Getting Lost in Fields is a series of little films prompted into life by the Kick-About #6, which saw me attempting to evoke the rhapsodic sensations of being out and about with my camera in the fields of Kent during the Spring lock-down. I didn’t know there would be a fourth film – or indeed a fifth, but there’s something simple and very satisfying about combining these impressionist photographs with Kevin MacLeod’s evocative musical miniatures.
I’d be the first to acknowledge no artistic boundaries are being tested here or new cultural frontiers explored – and yet I do feel as if this is as close as I can get to taking other people with me into the nebulae of Boughton Scrub on that late September afternoon to experience the peace of it, the ruffle of the breeze, and the melancholy.
A few evenings back, the light fading quickly, we went out to visit the church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Boughton-Under-Blean, a very old church on the rise of a hill. Around it, centuries old headstones nestle into the hillside, clouds of dark seed heads floating among them. Not spooky, not melancholy, just comforting somehow and extraordinarily peaceful.
When Marcy Erb over at Illustrated Poetry offered up an actual planet for the Kick-About 11, I had an idea I knew I couldn’t achieve alone. In recent months, I’ve littered Red’s Kingdom with photographic evidence of my multiple escapes into impressionist landscapes, often characterised by the contradiction between their sensorial splendour and their utter ubiquity. Local fields, meadows and scrublands have yielded other-worldly imagery.
Much has been written by many about the ways in which the shrinking-powers of the pandemic have heightened the sights and sounds of the natural world; I’m tempted to call it the ‘Dorothy effect’ after that wonderful moment in The Wizard Of Oz when Dorothy Gale first leaves her tornado-tossed farmhouse and enters Oz for the first time, sepia giving way to the sugar rush of Technicolour.
As I write this, the UK is having its expectations managed further regarding the continuing effects of the COVID on our spheres of activity and interaction. Our respective worlds look set to shrink a little more. The idea I had – but couldn’t accomplish – was to literalise the idea that my various escapes out into the landscape had indeed been welcome journeys to other worlds. Anyway, the word ‘planet’ derives from the Greek word for ‘wanderer’; how apt, considering my own wanderings through these gauzy landscapes of vivid vegetation and gaseous colour.
But how to turn a high-resolution digital photograph of an East Kent meadow into a planet and its accompanying nebula?! Fortunately, I knew just the person to help me realise this cunning plan, VFX whiz-zkid, Deanna Crisbacher, who I had the pleasure of teaching and working alongside back when Dee was an undergraduate, and again afterwards when I roped her into a bunch of other ‘impossible things’.
My email conversation with Dee went like this:
Me: I’ve got this idea of wrapping some of my photos around some ‘planets’, so producing my own constellation of ‘strange new words’ presented similarly to the one in the prompt image… tell me if this is a thing we could do without it being too much work?
Dee: Hey Phil, sure I’m happy to play around with some alien planet-like objects! I love that sort of experimental stuff, as you know…
You have to know what I’m about to write next in no way gives credit to the hours and hours and hours of time, energy and perseverance it has taken Dee to be able to do the stuff she can do using the technology she does. When I write ‘So, Dee took my photographs and plugged them into her CGI-dream machine to produce a bunch of digital planets’, I’m explaining nothing at all about the actual process or acknowledging the breadth and depth of Dee’s skillset. Simple to say, she’s a bit of a magician (only it’s not magic, it’s knowledge and experience). Dee and I tried it a few different ways at first, with one test resulting in these rather wonderful-looking artefacts!
A few more attempts later, and Dee was able to use one of my later Boughton Scrub photographs to produce this planet (below), with the details in the image driving all the implied topology. Dee and I were very happy with this result. You’re also looking at lots of decisions around lighting and rendering – but those decisions are Dee’s; my role was just to say ‘yes!’ very delightedly when it started to look cool!
I asked Dee to grab a few screen captures from her computer when she was developing the planets. I don’t think it’s important that non-3D literate visitors understand what they’re looking at here. What’s important is understanding nothing here is happening automatically or at the hands of ‘the computer’, but rather at the hands of an artist with a very powerful tool at her disposal!
With huge thanks to Dee then, I can now present a collection of ten planets and corresponding nebulae, all of which originate directly from photographs taken while I wandered through the fields and meadows of the ‘new normal’.
By way of a preface to this week’s Kick-About, some info courtesy of Judy Watson: “TRAPPIST-1e is one of the most potentially habitable exoplanets discovered so far. Your descendants may be living there one day. It is similar to the size of Earth and closely orbits a dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1 which is not as hot or bright as our sun. One side of TRAPPIST-1e faces permanently towards its host star, so the other side is in perpetual darkness. But apparently the best real estate would be the sliver of space between the eternally light and the eternally dark sides – the terminator line where temperatures may even be a cosy 0 °C (32 °F).”
