MerzBarn - Ambleside 2016



Angela drawing (photograph thanks Mark Backhouse)




In March 2016 Angela spent three days at Kurt Schwitters's final Merzbarn in Ambleside.




The plan was to test some ideas about cyanotype printing using natural UV for exposing and naturally occurring water for developing.





Cyanotype of found fern developed in tea overnight



Angela's merzbarn dairy day one 



Painting the town blue

Raining....doesn't look hopeful for making cyanotypes. Brought some precoated pages in anticipation of making cyanos using the ambient UV in the daylight and exposing natural 'things' onto the papers. Only problem is there's very little in the way of daylight and it's very wet which will stop the process if it touches the paper.

Thought number one: Print the raindrops onto the paper?  

Anyway, I've given it a go. Put a few leaves onto a page and put in the case and left for half an hour or so. Rain had more or less stopped by this time and the case got a bit wet but the paper stayed dry. Looked to have developed ok but on washing (in a puddle) the print fell off.....this means it's underexposed. Not enough UV collected. 

Tried another. By this time (about 3.30) it's getting dusk and don't know if there'll be time for letting this develop. Anyway, left over an hour and by now it's stopped raining and there's no water around, however there's a full pot of very strong stewed tea.... I'm leaving the print in there overnight..... We'll see what happens to that. This is another of our commonly used tricks. The tannins in the tea bond with the chemicals changing the colours wine also works but doen't often make it as far as the developing tray.

These are all things we've tried hundreds of times before. I was hoping there would be something that jumped out at me as different up here but not so far. I want the site to influence the work but that's something that can't be forced. Had an interesting chat with the current artist in residence Robbie O'Halloran. Robbie spoke of Schwitters and that feeling of the weight of legacy that encompasses the site. There's no doubt the the significance of the place adds an additional layer to the project. There's almost a self imposed need to 'perform', to be infinitely innovative and creative. There's also the physical context of the place. It's a field, similar to countless others in the area. The ramshackle buildings are built from the same grey stone and the 'not quite springtime' grass is the same green/brown as the rest of the surrounding landscape.


I'll call today 'data gathering'       

In an effort to force some creative thought I took some clay and made some pinch pots. Made a conscious decision not to bring tools so anything with clay has to be done with hands or tools have to be made. Natural inclination is to make a I did....three actually. Then (reverting to type) I pressed some leaves into the bottom.  

It's a start. Let's see what tomorrow brings.



Clay vessels - smooth raku clay drying by the fire 




Angela's Merzbarn diary day two


I'm in that place, the one where you nothing makes much sense and you feel like you're going over old ground and there's nowhere to go with this project. I find the best way to deal with this is to do a bit of drawing and get on with something that you're confident with whilst saying to yourself, 'what happens if'.


Decided that first thing I needed to get a video made, this was the plan for this week anyway. Found a nice spot on some lush spongy moss and set out seven piece of coated paper held down with some pieces of convenient undergrowth. Weather greyish but fine.....for about a minute....then it rained....oh balls.

The rain makes marks on the papers and stops bits of it developing any further....a spoiler.

But isn't marks what I'm supposed to be making? I decide to see this through and let the pieces fully develop. Remarkable, the rain stops but we've had just enough to make something quite intriguing.

Plan was always to develop in natural water on site. There's a pond, it's probably only there in the winter. It's large and settled with branches straddling it from the recent storms. I used it to develop the cyanos. Looks really beautiful with the bright blue disrupting the natural colours of the water and the reflections of all around.

Meanwhile the blooming camera won't work. I've been recording all this on iPad and iPhone. Neither of which have much battery or storage space. I've deleted a few hundred photos and made a series of really short videos which I'm now going to have to email to myself in order to take more later today.





Progress report on the clay vessels.... I put them in front of the fire to dry and they've been knocked and broken and dried too quickly. Completely my fault. It was a really contrived idea, basic and thoughtless. I've left them in the grounds to go back to the earth where they came from.

Went to the pub for wifi and emailed the majority of vids to myself and then not been able to delete them because some are too large and now I don't know which I've got and which I haven't. On plus side I've now got a working camera for this afternoon's effort. Apparently if the camera won't recognise the memory card you can just lick the connectors and wipe it with your hankie. That's Ian's top tip for the day. 

Did some drawings in ink on top of a couple of papers whilst sitting in the sun. They were obviously being exposed at the same time as I was drawing. I left the to expose properly and the ink ran a little whilst developing in the water. Curious.




Attached another five pieces to a rudimentary rack I'd made with string and pegs.


Finsh the day with a small body of work which is more than I had at the beginning so I'm calling that a success.





Coated paper in rain with collected items




Washing the cyanotypes in the pond




First set of cyanos drying




Angela's Merzbarn diary day three


Thursday: Two lots of cyanos  so far with information and materials abstracted from the site. The thing that has struck me the most about the site is the sheer bulk of debris and damage from the recent storms. There's much more than the average springtime detritus on the ground here. Masses of branches from tiny twigs to a collosal tree complete with roots laying across every conceiveable piece of ground. As I've had so much time to think out here this destruction has added a further layer of melancholy (or as seems apropriate, blues) to the legacy of Schwitters.


In order to acknowledge this I've been playing with the sticks and twigs left over from the storms. A couple of experiments using my now familiar process but with slightly more sculptural qualities.



A series of scrolls around some found sticks and a large collage of shapes abstracted from the landscape.




Scrolls exposing then developing





Collage exposing








I've realised. this project isn't going to conjure something monumental. It can't be afforded the slow burn and development of the year long project with its intense literary research and input from multiple sources. Rather this is reactionary, an opportunity to try some ideas for future thought. As a project it feels underdeveloped and stilted but as a series of experiments it has provided a great deal of amunition for the future.


I have about 40 prints....some of the aesthetic qualities are quire lovely but it's really the process that creates the intrigue. Perhaps the Merzbarn diary is the work instead of the prints? I'm always a bit against explaining too much about the work. It irritates me a little when visual work is over explained. So on this occasion I'm calling this a research visit and justifying it that way.




Keep reading for updates.....I'm making 'The Merzbarn diaries', the book.




To view the Merzbarn diary publication please click HERE