Institute for Creative Arts Practice – Newcastle University

‘ENTWINED Online Assemblage’ celebrates the end of the two-year, multi-partner programme ENTWINED:Rural.Land.Lives.Art.

The project is organised by VARC (Visual Arts in Rural Communities). It comprises six mixed-length residencies and associated artist projects. Each artist’s practice explored different aspects of what makes a ‘place’, revealing the interconnectedness of rural land and rural lives.

This asynchronous conference is hosted by Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice.

These conference videos seek to interrogate the interconnectedness of rural land and lives. Invited speakers include artists and academics that are concerned with rurality and/or what makes ‘place’.

We hope you enjoy meeting the artists and academics and hearing about their work.  

Conference Videos

1.     Introduction to the conference by Helen Pailing, VARC Project Director
View film here

Section 1

2.     Leandro Pisano, curator, writer and independent researcher. Leandro is interested in intersections between art, sound and technoculture and looks at rurality on a local and global scale.
View film here

3.     Esther Peeren Professor of Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam  Esther is working on a global project called ‘Rural Imaginations’ 
View film here

4.     Dr Menelaos Gkartzios, Reader in Planning & Rural Development, Newcastle University, talks about the rural and artistic practices, examples of visual arts in the global countryside (Japan) and residencies, mobility and rural place-making.
View film here

5.     Artist Henna Asikainen presents a video about her project ‘Delicate Shuttle’. Henna’s artwork is concerned with humans’ complex relationship with nature and its intersections with social justice, climate justice, migration and notions of belonging.
View film here

6.     Mike Pratt, CEO Northumberland Wildlife Trust, speaking from Kielder and talking about the Wildwood Project at Kielderhead and the importance of ‘repair, restoration and rewilding, both of ourselves and of places’.
View film here

7.     Artists Rob & Harriet Fraser present a video reflecting on their project ‘Sense of Here’ in Cumbria’s Lake District.
View film here

8.     Artist Laura Harrington introduces ‘Fieldworking: Artist Camp’, a project by Laura Harrington with Chris Bate, Ludwig Berger, Sarah Bouttell, Luce Choules, Simone Kenyon, Fiona MacDonald, Lee Patterson, Meredith Root-Bernstein and Moor House-Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve.
View film here

9.     Professor Ysanne Holt, Department of Arts, Northumbria University presents ideas from her ENTWINED essay ‘Tangled Up in Place’
View film here

Section 2

10.  ENTWINED Associate Artist Kate Liston in conversation with Roy Claire Potter. Roy is an artist working between performance and writing and Senior Lecturer, School of Art & Design, Liverpool John Moores University.
View film here

11.  ENTWINED Associate Artist Andrew Burton, Professor of Fine Art, Newcastle University in conversation with Ranti Bam. Ranti is a British-Nigerian artist who works in ceramics.
View film here

12.  ENTWINED artist Bridget Kennedy in conversation with Professor Ysanne Holt, Department of Arts, Northumbria University
View film here

13.  ENTWINED artist Shane Finan in conversation with Professor Lynne Boddy, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University.
View film here

14.  ENTWINED artist Catriona Gallagher in conversation with Michael Pattison, Creative Director, Alchemy Film & Arts
View film here

15.  ENTWINED artists Robbie Coleman & Jo Hodges in conversation with Chris Fremantle. Chris is a producer, researcher, writer and artist.
View film here

16.  ENTWINED artist Sam Douglas in conversation with Dr Frances Rowe, Research Associate, Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University
View film here

17.  ENTWINED artists open discussion at the ‘ENTWINED: Rural. Land. Lives. Art.’ exhibition at Highgreen, September 4th 2021 chaired by Susan Trangmar
View film here

‘ENTWINED: Rural. Land. Lives. Art.’ is funded by Arts Council England National Lottery Funding, Visual Arts in Rural Communities, Newcastle University (Institute for Creative Arts Practice), Northumbria University (Arts and Visual Culture), Northumberland County Council, Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, and Tarset & Greystead Parish Council. The project runs from June 2019 to December 2021.

Invaluable in-kind support has been provided by Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Unison Colour, The Heritage Centre at Bellingham, Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy, Art Circuit Touring Exhibitions, University of Sunderland (WALK; Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge), Highgreen Estate, Northumberland National Park Authority, Tarset Village Hall, Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland Archives, Natural History Society of Northumbria and Tarset Archive Group.

For more information about ENTWINED:Rural.Land.Lives.Art and VARC please visit the website

My Self Isolation Flashback (TBC)

At some point in the past a friend of mine had a foot injury. He was laid up, unable to walk, for about a week whilst the injury healed, sufficient to bear his weight. He was bereft. He could not work, he could not leave the house. He took it badly.

At the time we were fond of looking for stories in myth which may inform events in our current or past life event. We naturally looked to the story of Achilles. In myth he was dipped into the River Styx by his mother to make him invulnerable. She held his foot to facilitate this. His invulnerable heel was his weakness and this is where the spear that killed him hit him in battle. Today, a weakness can be referred to as a persons ‘Achilles Heel’. After suffering an injury to my own eponymous Achilles Tendon, I can attest to it’s disabling capacity. Achilles was a warrior and for a warrior and foot injury could be a potential fatal weakness.

We reflected on how neither he nor I were warriors. It was some comfort and a useful antidote to equating masculinity with combat. Myths are useful in the way they contain archetypal forms, patterns of phenomena or behaviour that transcend the time of the original story. They are like signposts from the past that point to the present. My recollection of the exchange with my friend seems to include some reference to another myth which pointed to the idea that a foot injury is a sign to rest and reflect. But numerous searches have not revealed any such myth.

In reality Achilles would have seen out his days resting his heel in carpet slippers if he had rested and reflected instead of going into battle. Indeed, maybe the myth points to a warrior resting and avoiding battle should they get a tendon injury in their heel.

On Tuesday the 19th October I tested positive for Covid 19. The government in their infinite wisdom decreed that give such an injury I should rest for 10 days. They wrote to me and said “You have tested positive for COVID-19. You must stay at home and self-isolate until 29th of October (including this date at midnight).”

I could still smell stuff. I had no temperature. But 2 flow tests showed positive. After a while I felt like a large dog was sitting on my chest. I got no worse but was exhausted and slept a lot. I was laid low for about a week. The chest restriction was scary and I could see that if it got worse it would this that killed me. CV19 is an upper respiratory illness. Untreated it would be a terrifying way to go. You would slowly suffocate.

