Fermynwoods Friday 11 – Martin Prothero

Not all artists take their residencies with Fermynwoods quite so literally as Martin Prothero. A great artist, a wonderful human being, a skilled outdoorsman and a passionate advocate for the natural world. Martin’s practice would see him totally immerse himself in a place, living in one location to fully experience it as an integral part of the natural ecology, not as a human visitor. To make art, as he put it, “in conjunction with nature”.

Staying true to the philosophy that his work comes from a place, rather than being about a place, Martin inhabited Fermyn Woods to create new work in his Carbon Light Life series. Beautiful traces of animal tracks delicately captured on specially prepared sheets of carbonised aluminium. Place these sheets in the wrong location and you might capture an errant dog walker or a lesser-spotted BMX rider. For Martin the process was as important as the outcome. By living in the woods and tracking various species Martin knew exactly where to capture a badger track, or a fox print, or a deer spoor.

In 2009, and again in 2010 due to popular demand, Martin shared this intimate process with various school groups and members of the public. Based overnight in the Forestry Commission Danish Shelters, Martin would lead groups through Fermyn Woods following tracks and identifying animals by their calls from dusk until dawn.

With a delicious meal specially prepared by Martin using ingredients found in the forest, participants slept in the woods before trying their hand at fire by friction the following morning.

For those who have tried, the heat from fire by friction often comes from the frustration at failing to get the spark to ignite. There is certainly no truth in the saying there is no smoke without fire. Typically, my Dad made learning a new technique look easy. Martin advised I would never get my fire to light if I kept trying to race him.

Martin discussed with my Dad the watershed moment of being able to beat your father at something but letting them win anyway. My Dad announced to the forest that I had never achieved either of those milestones – and my fire got hotter.

The real lesson to be learned was not about beating your parents, or even racing them. But that the rest of nature has one pace, and increasingly we have another. As Martin slowed us all down we really were able to see the woods for the trees as a result.

James Steventon

Martin Prothero

Look out for more Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects and celebrating 20 years of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art.