PEBBLE RIDGE a mini-expedition to explore the evolution of a living landmarkPosted: June 10, 2012
APPLEDORE VISUAL ARTS FESTIVAL 2012 . PROJECT REPORT
The stories of our living landscape are best appreciated through physical engagement with our environment. Join local artist Pete Ward, Geographer Ralph Brayne and BirdLife International Conservationist and artist John Fanshawe for this 10-mile trek along the entire length of the Pebble Ridge on the dramatic North Devon Coast, from its source at The Gore near Bucks Mills to its culmination at the mouth of the Taw and Torridge estuaries.
This all-day event will allow participants to appreciate, discuss and consequently express the natural processes that form a unique and constantly evolving naturally sculpted landmark – THE PEBBLE RIDGE. (Not for the faint-hearted.)
mini-expedition 7 june
artists talk and mini-exhibition 8 june
(Entry for festival brochure)[i]
a personal connection to the pebble ridge
I have now lived in Westward Ho! for nearly three years, five minutes walk from the Pebble Ridge, spending time observing and enjoying its subtle and drastic changes, but through family connections fondly remembering the ridge from childhood holidays. My earliest memories of the ridge are of small plaster models of pebbles with faces and limbs made in the village. I still see the ridge made up of millions of little pebble-people all with their own story to tell …
not a painting, an experience
As a painter and an environmental artist I have become frustrated with the extent to which a painting (or any made object or installation) can communicate the animate experience of being within the landscape and therefore to promote its inherent power and inspiration towards our relationship within nature. This is not to undermine the potential of painting and drawing to become more intimately acquainted with or to enquire further into our environment, but merely to question the efficacy of our skills to embody for others the totality of physical engagement. For me the best installation of all is nature itself. The PEBBLE RIDGE offered a perfect structure within which to creatively examine the principles of process and ecology within our immanent landscape. The mini-expedition was an attempt to ‘paint a picture’ of a place, our relationship to it and its dynamic processes through more than just visual experience.
“Aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment is not simply a matter of looking at objects or ‘views’ from a specific point. Rather, it is being ‘in the midst’ of them, moving in regard to them, looking at them from any and every point and distance and, of course, not only looking, but also smelling, hearing, touching, feeling. It is being in the environment, being a part of the environment, and reacting to it as a part of it. It is such active, involved aesthetic appreciation, rather than the formal mode of appreciation nurtured by the scenery cult and encouraged by photographs, that is appropriate to the natural environment.” Allen Carlson, 2009[ii]
As an artist hoping to promote a deeper relationship with our environment, both as a spiritual commitment and in response to the overwhelming global ecological crisis we are presently facing, I still believe in the power of art to catalyze change and affirm our connection to the planet on which our lives depend. I have therefore continued to explore a more ‘expanded’ concept of art to develop the communicative qualities of my practice …
The PEBBLE RIDGE at Westward Ho! did not just suddenly appear. It has not and will not always be there. It is merely a transitory moment within the evolution of the earth. By placing ourselves bodily within that process and exploring some of the factors that contribute to it we may hopefully further appreciate our own relationship within it.
“Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947) departed from traditional philosophy by conceiving of individual entities as series of moments of experience instead of as masses of static substance. Within each moment, an entity is influenced by others, creates its own identity and propels itself into further experiences. Because of the involvement of all moments of experience with each other, Whitehead conceived of the entire cosmos as an organic whole.” Sheela Pawar [iii]
In 2011 I was selected to take part in a series of expeditions around Cornwall, organized by Cape Farewell and RANE, to explore our cultural response to climate change. This rich interdisciplinary experience in which selected artists, writers and environmental scientists shared time at the Eden Project, the Lizard Peninsula and on the Isles of Scilly, has provided the basic, open-ended framework for the PEBBLE RIDGE project. The concept is not exclusive to rural environments and has also been utilised in the Docklands of London – everywhere has a story to tell.[iv]
My own response is very much inspired by a need to remain intimately acquainted with the nature and fellow inhabitants of our local environment. It is hoped that such experience will promote a greater sense of wonder and empathic connection with our environment, and an active sense of responsibility towards its care not only in our own interest but in the interests of all …
“ I have learned from long experience that there is nothing that is not marvelous and that the saying of Aristotle is true – that in every natural phenomenon there is something wonderful, nay, in truth, many wonders. We are born and placed among wonders and surrounded by them, so that to whatever object the eye first turns, the same is wonderful and full of wonders, if only we will examine it for a while.” John Stewart Collis 1973[v]
Art and science may be seen as the ways and means through which we examine and make meaning of our world. From such observations and understanding we may develop the technologies to enable our survival. By bringing together practitioners from a variety of disciplines it is hoped to create a cross fertilisation of ideas and a recognition that such disciplines are indeed most alike. Through such interdisciplinary approaches we may learn to better communicate our concerns and wonder of the world.