I couldn’t do much bit sit, rest and reflect. So I reflected on Achilles. I figured that for 10 days at least my fighting days were over. The myth told me it was ok to be out of action.

My art making had reached a bit of a hiatus. I have been having a battle with my ‘Imposter Syndrome’. My art making included photography, performance, walking art, painting, poetry and prose, collage, music making, digital art and all manner combinations of the above. But fine art it was not. It had become, in the eyes of my imposter self, a meaningless mishmash of mixed-media. Given an opportunity to rest and reflect I decided to reflect on all the weird things I had done in the name of art, and pick a few to concentrate on. Be a proper ‘Artist’.

How to do it though. I decided to make a book. I would call it ‘Here’s One I Made Earlier – Retrospective of a Non-Artist’. It could be a work of fiction. I would be the unreliable narrator. I remembered a story about artist Joseph Beuys, about how he claimed his plane was shot down in flames and he was badly injured, and a band of nomadic Tartars had saved his life by wrapping him up in felt and fat. It was only partly true. But Beuys built his reputation as an artist on this story. He did lots of stuff that could be considered ‘not-art’, like living in a cage with a coyote. Beuys created his own myths. His story is told in ‘Fat, felt and a fall to Earth: the making and myths of Joseph Beuys’ here.

In the article, Olivia Laing the author says “All the same, by turning his injury into a fable, Beuys did make a clear statement of intent. War, fascism, nationhood, trauma and repair: these would be his subjects, but his approach would not be that of a historian or social scientist. What he was interested in was discovering and communicating in mythic terms how damage might be transfigured or transformed.”

The power of transformation is the power of art. Art preceded science but both act as forms of research. Science of the material world, art of the immaterial. Science is a form of art. John Berger is quoted in the article and says “In matters of seeing, Joseph Beuys was the great prophet of the second half of our century. Believing that everybody is potentially an artist, he took objects and arranged them in such a way that they beg the spectator to collaborate with them … by listening to what their eyes tell them and remembering.”

My book making is going OK. My imposter has coughed, interrupted me, and opined that my retrospective ideas about my past as a non-artist are inaccurate. “I think you might just find that your ideas of yourself are just a myth.” he says. I am getting uncomfortable with the process I embarked on. But this just means the process is working. I am (as Berger says) taking “…objects and arranged them in such a way that they beg the spectator to collaborate with them … by listening to what their eyes tell them and remembering.” and I am the spectator.

In retrospect my past is being transfigured and transformed by my act of making. Not sure what it will be transfigured and transformed into. But that is what art and research is all about. I am in the right attitude. I am available for outcomes but not connected to them. I am in adventure.

Performing Distancing

Social distancing was introduced to the UK around March 17, 2020

On March 18, 2020 I did a walking art performance to explore the then new idea and practice of ‘social distancing’.

On reflection, a year on, it is interesting that this simple act gave me insight that evening into the way that ‘social distancing’ would very quickly become normalised in society, as did the sensation of coming to avoid or mistrust the proximity of other people.

It just reinforces for me how performance and art as research may be able pre-empt experience and give insight into experiences to come, but do so through feelings, not through empirical data.

Be careful what you think you see.

This reminds me of Cassandra, who was able to see the future, but was cursed by nobody believing what she said. She was cursed by Apollo for lying when she said she would get jiggy with him. She was cursed for lying, so the curse made her words became an untruth.

Maybe the moral is then is to not lie to yourself about what you may see, but beware that to say what you see may help nobody. And if you do speak, maybe only speak to people who see the world the way you do. Therein is the dilemma of holding your own counsel or speaking only to become stuck in a bubble. Trump and Brexit and QAnon all rolled into one.

Or maybe the moral is simply that words are not accurate representations of feelings, and interpreting feelings is an art not a science.

Below is my account of that performance written somewhere around the end of March 2020.

Performing Distancing March 18, 2020

(Written end of March 2020.)

On the basis that art and performance can be used as research, to explore and express personal experience, I wondered what would happen if I walked through Carlisle town centre maintaining 2m social distancing, but do it as performance, choreographed like a dance or with applied dramaturgical principles, and record it with GPS.

A simple algorithm was devised to work like choreographic directions.

Walk in a straight line until I was within 2m of another person, then turn away until the distance exceeded 2m, then resume the straight line.

Where I met an obstacle turn through 90+ degrees and continue in a straight line.

Limit the walk to the central shopping area.

Walk for 1 hour.

I imagined this visualised as a faux maths formula, because moving an idea between forms, like turning word into image, can sometimes reveal a new aspect to the idea.

Faux math formula

Where P is the path of the walk, as an iteration or repeat of p, which is each leg as a straight line a-b until this is changed by meeting a person (the m is an aboriginal sign for a person, basically, the bottom mark left in the sand where a person was sitting) in which case the path p changes (the triangle) by n degrees.

The basic principle of art as research is to make art, in this case performance, and pay attention to what happens when you do.

On the 18th March I did a social distancing walk for an hour in Carlisle city centre, and payed attention to my thoughts and feelings and other peoples response. I tracked it with GPS tracker.

This is the raw GPS visualisation of that walk.

This shows the path I followed as the green line. The dots are simply GPS way points.
This is a satellite view. The image is old and some things were absent in March.

I worked with a GPS track editor and removed as many intermediary waypoints as possible to leave only turns in response to social distancing or turns in response to an obstacle, like a shop front.

I got this, edited down as three images joined together.

Simplified social distancing walk.

What the walk/performance did as research, was give me insight into social distancing, then a very new phenomenon.

Over the hours walk, I started to become anxious when I got close to people. As a person approached me and I anticipated the need to distance, I felt a rise in my level of anxiety. I felt isolated and distanced. I felt sad.

I was also nervous about wandering around in circles for an hour on CCTV. In the end nobody even batted an eyelid. I was utterly uninterrupted and fully ignored.T his added to a sense of aloneness.

Part of the creative process is the period of incubation, in which the creator moves away from the art making and does some other thing. On returning to the theme or the artform, after incubation, new insights emerge. The form created is seen in a new light. I noted this sadness and anxiety at the time, but on writing this, months later, another aspect of my experience of performance/art as research came into play.

