The NOW Project: marking time and place.

Muchland sign 5

Image: example of ‘Muchland’ signage.

Extracts from a recent landscape art submission to Morecambe Bay Partnership.

During October 2017, I undertook a programme of site visits and detailed research, in response to an open call by Morecambe Bay Partnership for permanent and temporary landscape art commissions, at sites around Morecambe Bay. The commissions are part of their ‘Headlands to Headspace’ Project (H2H), and their brief called for artworks inspired by the landscape of the Bay that will celebrate and aid people to engage in, its cultural or natural heritage.

The importance of opportunities for local communities to take part in the development of artworks through activities such as public consultation or workshops, was emphasised, to develop a sense of ownership and inspire a new connection to local heritage and heritage sites.

By tapping into the genius loci – the qualities or spirit of this place, we were able to develop several interrelated concepts for community participation and landscape art interventions.

Our proposal, The NOW Project was submitted to Morecambe Bay Partnership at the end of October 2017. 

Please note that images used in this blog entry are concept visualisations, only.

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Background: 

Screen Shot 2 2017-10-04 at 17.01.17

Morecambe Bay is a large estuary in northwest England, just to the south of the Lake District National Park. It is the largest expanse of intertidal mudflats and sand in the UK. The rivers Leven, Kent, Keer, Lune and Wyre flow into the Bay, and their various estuaries form a number of peninsulas and islands and create an eternally changing, elemental landscape. Morecambe Bay has long drawn artists and writers who gain inspiration from its sensual spell, which has recently been described as one of co-existing opposites, where experiences are of:

…past and present, then and now, buried and unearthed, permanent and transitory, real and unreal.” Andrew Michael Hurley, 2016

The tidal flows, rippling, shining sands; estuaries, headlands and farm lands, sacred sites and places of work, merge the enduring and the ephemeral, connect human and non human worlds.

The Bay’s register of historic assets is unprecedented, including historic promenades, follies and lookouts, Iron Age hillforts, a Bronze Age stone circle, the railway, and areas of industry. It holds a unique cultural richness; nationally important for its maritime and WWI and WWII heritage, with exciting archaeological finds, a concentration of ritual and religious sites and a traditional fishing heritage that is unique to the area.” http://www.morecambebay.org.uk/BaysPast

Our creative approach and concept were inspired by the character of the land itself and the many layers of connectivity that can be seen and felt in this magical and uniquely beautiful, time swept landscape.

There is a growing understanding throughout the world that ecological renewal and sustainability depend upon spiritual awareness and an attitude of responsibility towards the Earth. Through our interventions in the landscape, we aim to gently encourage others to tap in to this understanding, and to reach beyond the everyday time-bound world into a greater realm, rich with meaning and inter-connection.

Here is a selection from The NOW Project. Each item/component has been designed to connect in time and space, to create future facing legacy, that is responsive and sensitive to the area’s heritage.  We want to stimulate intrigue and participation, and prompt fresh new stories that draw on local history and heritage.

In this blog entry we’ve included the core ideas from the submission, and added in some others, for good measure.

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Muchland sign crop
We learnt that ‘Muchland’ was the name of a medieval manor in Low Furness on the north coast of the Bay. Today, the name seems to summon up a land of plenty. Once the seat of the Lords of Aldingham, Muchland incorporated the rocky promontory called Birkrigg Common, near Ulverston. From the Common there are stunning views all around the Bay, over Furness and into the Lake District National Park.

In Birkrigg’s Muchland we have used vintage road signage to reveal interwoven threads of myth, legend, history and memory. The signs are deliberately ‘out of place’ with an archaic, puzzling presence, as there are no roads or any need for traffic rules in this area of common land.  Although the destinations on the signs relate to actual sites and histories, place names are intentionally cryptic. Through this blurring of fact and fiction, we want to foster an atmosphere of  ‘magical realism’ that can open up imaginative interpretations, detective work and exploration, creative writing, map-making or story telling by visitors.

So, for example, the cryptic directions on the vintage signpost illustrated above, refer to the following:

Sunbrick1

‘Women Speaking’. At the edge of the Common lies the hamlet of Sunbrick, which shelters a walled Quaker graveyard, where leading Quaker Margaret Fox was buried. Amongst her other achievements, she was an advocate for a woman’s ability to preach.

 

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‘S5374′ is the unique number of the flush bracket or benchmark, of the Ordnance Survey triangulation station on the Common, whose National Grid Reference is precisely known. Trig points are slowly disappearing from the UK countryside as their function has largely been superseded by aerial photography, digital mapping, and the use of lasers and GPS.

trig weather vane 5

In the example shown, we’ve repurposed the trig point by cross-referencing it with a weather vane, to sense and evidence the direction of the wind. This design integrates the silhouette of a traditional “nobby”. These inshore sailing vessels have been used as fishing boats around the coasts of Lancashire and the Isle of Man, since the 1840’s. With our addition, this trig point is transformed into a shrine to the wind.

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Birkrigg trial 5 xImage: genius loci, the ‘Spirit of Birkrigg’ (2017).

