The Fight for Beauty

Given that I normally adhere to the ‘blue moon’ system of blogging, readers will be surprised to see that I have not only posted this week as well as last… but also, today, I am offering this reblog from Adrian Colston of ‘A Dartmoor and Devon Blog. I have never reblogged before – it must be Spring, or maybe It’s because I consider this to be such a vitally important topic for all of us.

A Dartmoor and Devon blog

Fiona Reynolds, the former Director General of the National Trust has just published her first book, The Fight for Beauty – our path to a better future.

“We live in a world where the drive for economic growth is crowding out everything that can’t be given a monetary value. We’re stuck on a treadmill where only material things in life gain traction and it’s getting harder to find space for the things that really matter but money can’t buy, including our future.”

The fight for beauty

This is a powerful book which reviews the history of beauty, aesthetics, landscape, countryside, nature conservation, farming and urbanisation. It then sets out how we can move forwards.

The book has chapters on the battle for National Parks, how nature and the wider countryside lost out, how farming made and destroyed beauty, the battles of trees and woodlands, the success story of the coast, cultural heritage and the battles around urbanisation…

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‘Empty Nest’

So I went back to  Northam Burrows the other day on a bright sunny morning, and made Empty Nest as an expression of my connection with a particular place at  particular moment in time. It’s made with driftwood, now strewn all along the beach after months of stormy weather, a little bit of dead marram grass that I’d found lying around, and bits of sheep’s fleece (the cleaner bits) that I had gathered up from the grassland beyond.

I dropped into a working rhythm, accompanied by a skylark overhead, singing at full throttle  in a clear blue sky.

Empty Nest: Northam Burrows, North Devon, UK, 23 May 2016. Found materials: driftwood, dead marram grass, sheep fleece. Dia. approx. 1 metre.

I ended by breaking one of my own rules for when working uninvited in a public space: ‘Leave nothing behind but footprints’ – a rule I adopted from walking artist Hamish Fulton a great many years ago (though I think I have heard it said in other contexts). These days my rules are a bit more flexible, but I still think very carefully before leaving anything lying about.

And  because I could not bring myself to destroy it, I left ‘Empty Nest’ in the sand where it lay – knowing full well it would be knocked down, blown or washed away within a couple of days or so.

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I Want to be Alone

I don’t really want to be alone, not totally! But there are times when I do feel the need to get away from noisy everyday life and all of its craziness, and just wander alone in the landscape.  This wandering has been a regular practice of mine for many, many years. It is an activity closely tied up with my work as an artist, and is normally undertaken in the region of the place I know as home.

So what’s the purpose of this wandering? What do I hope to achieve? Well, mostly I am seeking a certain solitude (not so easy to find these days), a means whereby I might drop into alignment with the living earth. The idea is to temporarily detach myself from other humans, and connect with natural life all around: the land,  the rivers, the wildlife, the elements: tapping in to our own deepest nature.

dunlin on Northam Burrows - Linda Gordon

Dunlin on Northam Burrows

Walking on Northam Burrows (which is very close to my home –  in fact, I can view it from my top floor window), there was a time when I would aim to avoid all encounters with people, and especially people with unruly dogs.  And I disliked coming across disintegrating ‘artworks’ that disturbed my sense of being in harmony with nature.  I eventually turned to other places for my solitary reverie, though I am still very much enjoying visiting the Burrows with family or friends.

I was walking there last week with my Essential Nature group, and intrigued to find a number of roughly-assembled  ‘dens’ all along where the dunes meet the pebble ridge fronting the ocean. These were constructed with some of the large amount of driftwood that had been carried downriver, washed up and deposited along the shore. The dens looked completely at home there, tucked into the edge of the dunes: quite fun and inviting and satisfying. den on Northam Burrows - Linda Gordon

Maybe my attitude might have changed a bit, I thought. Maybe because there was no plastic or manufactured material involved in the constructions, but most of all, I decided,  it was because they were entirely in keeping with the place.

I began to ponder how right from the earliest times of prehistory,  it has been a natural human instinct to make constructions or to mark the landscape in some way. An instinct that continues to express itself right up to the present day:  in the works of wonderful artists such as Goldsworthy, Long and Turrell, as well as in our casual assemblages made on a holiday beach.

These musings must be left for another blog post, but for now, here’s news of  a superb TV  film called “Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature”. It is available to watch on BBC Channel 4 until June 2nd 2016.
PS: I see now, it is also on YouTube.

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Budleigh Salterton: a Springtime Idyll

Below is a selection of quick photos taken on a recent visit to the south of Devon,  meeting two of our Essential Nature friends for a perfect springtime day out.

First, the train journey from north to south of the county through green undulating hills and a soft blue sky. Then a short bus ride from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton, where we saw an exhibition of etchings and watercolours by Norman Ackroyd, an artist focused on landscape.

A walk along the open beach to the  River Otter estuary,  passing through the Otter Estuary Nature Reserve amidst new green leaves bursting forth, and sparkling birdsong. Along the way we watched our first swallows of the year, diving under and through the old stone bridge, skimming along the water on the other side, then up and over and round and back to do it all over again.


