We propose a series of paintings and poems to be included as part of In the Open Exhibition; our work addresses cross-cultural aspects of damaged landscapes in the American South and Britain. The approach we are taking spans various personal, political, and historical aspects of our encounters with trees within landscapes that have been marred by pollution, flytipping, and neglect.
Cypress Lake Trail, North Mississippi
You can begin a hike arguing about neoliberalism, trying to figure out what it means, and after you have listened to your true love tell you about the Whigs and the Federalists, and Britain in the nineteenth century, and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and civil rights, and Clinton and the injustices of NAFTA, and the original meaning of liber, free, what that might mean in terms of generosity and open-mindedness certainly not operative at present when Scott Pruitt just became head of the EPA—goodbye EPA, goodbye wolves and bears, goodbye redwoods, goodbye tribal lands, goodbye water, goodbye air, goodbye the tattered remnants of life as it should be lived on earth, goodbye goodbye godbye, god be with you shattered forests, god be with you toxic waters, god be with you small anguishes, starved bent & twisted lives, the reasons for grief are nearly infinite—after you have listened you can both fall silent as you walk with this man you will love to the end of your days, and notice the downed and leafless trees, the ant trails, which are lines of sifted dirt that cross the path heading from spiky dried reeds to more spiky dried reeds, notice an anthill climbing all the way to the top of a clump of daffodils that grow off the trail in a weedy field, choking and killing the flowers with its thousands-of-tiny-bodies formic acid, and looking up, acknowledge silently that there is a white-bellied hawk, yes, wheeling and calling above the pine trees keee-ir keee-ir almost like a cat, and fleecy clouds that presage rain on what is still a sweet morning, frogs hiccupping and spring peepers shrilling, invisible, somewhere around the lake, and all around you tiny insects, the sun hitting their wings, like translucent diminutive angels.
Winter Day on the Whirlpool Trails
Where the power lines go through,
the red clay gullies and pits, not even
privet can grow fast enough to bind it.
We clamber down and up, and down and up,
and turn to enter the woods. Further along,
we come to broken glass, old brown bottles
nearly buried, a toilet choked with brush,
bricks, some pipes, some turquoise plastic coiling.
It’s just like that, here—people dump things
and they sink, protrude rusty and jagged
from the mud, or block the trail,
stained with leaf mold. To the side,
some withered Southern red oaks,
a blackjack oak, knobby trunks of nameless
trees choked as they grew by spiraling vines—
Virginia creeper, poison ivy—
and leafless sweetgums with their little
sci-fi seedpods, clusters of loblolly pines.
Everywhere rotting, everywhere teeming,
moss like emeralds on the stumps,
the hollow logs. This is my home, this leaf-duff
and dereliction, where look—a vulture wheels
above the cedars, searching for what stinks.
Where a first tender violet, blooming
by my feet before Valentine’s Day,
signifies the seasons are in heat.
The great blue heron’s not here today,
standing motionless among the reeds.
But a turtle slides off a distant log, and sunlight
scatters like shot across the scum-slicked pond.
The artist David Walker-Barker and poet Dan Eltringham are working together on a collaboration focused on the submerged reservoir landscapes of Midhope and Langsett, around 10 miles north west of Sheffield, in search of the illegible, erased and underground.
We are following traces of vanished ways of life, using archival photographs, old maps and the records of local rambling societies. The objects of our search so far are remnants of the drowned village of Langsett; the “Jossie Cabin”, an eighteenth-century shepherd’s hut that may have fallen victim to enclosure but was still visible in the 1930s; the Shepherd’s grave at Midhope Chapel; fragments from the eighteenth-century Midhope pottery works that was finally closed by the reservoir in the early twentieth century; and the ruined North America farmstead.
Our first excursion to this landscape yielded more unknowns than sureties: in search of the shepherd’s hut on Stanny [Stony] Common, the rain and wind was so bad that not much could be made out. We don’t know if we found Jossie’s Cabin or not; a pile of stones was our the best bet, but one pile of stones looks very like another in poor visibility. We’ll have to go back.
The walks feed into the work we produce, but are discrete from that work: visual and verbal records of pedestrian excursions that seek not only to document the experience of the landscape as we have seen it and taken it in through the other senses, but also its histories and hidden communities, human and nonhuman.
The work is also what we find, as well as what we (so far) have failed to locate. David’s artistic practice is centrally focused around collecting and the taxonomy of arrangement, in artist’s cabinets he builds himself to house his interests in minerals, fossils and relics of human community such as bottles and ceramics. Dan is working on a poetic text, R/S Res., that plays with the formal taxonomies and juxtapositions of David’s artist cabinets, as well as with mini-fields of open-form verse plotted across a page, allowing ‘R’ to speak with ‘S’, Resource with Surface and Resistance with Strata. The objects David finds mix time scales, from the vastly geological and prehistoric to seventeenth-, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century objects of common use.
The Midhope Pottery yielded some such daily records, in the form of plate-ware pulled from the mud around the ruined farmstead, and brought to the surface with the help of nonhuman excavators: fox holes throw up a lot of good stuff.
What we have so far are a lot of unknowns, losses, overwritings, and several strands of work-in-progress. We plan to return to Langsett in the Spring.