Alison Clouston & Boyd

On Clover

"On Clover" is a performance, installation and video we made in response to a rural place, the site of the International Land Art Project in Fall, Norway.  At the centre of this place stands a wooden barn. It was once the focus of working life on the farm for the family who lived off the land here. All the bounty of the fields and the forest came through this building. Made from the trees of the forest around it, the barn filters air and light in vertical shafts just like the forest. It was built in the 1940's, with additional income from another forest industry, a local pulp and paper mill, now in ruins under pine needles. Regenerating pine and spruce forest waves and creaks in the wind on the ridge above the barn.

Below the barn, overgrown with moss and willow and rowan and birch we found the rusty old buckets. Extricating them one by one, we eventually had eighteen pails crumpled and rusty, and we brought them in again. Inside the barn lie horse-drawn implements; a header for grain, a sled used to pull firewood home across the ice of the fjord, and a wain to bring in the hay. The family milked two cows, kept inside all winter, fed on meadow hay forked down from the loft. Old photographic negatives found in the barn show the buckets in use around the 1940's. We see the farmer emerging from the barn door with a pail, or proudly showing off the shining workhorse beside the new barn. We see the matriarch standing near the farmhouse kitchen with her pail of milk, fresh from the cow. We see a new generation, a father in town clothes, with children well fed and clothed; perhaps their dreams go out beyond the farm.

Amongst tools in the barn, we found two old-fashioned hiking packs, just like the ones our parents used in New Zealand for tramping the bush and mountain tracks. A similar nationalist myth prevails in both countries, of the outdoorsman and woman, hardy and in touch with nature. We began to make a work that used the backpacks and the buckets, and a work evolved about walking in nature, and about living off the land, about the fecundity of nature.

"On Clover" describes a state of good fortune; when a farm's cows are on clover, they are fat and productive - butter and cheese might be sufficient to get the family through the hard winter to come. So many of our metaphors, in all languages, arise from a close relationship to nature that is now becoming rare. The writer Rebecca Solnit notes that as our communities become disconnected from nature, and our metaphors are cut off from the roots of language that were once embedded and nurtured in the land, we risk losing a depth of understanding, so our cultures are impoverished. We do well to remember, to be attentive to our dependence on the natural world. “On Clover" suggests the good fortune cannot last –clover has a brief season here in Norway. “On Clover” is a celebration of the explosive growth of summer in the North, where the days seem endless and full of flowers, and yet winter is just around the corner.

We saw the barn as a theatre, exploiting its slatted light and its hidden backstage realms. Walking from the forest with our clanking, bouncing, comical backpack contraption, we carried nature's fecundity from the high ridge of the woods down to the barn. We filled the barn with the creaking and sighing of the windblown forest. From the heights of the hayloft, we lowered our buckets, alive with their contained sound-recordings, the dawn chorus of the birds, the waters of the fjord, and the ecstatic hum of bees at work in the churchyard, down from the tall hayloft, down to our audience in the barn below. With their enlisted help, we carried those buckets of summer, with their flowers and birds and bees and water, out of the barn into the sunlight, round the garden, and then down into the cool underworld of the cellar. From here, in the winter, preserves and memories of summer will be brought back up to the pantry and the farmhouse kitchen above.

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