Drawing on Water

Artist James Aldridge gives a short video tour of his recent Drawing on Water exhibition. This brought together artworks that emerged out of the Queer River arts-based research project he set up in 2020, using an audiovisual installation and his ‘Walking Pages’ to look at his individual, embodied relationship with a range of local wetlands.


“What I have come to realise is that being Queer is not about being defined by others as Other, but refusing to be colonised or domesticated. It is about being yourself in spite of the restrictions you may face, a self that you discover through relationship with others. In this way I see it as closely related to (Re)wilding, whereby if the right conditions are put in place, the land begins to heal itself, bringing health to it and to us.’’ – James Aldridge, A Queer Path to Wellbeing (ClimateCultures, July 2020).

James Aldridge is a visual artist working with people and places, whose individual and participatory practices generate practice-led research into the value of artful, embodied and place-based learning.

 

Queer River uses walking, talking and making with rivers and their human and non-human communities, to research what a Queer perspective on rivers and other wetlands can offer us in this time of climate and biodiversity crisis.

Rather than seeking to capture Queer River in its entirety, Drawing on Water looked more closely at my own individual, embodied relationship with a range of wetlands with a particular focus on the Salisbury and Bristol Avons.

Drawing on Water gathered together artwork I made on walks, at home, or in the studio. Drawings included those I made using inks from plant materials that I gathered along the Salisbury Avon (e.g. Alder cones, Dock seeds and Elder berries). Others explored bodily health and pollution, or began to look at neurodivergent experiences of place.

For the audiovisual installation, I collaged together imagery from chalk streams and chalk downland, with footage recorded both above and below the water’s surface, whilst Walking Pages hanging from the gallery walls recorded my sensory experience of each place.

Drawing on Water


Notes

The Drawing on Water exhibition was held at the Pound Arts Centre in Corsham, Wiltshire, in the summer of 2023. You can see the short film James made about the exhibition above, and discover more at his Queer River project site and his artist’s website – as well as in the posts he has written for the ClimateCultures blog: A Queer Path to Wellbeing and Queer River and Engagements with Ecologies of Place.

Standing Tall, 2022

“We decided that what we could do was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone … in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.”

With composite photography and video, Jennifer Leach — Director of Outrider Anthems, and supported by eco-scenographer Andrea Carr, Outrider Anthems Associate — documents and witnesses creative community resistance to the corporate felling of 112 trees and the sacrifice of a city’s green lung for more concrete.

‘They say that in time we will forget. We will become accustomed to the new environment. No. We learn to endure. We do not forget.’ An Outrider Anthems community intervention on Reading Golf Course, where 112 numbered trees, and countless smaller others, are to be felled to make way for a profit-motivated housing estate. We gently bound each doomed tree with a tie of white muslin, thus making visible what the developers and Reading Borough Council wish to keep invisible: a mutual community of powerful trees and all their interconnected ecosystems, earmarked for destruction. Our human community, having had our record number of planning protests ignored, stand in solidarity with the trees.

Jennifer LeachJennifer Leach is a poet, writer, performer and storyteller whose wild work, forged in the fantastical reaches of deep imagination, brings to life new stories for our strange times.

 

This intervention began with a community desperately trying to safeguard its health, three times resisting a merciless building on one of urban Reading’s few green lungs. It was once agricultural land, then a golf course — until the golfing members handed it over to developers for a princely and undisclosed sum. In almost every way it is an inappropriate development, and yet on the third time of presenting it to Reading Borough Council, and with barely an alteration to the previous two applications, it was suddenly supported and passed. The community had objected with a borough-wide record number of objections, and our distress at the Council meeting was in itself distressing.

The meeting, with its clearly preordained conclusion, was a brazen travesty of the democratic process. The required green links — crucial to the bare survival of species — was, the developer suggested, “hypothetical”. The development, with its 223 largely luxury housing, was going to “improve traffic in the area” and the developers, the Council openly stated “are the ones with the money and they can do what they want.”

