous to me but am I being nostalgic? Possibly. Or maybe like a lot of people I am kicking back against the instant. The Slow Movement is rather large now I believe. There is a song called ‘We Used to Wait’ By Arcade Fire (from Suburbs) which has this as part of the lyric:
It may seem strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what’s stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive
Professor Guttorm Fløistad summarizes the Slow Movement philosophy, stating:
‘’The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.’’
Very last of all but certainly not least of all I want to mention the more practical aspects of this project. I am a printmaker and printmaking is above all a process that takes time. Loads of time spent thinking about the image itself of course but plenty of time spent on processes too. You have to prepare your plate and by that I mean not just creating an image that you will print from. I mean choosing the size, filing the edges, degreasing it and then making your image work on it, which usually involves a lot of proofing and reviewing and change along the way. Way before that you have to draw your image, quite possibly re-size it, and reverse it too.
And way before that you have to think simply about the material the plate will be made of and how that will affect the print. For this project I decided to use pre-mezzotinted copper plates prepared by Martin Maywood at http://www.mezzotint.co.uk/. Martin has taken time to prepare these plates – this involves rocking the surface of the copper plate in many directions with a special tool to create a surface that can then produce an evenly dark tone enabling the printmaker to work from dark to light. These plates are new for me to work with and I am finding it really interesting. As I use my tools to burnish the surface I am very aware that Martin has already worked on these surfaces to start the process and that chain in itself is interesting.
I will end this post by saying a big thanks for taking the time to read this. If you think you might like to take part in this project please get in touch with me by sending me a contact form and I then write to you - the letter will explain how you can be involved and then you can decide if you want to get involved or not. In your own time that is, of course.
And to finish here’s another quote from that man Montaigne:
Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition.