Visual resonance - No horizons
Ashworth’s creations are governed by the principles of the elementary.
The original subject that is imitated can exist in the real world but not always as the artist has rendered it. That is the case with these landscapes. On first sight, they seem like superfluous and duplicated screens of the existing world in a mirror image. Images seem to be just stereo typical mirrors of known screens. But on closer examination and when place together in a body or work, they are in fact representations of the artists own conceptual ideology of what the screen is, cropped and manipulated in the camera and in post production to evoke a double response from the viewer.
There are valid and compelling motives to do so. From a temporal point of view, the real world, especially the landscape is transient, and therefore begs to be fixed forever. From a spatial point of view, every perception is bound to a certain time and place: wherein lays the pleasure to have a photo of your beloved when you are traveling, or to discover exotic places while sitting in your lazy chair flipping through a book at home.
These landscapes are musical representations of the visual resonance that is inherent in the natural environment. If the viewer is inclined to look beyond the surface and not just glance at them, their true beauty unveils itself in a crescendo of shades of gray.
The raw elements of naturue are Barry Ashworth's subjects in this series. Ashworth processes these ‘raw sceens’ in the literal sense of the word: sceens as they are found in nature to produce works that seem in a way other worldly - as with Cartier Bresson, capturing the decisive moment - the perfect place and time. That has certainly been, in primeval times, the starting point of human production as such. But gradually nature itself came to be processed before being subject to further manipulation. No longer the fleece of the sheep is washed and cut: it is the wool that is sheared, combed, spun before entering the fabric as a thread. The same goes for trees, that are sawn up into planks before being transformed into a piece of furniture; for the grain, that after having been submitted to cultural selection is previously ground to flour before being baked into bread; for the clay that is previously moulded into the shape of bricks and baked before entering the masonry. Not so with Ashworth: his colours or most time the lack of them are not just squeezed out of a tube. They are found materials, shades of gray that are often overlooked in our all to segmented social structures.
In most cases Ashworth restricts himself to the selecting, displacing or rearranging of trees, clouds, and objects against strong horizons.
And equally minimal is, finally, Ashworth's composition. He replaces the variegated chaos of leaves in the forest or pebbles on the beach with a progression from one colour to another, from light to dark, from big to small. He replaces sticks fallen at random on the ground with a circle, or a line. What is laying down on the earth - the ultimate fate of everything susceptible to gravity - Ashworth's piles up to cones, towers, or even arcs, domes and eggs struggling against gravity. Sometimes the same effect is obtained through a mere shift of the direction in which nature had shaped its materials: icicles pointing vertically in the skies or protruding horizontally from a rock face – or turning around themselves in a spiral.
Thus contrasted as found versus created order, Ashworth's's creations profile themselves as artificial figures against a natural background. But the new order is not unnatural as such, it is so only in the given context. Lines, cracks, meanders, spirals, concentric forms or chessboard patterns, star-shapes, spheres and eggs: these are all compositions that can be found in nature, but applied to other materials in other contexts. Ashworth himself reminds us of that when his composition explicitly refers to other natural phenomena: as when he imposes the spiral-shape of the nautilus shell on leaves.
Sometimes Ashworth’s composition is so deceptively natural that we might inadvertently pass it by. That it has been photographed, makes us suspect that there is something to be seen: a mere horizon line running right through a whole series of images, alone maybe seen as superfluous until viewed together as a body of work. Only then do we realise that the supposedly natural line is in fact a composition borrowed from nature and imposed upon a series of broken horizons.
In all cases, he realises a maximal effect, precisely by refraining from isolating his creations from their natural soil. Precisely the untouched virginity of the environment makes the creation visible as a disturbance. That is why nature is not only the provider of the subject and the raw material but foremost the natural biotope of Ashworth’s creations. Even though the images are transported into an artificial environment, they don't their charms. In this sense his creations remain bound to nature by an indissoluble tie.
And that brings us to the meaning of such creation. Ashworth is not out to mearly make authentic reproductions of the subjects he photographs, let alone an image that should please for its sole beauty. He wants rather to embody the beauty of the act of creation in an exemplary intervention. That is why the often irresistible charm of his work does not derive from the final result, but from the beauty of its creation, the deed to which its owes its existence and that remains visible in the end product. This kind of creation strikes the all too often disturbed chord of harmony with nature: man is allowed to intervene, to bend to his will, even to disturb, but not to rape, let alone to saw off the branch of the tree on which he is sitting. The technical beauty of Ashworth’s work can be read as a tacit criticism on the industrial and post-industrial way of production and living. Ashworth’s silent criticism is all the more charming since it speaks through the work itself and is not added to it through some merely external symbolism.
