I recently went to see the exhibition Natural Selection, at Leeds Art Gallery (which ended on September 2nd). The show, a result of the five year collaboration between artist Andy Holden, and his ornithologist father, Peter, explored humanity’s relationship with nature, the connections between art and nature, and mankind’s need to collect and acquire the natural (in this case eggs) even if it simultaneously destroys it.
The most striking part of the exhibit was the large-scale reproduction of the nest of the Bowerbird, a structure made from a combination of natural and man-made materials, but forming an overwhelming eye or archway through which to experience space. The exhibition also featured replicas of the massive egg collection found in the home of Richard Pearson in 2006, numerous specimens of bird’s nests, and a video piece. The work challenges us to think about the way in which we look—taking work that seems immediately to do with natural history, but which opens up to encompass also social histories and aesthetics.
What I personally took the most from Natural Selection, was the many different ways in which art and life can communicate. I remembered how influential I once found the writing of Allan Kaprow, when I first encountered it, in which art could be at once a painting on a wall, as well as a message left on an answer machine. Art could be sweeping up leaves in the autumn, driving a car down a motorway, or getting dressed in the morning. As an art student working as a painter and printmaker, and struggling to justify my own work, these kinds of ideas came as a breakthrough: I could make art out of whatever I chose.
I have not made a piece of “Art” for around two and a half years, not because I do not want to make “Art”, but because it has gradually taken on a different meaning within my own life. After coming to the conclusion that I was never going to make a career out of “Art”, I have learned instead to weave it into the everyday. I don’t feel like myself if I feel that I am not being creative, and so the meaning of creativity has had to take on a different form.
Here are some of the ways I make art at the moment: cooking; knitting; writing; walking; looking at the colours of the leaves; conversations with friends; reading; eating and drinking; counting things. There are more. I have come to appreciate the smaller means through which I can feel myself to be creative, to be doing something, and thinking. I know that one day I will wake up and decide to create a drawing, or to paint, and I look forward to that day. But for now, I’ve just made cookies.