Friday, 26 July 2013

Guest Blog: The Flight of the Spoonbill,
by Ian Starsmore

David Lincoln and Martin Skipper: Apples

The Flight of the Spoonbill is the most recent exhibition organised by the North Norfolk Exhibition Project, in Cley Church, Norfolk. Each year the curator chooses a new theme, and this year, mine comes in part from the fact that the Spoonbills are nesting for the first time for three hundred years on the marshes at Cley. Their presence seems fortuitous in this landscape, their oddity suggestive, perhaps via Edward Lear, of the magic and vulnerability of this coast, our point in history, our dislocation from nature.
In proposing the exhibition I was strongly aware of the church building itself, once a port and bordered directly by the sea. The architecture has sculptures of monkeys, some on top of the pinnacles, plants, dragons, lions, angels, owls, mice, dancing and drumming figures, musicians, foliage. There are sculptures of two masons, each displaying their arse and balls, no other words will do for their posture and gesture, as they grin at us over their shoulders and six hundred years. 
The building is animate, full of suggested movement, and most of it celebrates and warns us of nature, describing our place within it, which is not high. The creatures depicted are not images of things which can be owned.
So I sent out my call to artists and some scientists, asking for a creative response to the problem of the ecology of our situation. I was less interested in ‘art’ than in a kind of honest search. In the show there are: apple trees, some lost and some found; a vertical garden; aerial photos of the marshes, taken from a kite; the genome of wheat; a river of reeds; a confessional which contains the sea; paintings of diving, of pollen and pollution. I chose 65 makers and have come close I think to making something like a garden of odd things in the church, the work representing what I feel to be the fecund, fertile, untidy, imperfect echoes of the church of St Margaret of Antioch, its traces of wall colour, remnants of the blaze of images it once contained in textiles, glass and paint. I wanted the exhibits to fill the main body of the church in the way it once would have been filled with people and animals, each distinct and earthy, clumsy, mobile, just what they are, thought and art striving to be something, whether coming close to it or far. The building is as imminent as the exhibits. The work is reflective and conceptual as a dawn walk, as playful as a plastic spoonbill, or as plain as a map or a genome. 

Helen Breach: Spoonbills

While the exhibition has been on, the church has been in use for two weddings, two funerals and a village fete; each time the art work giving way to brides, undertakers, coffins or book stalls and this is how it should be; a reminder. Margie Britz’s Mandala, all bones and skulls is wheeled to one side, to make way for a wedding, displacing Andrew Schumann’s sculpture The Garden of Earthly Delight. I swept the floor clean and talked to mourners or wedding guests who were shocked initially, to find that there were ‘things’, ‘Bestiaries’ and ‘Bats’, a ‘Confessional’ with a trouser press, in the space there. I liked the way something allowed all these events to occur together; new art, odd things, unfamiliar, taking part in local personal, emotional and traditional rituals; the woman with the new hat. Out of these encounters came conversations and recognition and integration of art and life, present and past that seemed at any rate to me, to be fruitful, grounded in different practicalities. 

I talked to as many people as possible, maybe too much, but hopefully I spoke and went away in the right proportions. Mostly I liked to see visitors engrossed in something, peering in to look at the Mandala’s dead frogs or the cement snails on the 1901 mapped oars, or, thinking of the sea, the monument in the floor to the young man drowned three hundred years ago. I do not know what kind of stories or thoughts all these things engendered. Thanks though, to the girl from Stibbard Primary School who rushed up saying, “Ian Ian Ian.... The Confessional’s gone wrong. Come quick!”, and pulled me along to look. Or...the boy who thought that the chair attached to Sophie Dawson’s Dawn Walk was a Murderer’s Chair, because one of his mates had heard a scream from the IPod’s recording of the animal sounds of the previous dawn. I put him right and tried to turn the conversation to the imagination. He preferred his Murderer’s Chair, and so do I. 
I think England is becoming mean. I wanted a show that, whatever else it is, is generous. It was fun to do, and I hope fun to visit; raising thought;  a dark subject; a show intended to be buoyant, which appears and will go, leaving a space for new curators and makers.

Ian Starsmore

Exhibition: open each day 10.30 to 5pm; to August 4th.
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