“I started painting some plants for this new world, and I imagined that they would all be turning towards the dim light of their star. So I made a world where everything was evolved to point in one direction only, sucking up the warmth, the light, the energy; a single-minded yearning, shared by every living thing on the planet. It made me ponder on humankind’s perpetual yearning, which leads us to disaster over long roads and short. If only we could all focus as readily on the majesty and wonder of the world that we already inhabit. There was nothing I could paint for this new world that could rival the natural wonders in the one we already have. I made the new inhabitants – refugees from Earth – look on in wonder. And then, because of their pose, looking upwards within the vivid setting, it put me in mind of a propaganda poster. which made me laugh.”
“I was really inspired by Olafur Eliasson, in particular his exhibition – The Weather Project. I imagine a planet vibrating with orange hues against cool tones, with piercing shadows, and the ground of this planet cracking and buckling”
“This planet is something which I had never heard about before, and I was inspired to do some machine embroidery which loosely shows the arrangement of the orbits of the planets around Trappist. I layered various different materials on top of each other then added different textures for the planets b to h, using a zig-zag stitch around them. In the centre I put an origami star for Trappist itself. The fun bit is when you have finished stitching and you can slash away with your scissors. You never quite know what it will turn out like.”
Come take a trip to Trappis-1e Ages 50 plus go free! Don’t be put off by the distance We’ve everything for your assistance. There’s luxury slumber pods and sleep swings You’ll never feel the slightest thing. 40 light years may seem a while, But our Dreamland films will make you smile! You can download your happiest memories Whilst we ferry you along at lightening speeds. So don’t delay, and book your seat – Our on-board menu’s a real treat! We have masseurs and therapists while you snooze You can become anyone you choose! No covid quarantine when you alight So just relax and enjoy the flight!
“For this Kick-About, I returned to making monoprints in the same vein as I did for the Alice Neel prompt from the Kick-About #5. I wanted something spontaneous and bursting with energy. I sat down and calculated how many Trappist-1e years I would be now and it was humbling to say the least: I am 2,307 Trappist-1e years old. The other two numbers represent my Earth ages: 38 years old, having spent 14,072 days orbiting our star. We don’t actually know what Trappist-1e looks like (the picture in the prompt is an artist’s rendering), so I let my imagination run wild making planets on the inking plate.“
“As I write this, the UK is having its expectations managed regarding the continuing effects of the pandemic. Our worlds will continue to shrink a little more. I’ve been going ‘off-world’ for months now, journeying into largely uninhabited terrains to breathe lungfuls of fresh air, and go exploring. The word ‘planet’ derives from the Greek word for ‘wanderer’ – how apt, I thought, considering my wanderings through these ordinary/extraordinary landscapes. This prompted an idea I couldn’t execute by myself; what if I could literally turn some of these havens into actual planets? More than this, given the gauzy, impressionism of many of the images – and the suspensions of gaseous colour – what if I could transform these earthly/unearthly spaces into nebulas? Fortunately, I knew just the person to help me realise this plan, VFX whizzkid, Deanna Crisbacher, who took my photograph below and ‘plugged it into’ her CGI-dream machine, and used it to generate an all-new planet and its accompanying nebula!”
“What a topic change! From all those lovely intimate pieces, to Trappist 1e! So it’s earth like and travels around a red dwarf (yellow or white in color) and what would humankind’s motivations be if we eventually reached it. Would we want to mine it or farm it? Would we decimate any possible indigenous occupants – how much respect do we have for our own little world. So I realized I needed to add a narrative to protect the indigenes and planet. What if the indigenes fed on greed and hatred? That’s where I went in and left it. Would this be good or bad for humankind – would the indigenes farm humans? Could this be interplanetary heaven or hell? Stay tuned…”
“Marcy Erb’s prompt for the Kick-About #11 was the planet Trappist 1e, an earth-sized planet orbiting the Trappist-1 dwarf star 40 light years from Earth. What makes it special? Scientists believe it is potentially habitable. But not the entire planet–“there would be only a sliver of habitability”–as the planet does not itself rotate–one side is always facing towards the sun, and the other side is always in darkness. The habitable area is called the teminator line, or in more familiar terms, the twilight zone, as it is always stranded between the darkness and the light. The idea of a sliver of habitability seems relevant to the current situation on earth–the balance of the ecosystem is delicate, and we are narrowing that sliver day by day. My two mandalas represent my idea of Trappist 1e and the waves of exploration and communication we are sending out in the hopes of finding another blue and green island in the vast dark cosmic sea.”
