art.earth featured member: Lotte Scott
Lotte Scott’s artwork explores place, time and material.
For the last seven years her practice has focused on the peat moors of the Somerset Levels.
An interest in archaeology and local distinctiveness also informs her work.
A Long Hundred (photography Jon England)
What are you currently working on?
My current work isn’t very clear at the moment.
These last few months of Lockdown have undoubtedly shifted my practice; the global pandemic has been a time of limbo and suspension for me, as it has for so many of us. The exhibitions, symposiums and workshops that I had mapped out for 2020 have all been postponed, bringing me to a standstill for the first time since I graduated from my Masters at the Slade three years ago. With no imminent deadlines, I have been experiencing a very different kind of studio time – quiet, unfocused, unpressured, speculative.
In many ways this pause has been very timely. Since 2013 my work has focused on the peat moors of the Somerset Levels, exploring the indexical nature of peat as a living archive of people and place. My fascination with this landscape – a place of destruction and preservation, prehistoric archaeology, peat extraction and conservation – has resulted in a meandering body of work that has charted the course of my developing practice.
From melting, poured drawings made from peat pigment, charred and charcoaled wooden sculptures, archaeological relics recast in peat and beeswax, my key materials have been gathered directly from the moors. Works have often been site specific and unfixed, shifting disintegrating over time.
Now seven years into the peat moors work, I had been wondering when its trajectory would naturally level off. With my 2019 exhibition A Long Hundred – an installation in a monastic fishery building near Glastonbury – I felt I was bringing much of my recent work to a head. This sense was heightened further when I won the Gilchrist Fisher Award at the end of February (a biannual prize for artists under 30 dealing with the theme of landscape). This acknowledgement for my peat moors work was hugely affirming, making it easier to accept the subsequent disruption of the coronavirus outbreak. So, with these months of suspension there has been space and time to accept a change in the tide.
I can sense new work on the horizon, as yet unquantifiable, peripheral. Certain threads run through my practice that endure beyond the particular focus of the peat moors – my interest in trees, woodland, rural industries and traditional making processes, archaeology and local history. I have been considering new work that touches on these broader themes.
Prompted by a bursary I received for B-side festival, Portland 2020 (now postponed to 2021) I have recently been researching lime and lime burning.
Initially Portland felt quite alien in comparison to the peat moors. With almost no trees, hard rock and thin soil in place of the deep, soft peat reserves, it seemed almost the inverse of the landscape I had focused on for so long. With the prospect of creating new work for B-side, my first thoughts were of making my own lime using Portland stone.
I have worked with lime mortar once before in 2018, coating charred ash branches for a sculpture in my solo show The Fields Are Seas at OUTPOST Gallery in Norwich. The flint like piles of branches of An Alignment cracked during the course of the exhibition, the white lime mortar crumbling away to reveal the charred wood beneath. The burning of lime appeals to me in the way charcoal making does – both age old, rural processes, transforming raw earth materials using fire. As a paint, a fertilizer and building material, the lightness of lime makes for a visual counterpoint to the darkness of charcoal and peat. Both lime and peat also hold the accumulated carbon of prehistoric life forms. It feels a resonant material to be exploring.
As well as lime, recently my thoughts have also been occupied with an enormous walnut tree in my parents garden. My favorite to climb as a child, it has now grown too large for the small garden and is destined to be felled. My sense of “tree-ness” was formed by this walnut; I know it by its feel, smells, colours and sounds. Despite feeling bereft at the prospect of losing this tree, I also realize it presents me with an exciting opportunity. 60 years worth of walnut wood will become available; potentially an entire new body of work. It feels too good an opportunity to miss, material too precious not to use.
What would you say are the primary motivations for your work?
Fundamentally I think I’m searching for a sense of home, a feeling of belonging to the land. When I was 19 studying art at Goldsmiths, I began making work about Somerset in response to acute homesickness. This hunger for place, the searching for a more vivid relationship to familiar terrain, became the driving force of my practice. I focused on Somerset because it was where I had grown up, where my family were. It gave me a head start when it came to knowing something of the land and its history.
In the last 5 years I have seen this in the context of far greater, global issues. We are living in a time of ecological crisis, of profound disconnect, over consumption, destruction, loss. In the western world, “nature” is seen as separate to human life, something we observe rather than something we belong to. Considering that the term “ecology” derives from Greek meaning the “study of the home,” it is poignant to reflect on how little we know of the places we live in. As Wendell Berry puts it: “Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch.” I see my practice as a response to this cultural estrangement from the other than human world around us.
Last summer I was fortunate enough to take part in a weekend workshop at Kestle Barton in Cornwall, organised by the artist Abigail Reynolds. The workshop was titled “Estover” – a medieval term, meaning the right to take certain material from the land in order to survive. The term struck a chord with me; if fuel and fodder were historical estovers, perhaps art making could considered in this way too? I have never lived self sufficiently, I do not know what it means to be directly sustained by the land you live on. But in a spiritual sense, that is what I am seeking through my artwork – a greater equivalence and balance with the earth.
From The Moors To The Moors (detail)
The Fields Are Seas (OUTPOST Gallery)
Working Tree I
Working Tree II
Are there any particular artists / others who have had a profound effect on you?
I came to Art through a love of Photography, intrigued by my parents’ collection of photography books. When I was 14 I discovered my father’s copy of A Day Off by Tony Ray Jones – an elegiac record of the English at leisure in the 1960s. Here is a world of grey, cluttered beaches, strange makeshift pageants and earnest picnickers. May Queens huddle under umbrellas and pensioners traverse expansive Blackpool dance floors. Sandwiches are eaten in the rain, hymns are played by Salvation Army bands. No one looks at the camera. As Tony Ray-Jones wrote himself “I have tried to show the sadness and humour in a gentle madness that prevails in people.” Young as I was, I was utterly captivated.
Ray-Jones’ photographs are surreal record of a post war England on the brink of cultural change. This is an era of my parents’ childhood, a time I can only imagine, and yet something about these photographs compels me to this day.
They appeal to my nostalgic, slightly melancholic soul, my fascination with loss and interest in a past beyond my own lived experience. A Day Off inspired me to pick up a camera and for the first time I looked at the world around me with the eye of an artist – as someone standing on the outside looking in, marvelling at the strangeness, sadness, beauty and poetry of life.
My artistic ambition thus sparked, throughout my teens I spent hours hidden away in school and college darkrooms and passionately collected photography books. (I remember my friends being bemused and horrified that I had saved up £150 to buy a Bruce Davidson book when I was 16.) Throughout my early 20s photography remained my first love, and I almost studied it for my Masters (at the last moment I chose to pursue Sculpture.)
Though I use it less and less in my practice now, I’m still profoundly moved by the work of certain photographers. After finishing my BA I worked for several years at a Photographers Agency and was introduced to the work of Emmet Gowin, whose work is known for his portraits of his wife Edith and their family life in Virginia. I take great comfort in the way he writes and speaks about his work – his love of family, of the land and the planet, the value he places on artwork and the life of an artist.
“When I say a picture is like a prayer, it’s because it is offered as a place where the heart can stand, or better still, rest. It is not a call for action… It’s a call for reflection, meditation and consideration to be on a more intimate basis with the world.” (Emmet Gowin)
Gowin’s intimate images convey a sense of profound reverence for the world, which I strive for in my own work. Though distinctly different, the photographs of Tony Ray-Jones and Emmet Gowin remain touchstones for me.