Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Analysis of a rainbow (after Newton)

Thoughts after the get together of Triparks 20th / 21st May: Hadrians Wall and ACA Allenheads.

A meeting of all three organisations and all six artists.

There was so much said over the two days that I will not attempt to give an account of the whole meeting. I just wanted to offer some of the notes I made afterwards.

The phrase that stuck in my mind was one that Hugh mentioned: speculative reconstruction. It prompted Alan to raise a discussion about the nature of reconstruction in relation to history and re-presentation or manufacture of 'evidence'.

I felt this was so relevant to how I want to respond to the Simonside site, I want to make something that could become absorbed in the history of the site. I am imagining a scenario whereby, on one level, my work could be considered together with the existing cup and ring marks and more modern graffiti as equal in importance as an expression of "I was here". On another level there is what I perceive to be the real scenario, whereby a whole gamut of hierarchies and means of judging an object or statement may become a barrier to the work existing (lack of permission). These are interesting questions. Who decides what is and isn't important / historical / art?

Helen talked about the role of the artist in relation to the many and various agencies at work in the park and asked the question where did the role of the artist lie. I found this very interesting and felt that my reaction to this question reinforced the desire for my work to be discovered and remain ambiguous rather than to be announced as 'art'.

Hugh and I were the only ones to try out the video conversation. He approached me with "What does the word landscape mean to you?" or words to that effect. I was really interesting to be put on the spot like that and once again it brought up the theme of contradiction for me within this project. My answer centred round the origin of the word, which some think come from the Dutch "landschaft".

“It entered the English language, along with the herring and bleached linen, as a Dutch import at the end of the sixteenth century. And landschap, like its Germanic root, landschaft , signified a unit of human occupation, indeed a jurisdiction, as much as anything that might be a pleasing object of depiction. So it was surely not accidental that in the Netherlandish flood-fields, itself a site of formidable human engineering, a community developed the idea of a landschap, which in the colloquial English of the time became a landskip. “
Simon Schama: “Landscape and Memory”, Vintage Books USA, 1996, p10
However, on reflection I think my definition of landscape in the context I had been using it that day was more to do with the lack of human presence. Perhaps I should have been using the word place, view or vista? I think I use the word landscape in relation to something that humans are not the main focus of attention but at the same time evidence of them being there is inherent in its meaning.

View is a word that is important to raise here, as I did not mention the significance of how something is viewed to the work I am making. A viewpoint is a place to take a photograph for many visitors; the re interpretation of this imagery via digital technology is where my work exists.

I am going to stop here; I'll get some images of recent work together then all this rambling might make sense!
Bank holiday Monday in the Breamish Valley: 26th May 2008.

Since our full project meeting on the 20th / 21st May, I've been itching to get out into the park again. I particularly wanted to go over the Bank Holiday weekend because I had heard during a Park Authority meeting (which I attended way back in March) that there was going to be live military action over that weekend. The park members weren't too happy about this but it was a case of being told, no negotiation.

Anyhow, I thought I would go out with my video camera and capture some images of the Hill Forts in the North of the park with a backdrop of military action providing some distance rumbling soundtrack.

Well best laid plans and all that…. There wasn't a peep from the big guns, or if there was it would have been absolutely inaudible against the windy which was blowing a hooley.

What this did mean was fantastic movement of light over the land, which I attempted to capture with the stills camera.

One thing I had forgotten about was the traditional visitors of Breamish Valley would be out in force, and they did not disappoint. There was the smell of barbecues in the air when we reached the busy car park that was the starting point for the Hill Fort Trail.

I was very much reminded of a word that Paul and I had talked about when discussing the language people used in relation to the land. The word is transhumance; it means the seasonal migration of livestock to suitable grazing lands. We heard it in relation to buildings (shiels) which the people tending the animals would relocate to during the summer months.

There was something about these big family groups staking out their territory in the car park (who, I imagine get together in the same spot every year with their wind breaks and camp chairs). It felt somehow like they were reclaiming their temporary homesteads.

I wanted to linger and capture more, but my husband was most disturbed by all the people being there. I asked him why, but he could give a satisfactory answer. I think it had something to do with the fact that we had driven for two hours to be in a place which was populated by numbers of people equal to the entire population of the village we live in. In fact it was nice to come home to some peace and quiet which lent a certain irony to our trip into the tranquillity of the National Park. The walk, although described as challenging, was quite tame and once we got up the first hill we didn't see that many people. Oh and the views were great!

Monday, 19 May 2008

I also feel more focussed about the project after talking over some ideas last week. After our meeting I felt excited and a bit nervous, I also felt extremely restless. I decided the best thing to do was to go into the park and revisit the site that I had been talking about.

