Research ramblings

The walk as art- some role models

When I try to describe my research activity I often arrive at metaphors relating closely to walking- rambling, stumbling upon, encountering, getting lost and rediscovering my path, using landmarks to point the way.  This resonates well with my site-specific practice, and idea of my final piece.  As usual then, I have recently stumbled upon interesting and relevant material, as below.

Ramblings on Radio 4

The new series of Ramblings on Radio 4 is titled Artists’ Ways, six programmes about artists whose practice includes walking, of which three have been especially pertinent to the walk I am planning as my MA project.  They are:

  • Carolyn Savidge’s walk, from her front door out onto the hills and levels of north Somerset. On the way she describes the written, photographic and sound based project she has created since losing her husband to cancer.  http://www.carolynsavidge.co.uk/
  • Matthew Hopwood’s project ‘A Human Love Story’ which takes him walking through England as a pilgrim, seeking hospitality where it is offered, meeting people on the way who share their love stories, which Matthew records and publishes on his online audio archive.   http://www.ahumanlovestory.com/
  • Louise Ann Wilson, a sceneographer, who has created a specific walk,in Warnscale in the Lake District, with an accompanying guide and artbook. The walk is for women who are childless by circumstance and offers a ritual through which women who have missed the life-event of biological motherhood can be acknowledged and can come to terms with that absence.  https://louiseannwilson.com/

All three of these walks resonate with the walk I am planning.  I hope to gather stories from people I meet on the way, will be recording my experience through a range of media, and my journey has strong emotional aspects- the travels between Leeds and Newcastle of four generations of mothers and daughters, all called Eleanor, who will be connected through the walk.

Walking Away and Walking Home

I attended a talk by Simon Armitage about his recent book Walking Away, and read his previous book Walking Home, both about a long-distance walk, the Pennine Way and the North Devon and Cornwall Coastal Path, respectively.  There was lots of inspiration in both the talk and the book.  The idea of a walk as a creative structure is useful- creativity comes from restlessness and curiosity, thus provoking the urge to move, to be outside, in the landscape, meeting people, sharing experiences, NOTICING.  He talked about the experience of solitary walking, the rhythm of heartbeat and footfall, the brain’s acquiescence to daydream.  His observation, that experience was expressed more directly through poetry, than through prose, which he defined as ‘synthetic’, was revelatory.  Our experience has to go through a fixing/translating process to be expressed factually/prosaically, often losing the purity and power of the original.  By contrast, poeisis, making poetic, allows more meaning to be brought forth.  This could mean that imaginative expression is about not translating but seeking/absorbing the poetic, taking a step back from conscious understanding to experiencing and expressing more directly the things, meanings and beauty found in place.  The activity of walking may help this to happen.  He also talked about structuring his observations in ways that opened him up to the things on his way (he described walking as moving through a continuously changing world)- what objects, what plants, what colours, what shapes, what forms, what substances?  And what does it feel like to be the thing observed, whatever it might be.  He made notes throughout these journeys (slightly longer than my ~150 miles), and took  around three months to process the material into the books and poems.             This mechanism of poetry- to evoke and tell a story more obliquely and intriguingly, more beautifully than prose or factual description- is what I aspire to in my practice- on my walk, conveying meaning in a range of ways:  visually;  through text and writing;  by gathering, recording and reassembling things and traces of place;  seeking and recording the stories waiting to be told;  and allowing the happenstance of conversation and connection.

Lone Traveller

I was lent this book by Anne Mustoe, a retired headteacher in her sixties who has cycled several very long-distance journeys, the Silk Road, the ‘Top End’ and deserts of Australia and right across South America.  She joins Robyn Davidson (Tracks), Dervla Murphy (Full Tilt and many other books) and Cheryl Strayed (Wild) as lone women travellers whose books have been successful and inspiring.  I am excited to be undertaking a long journey through countryside, on my own and carrying everything as I go.  A little daunted and needful of greater fitness and less weight, but delighted to be doing something that women my age aren’t really supposed to do.

