Friday, 13 December 2013

Underneath 8 Castle Gate

As part of A Walk Through the Underworld, our imaginative tour of Nottingham's caves, we walked along Castle Gate and paused outside number 8.

No. 8 Castle Gate hides an intriguing little cave, only big enough for two or three people at a time to enter, so we couldn't take our tour group in. However we did stop outside and think for a moment about the idea of what was beneath our feet, and I was able to describe the cave, having visited it a few times myself.

Standing outside no. 8, a grand and decorative mid century red brick building, one would never think there was a cave complex underneath. To access it, you enter the building through its large blue wooden doors under ornamental stone arches, walk through modern offices, down a long corridor, before being led into a rather nice library and meeting room, with dark wooden bookshelves and deep blue fabric upholstered chairs. In the corner of this room, behind a glass door, is a hole in the floor.

The hole is just big enough for one relatively slim person to get through. A tightly spiralled wrought iron staircase takes you down steeply to a completely different world.

8 Castle Gate's cave has several circular spaces adjoining the central area at the bottom of the steps. The walls are golden sandstone with red blemishes. There is a large circular pit on the right, a ledge around it just big enough for one person to circumnavigate.

On the left is total darkness, but investigation with a torch shows carved columns holding up the arched roof, standing in very still, deep green water surfaced with the fluffy flowers of algae.

I imagine hiding down here, the dampness and cramped conditions all around, a chamber untouched from past times (other than the introduction of a little lighting), listening in to the modern day administrative concerns in the meeting room directly above. A strange contrast of worlds and times; the cave a product of the hard labours of men and a remnant of the dirtiest of manual work, tanners worked here, whilst directly above in the manicured modern day the work is cerebral and clean.

The building is now occupied by the main administrative office of The Congregational Federation, who are obviously very proud of their little hidden gem. As a result of our contact with them, they have commissioned me to create a drawing of their cave to hang in the meeting room by the cave entrance. This has been my project for the last month, and is near completion. I should be able to install it early in the new year.

I'm really enjoying making the work and it has helped to keep my mind in contact with the whole experience of A Walk Through the Underworld. LJ and I are both so excited about launching our Box of Things at the event on 19th January. We hope you can join us.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Reflections on A Walk Through the Underworld

Cosmic ray laboratory, cave installation, Sidelong 2013
Although the cave tours have finished, LJ and I are still creating work as a result of our Sidelong project A Walk Through the Underworld.

I knew at the beginning of the project I wanted to create installations in the caves, which would be small but powerful. However, working with two practitioners of other disciplines to mine,  Laura-Jade Klee (a curator with a background in performance) and Wayne Burrows (a writer with an interest in fictionalised histories), my ideas and work have been influenced and developed in new directions. I feel that, in this way, this has been a truely collaborative project; each of the three people influencing each other. Although much of the work is authored by one or the other of us, there are definitely elements that are seamless creations.

Underground herb garden, cave installation, Sidelong 2013

As the project progressed, we became lost in our fictional tales inspired by stories, research and the caves' physical presence, until I began to believe everything we said myself and to present everything as fact. I found myself entering the game wholeheartedly, and the performer in me began to emerge.

Participants discovering "relics", Sidelong 2013
I have always been interested in the performance of unwrapping an object, something we played with in the caves.  As the tours developed, they began to take on a theme of finding boxes, hidden relics, objects wrapped in cloth, scrolls rolled up. Each item had to be uncovered in some way by the participants, heightening the sense of anticipation, curiosity and surprise each time.

It is with this in mind that our "publication", originally intended to be a book, has developed into the idea of a box of things. Since the last walk in October, we have been working on the contents of this box, which will include stories, paper creations, printed matter, falsified leaflets and small objects. We will make 50 boxes in total as a limited edition, to be launched on Sunday 19th January 2014 at New Art Exchange, 3-5pm. We intend to make this event another installation of a sort, so expect the unexpected! We hope some of you will be able to join us.
A Walk Through the Underworld, Sidelong 2013
Sidelong projects, as well as some of my other walking related projects, will be represented in The Walking Encyclopedia, an exhibition of walking artists' work next year at AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent.

A Walk Through the Underworld is supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and by New Art Exchange.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dukes Wood Opening Weekend

Images from my weekend at Dukes Wood:



Alec Finlay

Friday, 26 July 2013

A Walk Through the Underworld officially launched

My collaborative Sidelong project A Walk Through the Underworld is now officially launched!

We present a unique art walk exploring hidden chambers deep beneath our feet. Rediscover the caves of Nottingham through art interventions, fabricated objects and storytelling. This participatory experience explores some of these mysterious spaces and creatively re-imagines what may have occurred in the secrecy of sandstone walls.

