Go into nature and you will find something
If nothing occurs to you, do nothing
The focus of our attention for these 10 days in residence in the studio, on the field and in the river of the Dartington estate is the ephemeral gesture. Through exercises and workshops, sharing stories and having discussions, we are playing around the boundaries of witnessing, respecting, interfering, immersing and preserving.
In the first few days of our time together, we participated in blindfolded walking and guiding, wild swimming, collaborative experiments in the environment, recounting actions, walking together, creative writing and poetry readings.
As artists gathering over a mutual concern with the environment, our conversations naturally circle back to nature, the climate and our impact, from how we feel about artificial light at night to the animals we encounter. Each participant brings a different cultural and personal approach to the land. Interests within the group range from hydrofeminism and the geophilosophy of rivers, to bioluminescent organisms and hydrophonic sound; mediums from poetry, film, sculpture, music, photography, map creation, performance, participation, sound… There is much crossover of thought with politics, science, philosophy…
Our first day included a number of activities that removed our primary sense – sight. Removing one sense, heightens others – the unevenness of the ground, the smell of humidity, sensing light and shade. It allowed us to be receptive to our immediate environment. Most interestingly was how we experienced sound, walking beside the river blindfolded. As Rachael felt, the river absorbs sound differently, seeming to suck the sound towards it.
Narrative has played a huge role in the process so far – from describing to a blindfolded partner what they are seeing (be it fact or fiction), or recounting an action on the back of someone’s hand.
As Miranda Tufnell and Chris Crickmay write in their book Body, Space Image: Notes towards improvisation and performance (1990),‘Telling stories to ourselves and to each other about what is happening is part of our relation to the world; a primary dimension of everyone’s daily activity which confirms or even creates reality for ourselves and others’.
Speaking as an ephemeral gesture.
Making the ephemeral concrete
We have begun to discuss the need to document, and of the validation a moment, or act, gains from being documented by the lens – the point at which an ephemeral gesture becomes concrete. I was interested in how the presence of a witness impacts, or even dictates, action. While some members of the group felt the act of being filmed focuses attention, intensifying the experience, setting a stage, others see the introduction of a witness as an interference.
“It does not matter whether the camera is on or off”
This, I feel, extends to the ways in which we document the entire residency. Our need to capture a moment. Do we wish for these ephemeral gestures to become concrete objects, images, documents, or is the ephemeral gesture only concrete in the moment? What role does memory and experience play?
Materials, or experiences, do not end when a piece falls from your hand, or flies away in the wind, or drifts downstream. As Rafa says, a leaf when it falls is a rebirth, it continues to live. The moment itself is not at an end.
Immersing ourselves in the river, changing states, was an important baptism for our explorations. Individuals became a group, a single total event – entering the water. John Wedgwood Clarke and Lara Goodband led a wild swimming/creative writing workshop, seeing swimming as a tool for releasing the imagination, and as an act of dedication, and devotion.
Many in the group referred to a “comfort zone”, and of shedding routine habits, the familiar, stepping outside of our own personal boundaries. This moment felt like a release.
We are only just beginning to discuss our approach to the water, and how we communicate with it. A collection of words that were said:
Water is finite, in a constant cycle through river systems, the skies and our own bodies. We could have carried the river at some point. As rain on our face. As water that we drink. We are part of the body of water. Water knows us, we feel welcome.
All photos by Oliver Raymond-Barker