27 March 2011
Colin Hambrook reviews the work of Land Artist Bruce Davies which uses waste from the heathland at Holton Lee
Bruce Davies is an ideal artist for a residency in Holton Lee's fabulous 350 acres of land of special scientific interest. Looking out across Poole Harbour, the land incorporates a range of habitats supporting a stunning range of wildlife. With a background in conservation to support his practice as a Land Artist, Davies' working processes are integral to the landscape settings he works in.
Within a day of arriving at Holton Lee he had met the warden and begun to formulate ideas about using the waste furze that was in the process of being cut back. The end of February marks the end of cutting the furze, as the time for birds nesting approaches.
Traditional uses for cuttings - for example for fire, cooking and animal fodder have died out. Davies' work invents a contemporary use for the waste - as art object. Usually the waste furze needs to be burnt quickly in a controlled way to avert it creating inadvertent fires that endanger the land and the life it supports. Time was short. Bruce had to work with the warden and land management team, convince them that what he wanted to do wasn't going to impact negatively on their work or land management processes.
Negotiations over, he set to work on building a series of forms with the intention of creating something that would blend with the landscape and trigger the imagination. Working full days he soon created a series of six large circular forms out of the waste furze. Bruce's starting point for using furze stems from a work he created in 2007 in Tremenheere Sculpture Park, in Penzance called Cut Stack Burn.
Davies says: "My motivation is partly about wanting to say something about how we use energy as a society. We are so used to simply turning on a switch. Our expectation has led us to a place in which we are disconnected from practical gathering processes."
The works stand eerily in the misty brown terrain of the heath, like sentinels asking us to think about the management of the land, rather than simply created by nature. They act as reminders that the landscape is man-made. The works are formal, almost industrial. You might walk past them without questioning, in the way that the minds eye dismisses structures in the urban landscape. Interestingly, people on the estate have started referring to the sculptures as pill-boxes - structures that mirror the lands military past when it was the site of a cordite factory from the beginning of World War I until the late 1950s.
The work has strong link to the place they were built in. Another practical example of how Davies achieved this, came about through a request from the warden for him to build a piece to stop vehicle access to an unused track where forestry machinery had been coming in and out.
A body of work resulting from the residency is also on show in Holton Lee's gallery, Faith House. Here Davies presents a series of striking images of the work in the landscape, installations and other documentation from the project.
These include striking panels depicting stills taken from a film of a white stag running across the heath. Davies has also found and collected white stag hairs to create a series of paint brushes and utensils - further identifying the landscape with arts practices.
The only disability-related of all the artistic statements on show is 'Unhinged' - a series of triangular blocks of wood or 'hinges', cut from trees in the felling process. It is a neat reference to more traditional attitudes towards what does and doesn't constitute 'art'. Incongruously, the work reminded me of a North European mediavel painting of a rocky mountainscape, complete with forests growing amidst impossible crags.
The amount Davies completed as one of the Arts Council South West funded Impact programs, is remarkable. Where his work goes beyond some of the iconic Land Art of Richard Long and Robert Smithson is in referencing the cycle and history of land management. I'd be interested to know of other Land artists who have worked in such a holistic way with the land processes they are engaging with?
WASTE/LAND/PROCESS is on show at Holton Lee, near Poole, Dorset, from 19th March to 8th April 2011.