Earlier this year I joined 6 other artists in the Lake District for a creative residency, Light of Things: Making Sense of Here. It forms part of a larger project, Sense of Here by Somewhere Nowhere. This blog post is an adapted version of a guest blog post for Somewhere Nowhere.
I spend a lot of time outside in the Lake District. I work up on the fells and spend my free time moving through the spectacular landscapes of this National Park. More often than not I find myself rushing. Distracted, focussing on the task at hand, or navigating to the next feature. Rarely do I allow myself the time to slow down and take notice of nature all around me. The Light of Things residency was a time that made me realise, or rather remember, the benefits of slowing down and taking it all in. The inspiring and restorative powers of spending time curiously walking around a woodland are simply amazing. Watching the swaying tree tops, the ants working harmoniously together, the spider weaving its web. Bathing in the sounds and smells. Interacting with a robin who hopes you’ll expose some bare earth and their next meal. Observing a pair of wagtails flitting up and down the river. It doesn’t take much to open up a dialogue with the land which I often take for granted - just a little patience and a willingness to take notice. Noticing the micro, the macro and everything in between, from the smallest fungal spores to the crisscrossing of drystone walls across the valley.
Slowing down also helps me to understand a place, connect with people and learn stories. During the residency we climbed up Wallabarrow crag which offered comprehensive views over the verdant Duddon valley. The various compartments of the landscape were easily identifiable and illustrated. Some of the in-bye had freshly cut hay drying in the sun, racing the onset of autumn. Once down in the fields, I had the chance to chat to the farmer Chris and his son Ben as they turned the hay, with both machinery and by hand, to help the drying. They talked of how critical the timing is and the need to not over work the hay. The in-bye was traditionally often used as hay meadows, cutting the hay once it has set seed, to feed the livestock over the winter. Nowadays much of the in-bye is ‘improved’, or fertilised, to sustain as many sheep as possible, with supplementary winter feed brought in for the flock though the winter. The more I understand a place the more I experience its beauty and purpose.
As well as spending time alone, what made the residency special was all the time spent as a collective. Solitude in nature lends itself to the germination of new ideas, but it is conversing with others that I feel helps develop and refine those ideas. The conversations discussions and debates over the course of the residency led to a wealth of shared knowledge, ideas and perspectives. Being in the presence of such a range of creative people was both refreshing and rewarding. It is an insightful thing to have similar ideas to people, yet differing ways of expressing them.
One of the biggest impacts the residency had on me was the new light in which I see words. The residency was inspired in part by Worsdsworth and named after a line of the poem, ‘Tables have turned’:
“Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher”
But I never thought I would be so inspired by the poet or the power of words. A morning with the legendary Jeff, curator of the Wordsworth museum who exudes a contagious passion, is enough to enthuse anyone when it comes to the Wordsworths. Throughout the residency I found myself writing poetry, from blackout poetry to soundbite poetry and spontaneously scribbled verse. I found power in words where I had not felt it before. When looking at photography books I was moved by the words alongside the images (notably Chased by the Light by Jim Brandenburg). Since the residency I have read more books than the rest of the year and my reading list has grown exponentially.
The residency also taught me that ‘Context is everything.’ It is amazing how just a little bit of context can completely shift your perception of an issue or a place. A little cultural, scientific or historical context allows people to understand the significance of something they observe. This seems particularly important in the Lake District, a hugely complex landscape which receives 20 million visitors a year. A surprisingly big majority of these do not stray far from the roads - tourists are often hefted to their cars. A big challenge for me is how to give my photos context. Which leads to another question that featured a lot during the residency – what purpose does art serve?
By the end of the residency I had a clear direction for my work and the purpose I wanted it to serve. By using lines in the landscape I want to tell stories of how humans have managed and impacted the land over the past centuries. To raise awareness of how the landscapes of the Lake District, which receive nigh on 20 million visitors a year, are shaped, defined, and constrained by humans. To prompt conversations about how the landscapes should be managed going forward, in light of the new knowledge we gain and the current climate crisis. Given my newfound affinity with words and the need for context I am delighted to be collaborating with fellow resident and poet Melissa for this project. I’m beyond excited to see how it develops!