In 2000 I read about the Aral Sea (that spans Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) Disaster in a Times Supplement article. It hit me like a brick. And for 2 weeks I was living what I’d read. This experience began my interest with the Aral Sea. I subsequently learnt Russian and some Kazakh and set about trying to visit ‘the sea’. 18 months later I had secured a 10-week art residency at the Equip Trust English Centre in Shymkent, which was no-where near the Aral Sea, but it was close enough for a train journey that meant I could actually visit.
Ships in the Desert Paintings
A video of the paintings on display at Left Bank Leeds in 2020, including an interview with Mike Love.
2008 – International Plein Air, Astana, Kazakhstan, Art Residency
“I’ve seen Astana”
In 2008 I was invited by the Kazakh Government to participate in a week’s residency to celebrate the 10th birthday of their capital Astana. I was required to produce two pieces of work to go into the City’s Art Collection. I also documented the trip (including a visit to the Aral Sea) that became a piece called ‘Eternal Wide Blue Sky’. The blue is similar to that of the Kazakhstan Flag. Traditionally this represented the ‘Sky God’ a more recent interpretation is that it represents Kazakhstan’s broad skies and freedom.
2003 – Shymkent, Kazakhstan:
Being Human on Planet Earth
There is a tradition in many cultures to hang a piece of cloth onto a tree. The tree is usually located near a well and the ritual symbolises asking a blessing of the spirit of the well. Each individual will have their own motivation, be it healing, future prosperity, safety etc. it signifies an ancient tradition between humans and the land. It is a deep seated tradition in kazakhstan and many of the cultures indiginous there tie a piece of cloth or ribbon to a tree to mark significant events including a wedding, birth of a child, etc. There were many ribbon trees in Kazakhstan.
Coupled with that I took a wide red ribbon, setting my camera on it to appear like a red carpet and all the symbolism with that I created ‘paths’ of ribbon around Shymkent.
And then the ribbon became the tree. The intermingling of the preciousness of dreams, hopes and wishes. Of journeys walked and battles fought. Of cultures intertwinned, nature and human-made, suspended from the structure of an old building and all the memories that contained. These were the elements of the ribbon tree.