My encounter with the Mercator Ring…
images of my journey to EAFS 2015 – as far as the eye
My boxes: I made 4, one for each element –
earth, air, fire and water – containing curious and beautiful objects
and alluding loosely to some participating artists and their projects.
and this was Earth and its contents connected to the sensing life
workshop guide by Bill Coleman, a choreographer from Canada, who likes
Where to start?
What was the journey?
I decided to document the actual travel from Glasgow to Morton Castle with a ‘GoPro’ camera. Attached to the inside of the windscreen of my car, I positioned it so to capture the changing landscape, not so much the street (I also wanted to avoid filming cars number plates) but the changing ‘architecture’ (urban and rural) and the sky.
I am a fan of the sky here in Scotland. In Glasgow it is often hidden by what I call ‘a thick grey ‘mono cloud’, obscuring and blocking warmth and light from the sun. But when it clears up, the sun rises, dawn, dusk, incoming storm fronts, rain and sunshine simultaneously, basically when weather happens the ‘skyscape’ here in Scotland is a captivating, dramatic, tranquil, lush experience.
As a technophobe I expected a struggle with the cables and equipment of my documentation media (the camera), and ended up accidentally recording the quizzical expressions on my face while wondering if the camera is ‘on’…
Once the camera was ‘enabled’ to do it’s thing despite continuous interference through my human irrationality (Is it still recording? Is the battery empty? Does it record sound?) I started to re focus on the other things I had planned and prepared for.
This led after an hour and half way near the Festival to the realisation that I left all of my food nicely packed in a single bag at home!
Driving along I weighed up the pro and cons for continuing without food, including a bag full of cinnamon swirls I baked the night before- or to turn back and pick up the carefully arranged survival package for a weekend of Wild camping.
I drove back, which also helped re charge the battery of the camera (down to nothing after 20 minutes of filming) and picked up that bag of food, my children had already claimed into their possession and made plans what to eat first- so I got there just in time!
Once I was back on track, with food, and on a country road weaving along the river Nith through forests and hills excitement about the location, people, encounters, art and Nature started to grow.
To keep in line with being reliable on always being unreliable- the camera abandoned me just when I turned of the main road to follow the signs through ‘wilderness’ to the most stunning camp site: an open field embraced by a forest and mountains as the backdrop, a 14th Century ruin atop of a Loch. The battery was empty and the camera cut out just when I turned into the forest.
The first thing I did was to put up my tent, it was still light and dry. The tent went up within 10 minutes I am proud to say. I also did some material testing of my own on utilising two sheets of polyethylene foam we use in the museum for storage and packing of objects in regards to the materials insulating properties and performance, by covering the tent floor. The sheets are flexible and can be rolled up just like a yoga mat. I was also hoping for some provision of cushioning which lasted for about two minutes when embarking on a horizontal position with all my weight. I also ended up sleeping diagonally, arranging the shape of my anatomy accordingly to the undulated ground.
The conversations happening all around me into the dark night and the sound of rain (which started eventually) on my tent were somewhat comforting and I drifted into sleep, waking up just once when the sound of a single voice provided an impromptu ‘a Capella’ version of Nena’s 1985 hit: ‘Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann’ (see post)…in German, in the middle of the night, in the wilderness and presence of a 14th Century Castle, deer and other animals in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland.
Here I am at the Environmental Art Festival Scotland.
Some thoughts prompted by EAFS,
I am sure that pages have and will be been written about EAFS, about the numerous and wonderful projects and the atmosphere that made it an extraordinary weekend. I gladly add my voice to that but would rather take up this space exploring an idea that has been bothering me since. It is a bit complicated and I am not sure I understand it myself.
But first, deep and sincere thanks to everyone who made it happen. At its heart EAFS allowed selfless acts of giving of time, energy and creativity, towards a collective idea. It is something of a paradox that even though most of the elements were dispersed, separated by miles of moorland and composed of widely differing activities either in the process of coming towards, or requiring a journey away from the centre, it was there, at Morton, that the idea was most powerfully realised. Perhaps a paradox would describe the event very well. Our attention, our participation, was not directed inward towards a kind of festival hedonism but was outward into the surroundings and most important, towards each other.