Wandered along the riverside to Otterton Mill, where we lingered over lunch in the sunny garden amongst the spring flowers.

And I think we all dozed off on our return train journey home… zzz…

Reflecting later on the experience, I find I am captivated by the contrast between Ackroyd’s dark, sublime landscapes drawn from his travels around Northern Scotland and the Orkneys, and our quintessentially English experience of the countryside in springtime. Parallel realities.

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Recurring Themes

Again and again I return to these woods. This place has become part of my inner infrastructure.  Yet I know everything is subject to change, moment by moment – and I know, for one reason or another, that one day I shall return no more.

During my visits, I have been carefully watching nature’s changes over the course of the four seasons – almost imperceptible, unless one is paying attention, in which case the changes are pretty obvious – and amazing!  This week, I have particularly noticed more and more tiny green shoots pushing up through the ground, and the tips of twigs on surrounding trees looking a little more swollen and perky every day. Today, I saw a few early primroses along the banks of the woodland track,  reminding me that Spring is on its way once again.

After so many months of rain, there is a massive amount of luxuriant green moss covering branches and trees all over the woods – cool, soft and gorgeous. I gathered up fallen moss-covered branches and made this piece of concentric rings on the as yet bare cold earth of February.

linda gordon - moss-covered branches, Bucks Valley Woods, North Devon, Feb 2016

Moss-covered branches returning to the earth.

 

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The Woods in Winter

Last month, January, was unseasonably mild here in North Devon, and it rained almost every day. For sure, this is a warmer part of UK, but one would normally expect a certain amount of snow and cold weather. Instead of this,we  have had spring flowers blooming since last December (daffodils, primroses, and even more exotic blooms); birds all around have been displaying courtship behaviour, and I have twice been bitten by a mosquito.  None of this very world-shattering in itself, but certainly a significant indicator of our ever-changing climate.

Here’s a slideshow of two or three brief visits I made to the woods, exploring a short distance alongside the fast-running stream.  It reflects my experience of a specific time in a specific place.

 

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Turning Point

I wrote this as a Page a couple of weeks ago – but as it slipped past the main stream of posts, I thought I’d repeat it here!  Wishing you all the best for 2016 – Linda.


As a member of AiNIN (Artists in Nature International), I was invited to create a site-specific piece on 29th November 2015, the eve of COP21 (the Paris Climate Conference) in support of the conference’s aims.  Artists around the world were to carry out a synchronised ‘art action’ at 12pm, each in their own time zone.

The project as a whole was registered with ArtCOP21, a global festival of cultural activity on climate change. For full details, please see AiNIN’s special site

Turning Point is a meandering, spiraling piece is made mostly with fallen twigs and branches, and circling around the trees of Bucks Valley Woods, near my home in South West England.

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Low winter sun, setting the mood..

The idea was for visitors to walk slowly around the tracks – gradually tuning in to the land and the immediate surroundings, in close proximity with the trees, the scents, the sounds, the cool air, the feel of rough bark and wet moss on the cheek… a way of bypassing the thinking mind, and coming into direct physical experience of our inextricable connection with nature.

The slow contemplative walking might be an opportunity to consider the issue of climate change, and the part we might individually be playing in this. Or our relationship with trees, and why they are so vital towards nourishing the land and the air that sustain our lives. Or the effect of climate change on the ever-declining numbers of trees in our country – and what we can each do about all this.

I like this sort of quiet simple activity, a means of coming into harmony with the natural world around us. I like my own slow, repetitive labour-intensive making-process of gathering and arranging materials from the ground. I think it is not possible to make positive changes in the world without first coming into a position of clarity oneself.

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Once finished, I began to think about the synchronised event on 29th..

Fri 27 Nov – Rain made the steep track leading up to the site very wet and muddy.

Sat 28 Nov – Storms. Rain and gale force winds. I knew that driving would be hazardous; and as the ground was so wet, trees were likely to come down in the woods; and the track up to the site would be very slippery with mud and running water. People contacted me, saying that they did not want to come along to the woods tomorrow.
And so, reluctantly I cancelled the 12pm Art Action.

Sun Nov 29 – I did not venture out in the fierce storms.
Throughout the following week, the road down to the woods was closed because the river had burst a hole in the tarmac. I did not attempt to reach my work, to inspect it for damage.

Mon 7 Dec – I looked at the work. The bluebell stalks were scattered everywhere – but the main part, made with twigs, was not too bad.

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Tuesday and Wednesday –  I spent some time restoring and repairing the work – binding it here and there with ivy, and spiking it with tiny sticks – hoping that would stop it from blowing away.
Wednesday afternoon was sunny and sparkly, and I was happy. I started to take photos, only to find that I had brought the wrong camera batteries…. Drat!

Thur 10 Dec – I had agreed to meet people from BBC Bristol, who wanted to talk to me in relation to a rurally-based TV programme, and also to view Turning Point in situ.