A Walk Through the Underworld resembles a treasure trail, alternating between underground and overground and revealing artistic surprises along the route. Exploring the notions of relics, we will present a series of objects of curiosity, encouraging all cave explorers to convey myths and fictionalise history. Bring along your own intriguing objects and share a peculiar story of Nottingham.

Working with Nottingham based writer, Wayne Burrows, the walk will unveil a fantastical parallel world, simultaneously based in history and imagination. Taking some inspiration from cave history, myths and legends, the walk is also fictitious, proving things aren’t always as they seem. The events will inspire a publication that will be released in December 2013.

The walk features a series of caves that are not usually publicly accessible including: Willoughby House’s circular wine cellar, Brewhouse Yard’s cave adjoining a cosmic ray laboratory and The Salutation Inn’s haunted chambers. We will explore the very unique identities of these environments which have served diverse and unexpected functions over the course of history. Join us in our exploration!

When: 1-3pm 14th, 21st, 28th September or 5th October. Spaces are limited, booking essential.
Where: Meet outside Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn
Admission: £7 (£5 concession)
14th September- Free launch event as part of Heritage Open Days
Bookings: Tickets are available from 1st August through calling New Art Exchange on 0115 9248630.

Some of the caves have steep staircases, uneven flooring and low ceilings. Please contact Sidelong at if you are interested in the project but have health or mobility issues or suffer from anxieties which may prevent you entering the caves.

A Walk Through the Underworld is supported by Arts Council England, Nottingham Cave Survey, New Art Exchange, Writing East Midlands, and The Salutation Inn.

Thursday, 13 June 2013


My workshops for the Dukes Wood project start later this month. I've written a blog post about some of my ideas for the Dukes Wood project blog entitled Litmus, click here to read it.

My open workshops will take place in the last weekend of August, I hope you can join me!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Shot in the Dark!

Our short video filmed in the darkness of Nottingham's caves is now up on our Sidelong blog, click here to see it: A Walk Through the Underworld

As the project develops I'll be sending more short clips to subscribers to our newsletter.

We are looking for donations and sponsors for our project so please make a donation and help to spread the word! Donors will receive exclusive rewards, visit the Sidelong blog for details.

Friday, 10 May 2013

A Walk Through the Underworld

We are very excited about our new Sidelong project we've just launched, A Walk Through the Underworld, about the experience of exploring Nottingham's caves. Please read the post on our Sidelong blog to find out more and sign up for updates to keep informed.

Click here to read the post

Click here to sign up for updates

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Ways of Mapping Dukes Wood

A carpet of wood anemones
I have visited Dukes Wood now (as part of a new project there by Ordinary Culture) in the winter and more recently as spring breaks through. Watching how the woods develop through the seasons, turning from a skeleton structure of dried hogsweed and spindly trees to an emerging lushness of wood anemone carpets and bursting bright green hawthorn leaves.

The first time I walked through the woods it was bucketing down. But in the winter months, without leaves or undergrowth to hide it, I could see the structure of things, the way climbers were twisting up tree trunks and the undulation of the earth where mining work had moved the soil. In my mind I mapped it in terms of structural routes, verticals and horizontals, connecting elements and paths.

The second time it was beautifully sunny and full of the promise of spring. Wild woodland flowers started appearing, intriguing green pushing up through the earth, not quite big enough to identify. This time I started mapping it as a forager might, looking for clues for what might grow where and the properties of plants that may appear in future months.

Suddenly a hare appeared on my path
The third time I mapped it for sounds. It was sunny again but incredibly windy, and the noise through the trees created squeaking noises in the northern side of the woods, and huge rushing sounds at the southern edge. The wind turbine viewed from the northerly edge of the woods generated a high pitched squeal as it turned.

New growth reaches for the sun
The woods are incredibly sensory places, this wood particularly so. It seems imperative that when I run my workshops at Dukes Wood later in the year they should include sensory mapping.

But there is another map at Dukes Wood. A secret underground map, a network of drilled holes for oil extraction. Nodding donkeys are dotted about and obvious. However the trail map for the woods, found in the museum, is peppered with little crosses that mark where the wells once were but are now hidden under the undergrowth, and marked with rectangles of manmade structures that are no longer there, just traces of them remain, the odd pipe sticking up or lying along the ground.

This is the other sense of Dukes Wood that I want to engage participants in. A sense of the unseen things, the layers of the site that have been built up by history and its former uses. A sense of the hidden world deep, deep under the ground. The special qualities of rock and millions of years of layering that made this place what it is, and produced the oil in between its cracks.

I am working on a workshop idea about layering: up above, on the ground, and below.

I will be running a school's workshop on site in July, and open public workshops at the end of August. Watch my list of events for details nearer the time, or sign up to my newsletter for updates.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Walking as rhythmic ritual

"In the mountains of eastern Tibet, walking long miles through oak forests to reach Minya Konka, I set my pace to a Spanish palindrome on the subject of pilgrimage: La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural – "The path provides the natural next step". Its form cleverly acknowledges the transformative consequences of the pilgrimage, which turns the mind back upon itself, leaving the traveller both ostensibly unchanged and profoundly redirected."