“It’s called Capitalism.”

This space is local to me, and in the post-golfing period in which it has rewilded, it has become very special, both to myself and to many members of my community. It is so rich in nature, and in magnificence, particularly in the hundreds of specimen trees that grow in the space. 112 trees are to be felled for the building of the houses, and each tree is unique, each is glorious. They have been categorised by the Council as ‘B – of moderate quality’, ‘C – of low quality’, or ‘U – unsuitable for retention’.

The democratic process was stretched as far as it could be, and appeals were made to central government, but the housing development will go ahead.

Andrea Carr, Associate Director of Outrider Anthems, and I as Director asked ourselves what we could do at this point. Andrea brought her ecoscenographic thoughtfulness and experience to the question, and we decided that what we could do — and we felt it was exceptionally important — was to let the trees and the space know they were not alone. We knew we could and should, in community, communicate to them how deeply they are loved, and to be with them through their impending violation. Action in this sacred sense transcends human politics, bypasses it.

I had the privilege of photographing every one of the 112 trees, and each one of them shared something of their intimate selves with me; they became a gift to me. Andrea came down on the weekend of 1st May and we spent two days measuring out and cutting vast reams of plain white muslin. On 1st May — Beltane in the old Celtic calendar, and a day traditionally associated with the great celebration and honouring of nature — we met with many members of the community and, armed with white muslin and site maps, we spent the day binding each one of the 112 trees to be felled. We stood tall beside them and photographed ourselves standing tall, in solidarity with the trees.

We have conjoined the action of this day with excerpts from the Reading Borough Council planning meeting, to create a composite film entitled Standing Tall. It is currently being screened as a part of the Ecostage contribution to World Stage Design 2022 in Calgary. It hurts to watch it, and it moves. We hope it will be widely shared, and that it will contribute to a changing world in which the sacred spaces and elements of nature become honoured and respected as they once were, and in which the hubris of a capitalist economy finally crumbles under its own insatiable greed. We hope it will inspire others to bear public witness to the non-human victims of human violence, and to stand in love and solidarity with them.

Click on an image to see the full-size series of photographs Jennifer took of the 112 trees.

And you can view more of the intervention with Andrea and watch the videos Jennifer made here at the Outrider Anthems website.

Community: Still from film, Standing Tall


You can find more work at the Outrider Anthems website, and sign up to their mailing list to hear about and support their future projects. And you can explore Jennifer’s work as a writer and artist at her own website.

Art of Shading the Sun

“The project is a reflection on community and landscape and how these interact in space and within time.”

Art of Shading the Sun, a poetic film from Evgenia Emets, speaks from the perspective of the land 100 years in the future, of a community and a landscape moving from extractivist practices to more regenerative approaches.

My time is not your time
My time is wisdom
Coiled beneath the roots
My time is light
The one you know as food
My time is seed
That knows how long it’s due
My time is backwards
From the future towards you
My time is you
The fish within my stream
My time is soil
The keeper of your dream

Evgenia Emets is an artist intersecting land-art, sound and visual poetry through experiences, forests, artist books, calligraphy, performance, objects and community engagement, and whose ‘Eternal Forest’ integrates ecological thinking.

 

The film (1 hour 40 min, Portugal, 2021) was originally commissioned by Ci.CLO in Portugal as part of an art installation. The project is a reflection on community and landscape and how these interact in space and within time. The installation and film reflect on the centuries of human presence and the current efforts of the community of Mertola to help restore social and ecological balance in this area.

The film is told from the perspective of the land in 2121, a story of the future, with concrete actions in the present. From extractivist practices deeply rooted in our society to the regenerative approaches — through syntropic agriculture, reforestation, local food production, an education rooted in active participation, and the engagement of the whole community into the process.

