Slightly different from my usual blog posts, I thought I’d share my reflective writing piece about my MA Art, Space & Nature work and how it has developed over the year of studying at Edinburgh College of Art. This is work I’ll be continuing to develop when I move home to Shetland. As always I’d love to know if you have any comments or questions… :)
The strands which have developed through my work are, the value of personal experience, and the importance of developing an intimate relationship with the natural environment.
Working with intuition and quiet, a deep sense of place, learning to move with the rhythms of nature, are my ways of exploring connection within the natural world. These ways are echoed by Country et al in Working with and Learning from Country: Decentring Human Author-ity, in developing a “methodology of attending” which includes “[considering] what it mean[s] to live as part of the world, rather than distinct from it.”¹
Through feeling my way into the atmosphere of a place, being with it, noticing evidence of the passage of time and how it is cyclical, my process requires slowing down. It cannot be forced. I cannot control it. Places in the landscape, objects, living things, the elements speak to me, when I let go of logic and listen. They direct me where to walk, my pace. My breathing changes and slows, I drop into surrender.
The energies of emotions and memories can linger in places, in bodies. Sometimes we need help to release them, often we hold them because we are afraid of not knowing who we will be without them. The ground we walk on, the earth, the rocks, offer security, comfort in their supportiveness; the water provides a constant reminder to let go.
“Be crumbled so wildflowers will come up where you are. You have been stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender” - Rumi²
My earlier works have connected to a sense of place through intimacy and openness, almost like a call to interpret the essence of a place with awareness that, whatever form the end result takes, it will also contain traces of myself and my personal experience in that moment.
Sinking in to the presence I felt whilst on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, the history and layers of time, cycles of death and growth, held in the area of a ruined croft house resulted in the creation of an atmospheric handwoven installation In Each Moment…, at An Lanntair Gallery, Lewis. The piece was a call to consider the shifting of time and the ways we are interconnected not only in the present but generationally with what has already been and what is yet to come.
in each moment there is
a veil, a window
ourselves, our ancestors
all at once shifting and familiar
My background in weaving came into play again after exploring the Black Wood of Rannoch in the Highlands of Scotland. Handwoven fabric acted as a visible and scented record of intuited communication between Scots pine and tree moss lichen, by absorbing the soaking liquid of these two found materials. I let myself be guided totally by messages received from gathered bark and lichen in a meditative way. Rather than use an analytical or research-based approach to learn about the plants properties or historical use, I chose to ‘listen’ by being in the presence of the gathered pieces and remembering my time in the forest.
Textiles took the lead in both In Each Moment… and Whisperings , although initial ideas always begin with writing and photography. As well as a means of development, text has more recently become a significant part of my final work.
In What the Tides Taught Me, both text and photography become equal focal points. Showing the work on a long narrow space beneath tall windows allows the viewer to follow the route of my observances as I explored a coastal landscape. With an undulating placement of words and images reminiscent of the movement of the sea.
What the Tides Taught Me developed from a process of wandering. I use the word wandering in preference to walking here as the former suggests to me fluidity, curiosity and openness. As Thomas Clark writes in In Praise of Walking, “What I take with me, what I leave behind, are of less importance than what I discover along the way”³, so the simple act of wandering is akin to exploration, of place and of self.
The place was the coast of St Monans, a small fishing village on the south coast of Fife, Scotland. As an islander (from Shetland, an archipelago in the North Sea, 120 miles north of the most northerly point of mainland Scotland), the sea is in my blood, in my bones. It’s movement, sound, and shifting colours are familiar to me, the sensations they create in my body feel like home.
To me, the sea is comfort, familiarity, spaciousness, openness – a connection which is all at once intimate and expansive. Standing on a small section of coast that is also global, this great body of water can create distance while simultaneously being the connecting point between so many shores.
For several weeks I took the chance every day I could to wander the coast of St Monans. I saw how it left it’s trace along rocks and sand, uneven lines of seaweed, driftwood and other debris, as it moved back into itself. How limpets followed it’s trail as far as they could before settling immobile awaiting the returning tide.
Reacquainting myself with the sea, after living in the busyness of Edinburgh for six months, I began to crave it’s motion, it’s touch. As I sat with feet bare, waiting for the moment when low tide would turn and the water begin it’s choppy rise, first splashing my soles, then sometimes there sometimes not, until the sides of my feet were constantly immersed, I stayed until it crept higher, until I felt, like the limpets, ready to move off again.