I hesitated to use the term, landscape, above because after listening to a confusing half hour of a guided campfire conversation one evening, I woke in the night with an uncomfortable feeling of impatience for ideas of landscape, and countryside, and even for the hallowed idea of Environment. The first two because of the implication of separation; landscape, I thought in my somnolence, is a conceit of those whose hands are clean in their pockets, those who like a nice view. Countryside, is meaningless, a confection. And, Environment? Environmentalism, as an orthodoxy, has created a typically labyrinthine web of political correctness, half-understood terms, contradictory information, alarmist ultimatums, lobbying strategies, and is frankly incomprehensible, even if you care. You can tell it was a restless night.
But I do care, instinctively. I bite my tongue to say this but having shed a few layers of my carapace, thanks to EAFS, I think I should say it anyway. Instinctively, I care more for where and how I live than I do for most other things but I am not an optimist. I do not believe there is ‘a solution.’ That’s what I mean by orthodoxy – we will not, by observance, be delivered unto everlasting life, we will not return to paradise, we will not halt climate change. In short: change, death, is inevitable – our own, and the Environment’s if we understand it as immutable and somehow sacred in something approximating its present state, or even if we believe it is in need of saving. There is a huge minefield between caring and acceptance which I do not pretend to understand or intend to investigate here. Neither do I think this view is any more realistic than any other. Nor, emphatically, that one should remain passive.
EAFS brought together some essentials: people, thought, a little understanding and, more importantly, the will to act. These are essential to maintaining any humanity in our existence and, I propose, to the making of a community. Further, only through community can these essentials be focussed and amplified into an intention which, whatever our individual feelings about the overwhelming scale and complexity of the Environment question, is large enough to address it meaningfully. And this, for me, is one of the great achievements of EAFS; it has created the space for this community to realise itself.
The most extraordinary moment at EAFS was a demonstration of just this. On Saturday evening a mounted squadron of Cornets from the region’s Common and March Ridings, dressed in full regalia, galloped into the encampment and delivered water from a well at Moffat. Leaving aside the earth symbolism of this journey and the shocking power of the beautiful animals they rode, the meeting of these two communities represented by the Cornets and, let’s call them, the Dowsers, for want of a better description, was perhaps the most significant moment of the weekend. Nothing needs to be done about this except to remember and consider it, and I hope I am doing that here. These are two communities that may never have met before and, one can imagine, may have little time for each other yet here they were standing together on the same ground, on common ground. What could be more significant? This action has made a new community possible.
This brings me back to the idea of landscape. The word has two main roots. Land, old German, meaning an area which is described by those who live on it; the tribe or group whose identity is associated with the place. Scotland, the place of the Scots, England, the place of the Angles. And the suffix, -scape, which derives from two connected roots, in old German again: the verb, to shape, and –ship, which means the condition or state of being the thing expressed in the substantive, land. Landscape, therefore, can mean an area shaped by its inhabitants, or more precisely, the condition or state of being the area described by its inhabitants. This is markedly different from the way the actual word arrived in English. It came from Holland in the 16th century invented by a school of painters to describe the content of their work, perhaps simply to distinguish themselves from portrait painters.
My wakeful impatience is rewarded for here, it seems to me, is a way of gently nudging one landscape meaning out of its frame, and considering the idea of landscape-landship; the state or condition of being the land shaped by this community. The land of the Scots remains accessible to its people and this interpretation of the landscape word seems to reinforce that right. My landscape, in its new meaning, the Queensberries, Nithsdale, the Keir Hills, now includes me within it rather than me looking at it remotely through a frame, or even through the prism of Environmentalism, and the state or condition of being me, my me-ship, includes this land. This is so glaringly obvious I am considering abandoning this piece in embarrassment.
It is not ownership, a fashionably misused word, it does not belong to me neither have I ‘bought into’ it, nevertheless I am affected by it and it by me. We are inextricable and my capacity to affect it is real whether I choose to care about it or not. And I do care, instinctively, as I have said, but have not considered it in this light till now, till EAFS.