I reflect now that this experience gave me insight into how social distancing would feel. Now, months later people are not rushing back to contact, many people appear reluctant to go back to the shops and the pubs and the office. This week, mid-June, the MP is now imploring people to go back to the office and the shops and the pubs. The anxiety prevails.

Also there is growing anger in the UK and clear riotous anger in the USA in some quarters of society. Today I found the following meme.

My experience of children in care is that many are angry and this is just a product of sadness and anxiety. Whilst different, both are connected to loss. Anxiety may be an anticipation of discomfort and danger, but also the anticipation of the loss of safety, the familiar, and the predictable. Our stress response is fight, flight or freeze. We have been unable to flee in lockdown, which leaves fight and freeze, anger and sadness.

On March 18, the day of my social distancing walk, the experience of social distancing was new. This art based research could not be seen as producing a clear empirical evidence based outcome, but I did experience feelings in myself which could have anticipated feelings shared by other people once the lockdown deepened in its impact. I anticipated sadness and could, in retrospect, have anticipated anger.

This work is highly influenced by the arts therapies and dramatherapy and by experiential learning. In the arts therapies, whilst art is made, the role of the artform as an end product, for sale, or for viewing by an audience, is not significant. What is significant is the experience of art making on the part of the art maker. As such it is a form of experiential learning in which direct experience of art forms the basis of learning or research in which the art making is both the mode of research and the outcome of the research. It is part research, part performance, part personal therapy, part play, part experiential learning but is never fully any of these things.

Undertaken with the intention to make this as art, invites the creative process, and as such it is unique, not in any grand way, but in a way that invokes creativity as a simple and easily available act accessible to anybody. The act that makes it art in intentionality and this intentionality can be learned.

My hope is to use this website and my own art making to show ways to learn this. We cannot all be artists but we can all make art. What this experiment revealed was simple and oddly mundane, but also complex and profound. I want to show how art making can help you explore and express your experience of the world.

Solway Walk – Map Art

Sul Waths Crossing the Iapetus Ocean

Following on from my exploration of the Solway I wondered if I could make an object that captured the way it was a real objective place, but was open to a number of subjective impressions.

For a while I have experimented with weaving Ordnance Survey maps, with the grid squares becoming the warp and the weft of the created object. In the past it has been two different maps, but for this I wanted to experiment with two maps of the same place, but shift them so the Solway became kind of extended and ambiguous. Like it is. So I made the object above.

It will never win a Turner Prize but my interest is not in creating ‘Fine Art’, but in using art-making to explore ideas and express experience. What I wanted to express was…

  • Blurring the boundary between England and Scotland.
  • Showing how the Waths crossed this boundary.
  • Make something that looked recognisable from a distance but changed before your eyes as you approached it.
  • Make you kind of wonder what it was, a picture, a map, some weaving or needlepoint.
  • Shifting your sense of time. The Iapetus Ocean was the water between the two tectonic plates that mashed together to make the Borders. The Solway is all that is left. I liked it as an archaeological object.
  • To also have bits of it that were from the time it was made. I liked it as a contemporaneous object as well.
  • To work with text and image and object and colour as things to stand in for something else.

Sometime I would like to return to making this as a more aesthetically sophisticated object. But as a starting point, it is a good place to start.

Solway Walk – Moving On

My visit to the Solway was prompted by a need for a large space without physical barriers to explore what would happen if I walked a drawing of an model of experiential learning through the arts. In doing so my idea about my model changed.

The original model

Models are slippery things. Their appeal is that they appear to give a fixed image of a thing, but in practice whilst they serve as a very useful signpost about which way to go when you set off, the thing you find when you get there is never fixed. So the walk was undertaken as an experiment ‘to explore what would happen…’

  • learning model

What the model predicted was that a number of factors would contribute to the art making. In this case my thoughts were that source material would be Richard Long and the walking and land artists. My personal arts practice or art made included using a GPS and walking to make a mark on the landscape and experience of film making as a means of exploration, reflection and expression of experience. I drew on ongoing research and theory about the outdoors as a liminal space and art making as adventure, as a journey of uncertain outcome, and Shaun McNiff’s ideas about witnessing in the arts therapies1.

The model was correct in that my path would lead in to and out of the art making on the day and on to more art making, research, source materials and theory, and that the generic coloured blobs would be specific to the art making experience. My initial thinking after the event went to ideas about performance and the epistemic object and further trips to photograph and film, reporting this through blog posts.

At the centre of this, an act of art making and poiesis occurs. Something comes into existence that did not exist before and it is called art. It is art by convention, because all this could describe the making of a cup of tea. To this conundrum ’Why is this art?’ one asks the question asked by artist John Baldessari, “Why is this not art.” It is art because it was my intention to make art and my act was guided by research, reference to existent artform and artists, theories of art and my experience of art I made before.

But there was something incomplete about the central concentric circle structure. I was interested in the model showing how each experience of art making occured within a loop of experience, like in Kolb’s learning cycle.

  • kolb

But like the Kolb model is an ideal form which would be expressed differently depending on the setting, the strict concentric form may vary depending on the setting. My experience of art-making was, however, that in making art I stepped away from the day to day life experience and went to a different place. This could state is sometimes known as a ‘Flow’ state from work by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. You get in the zone of concentration and attention, of doing and the senses. But for art-making as experiential learning or personal research or art therapy, you enter a state that is similar to a meditative state, like flow with awareness. You are focussed on making art but also on what it is that you have made and what happens when you make it.

So in the model, as well as cycling through an iterative learning process, there was a linear path away from the world, into a creative state where something happens in partnership with your artform, then back to the world.

Reflecting on how the model changed

On return home from the Solway and recollecting the emergence of performance I went back to my Dramatherapy training. In a dramatherapy session you work with a basic three part structure. ‘It begins with a physical warm-up leading to the Main Event, the place where the real action is. It concludes with the ‘grounding’, returning people from the ‘Land of Imagination’ to their own everyday selves.2

During the walk recreating the drawing, the shift from walking to dancing, from recreating the drawing to improvising and performance emerged unbidden. One could say this idea came out of my imagination or my unconscious, or it was the product of a state of flow, or having danced in the past, I simply remembered something from my past related to what I was doing in the present.

