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  • Writer's pictureGemma Collard-Stokes

Uncommon ground

We have recently been speaking about our work at conferences. The main focus of our presentations has been to introduce the collaboration of a poet, a dancer and a visual artist and to offer insights into the development of our strategies for work together outdoors. We start by talking about what draws us to Bakestonedale Moor (our site of investigation), we then discuss the evolving nature of the work and the concepts that support our endeavour.

Following the introductory element of our presentation we dive into the eco-poetic framing that underpins our process and thinking. Our collaboration is built on a shared understanding for the kinaesthetic dimensions of experience. This, as we understand it, is where we feel resonance in our own embodied system between our own actions and the actions of others where we gather impressions from the various forms and processes in the surrounding environment.

This means that our artmaking becomes one of many events that unfold in outdoor environments where the meeting of these elements occur. In this way, we could frame this from the contexts of cultural, historical or political frameworks. Each of us is a protagonist, but at the same time also an observer of one’s own actions and actions the of others. We think of our creative activities on Bakestonedale Moor as a process of deep mapping, slow looking and deep listening.

To enter into this way of working we use three conceptual reference points.

  • Interdisciplinarity

  • Anticipatory History

  • Ecology

For interdisciplinarity, we explain that the collaboration between visual art, dance and poetry, aligns with psychologist Daniel Stern’s ‘vitality dynamics’ (Forms of Vitality 2010) that underpin the human experience of being alive. Stern considers these as an indivisible group formed of: time, space, movement, intention/directionality and force.

These different dynamics are expressed in different ways from within the various art forms, and Stern is interested in how interdisciplinary work could lay bare the underlying dynamics being shared and exchanged across mediums. Stern posits that vitality dynamics are transferable between art forms, and could therefore create an aesthetic effect of ‘pairing the similar with the "not exactly the same" (Stern, 2010).

A potential of our work together is to find the shared dynamics of our collective response to the site and to articulate this through our different mediums.

Anticipatory History is an idea that extends from research by Caitlin DeSilvey, Simon Naylor and Colin Sackett. It focuses on rethinking the approach an ecosystem scientist takes to communicate conservation goals to the public by enabling them to better identify and understand the language that shapes people's view of the physical and social world and their place within it. Desilvey et al posit that

“…Anticipatory history […] does not attempt to construct a singular, authoritative historical narrative […] it leaves room for expressing the ‘small stories’ and ‘lay knowledges’ that are layered in place, and then linking these to a hoped-for future. […]. Such site-specific anticipatory art practice holds landscapes past and landscapes future in productive and provocative tension" (DeSilvey et al, 2011).

For our views on ecology we understand environments from the viewpoint of systems thinking, and recent thinkers who have built on the integrative spirit of cybernetic thinking in the 1960s. Gosse and Stott, for example, propose a renewed concept of the nervous system that can forge, “ … an analytical and explanatory framework applicable across organic and nonorganic systems. … [where] …structures become communicative and mutable …. in networked complexes with other systems.” (Gosse & Stott, 2022 our emphasis).

A white sheep stands sideways on and looks out over the grassy moor land

Following this, we then open up about our evolving practice. We speak in part of the activities we undertake through a folding, enfolding and unfolding of the conceptual reference points through our disciplinary viewpoints. In our description, we hope to demonstrate the specifics of combining the various techniques we use in our art making in order that we develop a deepened awareness of the site and the layers of narrative that it holds. We show videos in which we each, and collectively, explore a combination of techniques and forms from our individual dance, poetic and visual art practices as they amalgamate with the techniques of one another's art form.

One strategy we have developed takes the physical labour and endurance of mining by hand into the act of mark making and impression gathering between a moving body and a man-made tool – in this case a drum. The drum has been wrapped in paper around its body and the impressions from the ground’s surface can only be made by applying incredible physical force to the drum. This brings the artist in very close proximity with ground and encourages them to move in new ways and be with the land in a much more physically responsive manner.

A woman leans, rolls and balances her full body weight on a hand built wooden drum which has paper wrapped around it body so it picks up impression from the ground while they move together

The following videos show an extension of the notion of responding physically to the land. Here Scott gathers impressions from the earth while documenting his own movement explorations. We see here that while the body in movement against a rock makes marks and indentions upon the top surface of the paper, the underneath surface of the paper charts a similar mapping of where the paper meets rock.

Scott then adds to this by adding another layer of continued physical expression that includes the use of paint and ink. Where Scott uses paint brushes on the ends of long canes or pieces of wooden dowel a distance is caused between artist and surface. This distance is important as it discourages the human reliance on sight and deters us from merely outlining or detailing what we see. Instead, we find we are encouraged to continue to transcribe our moment-by-moment felt experience of Bakestonedale Moor through a physical retelling.

And finally, the next video demonstrates an accumulative, intermodal process that travels through moving, into mark making, languaging through poetic writing, then the verbal improvised delivery of that writing while moving simultaneously. In this activity we draw our inspiration from the physical explorations and encounters of the day and the stories of the land that we have gathered from conversations with local residents, historians, business owners, and information we have found from online sources documenting mining activity in this location. Within this process, there is a clear alignment with anticipatory history. In the act of drawing on various sources from different time historical points, we are weaving together a past, present and future that speaks to the change of Bakestonedale Moor over time, the meaning and currency it holds for the people whose lives are connected with it, and the way we, as artists interpret that through our art making.

This blog has been adapted from the contents of a co-authored and co-delivered conference paper.

All illustrations by Sabine Kussmaul and not for reproduction.

All photographs and video the artists own.

DeSilvey, C., Naylor, S., & Sackett, C. (2011). Anticipatory history. Axminster: Uniformbooks.

Gosse, J., & Stott, T. (2022). Nervous systems: art, systems, and politics since the 1960s. Durham: Duke University Press.

Stern, D. (2010). Forms of Vitality: Exploring Dynamic Experience

in Psychology, the Arts, Psychotherapy, and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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