Friday, 14 October 2011

Fruit Routes

On Monday I paid a visit to Fruit Routes, a project by artist Anne-Marie Culhane in Loughborough.

Anne-Marie is identifying and creating routes for foraging around the Loughborough University campus.  I was invited by Paul Conneally, Cultural Forager, who also worked on the commissions at Snibston.  Paul and Anne-Marie had invited other artists, lecturers and students to take a walk along the first Fruit Route, sample some foraged fruit juices and discuss the ideas of foraging and art.  As I have been involved in bits of foraging recently, with the walking projects as well as from visiting the River Nene (see River Foraging post and The grammar of Nature - gift or product?), I thought I should get involved.

Anne-Marie has occupied a beautiful shed on the campus, surrounded by plants and boxes of foraged apples.  A magnificent tangle of tubes hang from the ceiling, from which you can sample delicious fruit juices.

Discussions took on very personal reflections on the idea of foraging, food and our relationship to natural things, as well as a really interesting conversation about what foraging actually is and how it could be perceived as an art practice.
It seems to me that all artists are foragers in a sense.  We go out into the world, find things around us, take those impressions and make something of them.  These foraged ideas we can then share with the world.  Anne-Marie's project emphasises the idea of sharing, that the food and drink she is making is free and therefore should be given away.  Gillian Whitely from the School of Arts, who has been interested in foraging for many years and is well read on the subject, spoke about projects a few decades ago that aimed to subvert the capitalist system by giving away food rather than selling it.

Apple pressing
As we sat talking and nibbling on nuts, fruit leathers and berries, it reminded me of a comment my dad had made when we were eating shrimp with our fingers on holiday last month:  how eating with your fingers has a primeval appeal.  Gathering and growing your own food is also like that to me, a grounding experience that brings you really close to your food.

Artist Bob Levene talked about how foraging changes the way you look at the landscape.  Your focus becomes really acute, it is almost an obsession, you see things that non-foragers miss.   I have experienced this, on occasions out walking I have slipped into a foraging mode and find that as I am walking along I'm looking sideways all the time, my eyes scanning the hedgerows and trying to glimpse through gaps to the fields beyond.

Being an artist can also mean that you focus on things that other people might not notice.  But in doing so, are there other things you might miss?  Often my practice seeks the individual, the small, the unnoticed, but there are also moments when you need to take in the wider view.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Little haloes

It has been a while since I have managed to get down to the River Nene.  So that hot October weekend, I got out my summer dress again and walked from Woodford to Denford Lock, and then Islip to Titchmarsh.

The path from Woodford takes you down a narrow walk between two fenced off fields with horses lazily munching.  Faithfully I followed this path and over a stile.

It was very peaceful and still in the hot sun.  Certain sounds became prominent, crows calling.  In the distance the sound of the water rushing over the weir seemed to be calling me back to the river.

I followed the sound and suddenly I saw the river glistening in a gap between the trees.  A sudden jolt of excitement and an audible gasp.  It was just like bumping into an old friend.

I have found in my walking projects that I become very attached to the specific landscapes in which I walk.  I get to know them in intimate detail and I feel a definite sense of belonging, both ways:  they belong to me and I belong to them.

This walk is beautiful.  You can walk right along the river's edge for quite a way, eventually coming to the weir where the river splits in two, and then on to Denford Lock.

I wandered off the path at one point, and just followed the river bank.  A pretty plump rabbit saw me and stopped.  I stopped.  Then I walked a little more.  He also moved on a bit.  Then I stopped.  He stopped.  We continued this game for a little while until he decided I wasn't a threat and disappeared off into the hedgerow.

Across the river was a small wooden house on a pole.  A birdhouse sentry.  Quite odd.

Canoeists waved at me as they paddled gently, bringing back memories of the day we canoed from Thrapston to Oundle back in May, how tenderly the river seemed to hold us up.

I lost track of the Nene Way at Denford.  It would have taken me on to Islip but I couldn't find it.  So I turned back.

With the weather so hot it seemed like a summer day that would go on and on... but of course the sun was soon on its way down and right in front of me on my way back.  The soft light made the autumn colours glow, playing across the water's ripples and illuminating the translucence of leaves.  A handfull of blackberries kept me from getting too thirsty.

Approaching the bridge again, I saw a swathe of dried thistle heads, the sun light creating a glow around them, like a crowd of faces with little haloes.

Walking from Islip to Titchmarsh the next day, I started walking between lakes and the river.

Formed by the old gravel pits, the lakes are now the Titchmarsh Nature Reserve, and of course abundant with birds.  I often saw a large black bird flying above, which looked like a cormorant to me.  Later on, I heard a rather mournful sound, almost a weeping, from behind the trees near the lake.  Having looked up the sound a cormorant makes, it did sound just like this.

Countless swans covered a lake, as far as you could see.

You feel surrounded by water, lakes to the left and infront, the river on the right.  The sailing club had a wonderful stillness today, being a hot Sunday, everything sitting quietly in symmetry with undisturbed reflections.

Again, walking back the sun was low, shadows long and the light golden.  Colours seemed heightened, bright red thorns against the blue sky.

The weekend had been all about light, the sun bringing alive the leaves, water, shadows, a sense of stillness only animated by the ever changing play of light as the sun gently lowered behind the horizon.