Trees as mother

I have a growing collection of photographic images of trees and am increasingly fascinated by their form and location, using them to explore photographic techniques.  The idea of the tree as mother is a powerful one, linking to feminism, the matrixial and human connection to place, landscape and living systems.  The Elder-Tree Mother, a story by Hans Christian Anderson tells of the cycles of life and nature, and the role of the elder tree as a female entity- their guardian. The below is a picture of the Scots Pine that grows in our front garden, the spreading branches and dense canopy of which seem protective and benign.

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Scots pine tree mother

I am looking at how I can contribute to the development of an historic exhibition and linked educational resources which tell the story of Potternewton Park Mansion, built in 1817 for James Brown a wool merchant.  The building has been bought and sold many times, and put to many uses.  Currently it is owned by a Sikh group for community use and worship.  They have Heritage Lottery funding and LCA has been invited to support the production of an exhibition and educational resources, telling the story of the building and parkland in which it sits. I have been working on ideas, together with 2 other MA students.  So far I have visited the building and the Park (close to which I lived for 11 years), attended meetings to get to know some of the key players, taken photographs, including those below of one of the interesting collection of non-native trees in the Park, Liriodendron tulipifera, the Tulip Tree.  I also identified a beautiful, large Gingko, and have picked up and pressed leaves from these two trees for future use.

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   Tulip tree mother

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Tulip tree leaves turning

I am considering taking a series of photographs of the Tulip Tree through the seasons, at monthly intervals, from the same vantage point, for use in the final year show or the Potternewton Mansion project.  Have also taken a series of three photographs of vertical sections of the tree for possible use as the large-scale cyanotype image/s I aim to make for the corridor show in January.

The Other Art Fair

I have an ongoing friendship with local artist Carla Moss http://carlamoss.co.uk and recently travelled with her to the Other Art Fair in London, where she was exhibiting.  The journey provided a valuable opportunity for a long conversation, including about art.  I picked up the following tips:  Modern Art Gallery in Edinburgh for its collection of artists books by Alec Finlay;  gallery spaces in and around Leeds- Terry’s Shed (Andrew Lister from East Street Arts currently has show here), & Model, Set the Controls, and Flowers East in London;   material on the Onbeing websiteby Gordon Hempton http://www.onbeing.org/program/last-quiet-places/4557 and John O’Donohue http://www.onbeing.org/program/john-o-donohue-the-inner-landscape-beauty/203/audio.  The Other Art Fair was also very stimulating.  Here are some images.

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Carla’s stall                                                      Use of maps and multiples

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Lovely Khadi paper, good presentation            Want to do more dry-point etching                                                                                        and find out about risographs

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Tree shapes- from laser-cut stencils               Hand-written text and drawings, on                                                                                     paper from notebooks, presented as                                                                                     multiples

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Newsprint and paint                                       Polaroids, embellished and presented as                                                                              multiples

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Photo buried for 3 months, dug up              Painted and actual leaves, plus text and                                                                                other symbols, exquisite

There were over 100 artists exhibiting and I spent 2-3 hours visiting and discussing their work.  it was useful to reflect on what interested me and drew me in.  Some themes were:  presentations that helped to carry meaning- multiples, collage, multi-media;  evocative materials- maps, newsprint, notebooks;  monochromatic or subdued, organic colours;  nature- the sea, leaves, trees, birds, landscape;  interventions with materials- burying the photograph under soil;  work that is the opposite of grandiose, modest?  The show was very international- I talked to artists from Spain, Brazil and Pakistan, all now based in London.

In Breach of Trust

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This was the name of my tutor, Garry Barker’s, solo show.  It included several large wall-mounted jacquard tapestries and other textile pieces, pottery, drawings/paintings and packs of cards.  A core theme was the impact of global capital on ordinary lives, skilled workers superseded by machines, refugees and asylum seekers displaced by war and climate change, and our vulnerability in the face of unaccountable power.  It was good to see how the work, which had a strong sense of the personal, and the humane, occupied the space, which is part of Garry’s home, so fully.  Good for me to observe it as an example of contemporary curatorial practice.

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