Melt - my first attempts
I was driving through Northern Scotland one day when a patch of un-melted snow on a grassy hillside flickered in the corner of my eye. My brain misread it and in the moment before I turned my head I thought I was about to see a chalk drawing like the Cerne Abbas Giant.
That's how you could do it I thought, and I started planning to make projects out of snow.
I was in Scotland because I was looking for sites for some large scale projects (including Bridge) that put the human in his place in the landscape. They look at his size and his ineffectiveness in the face of nature and time, but they also celebrate his capacity for beauty, courage and strength. I was having a lot of trouble though because to make big projects in the UK you have to get past high financial and bureaucratic barriers. In that moment I realised that there was a way to duck the wire and make big projects without money, negotiation or even telling anyone. All I would need was the right weather and a shovel.
There was something else about working with snow that appealed to me; it meant that I couldn't ruin anything. When I make things I'm constantly anxious that all I'm doing is destroying my materials. Look how beautiful the paper is before you put a mark on it, even more so the piece of wood or the aluminium billet. More generally I'm distrssed by our despoiling the planet. I feel this especially strongly in my practice because most of what I make doesn't even work. If I could make a project just by shoveling snow at least nothing would be lost by my efforts, however inadequate they might be.
I made a plan to make pieces by piling up fresh snow on a hillside, so that when the surrounding snow melted I'd be left with a graphic where the snow was thicker and thereby longer lasting. In order to lay out my design in a way that accounted for distortion caused by the slope and unevenness of the ground I constructed a special projector. I planned to project my pattern onto the snow covered hill at night and mark it out by walking round its perimeter, then I would come back in the day to mound the snow. Incidentally - the projector is developing into a project in its own right.
Eventually winter came around and I headed back to Scotland with my new projector and my shovel. Things didn't start off well. My first two attempts were exercises in misery, exhaustion and failure. I hurt my body, broke my tools and crashed my car. After two grim weeks I had nothing to show for any of it. Before starting the project I didn't really think it would work, now I was certain. I had too much sunk into it to stop though so I pushed on with attempt number three using what I'd learned from those first tries. I comforted myself that once it had failed I could go home having made an honourable effort.
I had decided try to make "abc." I felt it represented where I was in the project, I liked the learning connotation of it and I wanted something that defied immediate interpretation (and therefore dismissal). I wanted to leave the viewer unsure of why it was there and not feeling like they'd had a message pushed at them.
I set up the projection one evening as the sun set and walked up the hill. It didn't take too long to outline the letters so I started to dig the "b". I felt like such a fool up there digging on my own in the dark. At midnight I walked back to my car in a state of total dejection. I slept for a few hours, then went back up the hill before sunrise and set to it again. The work was hard but rhythmic and I settled into the strain of it. The sounds of the spade slicing the snow splitting as it broke away in slabs kept me digging vengefully.
When you're standing by the letters you can't really see them so as I worked I had no idea what impact I was making, if any. My previous attempts having been so poor I was sure this would be the same so I didn't want to look. By four o'clock that afternoon I had finished the "b" and was part way through the "a" when the low winter sun shone through the clouds and put stark shadows on the snow. This must be the time to look, and if it wasn't working - the time to quit.
I walked to the point of ideal perspective where the projector had been without looking back. I was sure that there would be nothing to see, my long heaps would be lost in the mounds and valleys on the hill and in any case my letters must be too insignificant to make a noticeable mark. When I turned and saw what I'd done I almost choked on snot. I know it doesn't look all that in a picture, but in that moment with aching limbs and desolate spirits it gave me hope. I'd done enough to see the potential of what it could be.
That's pretty well the end of the story so far, it took me another day and a half to finish piling up the letters, by which time the thaw had begun. It took less than a week to melt. The melting didn't really go to plan but I've got a good notion of how to do it better and how to move the project along, there is a long way to go in this to make it all it can be, but I've got plenty of digging in me yet and I'll get there.
As I write this (a couple of weeks after I made it) I have just realised that this is the first time I've made somehting that is unequestionably an Art work; it is to be considered rather than used. Everything else I've ever made is
for something, this isn't and that's new. I wonder how that will go.