So there are two things here. One is a linear journey into a place with some degree of separation from the everyday world, into ‘flow’ or ‘Land of Imagination’, followed by a return. This is a linear journey in an iterative looping cycle of learning. The other is the experience of being in ‘flow’ or the ‘Land of Imagination’. This is an experience of art making as somewhat separated from ones day to day life.

Something like this three-stage process occurs in many settings. In story and in film and theatre there is a thing called the ‘Three Act Structure.’ On one hand, this is as simple as a beginning a middle and an end or it is sometimes understood as set-up, confrontation and resolution. Many interpretations exist and there are examples to be found of its use in say cinema, but it is not without some contention. Like one article says ‘The true three-act structure isn’t a formula, it keeps your beginning separate from your middle and your middle separate from your end. That’s it.’

But the ‘beginning, middle and end’ could be seen as a universal or archetypal structure. For example at Outward Bound, in experiential learning, you worked with a ‘training, main and final expedition’. Your training expedition was where you taught skills, the main expedition was where you had the conflict as you got the people to move from being a group to being a team. Final was the unaccompanied independent journey.

In care, we worked with a conflict model and resolution tool called ‘ABC Charts’ meaning A – antecedent, B – behaviour, and C – consequences. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey has a specific expression and detail but is also a three-stage form, the call to adventure, the test and the return.

But the simple, warm up, main event and grounding of dramatherapy mentioned above can be also seen in a form described by Victor Turner and Arnold van Gennep as Rites of Passage.

  • Turners Initiation Model

From Schechner3

The above diagram is from Victor Turner a British anthropologist who theorised the above from studies of non-western settings at the top, and western settings at the bottom. This is a three stage journey of return that is linear and cyclical and has a central liminal or liminoid space somewhat separated from everyday life called The Land of Imagination in the dramatherapy model.

Art as liminal space

My proposal is that art making and experiential learning could be understood as having some some elements of the above structure in their practice. I don’t think it is coincidental that after a while on the Solway Walk, I spontaneously rediscovered that I could do the walk as performance. This could be seen as me, albeit briefly, entering a mild ludic state.

There is a lot to this seemingly simple experience of walking in circles on a beach like an idiot. Not least the idiocy. I was being playful throughout. I was in the land of the Trickster or the Court Jester, at once playful and challenging, the one who can perform recombination and inversion.

This is also adventure. The journey between departure and arrival. The journey of uncertain outcome with misadventure available. The three part expedition cycle of Outward Bound. On a slave ship, the middle passage. The refugee in the hands of the trafficker. It is not a thing of the past.

To me there is also something in this of being in the Solway, a liminal space if ever I saw one, between two countries, high and low water, land and sea. To me this is also a state of walking. In walking you are between places, outdoors, in a state of flow, and returned to a mode of existence that predates all of the modern world.

So after a few weeks of reflection my research led me a realisation. The experience was ‘like’ a lot of things, from experiential learning, theatre, anthropology, adventure sports, performance art, and conflict resolution, to Outward Bound and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

This could also be applied to many arts based contexts and the model has ART FORM as a liminal or liminoid experience at it’s heart, the same as dramatherapy. But the artform that fits this experience best if what is known as Walking Art.

My exploration of my Solway walk has reached a convenient place to move on and in my next set of posts I want to look at Walking Art with a particular focus on it’s scope for promoting health and wellbeing.

  1. Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies – Theory and Practice – Laury Rappaport ed.  ↩︎
  2. Discovering the Self through Drama and Movement – The Sesame Approach. Jenny Pearson ed.  ↩︎
  3. Performance Studies – An Introduction. By Richard Schechner. Routledge.  ↩︎

Rewilding on the Urban Fringe – A Proposal

Image – Edge of old peat cutting Walton Moss, Cumbria, UK.

A Proposal for working with art-making outdoors as a mode of discovery and discourse to support the process and practice of rewilding.

(I attended this excellent event A Natural Capital Lab on an urban fringe: challenges and possibilities on Jan 21st and made this proposal to work with art. To date no response to the proposal, but on reflection, I should have asked if there were any rewilding in the urban fringe projects currently running, or asked if anybody wanted to start one.)

My interest in rewilding on the urban fringe is prompted partly by my childhood living on the urban fringe in Derby, by my work in outdoor education which included two urban outdoor programmes and by my personal arts practice. I trained as a Drama and Movement Therapist, and guided by the principles of the arts therapies, most of my art making involves exploring and expressing my personal experience of the outdoors. I work with the outdoors as art and art as research.

This posting on my blog is presented as an invitation to conversation and collaboration. Art making as a mode of inquiry has many and deep connections to rewilding, particularly on the urban fringe.

I think there is scope for art making outdoors to be of use to the principles and practice of rewilding in the following ways.

  1. Art making has an affinity with the rewilding process and has the scope to facilitate personal insight into rewilding, in practice, in situ practically and intellectually.
  2. Art making can be used as a kind of performative research to explore and express personal experience as an adjunct and complement to quantitative and qualitative research.
  3. Art making, when undertaken guided by the principles of the art therapies, can promote a sense of attachment to place which can be mutually beneficial to the health of both the persons and places involved.
  4. Given mutual agreement, art made through outdoors as art activities, can serve as a catalyst for discussion, illustration and promotion of said activities and the persons and places involved.

Like the idea and practice of ‘Art’ the idea and practice of ‘Rewilding’ can be contentious. Both have some aspects which are not contentious. A fine art oil painting of a landscape is undeniably art, as the scientific data which is used in ecological sciences is undeniably an accurate account of the plants and animals in a community. But strong disagreements exist as to whether certain things can be classed as art, in the same way that strong disagreements exist about both the scope and value of rewilding.

In Practice as Research – Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. Edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt, Professor Estelle Barrett, talking about art making as research in postgrad research says that art as research is subjective, situational, emergent and multidisciplinary. In the same book Professor Brad Haseman describes art based research as performative research.

My proposal is that guided by ideas and practices from arts education and the arts therapies, particularly when art is used as a form of enquiry or research, art as research acts as a useful mode of enquiry in situations that are subjective, situational, emergent and multidisciplinary. Core scientific data may still prevail in certain areas in which objectivity of material phenomena is required, but art making as enquiry is useful when we want to explore personal experience and subjective phenomena.

For example photography could be useful in work in which we are inviting people to explore and express where they think ‘wilderness’ begins and ends. This is even more so in the urban fringe. In a photo series called Northern Territories I explored the point where human managed space ended and wilder, less managed space started. In Local Internet, prompted by the work of James Bridle I explored the way that the idea of ‘The Cloud’ was still around us as a very concrete phenomena and totally crossed the boundary between online and offline spaces.

Art as research is very situational and personal but these ideas could be useful if used in other settings to help persons involved in rewilding produce images to prompt discussion about where they would draw a line between human and wild spaces.

In the arts therapies, in art making, and in art as inquiry the process is very important. One may have an intention for art making, but the final outcome, the art made is uncertain. This is similar to rewilding. In Urban Wilderness in Central Europe – Rewilding at the Urban Fringe, the authors Matthias Diemer, Martin Held, and Sabine Hofmeister say of rewilding ‘..for some ecosystems there are no clear conceptions of the composition or appearance of the future wilderness state.’1 Rewilding, like art, is a creative act. Working with art outdoors could be a way to help people understand that with rewilding, like adtr making, the outcome may not always be certain.

Just saying what art is, like saying what rewilding is is difficult because creative acts are, by their nature, difficult if not impossible to accurately predict. In pure scientific research, the capacity to predict an outcome and test it, is central. This is a source of vital information about some things that can be measured and predicted. Arts as research does not challenge this or contradict this. But with rewilding, predicting the path of secondary succession towards a state of preservation of a fixed final climax state is not always possible.

The artist John Cage talks about the creative act thus “When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”2 In rewilding, in the end, even we leave in faith that the place can take care of making wilderness for itself. Rewilding may have a human hand at inception, the first brush strokes, but human hand leaves in the end. Nature is creative.

Frans Schepers and Paul Jepson say of working with rewilding as opposed to fixed conservation approaches ‘This conservation approach, which has been compared to restoring a painting that then needs curating, is at odds with the process-oriented ethos of rewilding and the uncertain ecological and conservation dynamics this entails… Rewilding is seen as a process rather than a state…3 ‘ The rewilding act is not that of restoring an old painting, it is the creation of a new painting.

We could see that as a mode of enquiry art making outdoors can help people look at what is wilderness and where it starts and ends, particularly in the urban fringe, it can help people experience rewilding as process and as an unpredictable creative act and provide access to understanding wildness through performative experiences, alongside quantitative and qualitative data.

  • rosebay willow herb

My experience of working with the outdoors as art and art as research has included both formal research and exploration of more personal experience. The use of art making as a form of enquiry is, I think, of most use as an adjunct to more formal quantitative and qualitative approaches. I think it invites a mode of working which, when guided by principles form the arts therapies and arts education can offer a degree of rigour of process. The arts generally have a long history of providing an outlet for expression and discourse.

All work is localised to the setting, the place in which the art making is taking place, and the artform and content subject to enquiry. Any work is, like the actual form the rewilding takes, open to a creative and thus unpredictable outcome. Nature, like art, can speak for itself. But two examples of how to work with the arts are presented which may illustrate the process in two specific settings. One is presented below, the other will follow and is part of a project I am doing in the Solway Firth.

On arrival at my current home, a neighbour told us about a flood which came down a ridge behind our houses and entered a friends kitchen. It seemed inconceivable at the time. There was no watercourse within a quarter of a mile of our houses. But during lockdown I went looking for evidence of the story. To my surprise I found a cloistered and culverted stream ran right where she said. It was invisible except for the occasional sound of water form under two large concrete slabs behind a garage and a vague path of dampness on a football pitch after heavy rain. On some maps a series of disconnected water features were shown, but on others they were entirely absent.

After a few days of rain, I went out with a camera to film the path of the water on the football pitch, when a dog walker called me over and we got talking. He confirmed the story. The flood happens 17 years ago and ruined his dads car when it entered the families garage. The then open stream was filled in by the council as a result of the flood. I found the path of the stream, mostly hidden but above the surface in three places in over it’s 2 kilometer course. I walked this with a GPS tracker to make a performance of it’s whole journey down to the River Irthing from a spring behind our houses. I discovered that this spring was on a feature that was was part of ‘Brampton Kame Belt’ ‘ the largest glaciofluvial complexes within the UK.’ I liked the idea of a mythical stream existing only when it rained and wrote a story about this like it was a Norse Myth. I become very attached to to this elusive, nameless stream, like it is the local secret only locals know about.

I know that the ridge the flood water came from was left by the bed of a river that flowed over the melting glaciers that disappeared 10k years ago. I know that on rainy days I can follow the wet path in the football pitch that marks the now filled in path of a stream, or find a spot under willow tree behind my house that produces the unseen but clearly audible sound of rushing water. I used story writing and performance to connect with the stream in a more personal imaginal way. I developed an empirical and personal connection.

This empirical and personal connection together acted to bring a feeling of attachment. In childcare, attachment is defined as ‘the maintenance of proximity’, and is an important source of security for care-giver and child. Because art making outdoors connects me to place with both empirical data and personal experience I feel now feel more attached to this stream and thus to the place I reside. So whilst with regards to rewilding, empirical, ecological data is vital, a personal attachment to place may be something that could be mutually beneficial to place and person. Understanding place through both empirical data and personal experience could be an interesting way to help people involved with rewilding form attachments to place.

Many rewilding schemes exist in the UK. Many will be supported by volunteers. Volunteering is a great way to connect with and form attachment to place. Participants involved in rewilding schemes will be familiar with many ecological, data driven modes of understanding. Having done a BSc in Human Ecology I can see this is vital. But as an arts therapist and art maker I can see that art making, or at least an approach to enquiry rooted in art making has had many benefits for me.

Any form of engagement with place and particularly physical or embodied engagement forms attachment. My experience is that this attachment has helped me through lockdown. My art based enquiry has maintained my mental health. But what the arts involvement has done has taught me to be is open in my approach to the place I live. Open in the way I understand what is going on.

  • things from a different perspective

For rewilding, and particularly rewilding in the urban fringe, a mode of engagement with process, a mode of understanding rewilding in it’s contentious and unpredictable nature that is open could be advantageous.

A Proposal

Therefore I make a proposal for conversation and possible collaboration in exploring art making as a mode of enquiry, understanding and attachment to place, in support of rewilding in the urban fringe.

I live in North Cumbria and would love to work with people nearby in England or Scotland on an actual site, ideally in the urban fringe.

Beyond lockdown, I would also be interested in connecting with individuals who may be interested in working with the outdoors as art, to simply experiment and explore ideas and possibly form a means by which we could support each other in personal arts, health, educational, ecological or environmental practice.

Art making makes art. Be it visual art, music making, poetry, performance art, pottery, sculpture, whatever. Sharing and showing art made is valuable as a way of inviting discussion, illustration and promotion of place, process, project and person. Showing and sharing art made is the art as research equivalent of the scientific peer review. I evokes discourse. But personal witnessing of art making is central to the arts therapies. We cannot all be artists but we can all make art. For some people showing what they made is a terrifying proposal. But in some way personal witnessing is like wilderness. To be true wilderness, it may be that it is unseen by any eyes but the eyes of the people, plants and animals that live there. In the arts therapies, art made is seen by nobody but the therapist and the person or persons in therapy. What is shared is shared with consent.

If anyone is interested in a sharing a journey of exploration and discovery, a journey of uncertain outcome, like adventure, like rewilding, like art, please visit my blog at and get in touch.

  1. Urban Wilderness in Central EuropeRewilding at the Urban Fringeby Matthias Diemer, Martin Held, and Sabine Hofmeister.  ↩︎
  2. john cage / score without parts  ↩︎
  3. Rewilding in the European Context  ↩︎

Solway Walk – The Epistemic Object

Art object as source of knowledge

After doing my Solway Walk I went back to some academic and practice material, reconnecting with Augusto Boal on performance as a dichotomous, and thus creative, process. This connected with my experience of art making as performance as a journey of uncertain outcome. But some of my art making ended up with art objects. However the Boal stuff reminded me of other materials I had read.

In a book called ‘Using Art as Research in Learning an Teaching; Multidisciplinary Approaches Across the Arts’ by Ross W. Prior, there is a chapter that reiterated some of what Boal had to say about the ambiguity of the art making process. In Chapter 8 ‘The ‘Epistemic Object’ in the Creative Process of Doctoral Inquiry’, Carole Gray, Julian Malins and Maxine Bristow the authors, develop ideas about the art object which reinforces Boal’s ideas about aesthetic space but in relation to visual art and the arts object as part of an experiential process. It also talk about ways of viewing art that moves us away from the fine art exhibition, and towards ways of showing art product and process much more conducive to experiential learning. It is about art as research at postgrad level but we can think of art as experiential learning as a form of research or as a source of knowledge at many levels.

The Epistemic Object

Whilst Augusto Boal’s idea of performance containing the aesthetic space as a dichotomous space in which a person acts, witnesses and learns through their own actions, thoughts and feelings, the act of performance is highly experiential, and produces no object in the way visual art does.

In the article the epistemic object is understood as an object which, through engagement and experience, acts as a source of knowledge. In this sense the object could be a painting or an architectural model or the Large Hadron Collider or a diagram of a particle accelerator or the Sistine Chapel. The epistemic object or epistemic art contains ambiguity or uncertainty and thus can be a vehicle for inquiry and thus learning. So whilst ideas about what we we can learn form art is not without contention, as a perspective on art as experiential learning the idea may be useful.

It struck me that when I worked at Outward Bound two classic experiential learning, or ‘problem solving’ activities that could be understood as epistemic objects were ‘The Wall’ and ‘Barrels and Planks’ . Both used creative experiential activities as a source of knowledge. Both could also be understood as performance in the way Boal suggested.

Aberdovey Outward Bound, my old stomping ground.

Viewing and more importantly doing art, making art objects could, I suggest, be understood as epistemic objects. What interests me is the way this idea, adopted and hybridised by art based researchers could bring together ways of thinking about and engaging in experiential learning that could encompass science, the arts, outdoor adventure and the arts therapies.

In the article a number of ideas are presented about the epistemic object being ambiguous or dichotomous and open to interpretation and as such, through interaction, open to creative development or re-viewing. With the article the devil is in the detail. To paraphrase of quote parts of the article would loose a lot of the explanation. So a copy of the article is available for download on my blog under this post or can be downloaded here.

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s term ‘epistemic things’ is used as a starting point. Rheinberger is quoted thus. ‘An experiment […] is an exploratory movement, a game in which one plays with possible positions, an open arrangement’. The article continues ‘For an epistemic object to have the potential to develop scientific research, it must embody a degree of uncertainty to be useful’. He asserts that epistemic things ‘are by nature made to be surpassed’’

In the article the things that pass as epistemic objects include Crick and Watson’s model of DNA, made with lab equipment. Things used by architects to design buildings including sketches, drawings, plans, charts; photographs; project management tools – timelines, schedules, tables; virtual prototypes, scale models, and even machines and parts are epistemic objects. A design consultancy process in cited, where individual employees select ‘core value’ cards – a given set of random images – to visually express particular values that they each associate with their company.

Finally there is a wonderful description of how Antonio Gaudi designed the Crypt of the Church of Colonia Güell. ‘Gaudi’s stereostatic model.. brought together a set of inquiring materials – a wooden board, cords, cloth, pellets, photographs. From each catenaric arch (formed by hanging the cords from the board) small sacks of pellets were suspended. The structure was photographed. The final shape of the church’s future architecture was revealed by turning one of the photographs upside-down– indeed a productive thing.’ Read about it here.

To me an ‘experiment’ as described above by Rheinberger, could be an expedition, or a painting, or canoe trip, or a walk on a beach, or a drawing of an idea of experiential learning, or making a movie about a walk on a beach, or a map. All, like a petri dish or a painting, can be an epistemic object.

These are all things that could be understood as ‘thinking by doing’, ‘embodied cognition’ or ‘material thinking’. These could things used by artists, physicists, architects, musicians, geologists, sports coaches. The ‘epistemological object’ differs from the ‘model’ in how it is used and by virtue of it being incomplete, ambiguous, dichotomous, open or emergent. The interaction of the maker of the object with the object is what makes it a source of knowledge or creativity. The model tells us what we already know.

The article describes the role of epistemic objects ‘ not to represent what is already known, but on the contrary, to come to terms with what is not yet known. The epistemic object is defined by what it is not (or not yet) as much by what it is’, and says artworks are ‘‘generators of that which we do not yet know’ inviting us to think and thereby are epistemic agents’.

My proposal throughout is that if we understand art making as experiential learning then the outcomes of learning are determined by the interaction of a person doing something in which, as Rheinberger notes above, they think ‘a degree of uncertainty to be useful’. This is endemic to art making, to the art object, to the epistemic object. So as a source of knowledge, a mode of discourse and exploration of experience, art making, in all it’s myriad and contested forms treats, like with like. It’s uncertainty matches the uncertainty of experience.


But in making art, how do we show what we have learned, in and of experience, if it is uncertain. The article goes on to link the epistemic object to the act of exposition. Exposition can be understood as being characterised by an exposure, a showing of all and an explanation.

The word exposition is now a noun, the name of a thing. Etymologically it is from exponere which is a verb, a describer of a doing. In the context of art as experiential learning, as part of a research discourse, the writers of the article think of exposition as more of an exposure of doing, thinking, of materials and process.

The article goes further and suggest it is ‘…the sharing of thinking processes and the revealing of methodology; and perhaps most importantly it invites participation in order to enrich and expand understandings from the inquiry,’ and ‘There is a didactic element to the notion of exposition, as far as it teaches how, and as what something may be seen without determining outcomes.’

Visual examples can be found in the article of recent PhD art as research doctoral expositions. Here.

In showing art in the fine art context, the exhibition could have the quality of a museum, with lots of explanations, or it could seek to rely on the capacity of the artworks to speak for themselves. The explanatory method can tend to give a fixed account of the art made. The art speaks for itself is fine, if you speak art in the same way as the artist. Grayson Perry suggested in the BBC Reith lectures that all galleries should have a big sign at the entrance that says ‘YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIKE IT ALL’. He did and exhibition of work by renowned artist and rank amateurs. He said he liked the idea that when people first walked in nobody knew who made what. They just found stuff they liked.

A big part of what I want to get as is art not ART. The making art rather than the viewing of ‘Fine Art’. Art as doing not viewing. We cannot all be artists but we can all make art. We can make art as a way to learn something about your experience, of art making, of what your art is about.

When I was at school I got a grade ‘A’ in Art and Physics. It took me 50 years to get back to the art thing. But the thought of me showing my art in an exhibition is horrific. At school you had to be wary of being good at art ‘cos if your art was good it got put on the wall. In my school that meant you had sold out. ‘Teachers Pet!’.

But my exposition is here, in my showing and sharing. I want to show you what I made and my thinking about my making. The trick that I am working on is to find a balance between being too rigidly didactic and teacherish and too vaguely arty and obscure. My goal is to show so that you may find some thing you like that resonates for yourself. But like Grayson Perry says, you don’t have to like it all. In this sharing, I am sharing my finding my own way.

With a bit of time we can work out for ourselves what is going on.

In the article there is a quote from an arts researcher, Schwab who says ‘One may even say that there is something inherently gentle to exposition considered as introduction, a relief, perhaps, from the obligation of being a ‘work of art’, in the serious sense of the word.’

Art as experiential learning begs you to take notice of the art you make and what happens when you make it. Exposition could be seen as an antidote to feeling compelled to make a ‘work of art’, and show it like a sellout, and instead make some art and tell us what you did and what it was like, what you learned and then share with us what you made. We can work out what it means for ourselves.

Solway Walk – Thinking and Reporting

Back in the world reflecting on the experience of art making.

On return home, my reflections on the Solway walk had a number of sources. I had my direct recollection of the place and the experience of walking around in circles, my gps tracks and my movie footage.

What was most immediate was direct recollection of the move from representation to improvisation of the image of an idea of experiential learning through art. What was interesting was that the return to the camera where I reflected that ‘I learned something about my model’ was partly an image in my head but mostly a feeling. The feeling was that the move from representation to improvisation was a feeling of change. It was not a rational thing.

I saw the footage and recalled that the pause in my speaking was me trying to connect with the learning. I had a vague ghost of an image and I was trying to visualise it. One source of inspiration about art as enquiry in post grad research came from the work of artist and academic, Dr Estelle Barrett1. She describes art as research as being a thing of ‘doing and the senses’. It is subjective, situational, emergent, multi-disciplinary and often non-verbal. I knew some change had taken place. By changing my experience of embodying my drawing of my idea, my idea had changed.

In my head what floated around was an image of a map of different experiences and interests with my walking path moving between them. On my return home I used a drawing app and made an image of I thought the map might look like. This is what I drew.

The drawing showed three elements. The looping line I had walked. This was my experience over time moving from one thing to another. Then the things I moved through over time, the art I made, other artists work as source material, art and learning theory, more structured research and reading and revisiting various ‘projects’ with a coherent theme. Then there was a n idea of my connection with the art making. I thought about it on the way in and out and reported on it. I have a journal and use sketchbooks for ideas and images. I became a witness to my own art making, and through reportage her, other people also witnessed what I made. The art making was characterised by mostly doing and the senses. I moved out of fully thinking mode.

Central to it was working with artform, which had a bit of all of the above, but had its own things to show and share. I felt a need to return to the central bit. What it contained I realised was always specific to the actual experience of artform at the time. I intend to try and map what happened in here on the day. On another day this would contain something different and something the same.

What emerged form this drawing, this thinking through doing and the senses, was not so much the act of art making I had put at the centre, but a realisation that the experience of art-making was inseparable from all the stuff going on in my life. The intention to make something as art at the centre still stood and like the walk on the beach, this making as enquiry makes itself. The art making has a mind of it’s own, the intelligence of material. And intention made the intelligence of many materials available. In this case the material was walking.

The experience of walking, and then dancing or performing the image was close to what I felt was my actual experience. But I had lots of stuff going on. I usually have a couple of art projects on the go, I have in mind the work of other artists and off other art works I had made, many of which involve walking. In many cases I did more formal reading and research or related ideas or phenomena, including academic research and writing. I experiment with different arts practices, with varying degrees of success. I reflect on art I wanted to make and my ability to do so. I make judgement on myself and my art making ability, and what I felt I ‘should’ be making and what I actually did make. Lots of stuff going on at a personal, intellectual, embodied and artistic level. Nothing is ever static, hence ideas in the original drawing of rhizomatic or adimensional knowledge.

