“Ok” I said “I will come – provided it isn’t raining.” Even as I said it, I thought it was rather a mean-spirited reaction. I had already had to recognise that I am something of a fair weather sailor, not relishing going out in force 7 winds or when it is cold or rainy, or come to that when the waves are quite big – or fog; I don’t like fog either. It turns out I am also fair weather artist. The invitation was from Sharon Haward, one of the tutors at Hastings College, to wear black, come along at 10.30 on Saturday and stand motionless for an hour in a field in the Romney Marshes and in so doing become a work of art.
I was not entirely convinced I would enjoy the standing; I had enough of that in the days when I used to commute and sometimes couldn’t get a seat till High Brooms. That was only 40 minute. But I had seen photographs of previous events that Sharon had organised and they looked interesting, particularly the Critical Mess which was a response to the Gormley Exhibition in Bexhill in 2010.
Add to all that was the fact I had never been a work of art before, then Jules, who also is also on the Fine Art Contemporary Practice course at Hastings said she was up for it, and so it was that with the sun shining, so no excuses on that score, we set off at 9.30 on a journey that according to Google Directions should only take half an hour which gave us half an hour to get lost. Should be plenty we thought.
Now artists are generally not known for there organisational skills or indeed their punctuality. It would have been better perhaps if either of us had checked the map a little more carefully – though Jules had at least thought to print off a map. Looked simple we both thought – along a road, look for the sign to the cafe and then turn left – or was it right? We were to meet in a field with a church. No problems. Except that we started talking and the countryside was wonderful and there were lots of sheep and we suddenly realised we were in the wrong place.
Never mind, an unnecessary detour to Appledore was pleasant and we saw the Royal Military Canal, so we retraced our route and were back at Rye again. ‘We would only be about ten minutes late’, we thought ‘should be fine – seminars at college always started about ten minutes late’. So we drove up and down the A259 looking for a sign to a cafe. There was one but no obvious turning to either the right or to the left I then remembered the Tomtom.
” I can’t believe you have a Tomtom” Jules said sounding only slightly exasperated. I tried to explain that that was because Tom and I didn’t generally get on that well. Not only did we usually disagree about the route but then he would retaliate by saying in a plonking voice, “you have reached your destination,” when quite clearly I hadn’t. Nonetheless we turned him on; predictably he counseled a uturn and took us back to the café we had seen earlier. Still no sign of a turning to right or to left. We asked in very nice farm shop for directions and amazingly somebody knew and explained that the cafe sign near the shop had only been up a week and we should go back three miles down the road. So we turned the protesting Tom off and found, 100 yards from where we had given up, another cafe sign, this time with a turning to the left. After only one more wrong turning and 40 minutes late we found them. There across the fields was the church and standing motionless in a row without us were nine figures in black.
They looked stunning – part of the landscape and almost as if they had been there centuries. “We can’t sneak up and stand at the end,” Jules said and so we watched them. Then finally they relaxed; it was time for a break and we were able to join the row. Two other people turned up so we weren’t even the last. It underlined the problem that Sharon has when working with people. If you are a painter or a sculptor, the paint or the stone or the clay may not always turn out as you would like but at least it doesn’t moan that the weather is too bad to take part or turn up 45 minutes late.
But late or not, we had got there in the end and standing in the row felt extraordinary. It was hard not to sway with the wind. It was nothing like standing on the 17.59 from Charing Cross. It was warm; it was engrossing; I noticed things I would not normally think about; my arms at my side, the feeling of the blood in my finger tips, the sound of the wind, thistle down, a small bird swooping, buttercups, the rushes. Keeping my head in one place, my peripheral vision became more important. I was aware of Jules standing next to me, also slightly swaying, of another bird, of vapour trails in the sky.
Sharon is a co-founder of Runway which she describes as artists without studios who work together in site-specific ways in order to bring people together to contemplate the environment and create a sense of communal activity and to question the relationships between people, places, architecture and history. Afterwards I asked her what she felt the point of today had been. “Different projects have different points,” she said. “This was called ‘No time to stop and stare’ and was about taking the time to notice things.” I reflected that it had certainly worked for me; my mother would approve; the poem by W.H. Davies had been a favourite of hers.
Photographs of the event will be shown at the School Creative Centre during their open studios in October 2012.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.