Past Online Resident Artist:

Christina (Tina) Kutter

Originally from London, I have lived on a smallholding at the edge of Bodmin Moor for the past twenty years. My multi disciplinary, experimental art practice rests in the belief that all things are connected, and my work is informed largely by my embodied encounters with local landscapes. Walking the moors, woods and coastal paths near my home / studio reveals much about our fractured relationships with the planet, the non-human and each other, and this, along with the numerous lost and discarded objects the land yields up, are frequently catalysts for making new work. I am especially curious about ways we shape, categorise, value and experience the world, and I often weave together themes of agency, movement, transformation and tensions between opposing forces with personal observations and speculative references to contemporary culture, possible futures and imagined narratives.

I am currently halfway through a two year Master’s Degree in Fine Art at Plymouth College of Art and I would like to share here some insights into my research, and thoughts about how practice and theory can drive and sustain each other.

Forth an Syns / The Saints’ Way: engagements with time and place through the lens of material culture (working title) examines land as an archive in a post truth world.

Cornwall has rich connections to Celtic history, spirit, myth, religion, mining, farming, fishing and tourism, and I am fascinated by the palimpsest of narratives held within its land. I decided to use The Saints’ Way as a starting point for my research because it would enable a coast to coast exploration of different terrains – high moors; heathland; nature reserves; lush valleys; field systems; rivers and estuaries. Walking the 30 miles (approx.) path from Padstow to Fowey I would discover handsome churches; hidden holy wells; ruined monasteries; ancient pagan monoliths, hill forts and sites like Lantyan (said to be the palace of King Mark, uncle to Tristan and husband to Iseult, the doomed lovers of Arthurian legend).

The route is named after early Christian missionaries and pilgrims who travelled from Ireland and Wales heading for the European mainland and are said to have developed an overland footpath to avoid sailing the dangerous waters around Land’s End. I buy into the mysteries and romance of such sagas but I am also conscious the Saints’ Way as we know it today is essentially a modern construct. It was established in 1986 in an attempt to reinvigorate Cornwall’s failing tourism industry, and while it clearly incorporates some very old drovers’ paths, there is no physical or historical evidence for its existence as a distinct coast to coast route. The Saints’ Way is simultaneously genuine and sham, and the core of my investigation would explore the intersection of this duality. 

Walking the Saints’ Way is an immersive activity which demands the concentrated attention of all my senses. It is no relaxing country stroll, nor do I characterise it as performance art. It is a qualitative research methodology with a protocol for interrogating my own presence in the world, and for framing questions about chance discoveries resulting from a state of heightened perceptual awareness. I walk, look, listen, take photos, make notes and videos, and I contemplate what it means both to observe and participate in a landscape. 

Climbing Helman Tor one day, I recall how in her book The Living Stones the artist Ithell Colquhoun describes the residual energy of ancient stone-worshiping rites that often remains palpable in such places. I can feel it too, although admitting it belies my secular and usually sceptical disposition. Colquhoun observes that the life of any region ultimately is determined by its geological make-up. Cornwall’s granite gives a backbone to its physical body and historically has provided the county’s greatest source of wealth. I am persistently drawn to these rocky outcrops, their abstracted forms often featuring in my collages, sculptures, prints and paintings.

I scour the beaches, the riverbanks, the ditches, the forest floors, the fences, the walls looking for unexpected, displaced things .. the detritus of daily life, and evidence of lives once lived.  Every object I unearth – a tangle of bale twine; a golf ball; a mermaid purse; a plastic toy soldier; a shard of modern terracotta plant pot – has a story, real or imagined. 

In the studio, I begin experimenting. I encapsulate some sheep’s wool in resin; make ink from rose petals; embellish wood and shells with gold leaf. I curate small compositions of objects and photograph them, and I consider the physical and conceptual properties of the different materials, their symbolic and cultural contexts, their potential to be artefacts, and how these factors might operate together to make new meaning. 

I also set about making different iterations of objects – electroforming a pheasant skull and turning it into copper; sand casting a seed pod in glass – blurring the distinctions between genuine and counterfeit by making replicas, alternative versions, transforming some items into different materials .. and sometimes into the immaterial.  I consider how I might use fragments, fictions and layers to evoke a sense of the unknowable, the unreliable and the in flux. 

In this age of misinformation, fake news, mass manipulation, deepfakes, crypto-currencies, non-fungible tokens, looming environmental and ecological collapse, and the reign of the algorithm, how are we to disentangle truth from fiction? What should we trust, believe in and value? My increasing frustration with the unsubstantiated, biased and frequently misinformation that floods our screens, politics and social discourses gradually becomes a touchstone in the gestation of my ideas. I am reminded of Damien Hirst’s controversial show ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’, 2017, which explored similar themes but on a gross, gargantuan scale. 

I find a plastic shoe sole on the muddy path one day and I remember the uncompromising maxim of walking artist Hamish Fulton to, “take no photographs and leave no footprints”. Nevertheless, I pop the sole into my rucksack and later I use it to build a footprint in clay which I then photograph and digitally manipulate. I begin to question where the art resides … is it with the objects I find, what I make out of them, or in the photographs I take afterwards? 

I revisit the work of Patrick Keiller whose films such as Robinson in Ruins mine British landscapes for features that highlight fault lines in society which he elucidates through a veil of melancholy, wry humour and a fictional character called Robinson. Drawing connections between time, place and significant cultural events, Keiller’s propositions fuse politics with poetics, simultaneously informing and prompting questions. As I realise that I aspire to achieve something similar through my own work, my project gains more forward traction. 

 

At St Breock Downs, I pan my video camera across the skyline from Men Gurta – the largest prehistoric monolith in Cornwall – to a modern wind turbine. The scene is a stark juxtaposition which deftly focuses on human agency. The Saints’ Way is suddenly now a timeline enabling me to trace the passing of the baton between the ancients and future generations. 

On Rosenannon Moor I’m searching for Bronze Age tumuli. I find them but am distracted by ‘burial mounds’ of a different kind… enormous piles of rubbish across the downs – plastic tubs; rusty car parts; broken machinery; bags of soiled knitting yarn; wood piled high as for a bonfire. Fly-tipping or farm waste I am not sure but it has clearly accumulated over a considerable time. It’s a treasure trove of materials I can plunder to work with but also an example of appalling disregard for land designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

A week after my visit (February 2020) I am horrified to discover that more than 25% of the Rosenannon Nature Reserve, over 20 hectares rich in wildlife and according to Cornwall Wildlife Trust ‘a globally important habitat’, has been destroyed in an unexplained blaze which burned so bright it was visible from my studio window eight miles away.