The shore has two different lives, it is dry land and it is the sea floor, it is an in-between place. In his book, Common Ground,⁴ which is part nature writing part memoir about a square mile of rough wood, meadow and river on the edge of town, Rob Cowen is similarly drawn to a place of in-between.
Paralleling Cowen, my observances overlap and resonate with the personal. What I notice and pay attention to changes with my mood, and my mood changes as I drop into a state of being which author and speaker Martha Beck calls “wordlessness”.⁵ Overwhelm can dissipate, from confusion and struggle comes clarity. More than anything though, there is a sense of being part of it all, a reminder that separateness is an illusion. In Working with Time: Rivers & Tides, sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy recognises this shared spirit and emphasises a desire to connect with it when he says, “I want to understand that state and that energy that I have in me that I also feel in the plants and in the land.”⁶
I gave myself time to be with the tides, and so we got to know each other. It wasn’t just me and the sea, but stones, sea glass, pottery (or laem as we say in Shetland) were intermediaries, they helped us (the sea and I) communicate. Especially the stones. They acted as messengers, taking what was not words and holding that so as to free up space for me to understand. And, they knew the time to let go. Along with the sea, they knew so much more than I did.
It’s important to know that, the simple truth is, I just went for a wander. I just did what felt good, on a deep, soul level. I gave up logic, goals, planning and control. Instinctively I felt my way along this path. I knew when there was nothing more to learn because I sensed it, the tides and the stones quietened, they didn’t lead me anymore. So, then I knew the writing was done. What began on a full moon, was complete on a full moon.
I believe it’s important to find experience in a personal way, before learning too much about the experience of others, so that it comes from a place that is purely our own. In an interview on the subject of Joseph Beuys performance, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, the artist emphasises that “… the person should rather understand by completely placing himself into the object…”⁷ rather than approaching knowing through intellect or logic.
Only then can we go on to share and learn from each other with a sense of authenticity and true understanding. Developing a personal relationship with nature accordingly encourages feelings of respect, responsibility and an awareness of our dependence on the natural world.
Learning to let the work unfold and follow direction from place is the basis of my creative practice. The weeks I spent with the tides, that particular experience, was for that particular time. Landscape will continue to teach me at other times in the future, to point out what I need to notice, to discover and know.
Clark, T. A. (2007) In Praise of Walking. Kirkcaldy: Fife Council Central Area Libraries
Country, B. et al (2015) ‘Working with and learning from Country: decentring human author-ity’, Cultural Geographies. SAGE Publications Sage UK: London, England, 22(2), pp. 269-283. doi: 10.117/1474474014539248.
Beck, M. (2012) Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. London: Hachette Digital
mishiko1824 (2014) Joseph Beuys – English Subtitles – How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare 1/2. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo47lqk_QH0&list=PLWQht4ATSrAL2HKdZl7yeizaMa-1Hujbo&index=2&t=0s
Silver, T. (2019) It’s Not Your Money. London: Hay House UK, Ltd
Kumar, S. (2013) Soil · Soul · Society – A New Trinity for Our Time. East Sussex: Leaping Hare Press
Watt, R. (2019) Moder Dy. Mother Wave. Edinburgh: Polygon
Di Sapia, I. (2018) The Selkie. Weaving & The Wild Feminine. UK: Magpie Magazine
Rising Paradigm dot TV (2018) Rivers And Tides Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time 2001 720p BluRay x264 YTS AM. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WP2AfqyOsI
 Clark, T. A. (2007) In Praise of Walking. Kirkcaldy: Fife Council Central Area Libraries
 Silver, T. (2019) It’s Not Your Money. London: Hay House UK, Ltd, p137
 Country, B. et al (2015) ‘Working with and learning from Country: decentring human author-ity’, Cultural Geographies. SAGE Publications Sage UK: London, England, 22(2), pp. 269-283. doi: 10.117/1474474014539248.
 Cowen, R. (2015) Common Ground. London: Penguin Random House
 Beck, M. (2012) Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. London: Hachette Digital, pp. 24-25
 Rising Paradigm dot TV (2018) Rivers And Tides Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time 2001 720p BluRay x264 YTS AM. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WP2AfqyOsI (Accessed: 24 June 2019)
 mishiko1824 (2014) Joseph Beuys – English Subtitles – How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare 1/2. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo47lqk_QH0&list=PLWQht4ATSrAL2HKdZl7yeizaMa-1Hujbo&index=2&t=0s (Accessed: 20 July 2019)