The film, photographic prints and an installation based on the film in Portuguese and English in 10- and 14-minute video loops, was exhibited in Porto, Bienal 21 Fotografia do Porto, and the Municipalities of Évora, Figueira da Foz, Loulé, Mértola and with EDIA in Portugal, and Fotofestiwal Łódź 2021 in Poland during 2021-2022.


As well as the 14-minute English film above, with the installation poetry, and the equivalent Portuguese version, you can watch the full Art of Shading the Sun film (1 hr 14 mins) in Portuguese. And you can find more at Evgenia’s website and the site of the Eternal Forest project.

 

Trinity

“I see this as an anti-camera, one that does not strive for resolution and clarity … but instead seeks to capture the essence of place whilst also providing sanctuary for the artist.”

In Trinity, Oliver Raymond-Barker‘s camera obscura images combine with commissioned texts, offering complex, interconnected narratives of land and histories of spirituality, protest, control.


Martin Barnes: ‘Raymond-Barker’s photographs function as the opposite of photographic journalism for he knows that conventional visual description does not allow for the evocative and lingering impact he seeks. His subject is the atmosphere of the place, its spiritual history across time, and an uneasy combination of awe in nature with the nascent threat of an unfathomable destructive force’. 

Nick Hunt: ‘He wanders enraptured, ruptured. The sunlight breaks upon him. On the shore he falls to his knees with the immensity and stares upon the awesome light that floods the shadows of the world. The god of love is everywhere. It is all a marvel. He closes his dazzled eyes and the world appears in negative, the black sky and the white trees, the incandescent veins of leaves, the bleached water opening to some great revelation’.

Oliver Raymond-Barker is an artist using photography in its broadest sense – analogue and digital process, natural materials and camera-less methods of image-making – to explore our relationship to nature.

 

Trinity is a journey into landscape. It explores the complex layers of narrative embedded in the fabric of the land and engages with histories of spirituality, protest and control.

I made the work during residencies at Cove Park Arts on the Rosneath Peninsula in Scotland. The images originate from 20 x 24-inch paper negatives, exposed in a custom-built ‘backpack’ camera obscura — a tent-like structure designed to allow creation of large format images in remote locations. I see this as an anti-camera, one that does not strive for the resolution and clarity of traditional photo-mechanical devices but instead seeks to capture the essence of place whilst also providing sanctuary for the artist.

From early Christian pilgrims who voyaged to remote corners of the British Isles such as Rosneath during Roman times, to its current occupation as home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent Trident, this remote peninsula has been the site of diverse histories.

Amongst these is the story of St. Modan, the son of an Irish chieftain who in the 6th century renounced his position as an abbot to live as a hermit. He journeyed to this remote peninsula in search of sanctuary and sought to use the elemental power of nature as a means of gaining spiritual enlightenment.

Today, however, the peninsula is dominated by the presence of military bases HMNB Faslane and RNAD Coulport, the home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent Trident. Existing alongside these sprawling sites are the small, temporary constructions of itinerant activists protesting against the military presence — locations such as the Peace Wood bear traces of their occupation.

The project weaves together these disparate yet interconnected threads, to form an immersive body of work, made on the boundaries of the photographic medium.

From Trident by Oliver Raymond Barker

I walk through the darkness. The heavy straps of the pack bite into my shoulders, fine rain enveloping me as my head torch illuminates a tunnel through the gloom. Miles pass this way.

In the half light I weave an uneven path down to the shoreline. The slow process of unpacking and setting up is akin to a conversation with an old friend. As my body goes through the motions of pitching the camera the light is rising and the tide approaching.

I crawl into the dark void of the structure, leaving my damp boots and previous self behind. My senses become attuned to the new darkness. I reach up and pull back the crude shutter: the structure is flooded with light and the image begins to resolve itself.

All energy expended, my whole process, pivots around these precious seconds when light fuses time onto the latent canvas before me.

