Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Mysterious Messages from Briony O Clarke


Wooden Boulder, the ground-breaking landscape ‘drawing’ by David Nash recorded a journey from the mountain slopes above Maentwrog, down into the river Dwyryd that finally carried the hunk of wood out to sea via the tidal estuary at Portmeirion. As it went its leisurely way, drawing a line through space-time, it recorded the rainfall run-off in the tributaries it travelled.

Spheres and more in the temporary artist's studio of Briony O Clarke...
It has been fifty years since The Prisoner was filmed at Portmeirion. Patrick McGoohan, as Number Six, was chased across the sandy expanse of the estuary at low tide by a wobbly white orb known as ‘Rover’. Perfect white orbs feature in the work of Briony O Clarke, who is in the final year of her low-key residency as the Village Artist. I visited in 2014, when she explained her desire to work with the land, how she wanted to devise a way to produce drawings from the swell of the sea. Last week, I was back at the historic holiday resort and popular tourist attraction to see how it has all developed. What I found was a piece of art that rivals Nash’s ‘Boulder’ for innovation and invention in the field of landscape art.

Briony O Clarke took up residence in 'Number Two's Dome'
Drawing upon her recent research experiences in Oslo, where she worked with the University’s Department of Informatics, Clarke has produced art that merges the mystical folklore of tide and time with information technology and digital data collection. In one corner of her temporary studio, situated in ‘Number Two’s Dome’, she has built the Scrying Pool, a continuous vortex of water contained within a black Perspex bowl. The swirling mini-whirlpool distorts its surroundings in ever-changing rippling reflections. It is an elegant installation that recalls the 1960s lava-lamp Rover nursery that could be seen in the circular Village Control Room. It is also part of a printing process that Clarke has developed from the ancient art of Japanese Suminagashi, where hand-ground pigments and clear oils are floated on the surface of water. Instead of laying paper onto a still surface, pages are carefully introduced into the flow, taking prints from the fluid patterns.

Scrying Pool and the Sea Fax
The culmination of Clarke’s four-year residency is Sea Fax a machine that allows the sea to send us messages of its beauty. A buoy, far out in the Atlantic, measures the levels of the tide and the rhythm of the waves, wirelessly sending this data to Clarke’s contraption, which reminds me of 2001’s Monolith, having a lie down.

Is it a modernist monument, or an understated tomb marker? A pool of water contained within this pure black, table-sized rectangle, is mechanically set in motion to reproduce the conditions out at sea from the live data it is receiving. Clarke then uses pigments ground from locally sourced stones, slate, granite and marble, to produce prints in the Suminagashi tradition. Miraculously, these automatic drawings, transmitted from the sea, often resemble the most beautiful and elegant watercolour landscapes of zen painters. The sea sends us pictures, drawn with the land itself.

Gently. Carefully. Mysteriously.

Two delicate drawings made by Briony O Clarke's Sea Fax

read a short interview with Briony O Clarke at the Portmeirion website

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