Simonside Hills have been haunting me. They are not the most isolated or the highest, in fact they are quite tame, which is what surprises me about my growing obsession about them. There is easy access to them, road, car park and path, they are well used by locals and visitors alike, there is nothing exclusive about them and yet (at the risk of going all hippie on you) they really seem to have a power about them.

Like Paul, I have picked up on the sense of time in the landscape. At Simonside there are ancient cup and ring marks carved in to stones around the foot of the hillside. When you get up onto the hilltops there are other more recent "carvings", which I photographed on my first visit. People have been making their mark in the soft sandstone here for hundreds of years and I feel the same urge.

It is very unclear just exactly what the cup and ring marks symbolise, I like this ambiguity. They are just there, in the landscape, they focus you in on the place, you are being told in no uncertain terms that you are not the first to stand here, but that doesn't detract it adds to the weight of the place.

And then there is the view………..
There is the view from the hills, which takes in Rothbury town, the Cheviot and various other distant hills and the sea.
There is also the view of the hills; they have a very distinctive shape being made up of three craggy peaks rising out of a ridge.

I've asked Andrew Miller (Park manager North) if I can spend some time with an archaeologist in order to find out more about the cup and ring markings and to see if there are any other sites in the park that I might like to work in. I'm also thinking of how to approach the park regarding making a work in situ.
And then there are the screen prints and the rubbings I've been making too…………. there's still a lot to work on but I feel it's starting to come together.

Oh yes, the colours were absolutely vivid, the young heather is just coming out and next to the grey of the rock it is practically psychedelic (man)!

Thursday, 15 May 2008


This is me by the way - I didn't beat someone up so I could take these photos. I also didn't beat myself up so I could take these photos - I bruise a lot and have no spatial awareness...

I'm starting to make connections between the body and the landscape, maybe portrait and landscape? Referencing orientation, contrast, contradiction and the (static/moving) image. Within this I'm thinking of the landscape as a timeless, isolated, uninterrupted and natural(?) structure, becoming interrupted by constructed (contradictory) layers of (internal and external) body matter. Faults that need to be healed.


Wandering in the park - with and without support - words have started to stick to me - I feel like the mire. These words are threads that connect - the park - my practice - they have been stretched: Timelessness, change, isolation, silence, tension, alien, wilderness, healing.

Following a really lovely get together up a Allenheads with Alan, Helen and Bridget my thoughts have crystallised somehow, probably through informal sharing. I am starting to make positive connections and in turn feel positive generally, funny that init.

Friday, 9 May 2008

South Park

Another day jam packed with information, Paul has summarised the day very well in his entry below and I don't want to duplicate too much. I just wanted to add some of the things that stuck with me.

We opted to look around an area on the outskirts of the South West of the park and drove along a single track road which formed the boundary between all round accessible land and RAF property belonging to Spadeadam Camp. The first place we stopped was Cramell Linn ,popular with locals as a swimming hole, this waterfall (formed by the river Irthing) marks the boundary of the park and the Northumberland Cumbria border in this area. There were cute looking stone buildings on the bank side of the river which Derek explained were pumping stations that once formed part of a cooling system for Blue Streak (the aborted Anglo French space exploration effort). Once again a landscape with a military presence. I tried to get a picture of an abandoned plane but my camera wasn't really up to it as you can see! The landscape was bleak, flat and the warm weather gave it a scorched / parched feeling. White Prarrie was the name Derek used, a contrast to the Blacklands of the North Park. We passed dummy tanks and a small target practice village, for me it took a small leap of imagination to picture myself in one of the current theatres of war, perhaps the heat was getting to me.

As we drove through the regimented lines of spruce and Derek explained how the forest (Wark and Keilder) were started as part of the war effort (WWI) to try to make Britain self sufficent in timber. Farmland was purchased easily from farmers who were making marginal livings and the Duke of Northumberland gave over one of his hunting parks for planting. Not all farmers gave up their land, Lampert Farm remains an oassis of open space amongst the quite claustrophobic woodland. It was near here that we made our forray into the mire and discovered the amazing islands of moss and lichen that Paul shows in his photos below.

Driving back Derek explained about the Nine Nicks that formed the impressive ridge of undulating Whin Sill that the Hadrian's wall runs along. There are no longer nine of them, several were quarried out and the hard stone used as sets (cobbles) in expanding industrial cities like Manchester. I was struck by a kind of circularity in the use of materials in the landscape. Here the shape of the land had been dramatically changed in order to service an urban industrial landscape thinking back to Simonside (see previous blog entry) it seemed to me that this movement had come full circle. To help reduce errosion the Park have paved the footpath using the flagstones from the floor of an old mill works in Derby: the urban industrial landscape declines and is recycled to preserve the landscape.

