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.