Walking the path along the Stour which is the subject of this exhibition, one cannot but succumb to two opposing, or perhaps dissonant, experiences. The first is that of a child, trying to discover and point loudly and excitedly at the original viewpoints of the photographs. The second is that of the seasoned human, observing that the dreamy landscape of those images is in fact surrounded by much man-made and invasive manipulation. This would have been of course very obvious even decades ago, with the railway line now transformed into the Valley Line path, but it is now most visible in all its harshness as one leaves the idyllic setting of the Mill Tye pond to be confronted by the barrenness of residential “riverside” developments and the proliferation of the “Private” sign. Terry says in one of his rhymes: “I own the Stour / in the same way it owns me; / making possessions obsolete.” Walking the path, at least in parts, confronts us with what we have done, and are always doing, to the landscape. But also, it confronts us with the understanding that a landscape is itself alive and not actually fixed as it would seem – or as we would foolishly like to think of – in the photographs. And so, the encounter of Terry’s ethereal images and the landscape they portray does not make possession obsolete but presents us with the possibility of another kind of, and a kinder, possession.
Possession is of course also at the (hidden) core of a commercial art exhibition. The artist’s signature, the price list, the beautiful framing are often considerations that weigh so much on the artist and yet also often elude the visitors even if they are talking specifically to them and to invite possession. And so, on a superficial level, as one notices some of the same images framed in different sizes and with different price ranges, one could be fooled into thinking that this is purely driven by saleability. And yet it is exactly here that one can start to penetrate into the intricacies of this project. The larger images draw us in, begging for our nose to nearly touch the glass and to be absorbed in all its macro details. Unexpectedly and uncannily, the smaller versions require of us the respect of a wider distance and the ability to look deeper and harder.
As a result of Terry’s profound appreciation of physical materials and research into printing papers and of his understanding of the light on the river’s edge, both larger and smaller images are often saturated and overexposed, a stark reminder of our daily human condition. Often framed and cropped just at the water’s edge, one needs to search in the reflection – normally the repository for blurred confusion – for crispness. Once we have discovered these same images, we are invited to move back and forth from larger to smaller versions, and to look beyond the surface for clarity of thought and of being.
Beyond Surface then is not just a title. It is both an adage and a rallying cry. The art here goes beyond any of the individual media of photography, writing, landscape and book art: it is strong because it is liminal, not technical but experiential. Its liminality encourages a way of being that opens up visions and boundaries: to look beyond and, by default, to be beyond and to transcend our horizons.
Interestingly, on this note, Terry mentioned that having access to such a large space made him think about his work in a different way. I would argue that the work could have benefited from at least double the space. It would have made it more difficult, but certainly more rewarding, for the viewer to encounter similar images and to persevere with the meandering of thought and viewing through the empty space. Such space is often called “negative” as if what breaks it is most important. But it is in fact exactly this space, or emptiness of images, that enables the work to be what it is. In a similar way, Terry says in one of his reflections about the show that he thought he had brought out the silence of the location. The idea of silence is just like that of “negative” space, and in fact there is no silence, or emptiness of sound, in the location, if one is willing to just listen.
For me, what suffered from the lack of thinking space was the artist’s books. They are, in their succinct matter and materiality, so at the core of Terry’s liminal practice, and it would have helped the less experienced viewer to understand the complexity of such a mixed medium and to position them as artworks in their own right rather than to accompany the photography, their presence hindered by the clutter of cards, reviews and price lists. The one item that did not suffer from such fate is perhaps my favourite in the whole exhibition: an inconspicuous, untitled and unpriced concertina of paper and twigs, with a whole window as a frame, bearing the signature I have learnt to treasure over so many years of tuition of a human simply asking for the viewer to walk, just for a moment, in his shoes to see what he sees the way he sees it.
And so, the more one looks at the photographs the more one finds how they share familiar elements: a particular set of trees, a bend in the river. This is an invitation to understand that knowledge is not always pursued through quantity, newness or variety of viewing, but through the quality of an always renewed viewing, taking in the old as if it was always new through different view-points and perspectives. Knowledge is to be sought through the capacity of endurance of the relationship between the viewer and the viewed. Because it is a relationship we are talking about, and not a one-way subject-object system, and one where both viewer and viewed are always the same and yet always changing. The river watches us as much as we watch it, both in constant flux and flow, without a fixed point. Knowledge cannot be sought without an appreciation of the strength that can come from such a mutually vulnerable state. In The Living Mountain, a book that Terry taught me to love, Nan Shepherd says of her relationship with her mountains that “to glimpse an unfamiliar (vision), even for a moment, unmakes, but steadies us again. It’s queer but invigorating.”
Terry abides to the creed that to notice the overlooked is an act of love. I would add that it is even more an act of love to continue to notice even when what we once overlooked has become familiar. To quote Nan Shepherd again: “Knowledge does not dispel mystery.
... Knowing another is endless. ... The thing to be known grows with the knowing.”
Lieta Marziali, August 2022
If you have been inspired by this blog, Terry Flower will be running a workshop on Tuesday 8th August, approximately 3 hours in duration. Book your place on our courses page. BOOK
Time-out, responding to landscape.
Tuesday 8 August 2023 - Morning session.
A talk and workshop to create a small handmade book under the guidance of Terry Flower. Approximately 3 hours in duration.
Cost: £48 per person. Includes light refreshments Please note: Sketchbooks and paper will be provided but students are asked to bring their own colouring pencils.