I stretch up and close the shutter, stowing the paper away in the now resounding darkness. Unnoticed in my reverie, the water has begun to lap at the edges of the tent. I swiftly pack up, my body and mind already occupying a new space, treading a path towards the next moment…’


Trinity (Loose Joints Publishing, 2021) is available for pre-order now, and will be published in December 2021 in a handmade edition of 200 copies: 68pp, 250 × 350 mm, with 35 photos and texts by Martin Barnes and Nick Hunt. Printed hardcover with black boards, comprising two stitched booklets with images and texts on six different papers.

You can read Beneath What Is Visible, A Vast Shadow, Oliver’s ClimateCultures post about the creation of Trinity, with extracts from the texts and some of his images.

The Puma Years: A Memoir

“There are more than a million heartbeats … nothing is like mine.”

In her discovery of a remarkable rainforest community of people and animals, Laura Coleman explores the meaning of love and rescue against backdrops of deforestation, illegal animal trafficking and forest fires, and the work of a pioneering charity created by young Bolivian volunteers.


Whiffs of scent slam into me, choking me, before they fade, replaced by others, sweeter, thicker, heavier. It hurts to breathe. To think. The greens grow darker, the smells more sickly, rotten, the trail more overgrown, the sky nothing more than a memory. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place that has its own heartbeat. Millions of heartbeats. I picture people jostling for space on the London Underground that smells of sweat and humans. There are more than a million heartbeats there but they’re all like mine. Here, nothing is like mine.

Laura Coleman is a writer, activist and artist whose memoir shares her life-changing relationships with rescued wild animals. She is the founder and chair of trustees of ONCA, a Brighton-based arts charity that bridges social and environmental justice issues with creativity.

In my early twenties, I found myself living in London, my life a loop of commuting and corporate meetings. Tired of tight, tailored suits and lacking direction, I quit my job and set out for South America. Two months into my three-month trip to Bolivia, I was bloated, sunburnt, lonely, and ready to go home. But a flyer about an animal welfare charity – Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) – encouraged me to stick it out, and soon I was en route to “el parque” in the Amazon basin.

I found an underfunded, understaffed, dilapidated camp, along with suicidal howler monkeys, megalomaniac semi-wild pigs, toothless jaguars, and many more animals who had been sold on the pet trade, abused and abandoned. I also met a timid and terrified puma named Wayra who I was tasked to learn how to “walk” outside of her enclosure. Within days, all I could think about was going home. But after several weeks of barely showering, being eaten alive by bugs, and doing work that pushed me to physical and emotional exhaustion I’d never known, I deliberately missed my flight back to England and spent the next two years learning how to trust Wayra, and the jungle – and myself.

The book is set against a backdrop of deforestation, illegal animal trafficking, and forest fires, and I really wanted to find a balance between exploring what happens when two desperate creatures in need of rescue find one another, alongside the universal context of working on the frontlines of environmental destruction. At its heart, the book is a love story, about kinship and community. In Bolivia, I discovered how the love that exists between humans and animals, and place, and home, can be just as important and powerful as any romantic love. This is what I wanted to share when I wrote the book.

I also, of course, wanted to support the work of CIWY. Over twenty-five years ago, a group of young Bolivian volunteers set up the NGO and created the first ever sanctuary for rescued wild animals in the country. Over the years Parque Machía has provided safe homes in the cloud forest to thousands of rescued animals, and to countless people. However, this year CIWY’s land lease contract with the local municipality is not being renewed and plans for the site are uncertain. The dedicated staff who live there have the painful job of relocating hundreds of animals to another of CIWY’s sanctuaries on the far side of the country, with no financial support from the government, costing over $400,000. Money from The Puma Years has gone towards starting construction in Jacj Cuisi, but it is going to be a long journey, needing global support in order to transfer all the animals at risk by the end of the year.

