My first research artist was Keith Arnatt and I have found his work quite inspiring for my own Square Mile.
Am particularly fascinated by his walking the dog and gardener series – for photographing the subject in their environment and showing the connection between the two. Taking the subject Arnatt was fascinated with works of art that are created in the natural landscape but leave no trace of their presence behind. This is a big take away for me – one that has inspired my choosing to document birds in their natural surroundings – as to me birds also have an absolutely similar and simple outlook and behaviour pattern. They take away the discards and recycle, reuse and build their nests from them. When their young ones fly out, the landscape is unharmed and stays as beautiful as before with no traces of them being present ever.
‘The words “reductivism” and “dematerialisation” seem, to me, to be used in a way of talking which reflects the idea that certain ingredients in art may outlive their usefulness (in art) and are therefore discarded (whilst more is made of the remaining ingredients and/or new ones are added).’ This seems to have a more serious learning in today’s time – We have caused such massive destruction of our planet that I am tempted to look at Arnatt’s reference to “reductivism” and “dematerialisation” in present day’s context. To me it these two word reverberates the essence of what is needed today urgently – this lockdown has to awaken the human soul in more ways than one – the unnecessary accumulation of things and the greed of human want of always acquiring more and more has led us to the present state – what do we need for survival and how simple life really is – two pertinent questions that seem to be screaming at us now that we are confined to our homes.
His reasons for doing a certain work was not only restricted to bring forth his message across but also the fact that it will be interpreted in a different manner by different people. It seemed radical, unusual, created a sense of illusion. What was striking about the ‘Self-burial’ series was the impact and instant drawing of a viewer into it – the way it was televised also added to the mystery of it. Observing the series, a viewer questioned it, was intrigued by it and had an opinion about it. That to me means the photographic series was a success, an image that draws an audience into it – extreme, arts made by radical means, novel – all adding to it. Anything that makes an audience think is a successful series.
‘It was, perhaps the character of the behaviour that concerned me rather than its possible interpretation (something which did interest me immediately afterwards).’ I relate to this statement while attempting my own work. I have had some great insights while studying the behaviour pattern of my subject for hours on end every day and while my work would be open to various interpretations, ranging from aesthetic appeal to forcing one to look beyond themselves, it must bring forth some soul-searching for sure.
Arnatt’s visionary work stands so true in today’s time – when humans need to learn a lot more from his ‘Self-burial’ than perhaps he must have anticipated. His Self-burial to me has many interpretations – of a dying world – of humans hastening their own extinction at a rapid pace. I am going to bring forth this in my own work – to make humans realise that its not all about them. Their greed and wants must end or contain at some point. We have to stop thinking of ourselves as a race that is supreme. Because at the end of it, we really are one of the only species that are indispensable. The planet will only flourish if humans disappear. Food for thought?
“And I’ve been thinking: if the human race manages to destroy itself, as it often seems to want to do, or if some great disaster comes, as it did for the dinosaurs, then the birds will still manage to survive. When our gardens and fields and farms and woods have turned wild, when the park at the end of Falconer Road has turned into a wilderness, when our cities are in ruins, the birds will go on flying and singing and making their nests and laying their eggs and raising their young. It could be that the birds will exist forever and forever until the earth itself comes to an end, no matter what might happen to the other creatures. They’ll sing until the end of time. So here’s my thought: If there is a God, could it be that He’s chosen the birds to speak for Him. Could it be true? The voice of God speaks through the beaks of birds.”
|| David Almond
Key points and learnings from Arnatt’s works-
Fig 1 Arnatt, K. Tate (1969) Keith Arnatt 1930–2008 | Tate [Photograph] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/keith-arnatt-666 (Accessed 12/4/2020).
Arnatt, K. (2015) Arnatt, Keith – Liverpool Beach Burial 1968 – With Reference To Death. At: http://withreferencetodeath.philippocock.net/blog/arnatt-keith-liverpool-beach-burial-1968/ (Accessed 14/4/2020).
Tate (2020) Keith Arnatt 1930–2008 | Tate. At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/keith-arnatt-666 (Accessed 14/4/2020).