Another word which arose in that fireside chat was narrative; is the landscape a narrative? Yes, of course it is, and narrativization, apart from being a mouthful, is the last word to consider here. It describes a process of remembering, of editing and ordering essential elements of an experience to make sense of them in the context of their re-telling. All history is a narrative and, like all narratives, it is constantly being rewritten. The horses coming to EAFS is a narrative to make the point about community and the next time I tell it, it will inevitably be different. I may want to make a different point.
Landscape, as a narrative, carries in its geology the story of the beginning of the universe, and it continues through every other aspect of its existence down to our feeble scratchings in its surface. Like every good narrative, every day is a retelling, an overlaying of what went before with what is happening now; a process of erosion, forgetting and discarding as much as of depositing, adding and, growth. All are part of its shape and apparent condition, its landship. Making the walk from Dumfries to Morton we passed under new roads, through long abandoned mill leats, gorges cut through sandstone over millennia, new plantations and ancient woodlands, all constantly changing, constantly dying, being eroded, overgrown and evolving. They are all elements of the landscape’s narrative, from the Queensberry Hill to the teeming protozoa in the cleats of my boot; a layered narrative of a layered landscape inhabited by layered communities.
Bearing in mind the meandering thoughts above, by temporarily inhabiting the area, in effect, EAFS created the Morton landscape for the duration of the festival. We, the EAFS community, affected it and were affected by it; we stood, swam, walked, talked, performed and journeyed in it, babies may even have been conceived in it, and from now on a layer of the greater Morton Castle narrative will contain EAFS, in the way it contains the Birdman. And the EAFS narrative and community will be a layer of the Morton landscape.
And Environmentalism? It seems to me that a characteristic of this all-encompassing subject is that it cuts vertically through the layering. All layers of the landscape, and therefore of narrative and community are included in this term and are implicated in its condition. If we, the EAFS community that is, wish to affect the Environment, all layers of landscape, community and narrative have to be engaged.
How? EAFS began a narrative of inclusion with the Cornets and the Dowsers, the like of which is rarely seen and in which great potential exists because it also cuts vertically through the layers of community. It may come to nothing but I will never forget it, it is now part of my narrative and, although it does not make me an optimist, it is the first sentence of a new narrative and a point on which it is possible to stand and to act. It is very difficult to set out to achieve this, that’s politics and a great big turn-off, so was it by design or accident that all the elements of EAFS, all extraordinary in their own right, also conspired to bring it about? No, I think it’s some other thing deeply connected to creativity and to the unconscious will of a community which, given the opportunity, will express itself. It might be called humanity.
Hi Steph, Sorry i didn’t meet you at least I don’t think I did? I was cooking all day both days, I would like to share my experience of the River of Fire project. My experience of the weekend was one of wonderment and joy, it was amazing not to have to deal with money!
We built our mud oven and ‘River of Fire’ with the help of the EAFS travellers. People drifted by and got involved. From Wednesday right through to Monday they were mixing mud, building the oven, chopping wood, grinding grain, making pizzas, cooking fish, donating food, cooking food, and on Monday demolishing the structures and returning the land as we found it.
All the time we worked there was chatter and laughter, stories of where they had been, where they are going, of lives they lived. People who had battled up through the waters of the Nith to get there, girls from Korea studying Arts Festivals, a wizard from USA, dancers from Canada, builders from Thornhill, woodworkers from Glasgow, the local policeman and the ambulance crew, everyone got involved. We made sure everyone was fed. We ate baked potatoes, corn on the cob, baked bananas stuffed with chocolate. We cooked bream, sea bass baked in a salt crust, mackerel, trout, lobster, scallops wrapped in bacon, wild salmon, all brought from our local seas and rivers and cooked in the oven made from mud from the 11 main D&G waterways that flow into the Solway. The confluence of river muds baked into an oven, nurtured and fed the travellers.
They went off and came back for more food with tales of what they had seen. They told of unicorns, marauding horseman, of magic prophetic water, of fairies and hidden treasure. They had tales of wandering singers and marble tombs, of beautiful violin music in the castle, of strands of angel music drifting through the early morning mists.
At night the fires flickered all around us and the murmurations of conversation floated through the night air. We lit our ‘River of Fire’ and the big fish swam up current and disappeared into the dark. We howled at the moon and all was well.
Jools Cox artist with food
…share your experience of the ‘River of Fire’ under page ‘River of Fire’