A trip to Norwich Cathedral continued to develop my thoughts on walking as pilgrimage.
The quote from Robert Macfarlane above alludes once again to the idea of forward motion, of the rhythms of footsteps when walking that does something to connect us with our thought processes. In Norwich I was reminded that religion and its ritual has long understood this connection between the rhythms of walking and meditation.

Norwich Cathedral was a place of pilgrimage for centuries, attracting thousands to its walls. I am not aware of the paths that these pilgrims might have taken to reach here. However, walking the Cloisters of the cathedral, one can clearly feel the attitude of thoughtful perambulation that they were built for.

The very architecture of the Cloisters is built to evoke rhythms, to draw the walker on down the passageway (for me the image connects with Walter Benjamin's Parisian Arcades, an architecture for the religion of consumerism). The Cloisters form a circular route that can continue endlessly, extending the walk as long as it needs to be without ever leaving the building itself. The walker is allowed to connect with their internal meditations without interruption or being troubled by destination or navigation, merely allowing the repetitive motion of one foot in front of the other to continue rhythmically as long as is necessary.

In the centre of the cloisters is a low circular labyrinth. This is a new one, but an old idea; I have stumbled across many of these kind of labyrinths across the country. They were created for monks to walk the lines, twisting and turning as life itself, until reaching the central destination, a physical metaphor for the spiritual path through life to enlightenment. The labyrinth provides a form of pilgrimage for those devotees who cannot actually leave their location; a pilgrimage taking place in the mind through the physical walking of a delineated journey. (I walked one in York Minster where I had made an installation as part of Minster Nights 2009; as part of the event North Country Theater created a labyrinth in the Lady Chapel and invited people to walk the lines, then exchange a thought on paper dropped into a basket in the middle.)

This kind of walking is much like a chant, another repetitive and rhythmic form of meditation used by religious devotees.  "La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural"

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Reflection, contemplation, light and dark

Opposites is a good theme for this time of year. Bringing light into the dark, with fireworks celebrating the turn of the year, as well as reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the new one.

What a perfect time, then, for the Light Walks for Dark Days exhibition, which Carole and I opened on December 20th in the little Bee Inspired workshop in Kettering.

Our exhibition aimed to bring lots of light into the dark days of December, and reflect on the past year of walking around Northamptonshire. Our Light Walk Team were there to act as hosts, and got stuck in to talking to visitors about their experience of the last year. It was great to see how their confidence had grown over time.

Our exhibition celebrated walking, seasons, growth, nature, weather and companionship. It celebrated generosity too through the sharing of food and our wonderful visitors brought their own foraged offerings to share at the gathering, including this beautiful bouquet made from dried leaves:

We screened our film for the first time too. The opening afternoon was really busy, packed with people and quite noisy, which was great! However it was lovely to sit down at 5 o'clock after everybody had gone with just Carolyn from N-STEP and Kate and Lorraine from Corby Community Arts, turn down the lights, drink a glass and watch the film through from beginning to end.

We had to put the film together quite quickly, using footage that had been shot during the walks throughout the year, and with a soundtrack stitched together from recorded conversations between Carole, me and the Reverend Richard Coles (the vicar of one of our explored places, Finedon, as well as a regular walker and broadcaster for Radio 4, who kindly agreed to be interviewed for our project.) So it was lovely to have the chance, after all the organisational mayhem to get the exhibition up and open, to just sit and look at what we had actually made!

The film is contemplative and impressionistic. The pace is much like a walk itself, a slow ramble, images of light and landscape merging one into another. Textures, weather, water and colour float across the screen as a simple voice soundtrack relate memories and impressions.

The process of putting the film together was interesting. We just had a whole lot of material to work with, moving imagery as well as recorded voices and sounds of birdsong and water running. There was no plan, no structure or storyboard, we simply took what we had and juggled it around. Gradually a structure suggested itself and we edited, edited, edited until we had 25 minutes with a coherent beginning and end.

I enjoyed this way of working, it was intuitive and creative and allowed layers of meaning to emerge, layering voice-overs with imagery and allowing one image to overlap into another. There were many wonderful moments in the opening event, and just one of my highlights was Lorraine's reaction. Having watched the film she said she would like to watch it again and really think through some of the things it suggested to her about walking. For me this encapsulated what I wanted, to create a film to quietly contemplate and to mull over. A film with the same feeling I have when I go on a walk.

We would like to tour our exhibition and film and would welcome suggestions for venues where we could recreate the installation.

The year of walks we did with the Light Walks Team of young people are documented on our collaborative blog,

Light Walks for Dark Days was made possible by funding from the National Lottery through Awards for All, from the Midlands Co-operative Society Ltd and support from N-STEP.