The beauty of elementary forms
We would do no justice to Ashworth's work when we would reduce it to an embodiment of a harmonious relation to nature. Next to the pleasure in technical beauty, there is the pleasure in the beauty of the forms that are created through such harmonious creation. Of old, man has shown a predilection for forms endowed with a transparent structure: that is what is so charming about straight, curved or broken lines, circles, crosses or chessboards and geometrical patterns in two or three dimensions. As when in the centre of a concentric form there appears a dark hole. Which fascinates, not only because it reminds of the pupil of the eye that already always stole our attention, but also because, of any hole, we want to know what it hides – a curiousness that often is accompanied by fear for whatever might show up: hence the aura of mystery hovering over Ashworth's’s holes and concentric structures. Sometimes he soothes the anxious tension through filling it in: in the hole an object in the form of a spiral is coiling like a caterpillar in its cocoon, or a tree comes to protrude from it, or a rocky point is poking out of it.
The formal beauty of a concentric form as well as the emotional freight of an encircled hole do not differ from the effect of similar phenomena in nature. The only difference is to be found in the maker: nature or man.
But in some of his works, Ashworth is doing more than merely creating a new reality parallel to nature. Now and then, it is as if he tries to imitate an already existing reality: as when a three-dimensional spiral reminds of a nautilus shell. Or when concentrically woven sticks remind us of a birds nest or an eye. Or when sticks with burned tops are arranged in the shape of a cone, and then remind us of a volcano. Or when a fringe of red shining leaves on black boulders remind us of burning rocks. Or when mandrels remind us of eyes, mouths or vaginas. Or when the crack in a row of broken pebbles remind us of the cracks in dry clay. There are also more ambivalent cases where the ‘reminding of’ is rather a re-creation. As when amidst some real rocks one single rock is enveloped in weather-beaten branches, sun-bleached bones or pieces of bark.
Such ‘reminding of’ is mimesis* in statu nascendi. It differs from completed mimesis* in that we only are ‘reminded of’ something else. We never have the impression of seeing something else as what there is to be seen. It was not Ashworth’s intention to evoke a birds nest, bur rather to realise around the hole in the roots of a knotty tree the concentric shape for which it seemed to ask.
Where such quasi-mimetic dimension joins technical beauty and its critical-utopian dimension, as well as the formal beauty of the form and its emotional freight, a tension is created between the multiple layers of the work, that cannot but contribute to a deeper resonance of the whole.
Ashworth’s work is only conceivable against the background of the development of art in the twentieth century art. It has no roots whatever in the history of design.
To begin with, there is a certain relation with the Duchamp’s ‘ready mades’, or rather: with the ‘objets trouvés’ of surrealism. That is why we talked about ‘found materials’, ‘found techniques’ and ‘found processing’ in the above.
Next, Ashworth’s work is unthinkable without the so called ‘land-art’ which flourished in the seventies. As an offshoot of the happenings and the performances of the sixties, this movement represented a particular version of the ‘dissolving of art into life’: the replacement of conjuring up an imaginary world through real transformation of the real world – in this case: nature. It suffices to refer to the works of Richard Long, who equally limited himself to minimal interventions in the landscape and whose works equally became popular through equally popular books. At the roots of land-art lies the anti-capitalistic gesture of those who were no longer prepared to submit to the logic of the market. It was their intention to free art from the ‘art shops’: the galleries. One of the places where art was to be accommodated was nature, where it would be freely accessible to everyone – and where everyone could create it as well. The descent from land-art equally explains why Ashworth's is deliberately out at creating ephemeral works – exemplary in the use of withering flowers or melting snow. The predilection for transience is one of the variants of the mimetic taboo: the reluctance to make enduring works of art – with the concomitant obligation to measure up to the great masters, who, precisely because their works are enduring, continue to project their castrating shadows far into the future. Both strivings inherited from land-art were doomed to failure. It soon became apparent that land-art was not accessible at all. And it surely would have been a pity to deliver such marvelous creations as Ashworth's's icicles to decay. That is why the anti-capitalistic and anti-mimetic land-art was fixed on photographs or videos and sold at a bargain. Albeit not in the gallery, but in the bookshop.