Well, after our meeting, we went and stood at the bottom of the track, and the rain was so dense and pervading, and the sky was so overcast, that I could barely see my hand in front of my face. We decided not to brave the slippery slope, and went home.

This was the second time I had arranged for people to experience the work, and been prevented by bad weather. It is tempting to assume it was all related to climate change, and the theme of this piece. It did seem a little odd.

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Sat 12 Dec –  Delegates at COP21 reached agreement today. I have always regarded the conference as a turning point for humanity towards a new way of being in the world. I still do so, though this does not mean we will have an easy ride.

Since foul weather had twice prevented visitors from coming up to my site, what I did was make a bunch of ‘selfies’, to give scale and give focus to the underlying concept. The weather was dark cloudy and windy, but no rain!

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I noticed it was strangely still and silent where I stood under the trees. Gazing up to the sky through intricate interlaced branches, and out towards Bucks Valley and the ocean beyond, it felt like a great open protective dome against the elements.

I stood at the centre of my work, switched my little stills camera on to video mode and span around until I felt giddy: spinning between Earth and Sky.

Here’s the result:

 

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Scattered Memories

Some more images from last week’s Heddon’s Mouth walk –  these above by Paula Newbery, including one sketch that did not get too wet!

These by Michelle Wilkinson.
It is fascinating to see our different experiences of the same place and situation.

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Heddon’s Mouth: walking in pensive mood

An Essential Nature walk along Heddon Valley from the Hunter’s Inn to the coast and back.

We arrived in that dense fine sort of rain that soaks right through you and feels like being in a cloud. It was a little bit windy too. Our friends who had been patiently waiting for our car load of people to arrive were already cold and wet.

Intrepid as ever, the ten of us set off through the steep-sided valley, covered all over with dark, protecting trees. We followed the track, alongside what I have seen described on the internet as ‘a bubbling stream’, but today it was a turbulent, dramatic, foaming torrent, racing towards the sea.  There were no other visitors around – just us. In this still relatively isolated densely-wooded valley, and this wild weather, it felt like an adventure – a bunch of explorers heading out into unknown territory.

As we went, we made sketches, took notes or photographs.

Heddon Valley, North Devon

 

Some of us did know a little about this place (in fact some of us have been here together several times before), and I meant to look out for various types of tree and plant that I knew were there – but like the river, I was intent on surging forward to the sea.

The water was high, and with the recent heavy rain and storm damage around this part of North Devon, together with news of serious flooding in other parts of the country, I could not help thinking of the Paris Climate Conference about to draw to a conclusion – and wondering whether indeed this weather might be related to the terrible problem of global warming and the part we all play in this.

I looked up at the bare branches against the sky. Soon the trees gave way to steep bracken and gorse covered slopes, and massive areas of scree, deposited millions of years ago by retreating ice.

We came out on the high cliffs by an old lime kiln, overlooking the stony beach. I thought how different it must have been here in Victorian times, and what a hard life it must have been for the workers, burning lime and coal brought in by ship from Wales. One or two of us went down to explore the beach.  I stayed behind, sprawling on the rocks, my eyes following the jagged contours of the headland and the expanse of scree on the opposite side of the river.  ‘In all honesty’, I thought ‘if I did not know this scree was many millions of years old, would I have a real sense of its antiquity?’ I decided I would not.

Still pondering all those questions about time and place, my mind drifted on to the more recent past: smuggling in medieval times, and almost certainly, U-boats landing here during WW2 to take on fresh water under cover of darkness.

Up in the grey Atlantic sky, a group of gulls were wheeling and riding the thermals… higher and higher and even higher until they almost disappeared from sight.

And then the sky started to lighten as we turned to make our way back to the inn for refreshments.

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Art in the Autumn Woods

I stood in a shower of leaves that came clattering down like heavy raindrops. Later on I saw them gliding through the air like a flock of birds. I gathered up some of the brightest yellow ones as I wandered… and by the time I reached my chosen site, some of them had already turned quite brown. Here’s the work I made, called ‘Fall’.

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A few days later, I’m back in the woods again – to catch the one day of the week I knew would be warm and sunny.

Always the underlying peace and silence amidst the multitude of quiet woodland sounds – wind, air, water, leaves birds…

Bucks Valley Woods: walking into the autumn sun

Walking into the blinding sun, its rays tangible, like a white ghost

Walking out into the warm autumn sunlight at Bucks Valley WoodsWalking out the other side,  I feel the sun’s warmth on my neck.

Coming back down the steep track was hazardous – the ground thick with slippery wet leaves, puddles, mud and nasty-looking stones.

I stopped halfway down and spent an awfully long time collecting golden leaves. Then I goldleafline_lindagordon_151102_0004_LRwent off elsewhere and spent another awfully long time collecting some more. Then I spent an awfully short time making the piece pictured below. I soon saw I hadn’t got the poetics quite right, and planned to come back the following day to do a better version: Version 2.

I didn’t, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

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