And this last year has seen devastation on so many fronts. Covid-19 has meant that, due to the cancellation of CIWY’s volunteer programme, a handful of exhausted staff have been doing the work of caring for over five hundred animals – something that would normally be done by hundreds of volunteers. And the fires in 2020 were the worst they’ve ever seen, so I don’t know what the future holds. There are countless small NGOs in the Global South struggling to hold on through devastating times. So any donation to CIWY or another Black, Indigenous, or POC-led project will support people working on the frontlines of environmental disaster and justice. What has been so overwhelming, since my book has been published, is the incredible amount of financial and emotional support that has come in from around the world and I want to thank everyone who has been in touch with either me or CIWY. Your support makes all the difference!


The Puma Years: A Memoir is published by Little A and you can buy it from Bookshop or Amazon or as an audiobook on Audible. And you can watch the online book launch on 3rd June 2021, hosted by Persephone Pearl at ONCA, with Laura reading from her book and discussing the work of CIWY in conversation with Tania ‘Nena’ Baltazar, founder and president of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY).

You can find out more about the work of Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi and opportunities to donate or to sponsor an animal, and explore Laura’s website and the work of ONCA.

Fifty Words for Snow

“The snow lay in waist-high drifts, and kept falling. I’d gone to Iceland to write about snow, but I found that snow had other ideas…”

Nancy Campbell‘s new book, Fifty Words for Snow, reflects on snow’s role in cultures around the world and the importance of linguistic and cultural diversity in a rapidly changing world.


Yuki-onna – snow woman (Japanese: 雪女)

Taoist philosophy suggests that when there’s an abundance of any natural matter, a life will come forth from it: the river will create its own fish when the water is deep enough and the forest will produce birds when the trees are dense enough. And so it follows that that a woman may be generated in the heart of a snowdrift.

Nancy Campbell is a writer and book artist interested in polar regions and water conservation, winning the Royal Geographical Society’s 2020 Ness Award for her research with Arctic and Scandinavian museums.

A few winters ago I rented a former Salvation Army meeting house in the north of Iceland for a few months. Since the snows of Siglufjörður don’t usually melt until April, I soon learned how the inhabitants of this small fishing town distinguish themselves from their neighbours in Ólafsfjörður, another small fishing town beyond the mountains. Folk in Ólafsfjörður do not clear the snow from the paths leading to their homes. In Siglufjörður the sweeping of snow is a social duty. I lived alone, and it was some distance from my front door to the road; the snow lay in waist-high drifts, and kept falling. I’d gone to Iceland to write about snow, but I found that snow had other ideas — it wanted me to do some physical labour. In his poem ‘Digging’, Seamus Heaney describes how his trade differs from that of his ancestors: ‘I’ve no spade to follow men like them,’ he writes, using instead a ‘squat pen’. Now I had to put down my pen and borrow a shovel from my elderly neighbour Kristján. Then, of course, I cleared his path too.

Fifty Words for Snow is a journey to discover snow in cultures around the world through different languages. The climate is a prism through which to view the human world — just as language can be. Inevitably, a book about climate also looks forward, considering what we miss, as every winter many countries see fewer snowflakes, and some years now, none at all. Just as the ecosystem is changing, so are the languages that describe it and the way they are understood. When I began to learn Greenlandic in 2010 I discovered the fallacy of the many ‘Eskimo words for snow’, a popular concept that was dismissed by linguists in the 1980s. More pertinently, that same year Greenlandic was added to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. While many of the languages in this book, such as Spanish and Urdu, can be heard spoken around the globe, others, such as the Inupiaq dialect of Wales, Alaska, are remembered mainly by elders in relatively small communities.

I started to write this book in September 2019 amid debates about Brexit and the climate crisis, while attending Fridays for Future marches in Germany. I finished it six months later, a week before gathering with other masked and silent Black Lives Matter protestors in the UK. The process of tracing a single theme across many languages new to me seemed a powerful way to overcome the borders that were going up around the world. Ironically, one of the first entries I researched concerned the photograph of boys in a snowball fight taken by Robert Capa in war-torn Hankou (modern-day Wuhan) in 1938. Within weeks, the location had become infamous for the outbreak of COVID-19. Even under lockdown in a pandemic, it was still possible to voyage around the world through dictionaries.

A snow crystal is part of the endless cycle of the water molecule: from its six-cornered solid state it becomes liquid and then gas, and thus a snowflake that falls on the glaciers of the Rwenzori peaks in Africa might melt and evaporate and later freeze again and fall in the apple orchards of Kashmir, and melt again and fall fifty times and more. Just so, a single unit of meaning — one word for snow — offers an approach to new places, a clear path of understanding to travel forwards along.


Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell is published by Elliott & Thompson (November 2020), richly illustrated with William Bentley’s early photographs of snow crystals. It is available from Hive or from your favourite independent bookshop

Follow @nancycampbelle on Twitter or Instagram.

The Long Return: an Essay on Belonging

“The key to a sense of connection is spending time in natural places. These are intimate acts of slow and patient observation.”

In her personal, revelatory essay for a new book from artist Paul Harfleet, Nadine Andrews explores ideas of belonging and connection through reflections on birds’ migration, human ambivalence and serendipitous encounters with nature.


“The key to a sense of connection is spending time in natural places. These are intimate acts of slow and patient observation. It is not about ticking species off a list, the rarer the better. No, this is about getting to know the inhabitants of a particular place – the place that I also inhabit.”

Nadine Andrews is a researcher, coach, facilitator and consultant with cultural, arts and heritage organisations, specialising in creative nature-based and mindfulness-based approaches.

When my old school friend, the artist Paul Harfleet, asked me to contribute some writing for a book he’s been working on, Birds Can Fly, which he envisaged would contain illustrations, natural history information, reflections and stories as well as conceptual pieces on ideas of nature and identity, I knew immediately I had to do it.

My strong sense was it would need to be a personal reflection on my relationship with nature, rather than an abstract theoretical piece. Until this point, my published writing had mostly been academic papers and research reports with little personal information, so this was going to be a departure for me but it felt not just important but critical.

On a walk with my friend Margaret Kerr, a psychotherapist and artist who’s been exploring the ecopsychology, history and mythology of Traprain Law in East Lothian, I told her about this invitation. As we walked around the hill we explored the idea of belonging, how migrating birds feel when they come here — do they feel they belong? I realised this was it, this was what I had to write about, my sense of belonging.

I knew the start — my feelings about the Swifts that I had talked about when interviewed by Laurence Rose from the RSPB a couple of years earlier. The writing of the essay flowed quite easily. The end took a while though. I had written something more in the style of my usual writing, which I knew didn’t quite work.

I asked a few friends and family what they thought, then left it for a while. A couple of weeks later, when listening to a module in a course on ancestral trauma, I heard a definition of shame that struck me sharply: “the intensely painful feeling or experience that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of connection, love and belonging.” When I heard that, all the pieces fitted together — I realised my essay about belonging and connection was also about healing shame. At that moment of insight I felt this lightness, something was released. This incident coincided with an I Ching reading I did that contained the line “the flying bird brings the message” which took me to the realisation that just as the Swift flies where it will with the freedom of the skies, that I am not dependent on others allowing me to belong but that I am, and have been all this time, claiming it for myself through my nature connection practices. Now I had my ending.

Writing this essay has been a revelation, unexpectedly therapeutic. It’s also opened up new possibilities as I’ve discovered the power that comes with this different voice, which lays it out there with clarity and honesty yet somehow transcends vulnerability. So thanks very much Paul for asking me to write something!


You can read Nadine’s essay, The Long Return: an essay on belonging, on her Cultureprobe blog – where you can also explore many more of her articles and reports and her nature awareness audio recordings.

A version of this essay will appear in artist Paul Harfleet’s new book Birds Can Fly, and you can find out more about his Birds Can Fly project and other work at his site, The Pansy Project