According to Norse mythology, ‘Sol’ was goddess of the sun. The digitally created image above, is an imagined portrait of Sol that I made after walking around and experiencing the area. I adapted a Google satellite view of Birkrigg Common, by digitally adding simple elements and shadow. I placed Sol’s ‘eye’ at the Druid’s stone circle, from where networks of ‘neural’ pathways radiate. The ancient sites higher up on Appleby Hill and the limestone ridges, became her ‘forehead’ and ‘cranium': where memories lie beneath the surface. The OS trig point is situated towards the rear of the ‘head’ land. Sunbrick lies to the southwest of her ‘ear’ (see ‘Muchland’ map pins below). Bardsea can be seen to the northeast.

Birkrigg trial 5 with red map pins

This attempt to envision the ‘spirit of place’, has been influential in our  approach to the project.

 

 

 

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‘Eye of Sol’. Like other standing stone configurations in Cumbria (and indeed throughout the world), the Bronze Age circle at Birkrigg exudes an ancient mystery and its functions of ritual, alignment and communion with universal elements.  

Birkrigg stone circle smallOur proposal involves the fabrication of a  geodesic structure, whose geometry is derived from the dimensions of the ancient circle, to encompass the inner ring of stones. When covered, perhaps with a cut bracken ‘thatch’, the temporary dome structure will form a shadowy, atmospheric enclosure.

A small opening at its apex will allow a ‘sun spot’ to form on the ground within.

geodesic birkrigg 2Depending on the angle of the sun overhead, the movement of the spot of light around the twelve stones will draw attention to the Earth’s rotation, and convert the circle into a kind of clock or sundial, or a ‘temple’ to the light.

 

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White elephant 2

‘White Elephant’. During our research we learnt of a legend of a circus elephant  buried somewhere on the Common. The legend captured our imagination, and in response to it and the continuing plight of these magnificent creatures today, we propose to place a larger than life sculpture of a white elephant on the shoreline, nearby. It will be a magical, yet troubling figure, with potential to stimulate empathy and concern for its seemingly lonesome, melancholy predicament.

The white elephant in this visualisation has been scaled up from a tiny antique ivory carving so that the shift in scale will give the large sculpture a deliberately uncanny quality.  Fabrication could involve 3D print technology, and have an appearance evocative of ivory.

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‘NOW’: Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. Research has found that when people intentionally practice being mindful they feel less stressed, anxious or depressed.

(e.g. see http://bemindful.co.uk).

This core aspect of the proposal is for an innovative art led survey to be mobilised in Spring 2018. The NOW team will work alongside members of volunteer networks, special interest and resident groups, to collect moments and memories experienced during a single day around the Bay:

Bay Day Logo 1

 

On Bay Day, participatory workshops and playful art making, employing drawing, craft and map making, story telling, photography, making collections of found objects and materials, audio or video recordings, will reveal ways that this unique environment shapes people’s lives.  Symbolic communication, cross-reference and geometric alignment will be additional generators of process.

The NOW team of artists and community volunteers will continue to work together to distill the Bay Day material, turning heritage into art. A series of linked exhibitions will present the resulting artworks  at unconventional venues around the Bay, indoors, outdoors, and online, during the H2H summer festival in 2018. The exhibitions will convey a kaleidoscopic ‘moment in time’, by sharing contributor’s experiences, collected on a single day, here, and NOW.

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Taking our lead from the ancients and from recent research into mental health, we propose a new, permanent landmark, whose legacy will be to celebrate the NOW Project’s ethos of mindfulness: of being more fully present in the moment.

Referencing the area’s geology of limestone, sandstone and slate, three stone monoliths will be placed in geometric alignment to specified locations around the Bay, to create a contemporary earthwork, or henge (images below). One of the stones will bear the deceptively simple inscription ‘NOW’, expertly carved into its surface by a local mason, once in situ. Via our process of creative engagement, a story or message will be devised by the local community, about living NOW. Together, we will create an ‘alphabet’ of expressive symbols to communicate the message, which will be inscribed into the other stones.

Stone view arnside smaller man 2

The monoliths, each standing at least 10 feet high, and their site, will become catalysts for multi-context observation: a landmark from which to make new connections, both spatially and metaphorically, and to engage with the poetics of time.

They will also act as reminders to passers-by, to be mindful of NOW moments. Especially those who may be feeling weighed down by the past or fearful of the future. We intend that the ambiguous sense of alignment, the awesome size, weight and enduring qualities similar to those of ancient standing stones, will activate inventive readings and contemplative, spiritual encounters.

By embodying both transience and permanence, the landmark will become an enduring memorial to the present moment.

In the concept sketch above, the location is a National Trust area close to the summit of Arnside Knott where there are views across Morecambe Bay in one direction, and the Kent estuary in the other. Soft, sunken landscaping referencing archaeological dig technique, emphasises the geometry of the site.

The example below, indicates how the community inscription,  made up of bespoke symbols – contemporary ‘hieroglyphics’ – will have the potential to connect over thousands of years, and convey an enduring message celebrating life, in this place, NOW.

Now stone visual with text 1

(NB: the symbols used in this visualisation have been chosen at random, to give an indication of the scale and possible style of engraving, only)  

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