“At the heart of today’s ecological crisis lies a terrible failure to understand the essence of our relationship with the natural world. One can of course address that failure rationally and empirically; but the arts (particularly the visual arts) offer different insights into that relationship, and touch people in ways that conventional education and advocacy can rarely do.” Jonathon Porritt, Director, Forum for the Future, UK.[vi]
nature as a practical, creative resource
As an artist-led expedition, the intention was to engage with the process of the ridge more fully through the materials and resources it provided in creative activities, as well as a general awareness of the physicality of moving bodily through its environment. The weather conditions on the day completely altered any preconceptions of what these activities might entail but more than adequately evoked a sense of the process with which we were engaged. (Thoughts of Turner strapped to his mast frequently coming to mind!?) I had previously walked a section of the ridge with an Aboriginal Australian friend and elder. His response to the materials of the environment was extremely refreshing – rather than just being struck by their sublime ‘beauty’ he instantly perceived a practical application. This sense of a practical and ethical aesthetic has created a lasting impression on me.
“If you lack the materials to work with, go to the beach and draw with a stick in the sand, draw on the dry earth with a line of piss, make a drawing of the song of the birds in the emptiness of space, the noise of the water and of the wheel of a cart, and the song of the insects. All of this may be swept away by the wind and the water, but have the conviction that all these pure realizations of my spirit will influence, by magic and miracle, the spirit of other men.” Joan Miro, 1940
walking talking making becoming
As we walk our landscape over and over and over, we become more of it and it becomes more of us. This connection, this relationship, this reciprocation is our indigenous inheritance, our animate belonging, our human emergence. Walking, and movement, through our environment may be seen as one of the primary means through which we learn about our place within the world. From an artistic perspective it may be seen as a form of drawing, a sensory mapping of tactile experience. The PEBBLE RIDGE provided a diverse range of surfaces, gradients, weather conditions and textures to negotiate and observe such sense of movement and experience.
“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles…when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.” Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman
in the company of …
The PEBBLE RIDGE mini-expedition team consisted of five (hardy) invited guests and myself …
ralph brayne geographer (and surfer) conducting Phd research project on pebble transportation along the PEBBLE RIDGE, in association with Exeter University and North Devon Biosphere Reserve
john fanshawe artist and conservationist, currently employed by BirdLife International
katy lee site artist and woodlander, currently Dance in Devon Ambassador for North Devon
pete yeo networking philanthropist and photographer for Appledore Arts Festival
warren collum plein-air wildlife illustrator and exhibitions manager at The Burton Gallery & Museum
the PEBBLE RIDGE
The PEBBLE RIDGE is part of a storm beach running along the North Devon coast in Southwest England, between Hartland Point and the mouth of the Taw and Torridge Estuaries. Geologically the dramatically folded and faulted cliffs that form the coast are Carboniferous (360-290 million years old) sedimentary shales, sandstones and siltstones, with a Permo-Triassic intrusion of iron rich sandstone at Peppercombe (280 million years old). The coastline is evidence of constant and massive processes of climate and sea level change, and tectonic plate movement involving unimaginable pressures and temperatures. The ridge is predominantly eroded material from these ‘active’ cliffs, the rocks changing colour from rich yellows and browns through a process of attrition to become the grey pebbles or ‘greywacke’ that characterises the ridge.
The area is part of the Southwest Coast Path, and is managed by the National Trust (NT)[vii] and the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)[viii]. It is within North Devon’s UNESCO Biosphere (NDBR)[ix] designation and contains a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).[x] It has historic industrial and geological connections with South Wales, importing lime and coal for agricultural quick lime production and exporting timber from the ancient woodlands that hug its steep slopes. The Ridge has also provided a constant source of creative inspiration for its many visitors and inhabitants, including artists such as Turner, Charles Kingsley (after whose book Westward Ho! was named), Rudyard Kipling and Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards[xi] who used the small cabin at the top of the slipway at Bucks Mills as their studio between 1913 and 1965.
“Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.” Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust – A History of Walking
The day was originally to be spent walking the length of the ridge, taking time to appreciate the land and its other inhabitants, gathering and exploring the resources it provides and reflecting upon the experiences and issues it suggested. It was hoped that participants would feel inspired to contribute to the proceedings with whatever skills and knowledge they enjoyed. However due to the bad weather, rendering the coast path dangerous and the experience rather too wet and uncomfortable, we decided to do what we could by visiting parts of the route and finding whatever shelter was available to reflect upon our findings.
