Friday, 17 October 2008

transience site : design and decisions

Since my last post about the website design where I'd come up to a wall between the idea in my head and the reality of what is possible on a small budget and a reasonable load up time, the 'what are you going to do then' has been going around my head.

And Stephen, my photoshop friend and very practical collaborator, has spent at least two evenings trying to explain pixel ratios to me.

There are two paradoxes in my mind:
- firstly, that I'm trying to locate on my 'map' things that are passing through the landscape - ughhh?
- secondly, that I decided to make a website because of the flexibility, its ability to be changed and re-made at any time, but of course, with a Flash file, once it's up, it's there and I can't alter it. So while this blog is endlessly being returned to for editing and tweaking, the Transience website will be pretty much untouchable.

It's always interesting how in any process, especially an artistic one, you have to let go of the grip of desired form somehow - is that the right word? - and let the conversation between materials and practicality take place, which often tends to lead to what the best thing is to do anyway.

Obvious decisions had to be recognised:
- use a smaller scale map as source for marking from
- simplify content and materials
- only use materials that attract me, and none that I think I 'should' use
- write neatly
- sort out, once and for all, the right pixel ratio (this seems to do Kate's head in as much as mine) and go with that.

So I made the map in a day, having thought about it for at least ten. I visited many possible additions to the map but in the end just added a date, and the prevailing wind direction. I was thinking of all sorts of extras, such as links out to migratory routes, but I fear it is
already far too cluttered and in a few months time I will be wanting to alter it all.

The last thing to fall into place are the titles, or rollovers which are the links to the media files. Stephen helped me with these decisions, all the photoshop and the scanning, by uploading a kind of 'what do you want it to kind of look like?' at our biggerhouse site - there's a link here. I was worrying about what the aesthetic of dymo tape says, but through Stephen's 'just do it' kind of reasoning, I realised these labels were crossing a very productive border between the hand made and the printed.

I've learnt a lot about layers.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

horse stories : orchard portman

A meeting with Tom Mayberry, from the Somerset County Records Office, famous for his knowledge of the Portman family. Tom has written a book, "Orchard and the Portmans" about this very significant family, whose Manor house was at the edge of the Neroche land near Taunton.

I wasn't so interested in the general history of the family - my focus was on two things:
firstly - how had Orchard Portman Manor, such a distinguished and architecturally defining house, come to have been so completely erased from the landscape - nothing remains of it - a tremendous 'passing through'. And secondly - how horses had fundamentally participated in the history, culture and geography of the family.

I am continually struck in Neroche - in fact all across England - by how defining the horse has been as a companion, worker, traveller, helper, competitor, vehicle and accomplice. Perhaps because of my own pony -club-pony-obsessive background, I ally horse culture with land and farming, with countryside and rural communities far more than with hunting and class structures, but of course, I acknowledge my personal history is influential here, and horse breeding, hunting and racing are all defined by wealth and land ownership.

(In a recent conversation with my friend Dan discussing hunting as a right wing class-driven activity, I questioned why it was that hunting had been banned, when to my mind all sorts of much more complicated and painful human-animal relations (shipping of live animals, vivisection for example) seemed to be equally important. He said he understood it as Labour's pay back for Thatcher taking apart the miners and the unions. And suddenly it all made sense...)

So, Tom tells a fascinating history of the Portmans, and I tell him of an earlier walk I had done to look at the site of Orchard Portman. The absence was nothing but striking - was it typhoid in the water system that they couldn't banish that precipitated such erasure? a crumbling unkempt mansion destroyed by lack of investment? an over eager estate manager bent on stone recycling? No matter - it is extraordinary that simply nothing remains. He showed me a map, I take a photograph and compare it with google earth images.

I recalled my walk there, and the bizarre conjunction between the church and the back of the racecourse that i couldn't forget - the hundred or so metres between the ancientness of the church and the presentness of the racing stables are palpable. If you're interested in gaps, in tears in the fabric of time, this is a good one.

And I also recalled something I'd heard - that at one time, you could travel the whole way between Neroche and London on Portman land.

Then some connections made between my own research and Tom's oral Portman history through the horse:

- Taunton Racecourse overlaying the site of the Orchard Portman Estate
- the Portman Hunt at Blandford Forum: Brynaston in Dorset was the other 'family seat'
- the local myth-story of the ghost of Rachel Portman galloping on a white horse on the 'old road' by Bickenhall
- and The Jockey Club was, until recently, based in Portman Square in London.

The horse is written in, inscribed into the family, into the land all the way from Neroche to London.

A link here for a general history of the Portmans (scroll down to Orchard Portman). Here for the Portman Estate in London, and here for an outline of their heritage.
Here for Taunton Racecourse. Here for the Portman Hunt.
And here for 'who owns London' - scroll down to the Portman section.

I am sure there are further connections to be eked out ... the Portman estate having to give land to the Crown for death duties - even now much of Neroche is owned by the Crown ... the galloping hooves of the Monmouth Rebellion passing through from Ilminster to the Portman estate, the pony-club-horse-culture of Neroche ... my residing memory of the Blackdown Hills Pony Club as the most courageous, the fastest in the west, their ponies were the fleetest ...

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

passing through : a cabbage leaf

a day of conversation about animals ...

an hour with brian turley at staple park woods, talking about squirrels eating trees, deer marking territory, and forestry conservation projects.

then to the RSPCA Animal Centre at West Hatch to meet up with Anita -
we talked about their work in taking in, and re-homing animals. i want to make a short video about the pets passing through the centre for the website.

it's a truly extraordinary place of course, very sobering. the predicament of domestication looks you right in the eyes, and i was continually faced with questions about what humans want from animals. after our conversation, i filmed the rabbits, brilliant in their eating.

i used to have a rabbit as a kid: the hours spent watching Pickles eat to the end of the greens. it reminded me of the woman who i talked with on the last walk, who spoke about the sound of her sheep grazing calming her nerves. this material world, being material, consuming the live and processing it, burning it into another kind of live-ing; this circulation at the heart of my body and my world, the rabbits bodies and their world.

Anita said a nice thing: usually she is too busy with her work to stop and watch the rabbit eat a leaf from start to finish. we liked the moment of concentration, of just watching.

I sought out a dynamic quote to accompany the rabbits in their material burning, and found Annie Dillard quoting the French palientologist Teilhard de Chardin in her book For The Time Being - always a good reference for the notion of the material on fire:
“Plunge into matter” Teilhard said .... “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas we live steeped in its burning layers.” so, there you go rabbits.

"Is it a kind of dream,
Floating out on the tide,
Following the river of death downstream?
Oh, is it a dream?

Bright eyes....