What We Do With The Shadows

Over the last few years I have sought to (literally) project ‘visions’ formed from shared experience of the land within it and onto it. If one is seeking to shine a light (again, literally in my case) on what is resonant or apparently meaningful within a landscape and its associated culture, this seems much more efficient than packaging it up and carting it off to a gallery. Particularly if (as I do) you live in a place where there aren’t any galleries (which equates to the greater part of the UK landmass). Such events bind communities, create powerful and enduring shared memories and fundamentally equate to bringing the horse to water (rather than the other way round).

In projecting these moving shadows and lights, what has consistently excited me more than anything is what happens when, camera obscura-like, they ‘kiss’ the surfaces of the surrounding environment. At this point of connection – or, in some cases, reconnection – a whole array of new dialogues are generated.

Thus, the artwork becomes as much about where and when it is as what it is. Rather than seeking to impose itself on it, it’s working with the location and what’s happening there at that moment in time; in terms of ambient light, wind, sounds, precipitation and so on. The entire experience is then committed to memory, perhaps conferring a new sense of place.

Echo-Maker at Shapwick Heath

Often my image-making represents an attempt to convey ‘micro’ nuances of the landscape that strike a chord for whatever reason – such that others can share the experience or (even better) go on to recognise similar ones, whether within the same landscape or elsewhere.

In 2017 I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to present Echo-Maker at Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve, one of my most favourite places. When I’m having trouble sleeping I envisage a walk around the woods and reed-beds of Shapwick – themselves a dream world where past and present seem to slide into each other.

Located here within a piece of experimental archaeology (a reconstructed Romano-British dining hall) the work existed in symbiosis with the surrounding wetlands and their past and present, with visitors able to plunge first into my dream world of a lost and partly re-found avifauna and then into an equally liminal physical space – or vice versa. In this way, one experience nourished the other.

Here is a two dimensional and largely sonic incarnation of this world – the second part of the Echo-Maker trilogy Black Earth, which is informed by archaeological finds from Glastonbury and Meare iron Age Lake Villages. It combines zooarchaeological material, taxidermied specimens and sound recordings of the landscape of Shapwick Heath into which are woven bird calls from species now gone from the landscape but extant elsewhere (from the wonderful Xeno Canto archive).

Opportunities such as this represented are I believe, good for us – not least because they propagate a sense of timelessness which challenges our preoccupation with the idea that OUR moment in time is THE moment in time. This, of course, is not so and recognising this shrinks our heads, making us feel more connected and alive. And less anthropocentrically, it helps us to look beyond ourselves and our own lifetimes and see what is really important. 

Also – very simply – the resulting awakening of the senses brings joy; just one of a number of powerful emotions that can fuel a reconnection with the more-than-human world that is now and for always pivotal to our own long term survival.

People like ‘facts’ and find their (quite often ephemeral) ‘truth’ reassuring – but emotions are a more powerful catalyst and we, as artists who have the power to reach into the soul to the deeper part of the human condition, have an important role to play in securing our future.

%d bloggers like this: