Badgers, Bodies and Me

This is a post about the first two days of my residency at Hawkwood College, and what is starting to happen in terms of what I’m making, and what I’m realising about the value of this time and space for myself.

I’m mainly realising that this time of ‘not knowing’, within a rich, supportive, nurturing environment where I can walk and make and think (or not), about whatever calls me to notice it, is exactly what I had needed.

Yesterday after settling in, I went to the woods and based myself on the badger sett spoil heaps, huge mounds of orange/yellow clay dug out via deep dark tunnels opening up out of the woodland edge. I forgot my water and graphite sticks and instead used a mixture of earth and paint to respond to and record what was around me.

Working by the badger setts

Badger sett picture

In the afternoon I took another walk, down past the sculpture studios and barns, and back via the main drive, gathering baling twine, hay, a scrap of fake fur and leaves into my first Walking Bundle of the residency.

Hawkwood Walking Bundle No1

In between I ate the most tasty, colourful, hearty food I’ve had for a long time. Food cooked with care from ingredients sourced locally and ethically. And before I slept I read from Alain de Botton’s new book, The Course of Love.

Hawkwood ice cream

I also walked to the woods before it got dark to set up my camera trap where I had been working. I wanted to capture the badgers in photographs as they emerged out of their setts at night. I didn’t actually get any but will keep trying.

Breakfast at Hawkwood

This morning (after more delicious food, bought and cooked by someone else) I returned to the woods, taking a longer, different route, and a male ‘Ken’ doll, with his hair chopped off and his overly glossy featured lightly scratched.

Preparing a Ken doll

I have taken time to source male dolls to make bundles, firstly because I didn’t want to be seen to be sending a specific message about women’s bodies, but to be exploring embodied ways of knowing in general. But today it seemed obvious suddenly that the male doll’s body stood in for my body. As I walked and listened, and slipped on wet ground or scratched against holly, I wrapped and bound and covered his body in materials that I found.

body bundle in progress

Hawkwood Walking Bundle No2

The body bundle is more powerful to me because it is a male body. As a father of a boy, as a gay man, as a man whose own Dad died relatively recently, what it means to be a man is a subject that seems very relevant to my sense of identity right now. It always has been, but in a way that excluded me in the past, the dominant cultural models of masculinity have never included me. Maybe now I am building my own.

Doll hair drawings

When I got back I made some very quick sketches of male bodies with glue and the discarded doll hair. I have also begun to record my experiences of the gardens into the Walking Diary that I made in a concertina format yesterday – printing with leaves near the sewage treatment ponds (a lot nicer than they sound) and the gardens.

Walking Diary in the Orchard

Hawkwood Leaf Prints

My time here feels therapeutic. As a parent to an adopted child my time tends to focus on him, on advocating for his needs at school and elsewhere. But now it’s time to take time for myself. My time here gives me the space to explore, on an intuitive level, who I am right now, what my becoming a father and losing my own parents means for my identity, and the necessity of taking time for myself both in terms of my continuing development as an artist and my future well-being.

So, two days down and eight more to come. Lots more to share as it happens…

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