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Sue Bull

Artist

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WEATHERING
2014-2021

def: 'To wear away or change the appearance or texture of something by long exposure to the atmosphere.'

I initially started taking photos of the Boatsheds at Lindisfarne Harbour in 2014, returning in 2018 and 2021. I was drawn to document the practice of using old herring boats, repurposed for the land. Upside down they have become fishermen's sheds wrapped in the sails that once caught the wind and powered them across the waves, battened down and coated with black tar to make them weather proof.


Nonetheless, the weathering process is relentless - rain, gales, winter storms and baking sun over a century have gradually worn away the protective layers of fabric and pitch. Constant exposure to the elements has decayed and eroded the canvas coverings and reached the boats beneath. Torn and peeling they drape on the sides of the hulls like seaweed, exposing the wooden skeletons. planks have warped and split, polished smooth by pounding wind and bleached by the sun. Nails and fastenings have rusted and disintegrated. Ropes and stitches once holding sails together have frayed and disappeared revealing ancient layers of patching, shredded and flapping in the breeze.

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Motivation for my research came from concepts of change and transience, and the effects of a constant random process on the properties of materials over a period of time, as well as the Japanese Gutai art movement that was inspired by a 'fascination with the beauty that arises when things become damaged or decayed. This process is celebrated as a way of revealing the inner life of a material or object.' (Yoshihara, 1956).


On refection, these concepts seem to take for granted the fact that this transformation will happen naturally, gradually and predictably... it always has. Over the last seven years my awareness has shifted, looking at my photographs now as a work in progress, my observations provoke a different response in me. What if the process I was focused on was distorted to the extent where the same elemental powers at work on the planet became overwhelmingly destructive, causing catastrophic damage, changing all our lives beyond recognition? The usual becomes the unusual, the escalation becomes unstoppable and the predictable becomes unpredictable. Our traditional sense of power over the planet evaporates, leaving us fragile and vulnerable, in need of protection - hard to process.

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Seven years later, my focus on details of weathering mean my observations now have massive implications for my own eco-awareness - a microcosm of processes symbolises and becomes a macrocosm.


Embracing the inevitability of manmade climate crisis is almost a relief. Taking action to raise awareness has to be a collective process, channelling the energy of fear and panic into informed debate and engagement on all levels. Artists can and must play a pivotal role in this collective discourse, helping to focus attention on creative ways to inform and challenge current behaviours, ultimately contributing to facilitating the urgent change in political will needed to drive action, before it's too late.

Curator Mark Godfrey, in examining the work of Olafur Eliasson, describes how artists can make us 'aware of a connection between an experience that might take place in a gallery and the way it might affect behaviour when you leave that gallery in relation to the world around you'. (Tate, undated).


An alternative definition of my title 'Weathering' would be 'to withstand or survive a difficulty or danger'.

There is no choice, we have to learn to do just that. 

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Sketchbook page outlining my proposal for Gallery Installation: In a darkened area, the photographs will be projected onto large, fragile 'sails' made from pieces of recycled tissue paper packaging approx 2mts x3mts, These could be suspended from the ceiling or against a wall. A floor based fan will produce a current of air to create movement.

References

• Jiro Yoshihara, ‘Gutai Manifesto’, 1956.

• Tate (undated) How Eliasson is changing our perceptions. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/olafur-eliasson-5239/yes-but-why-olafur-eliasson (Accessed: 6 January 2021)