Follow the stream, have faith in its course, it will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there
Cluster by artist Annemarie O’Sullivan is an intriguing installation located within Brighton’s wonderful Fabrica gallery. Her work lies in that difficult border land between craft and art, and builds upon traditional weaving techniques in order to fabricate a number of large irregular stressed timber shells. The undulating forms lightly touch upon the flagstone ground, as the locally sourced sweet chestnut timber spirals and quivers in the gentle draughts of the old church. The result is a knot work of magnificently evocative shapes, alluding to the rolling hills and ancient landscapes of the South Downs, and to rustic agricultural shelters as well as the whispering ghosts of traditional rural enterprises long since forgotten. The lace-like geometry is created by weaving the soft timber to form a sturdy grid-shell, the grain of the pieces allows the strips to flex and curl into lightweight tensile meshes, the basket thus becomes an almost human scale space. Annemarie declares on her CV ‘I make baskets and forms which are a response to materials I gather from the land. I work mainly with willow and coppiced ash. I like to have my feet on the earth. My work draws on the sturdiness of agricultural baskets, the curves of the landscape around me and a deep respect for ancient crafts.’ This is obviously a passionate enterprise which embraces the natural realm and draws upon nature to suggest organic lines of sight, sensuous materiality laid bare, pushing and straining to leap free.
Cluster 2012 © Annemarie O’Sullivan Photograph by M Barnes
Oliver Lowenstein of Fourth Door Review in his essay on the exhibition regards the work as a bright example of how ‘within the basket-making community, some makers readily acknowledge how their woven forms can be viewed as a part of a spectrum, extending across and into the land art community and terrain. There is indeed an overlay here, both basketry and land art draw creative breath from land, landscape and the natural world.’ Oliver also sees the work as a suitably vibrant celebration of ten years of two of Sussex’s celebrated grid-shell buildings, that of the Downland Grid-shell at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum by Edward Cullinhan Architects and the Flimwell Woodland Enterprise Centre by Feilden Clegg Bradley architects. Both constructions scale up this basketry method of taming a tightly bound wooden skin into leaping curvaceous shelters that complement their soft woodland surroundings. The programme notes that ‘these award winning examples of sustainable architecture tell their own story of location, material and skill’. By using a material from their immediate surroundings and a fabrication system which responds to the shape of the landscape they effortlessly offer up a new vernacular for this age of peril.
Of course it is impossible to discuss craft-based land art without mentioning the mighty Andy Goldsworthy, whose beautifully fragile efforts embrace the rugged texture of the landscape in order to build stoic dry stone walls, soft curtains of leaves, flowing ribbons of ore colour and densely knotted timber arrays. Each work speaks of the immediacy of place and the relationship between intricate craft and the natural world. Andy regards this as the foundation of his work and says I ‘lived near Leeds and worked from the age of 13 on a farm right where the suburbs began — and that was very important. I was always going to be an artist, since I was a kid, but the impact that farming had was tremendous. It’s a very sculptural activity. Not just dry stone walls but stacking bales — big minimalist sculptures, beautiful and enormous.’ Hence, for him the work is part of a rural tradition of toiling with the soil and roots. He embraces the decay, the fragility and the impermanence of the world around, weaving and stacking gossamer sculptures such as ice bridges and pebble cairns which exist in that fleeting moment which Zen poet Ch’ing Kung describes as ‘things of the past are already long gone, and things to be, distant beyond imagination’.
Annemarie’s sculpture Cluster is an invitation to consider ‘how people, creatures and trees gather together, how we cluster for protection’. It questions the role of our bodies in a dynamic architecture of flux and entropy. It speaks of the ancient hollows those filigree buildings inhabit in a beautifully elegant manner helping us to make a bridge to the wilderness that poet Gary Snyder (referenced by Lowenstein) says ‘is not just the “preservation of the world,” it is the world’.