Cramell Linn

pumping station for Blue Streak

evidence of RAF presence at Spadeadam

white prarrie

drainage 'grip' : helps 'heal' the bog peatland

mire surrounded by forest

Thursday, 8 May 2008

In the mire

We traveled out into the South of the park yesterday with Derek Proudlock, crossed another border, this time between Northumberland and Cumbria. Passing through a village with an identity crisis called Gilsland which straddled the border, we headed further out into the remote areas where the border reavers (moss troupers) used to operate in lawless, debatable lands.

We wanted to get out onto the mire, an area of incredible biodiversity, to get a sense of this strange place, how it felt. At the edges the ground was firm and grassy, as we plodded further in toward the centre of the mire its consistency changed, squelchy and springy. We were told to watch out for adders that might be basking in the sunshine. We were hunting for a rare insect eating plant, but didn't find it. What from a distance looked very bleak on closer inspection was a very delicate, beautiful, almost alien landscape.

Derek told me that the peat in the bog can be harvested in moderation, that when you slice a piece out it will eventually heal itself, like skin.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

First border sighting

I headed out to the border over the bank holiday weekend. Starting out from Kirk Yetholm I managed to reach the dry stone wall and sheep fence that mark the divide between Scotland and England.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Another day (+evening) in the North of the park

29th April 2008 : A friend of mine was visiting Northumberland with her family, who are keen walkers and climbers, so it seemed there was a perfect opportunity to combine business with pleasure.

We planned to travel up the College Valley by car so that Alex and her father could climb up the Hen Hole. However, when we arrived at the estate agents in Wooler (where permits to drive on the tiny road up the valley are issued), we found that due to lambing no permits were being issued that day. It was also very unpredictable weather, so the climbers were not too disappointed.

We drove as far as we could without a permit and then walked up the track, it wasn't long before the heavens opened and we were very glad of our waterproof trousers!

We forked off the track at a little church hall and monument to pilots who crashed in the Cheviots during WWII, Alex's Dad translated the RAF motto Per ardua ad astra (through strength (hard work) to the stars). I found it very powerful, but we were all a bit confussed why the names of the pilots weren't listed only the type of planes they were flying. I know that a lot of the wrecks are still there but it seemed a little insensitive to combine a memorial with a crash spotters guide (there was a kind of map on the top of the stone indicating the sites of the wrecks)

Later on in the evening I went to Town Yetholm (just over the border in Scotland) to meet some folk who are taking part in a NNPA project called The Cheviot Hills Heritage Project. There were about ten people at the meeting and I was really impressed by how passionate everyone was about the place that they lived in. People were from all walks of life and all places, not just born and bred, I met someone from North London and another gentleman from Edinburgh. Accents were a mix of English and the lovely soft Border Scotts. I gleaned a great deal of information from this meeting, particularly about walking routes!

Elanor Johnson the project co ordinator suggested we might like to exhibit the work from the project in a venue in the town or a neighbouring town / village; this sounds to me like a really good idea as there aren't many opportunities for these communities to come into contact with contemporary art and artists and Elanor assured me we would get a very honest response from them. I like this interaction I know from showing work in the small village I live in that it can be a very enlightening experience for all parties.

Driving back home in the dark I felt the looming presence of the Cheviot Massif as I skirted round it on some pretty wet and pot-holed roads.

per ardua ad astra

College Valley

Up on Simonside

Still on Day Two!

Mark and I walked up Simonside which is a big hill overlooking Rothbury town. We met a group of archeology enthusiasts in the car park below and as we made our ascent on the newly laid stone pathway we watched them gathering on a smaller hillside below us in order to look at Iron Age remains. I remembered the cup and ring marks that are dotted all over the north of Northumberland and I think I had stones and stone carving (or markings) on the brain as we walked up and along the ridge.

Mark must have tuned into this because he took me off the path to show me a particularly touching piece of modern stone graffiti. Someone carved their proposal of marriage in stone and must have taken their beloved up onto the tops to pop the question in front of a truely majestic backdrop. One can only hope its a story with a happy ending.

Graffiti aside I was also intrigued by the stones that the NNPA had used to make a long lasting pathway on the hillside. The big flagstones had come from the floor of a Derbyshire Mill. Each seemed loaded with its own history, but I couldn't help seeing the landscape I saw around me reproduced in minature through the layered surface of the flagstones.

I think I'd like to try my hand at stone carving, the work I've been making recently might well translate into relief carving very nicely!

I'd also like to make some rubbings of the flagstones.

New path stretches into distance

Picnic at Hanging Rock?

Looking out from the top of the Simonside Hills

The lonely Old Billy Goat

Day two in the north of the park (cont)

There is so much out there I'm just trying to give a sense of space and light (or darkness) in this landscape by posting images which pretty much speak for themselves most of the time. Below are more images of the Otterburn Ranges taken as we circled round the danger zone on the MOD roads.

Outer GoldenPot

Mark and Paul study information board

strategic view point