life spills out into uncontrolled spaces—still mystery, still yearning for parallel growth, revelation—
who and where do we think we are? tiny ex plosions look ing for intersecting lines that collide and cross,
waving brains tides hands energy electric magnetic– mapping the unseen with disturbances,
promises of what could have been– had light years been compressed into overlapping sounds—each a mirrored reply
“In a cramped concrete room, a man covers his head. A window, high up, frames the Milky Way. Ink black. When we look up at a clear blue cloudless sky it’s almost impossible to imagine infinity and darkness beyond, or the space debris circling our planet, or the other orbs in our solar system, or pieces of rock the size of our house hurtling towards us, or even other worlds light years away that possibly, just possibly might spawn life forms as ours has…because, despite the clearest of images beamed across space/time it remains an abstraction… a concept… slippery and seductive…an escape.
We’re in the middle of a voracious pandemic, our lives restricted, so in many ways, we are all Trappists now…facing the back alley of our own thoughts and imagination and that is where we travel….beyond the walls of our homes to faraway places that might or might not exist and within these lie dark corners unknown and unpredictable..both in real space and the “space” in our heads.
Arundhati Roy reflects that ‘the pandemic is a portal between one world and another…an invitation for humans to imagine a better place…‘ A Trappist 1e of the mind.“
Ink on board and stone. “Hidden in plain sight”
Toned & hand printed photograph
“At a time when our world seems to have shrunk to the four walls of home, it can seem difficult to envision the exploration of a whole new planet. I decided to crochet my own “new planet” and incorporate into it all the swamps and mountains, deserts and polar wastes that were the early building bricks of imagination for those of us who grew up with Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and the original series of Star Trek. When you can’t explore the world, create a new world to explore. It may not be art – but it was damn good fun!
(NB – I have been reminded that some say the Creator made the world in 6 days and on the 7th he rested. Well, if he’d been crocheting, it would have taken him/her/it longer than 6 days! And I don’t suppose they had anyone leaning over their shoulder asking “What’s that bit supposed to be, exactly?”).
I’m really getting into this free-form crochet! Who knows what could be next? Robby the Robot perhaps, or the space-time continuum…”
“An utter flight of fancy on a classic theme – I have started to get the feeling that my studio is like a portal, a kind of feminine creative principle. These subjects, from an unknown place, have materialised. I have no idea what they are capable of!”
From an artist’s impression of a real world celestial body, the Kick-About #12 focuses our attention on a celebrated example of artists’ impressions of fake celestial bodies – the Cottingley fairies and the photographs that fooled the world. Thanks to regular kick-abouter, Marion Raper for our next creative prompt! Have fun and see you all here again soon.
Swirling nebulas of fluff, improbable stratas of colour, and a blousy imprecision of detail… You could almost be immersed in cloudy, bubble-filled water in some of these images from Boughton Scrub’s September show.
My last visit to Boughton Scrub was back in July, and it was a riot of Summer froth and cockerel colours. Yesterday evening, with the sun already setting, this same stretch of unbothered grassland presented much softer effects, white balls of fluff from the still-flowering field of blue-lilac Phacelia tanacetifolia puffing past me like snowflakes. The breeze was very cool and strong, so at no point were the swathes of grass, thistle and rumex perpendicular or still. Everything everywhere billowed, producing dabs of pastel smoke and throwing up welcome daubs of gold from rogue sunflowers nodding in the wind. Again, the range of colour, texture and movement in this one small patch of ground was astonishing. More images to follow over the coming days.
The film series Getting Lost In Fields began as a response to this Kick-About prompt, in which I challenged myself to use my numerous photographs of local fields, pastures and scrubland as the basis for some moving image work. Really, I wanted to seek to share my feelings about these landscapes, what it was like to walk within them and how it felt to encounter all this beauty. Since then, I’ve been back to Knave’s Ash, where the parched hay meadow had been rendered in golds, coppers and chalk by the late Summer heat.
I find there is always something rather melancholy about August. It is the beginning of the end of things. In approaching this fourth little film, I very much had the idea of an elegy in mind.
At one end of this dry, brittle field, all the stiff congregations of desiccated rumex spires made me think of ermine, or of leopard moths, or the streaking on tulip petals, and always brush work, as if someone has been using the tip of a very dry brush to lift these late Summer vistas with a few licks of stronger colour.
More photographs from the flaxen, tinder-dry periphery of Knave’s Ash, where layer-upon-layer of fine filaments hold the late afternoon light at their tips and everything is crisp under my flip-flops, but soft on the eye.