As with any workshop experience the day was based upon a structure of looking at where we already are, what has brought us to this point and what we hope to achieve through an experience, participating in activities of some kind and then reflecting upon those experiences to establish where they may take us. The PEBBLE RIDGE mini-expedition was designed to provide experiences determined by its own nature such as
• gathering (information and materials)
• making paint/painting
From a contemporary art perspective all these activities may be seen as drawing – that is, as a means to explore and examine the world …
On the day, the mini expedition provided a rich experimental space to explore the conceptual potential of such an activity, the ways it may be altered and improved for the future, and a stimulating and satisfying experience through which to share a diverse range of knowledge and perspectives, despite the inclement conditions. From a more personal perspective it was an opportunity to share my artistic practice and inspiration with others. In terms of what it had set out to achieve it was a great success and has led to a many new ideas to explore. The possibilities of different environments and processes, different participants and outcomes, and different structures and timeframes are know being discussed within the context of local environmental and arts groups.
so, how was this art?
Art may be utilised as a service to community …
• To stimulate thinking and action
• To reach new understandings of the world
• To enrich our lives through creative expression and learning
• To affirm our connection to the animate world
• To celebrate our creativity and sense of community through action
… and does it actually matter?!
For me, art’s basis lies in reciprocal communication, in relationship and in enquiry, not just between an artist and an audience but between an artist and the material world – it is about intelligent participation in this immanent, wonderful existence…
We have walked
We have talked
We have gathered
And listened with all our senses
We have a drawn a line together to reveal our world
And shared our thanks for this experience…
What more can we do?
The mini-expedition and the environment surrounding the PEBBLE RIDGE evoked conversations about a number of issues. While we cannot expect to change the world with our talk, and to not all agree, it is only by actually engaging with the subjects that are seriously affecting the future of our planet that we may hope to maintain any sense of our survival within it …
What’s so special about these ‘special’ places? Within an intimately interconnected world, why are they considered any more important than any other, and can we sensibly and realistically manage the natural world for the good of all? How do such assignations affect our behaviour in other areas?
During this mini-expedition we have freely and responsibly enjoyed the creative potential of material, both physical and more ethereal, provided by the natural world. However, as we are all aware, on a global scale we are behaving as if the resources of the planet are infinite – they are not! How may we as artists and scientists examine, determine and promote how we may live within the evolving limitations of this animate world?
Is it OK to paint on SSSI rocks with soluble, locally sourced earth pigments?
RWE Innogy is presently proposing to install 118 wind turbines in the Bristol Channel. The landfall site to connect the project to the national grid is to be at Cornborough on the Pebble Ridge. RWE are making every effort to minimize the environmental impact of the proposed project by using pre-existing pipes to bring the cables ashore.[xii]
While many of us are happy to protest against the unsightly intrusion of wind farms in our ‘unspoilt’ landscape – a landscape created predominantly by human behaviour, by agricultural and industrial activity, past and present, by our transport ‘needs’ and by our dependence on fossil fuels – without offering realistic alternatives, how many are willing to questions the multinational corporations who control our power supply and consumer choices and to make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure a future without such dependency?
coastal defences / northam landfill
As sea levels rise, the Pebble Ridge at Northam Burrows and the buried landfill site at Greysands Hill, along with the Historic Royal North Devon Golf Course and valuable grazing land it protects are increasingly under threat. Do we continue to spend vast amounts of money creating superficial sea defences in our vain attempt to hold back the tide (like good old King Canute) or do we accept the processes of nature and start to clean up the landfill site before it is too late?
How do we tackle this massive problem both personally and globally?[xiii]
what can art contribute to environmental projects?
As we have already discussed ‘art’ and ‘culture’ are increasingly recognized as important factors within any social or environmental action, but beyond awareness raising and ‘knowledge transfer’ how may artists collaborate with other disciplines to encourage sustainable practice and behaviour change?
While artists are often happy to work with scientists what do we really offer and in what form, and how can we impress upon people from other disciplines the relevance of our contribution?
many thanks to …
peter keene (www.thematic-trails.org)
justin seedhouse (head ranger, north devon national trust)
andy bell (north devon biosphere reserve)
alison thomas and natasha bacon (RWE Innogy – the atlantic array)
daro montag (university college falmouth, RANE)
and many thanks also to appledore arts festival for their continuing support
and to the sticks and stones, winds, trees and tides that have ultimately inspired my actions …
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot[xiv]
[ii] from Allen Carlson to Richard Long: The Art-Based Appreciation of Nature, by Marta Tafalla, Autonomous University of Barcelona
[v] from THE WORM FORGIVES THE PLOUGH – John Stewart Collis (LONDON; Vintage; 1973)
[xiv] from Four Quartets 4: Little Gidding, written c.1942