Wednesday, 16 November 2011

River locale

I have been reading an article by Michael Bonnett ("Environmental Concern, Moral Education and Our Place in Nature" - see Philosophy of Education Research Seminars programme).

He begins by talking about our relationship with nature, and that there are two ways that it can be thought of:  nature as something separate from ourselves which presents us with a problem (limited resources) that we have to intelligently deal with in order to continue living the way we want to; or, nature is something that now demands that we fundamentally change how we think about how we live and even question what is a good way to live.
hawthorn berries

As the article develops, he begins to talk about walking, my own favourite mode of transport and current fascination!  Here it is again, that idea that many other writers have spoken about, and I have been experiencing, that walking makes you more aware of your surroundings, begins to attune you to natural phenomena around you and gives you a deeper sense of connection with your environment.  Bonnett talks about "our felt sense of place", that nature's presence is something we feel, our sense of our own place in nature is not just an abstract idea about eco-systems, but something that we have a relationship with because it exists in the very location that we exist in.  He calls it a sense of emplacement. 

I like this.  He talks about the walker being open to sensory experience, setting off with a "keen attentiveness" to anything that he might encounter.  This has been my experience when walking along the River Nene.  I have started making pen and ink drawings of some of the details that catch my attention as I walk.  The flora that is specific to the locale of the river.  I have started to become fascinated by the structure of natural things, or architecture as I like to think of it.  But I want to think more about the sense of nature as a system against this more localised idea of experiencing things as you are in them...

... you see my other fascination is maps and maps are a way of trying to create a system, linking things together, making sense of and creating a coherent network of elements.  So maps are a lot like trying to identify an eco-system.  Some people are of the opinion that eco-systems are an entirely invented notion by humans who obsessively try to find order in chaos.  Yes, we do, but we also recognise certain types of order or structure (or architecture) in nature when we observe it.

When I am on the river, it is the sense of the locale, or the immediate and present place, that I feel, not the sense of the map or structure within which the river also exists.  When boating, you are aware that the river is navigable and that there are points of navigation that link one place to another.  However, in a narrow boat anyway, you are travelling around about walking pace, and that slowness allows you to exist located in the present moment, the present locale.  So you do have a sense of both things at the same time.

So the map of the river that I will create will need to do both -  a number of specific, localised points (or sketches) that have that sense of immediate locale, but also the overarching linear network within which they are all joined.  And in this way the river journey is different from other journeys, because it is linear.  It could work as a narrative.  There are no criss-crossing waterways on this stretch of river that you can decide to turn off on or route somewhere else.  You either go up river or down.  You have to pass each point in turn, no skipping, each locale demands its time from you.  Just go with the flow...

The river map is part of a project with three Jos, see an update from the other two Jo's about "Riverlands" here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Walking Sidelong

LJ and I have got our first commission together!

Some time ago I blogged about the idea of curated walks and my intention to collaborate with LJ Klee, a colleague at Nottingham Contemporary, to investigate our mutual interest in walking.  To kick off our collaboration, we have just received a commission to create a Night Walk, which we are calling Dream Walking, as part of Nottingham's Light Night Festival on 10th February 2012.

Not all our walks need to be in Nottingham, but it seemed a good place to start!  We have spent a couple of evenings exploring streets around Nottingham City Centre and through our conversation have discovered a number of shared interests or strands of thought.  We decided to call our collaboration Sidelong as the word suggests some of our interests:  we both have an interest in the idea of getting off the beaten track, looking at things differently from different viewpoints, exploring side streets and liminal space, looking above eye level, finding and revealing the hidden, going against the grain.

Reflecting on the last few weeks, I am aware of the various curatorial elements of a number of things I am involved with, and how they are all starting to relate to each other through my perception of it.  Which, in fact, is a bit like curating my own life!  With the work with objects, with New Walk Museum and Klaus Weber's current exhibition (see previous post) I have seen how connections are made between different objects when they are brought together, and I like how Weber has spoken about objects working as individual words in a letter, but that can be "read" in different directions.  I see how my mapping and walking of different routes become an act of curating, in the way your thoughts frame the route and the experience of that route to reveal a theme or character.  This also differs in the direction that you walk a route - last night LJ and I found ourselves walking a route we had previously walked but from the other direction, and in the dark instead of in the daytime, and were amazed at how different our memory of the walk was and how easily confused we were in trying to find familiar things!

You can follow our work as Sidelong on our blog,, and find out more about Dream Walking and Nottingham Light Night.  Perhaps see you there?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Working with objects

It's been a really busy few weeks, so I'm sorry I haven't found time to blog for a while.

My last few weeks have been about working with objects.  At Nottingham Contemporary I am working with the new exhibition which includes two rooms filled with 200 objects that have been brought together by artist Klaus Weber.  Also, I started working with a fantastic group of young people at New Walk Museum in Leicester, looking at curating and interpreting objects there.

Over the half term break 7 young women met with me and my co-worker for this project, Davey, at New Walk Museum and worked with us for two intensive days.  We did all sorts of activities, exploring the exhibitions that they have and the varied ways in which they have been curated, coming up with our own ideas.  We then went on to work with objects that I had borrowed from Leicestershire's Open Museum Resource Box collection to create mini exhibitions and interpretation for the objects.

Objects for A Journey Through Sound

The group were really creative and inspirational, coming up with brilliant ideas for bringing the objects alive.

The exhibitions they created included: a Journey Through Sound, looking at the history of music, sound and communication, from cavemen to the present and into the future; the Global Footsteps exhibition, discovering people's lives and stories from around the globe by looking at their shoes;  and an exhibition of mystery objects called Kitchen Culture which worked as a quiz to guess what curious domestic items might have been used for.
Global Footsteps

A selection of mystery objects

The group thought about ways to move around an exhibition, how visitors might move from one space to another, the Global Footsteps exhibition even had an island that you had to tiptoe around to cross the space without getting your feet wet in the sea!

They thought about ways to make people look closely at the objects, such as in Kitchen Culture they took very close-up photographs of the objects which were displayed on an iPad screen and you had to find the object that corresponded to the image.  

Close up photos for Kitchen Culture
They thought about interactivity.  The Sound exhibition was very interactive with opportunities for visitors to play sounds, listen through headphones as well as surround sound, and create and record their own sounds.
Invented stories inspired by objects

For me it was really interesting to work through the process with the group, seeing how they related to objects and thought creatively to make those objects interesting.  Seemingly mundane items such as shoes and saucepans became curious and fascinating through their interpretation.

The work has influenced my work at Nottingham Contemporary where I have just started working with a group of adults from Bilborough.  Inspired by the objects in the Klaus Weber exhibition, I'm working with the group to make personal connections with objects and to think about collections of objects, how text changes our perception of objects and how objects put together can become something new.

It's been a great experience and I aim to work with the young people's group again at New Walk Museum to create some interpretive resources for visitors to use at the museum in the future.  More fun to come!