My simple map image above came closer but it was a static image and the experience of the land depicted by the map was dynamic. A couple of things emerged.

1 – If a map were to be made to accurately represent the experience it would have to be local. It would have to show the things that were present in my immediate experience specific to the artform I was working on. The point of a map of a place is that it is specifically local. I was struck that the walk was specific to an actual place, but I was using it to make a map of a generalised idea about art making. This connected to a recurring theme.

Can you generalise about the experience of art making, create an image of that is replicable like I wanted to walk a replica of the image of an idea. Or does art making as a creative act and thus inherently improvised, mean that all art making is specifically local to the experience at the time? If we consider visual art, the art of image, the image has to be fixed. An image can only show a snapshot of an experience, but is can show insight into the personal processing going on with me in the experience. This has strengths and weaknesses.

2 – The move from a fixed image, from representation, to improvisation, to performance, opened the possibility of performance as a useful artform in which the artform was the experience. The film I captured of experience would show the walk as it happened. This would not be a snapshot of an experience. But this has limits. The point at which I moved to performance and I changed my ideas about my model and my art making would be present in the form, unless I added a commentary. But a picture is worth a thousand words. A image is a snapshot of an experience but it can show insight into my response to my experience.

Going from static to moving image.

From a static image I went to the movie footage with the intention of seeing if it could help me process my experience. I went to my movie footage and what struck me was the sound of the place I did the walk. I explored making a movie and to just show we wandering around in circles, but this did not appeal to me. A 20 minute movie of a beach with a man wandering about would not appeal to people viewing the footage either.

The duration was important and some artists have used the durational quality of movies to explore ideas. Andy Warhol famously made ‘Empire’, an 8 hour film of the Empire state building. It is boring but raises issues about how we experience and represent time.

But 20 minutes of me walking about was not what I wanted. I worked at speeding it up but lost the sound of the place. The movie below is my attempt at showing what the walk felt like out on the Solway, between high and low water, in feral space between human and wild spaces. To get the sounds of the experience listen with headphones. The soundtrack is from ‘Tu Non Mi Perderai Mai’ (You Will Never Lose Me) by Johann Johannsson and captured the feel of the walk.

As I write this it is now 2021. On viewing the footage what strikes me now is that I was totally mistaken over the date. I was a week out. The walk was the 18th of November. The desire to change the duration and speed up the footage also reflected a sense in which the walking a mile seemed to take no time. It was not boring and passed quickly. I also noticed that the movement of myself was reflected by a dog walker and the vehicles on the road. Over a month after the experience, this account or reflection of the experience shows me new things.

My belief is that the making of an art object that is between being both the experience and an account of the experience offers interesting opportunities to explore experience directly through art making. My research after my walk led on to two ideas from performance and post grad art as research which explore this idea of liminality and ambiguity between art as the experience and the account of the experience which I will cover in subsequent posts.

As a souse of reflection I also had my GPS tracks. I downloaded them and plotted them on various maps. I put the raw .gpx files into various apps or online mapping sites. One of the things I am drawn to is the way different maps tell you differne things about place you see on the map. I like Korzibski’s idea that ‘The map is not the territory’, both in terms of our experience of place, but in broader terms of consciousness. This is something I want to cover in posts about humanistic geography and the idea that we perform the outdoors as a place and an idea.

The mapping of .gpx tracks did not disappoint.

The idea that the image is a snapshot of moving experience was evident above.

Different mapping conventions show different things. I am fascinated with how using a map of a place before you visit colours your expectations and information about the place before you arrive and experience it directly. Also, if you go somewhere and look at the map on return, your direct experience dominates but you see new things.

it made me laugh to think that 6 hours later and my walking site would be underwater. Obvious retrospectively but it reminded again me that the Solway is never still and yet it is constant. Tides can be predicted with great accuracy, but never occur at the predicted time. A westerly wind will advance an incoming tide and hasten the time of a high tide. The spring tides always follow the full and new moon, two peaks a month. Neaps follow the moon as she moves from full to new moon. But the range of the springs, the height from top to bottom, vary over the year in a similar way to the month. We have two big springs a year. We have two big springs a month.

Working with the outdoors as art to explore and express personal experience can tell us about art, experience and the outdoors. I think offers interesting opportunities. But the outcome is never fixed in the way the tides are never fixed. We can say what we expect to happen, that at Silloth on the south Solway a spring tide of 9.24m will occur at 1306 on January 14th 2021, but in detail, what actually happens is always local. It is subjective, situational, emergent, an outcome of many factors. Subject to the weather and the sand, the lay of the land. My proposal is that the creative act, art making, is likewise. We start with a clear intention to paint a landscape that could be regognised as a representation of a real place, but the details of what we make is not fixed. It is a known journey of uncertain outcome, it is adventure.

The next two posts are about ideas form the arts about performance and the art object which may provide some academic and practice connections between art making and outdoor experiences.

  1. Practice as Research – Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. Edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt. I.B.Taurus Press  ↩︎

Art as Research

If we engage in artmaking as research we use art to explore and express our experience of the world. It is personal research, not quantitative research. But, like scientific research, it makes knowledge available which can be understood.

This image below is immediately known to us. The art making is the research subject and object, but the meaning of the research varies from person to person. The experience is subjective because art is subjective. Art is good at researching subjective things.

A very good video about art as research. At the beginning, Andrew talks about his research living in the liminal spaces between things, here, between art and science.

MOMA – Art as discourse, experiential learning and research.

Some links to work from MOMA about art as a form of discourse, experiential learning, research and political activism.

The first link is from Kameelah Janan Rasheed who talks says of her MOMA Agora discussion. ‘The role art plays in transitioning into the future and the content of this future was rigorously discussed during our Agora session. Many of the participants acknowledged the aesthetic importance of art, but could not divorce the this from acknowledging art as a tool to raise awareness, to uncover marginalized histories, and to provide space to imagine other ways the future can unfold.’


And a link to the Agora series from 2016


Active experiential learning is now an important and interesting aspect of museum and gallery provision, now sadly curtailed by CV19.

MOMA do a whole series of expereintial learning based online courses including this one below.


And many more MOMA art as research and other MOOC’s from the link below