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

Solway Walk – Experiencing place through photography

In seeking to report here on my experience of the Solway as expressed through art, what has happened is that I have come to question my understanding of how I experienced the Solway.

In some ways this was a bit alarming. My main contention with Moving Space, is that art making provides an expression of experience that is closer to the direct embodied experience than verbal or written accounts. This remains true, but on reflection the following has emerged.

  • That whilst being in experience (as an embodied, sensed, cognitive, spiritual and durational phenomena) is encountered as a ‘normal’ seamless thing, retrospectively upon examination through words, images, and personal recollection, the shear magnitude of the simple experience of being on the Solway has dawned on me. It was also something far from normal.
  • Each artform I have worked with has given a particular account of, or path through the experience. All are valid but all are incomplete compared to the actual magnitude of the experience of being there.
  • The one bit of art making that came closest to being directly in the actual experience, was the moment I stopped walking an image of an idea and moved into performance and decided to (like KC & The Sunshine Band implore) do a little dance.
  • This is the one bit of artform that leaves no concrete artefact, like a painting, or a photographic image, of a poem. With performance there is no art object.
  • Of the artforms producing an object that I have worked with at time of writing, the film and the photography, the images of the experience that best get to how it felt, are the least figurative ones. The more abstract the image, the less it appears to depict the place, the more it shows how the experience felt.
  • But collectively, the more modes of artistic expression I explore, the more I get to an expression of the experience as a whole.
  • Whoever would have thought a one mile walk on a beach could contain so much experience.

Over this post I want to show what I made and pick some of this apart. But first I want to pick apart some art history which is pertinent to my reflections above.

History is written retrospectively and by it’s nature contains many narratives. Historiographically one narrative is that sometime around the end of the 19th C photography ruined painting. In the UK, most Victorian painters were portrait painters. People of sufficient income wanted paintings of themselves and their families that would show sufficient likeness that they could hang them on the wall and not have guests say ‘Who is that in your lovely painting?’ But along came the photograph, and apart from the time it took to expose a photographic plate, the photograph became a means of making an image of total likeness, that was available to everyone, including people who’s income was insufficient for a painting by an artist.

But a theory goes that now photography could simply and quickly make a totally accurate likeness, painting which was hitherto largely figurative became impressionistic. Photography showed the real thing, painting showed an expression of a thing. Painting became an impression of the experience of the painter. Painters went outside their studios and painted ‘En plein air’ in the outdoors. Freud explored the unconscious, artists explored surrealism, science discovered the quantum world, and suddenly we find that the observer of reality changes the reality they observe. The modern era had arrived.

So in recounting my Solway Walk and the art making that ensued I want to start by reviewing my photography on the Solway because this most easily illustrates some of the points I made above.

Long before I did the Solway Walk I climbed Criffel with my wife. Map here. The day we were there, the tide was out on the Solway and the clouds scudded literally just over our heads. We could see and touch the clouds around us and also see them reflected in the ebb tide thousands of feet below us. It was a mind expanding day. This impression of the Solway never left me.

To me these are very impressionistic images because at the moment we peaked Criffell, the whole place gave an impression of a place bewixt and between. The images are accurate depictions of the place. The images have an abstract quality with the sky and the cloud edge below us.

Other images of the Solway, whilst having some aesthetic merit and accurately and figuratively recording a photographic image of what I saw. They are rooted in my sense of sight, but don’t convey the otherworldly aspect of the Solway. They are conventional landscape images that show what I experienced with my eyes.

So working with images, post-processing them on my Mac with Lightroom, I find nice landscape images, because I saw nice landscape shots. But other images I took, which clearly caught my eye at the time, don’t have that nice figurative ‘landscape’ look. They show my experience, but don’t make classically photographic images.

My Amateur Photographer ‘Landscape’ eye judges them to be boring. But my judgement is that they covey my experience of the Solway as a place eternally between sky and sea, between tides, between land and water, but nobody will understand them.

In the end I produced this image which to me most accurately conveys my experience of the Solway.

To me this conveys the idea of ‘The more abstract the image, the less it appears to depict the place, the more it shows how the experience felt.’ I put this image out and make judgement that in ‘landscape’ terms this is not an image easily understood by a person viewing it. It is not really a picture of a thing. It is an impressionistic triptych, and in some ways cubist, showing three views at the same time, like Hockney’s cubist inspired ‘Joiner‘ images. It has shifted away from a figurative ‘landscape’ image that shows what I saw, but it shows much better my experience of the Solway and a place that feels like it is always between things or many things at once.

So in terms of how art making can be used to explore and express personal experience of place, I come back to a recurring theme. There may be a tension between making art that is accessible in terms of being a figurative account, that looks to me and other people like a ‘landscape’ and more impressionistic or abstract images which mean something to me, that show my experience, but may be less explicable to other people.

Furthermore. If the performance of the dance came closest to being directly in the actual experience of being on the solway, but has the least to show, then using art to explore and express personal experience may need to have two threads. One is more personal and connected to process. Art is made that helps the individual process their own experience, but may be inexplicable to other people. The other thread is one in which art is made that is less impressionistic, but makes personal experience more explicable to other people.

All I have talked about here is my photography. This reinforces that both in terms of personal process and the production of art that is explicable to other people, working with a number of artforms may be useful. No single artform can covey experience in it’s fullest. It also reminds me of the idea of the ‘exposition’ in a previous post in which the author describes artform as embedded in a setting which includes some ‘..sharing of thinking processes and the revealing of methodology; and.. invites participation in order to enrich and expand understandings from the inquiry.’

The author goes on to say ‘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.’

In my next set of themed posts I want to explore what art is and use walking art as a vehicle to frame the discussion. My proposal is that we best understand how to work with at as enquiry if we work with ‘art not ART’. By this I mean getting away from an approach rooted in ‘Fine Art’ with galleries and sales and judgement on skills. Fine Art informs art as enquiry, but the work is done with art as a verb not a noun.

Relating to the intention to explore a model of art making as experiential learning then the art making is the central component but it is informed by all sorts of other experiences and modes of enquiry. Regards art making it is best understood as being playful, in the serious meaning of the word and the actions. And as such we learn from playing in many different ways.

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’ ‘..one 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 movingspace.blog 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 – How to Perform a Walk

Introducing Augusto Boal’s ideas about performance as a creative space for experiential learning

The act of reflection on my Solway Walk led me back to performance. Performance, like art, is a variable and often contested phenomenon. It can include theatre, dance, music, sports, business, ritual, play, performance arts and general social functioning. It can be a source of entertainment as actor or audience, but here it would be useful to connect with performance as a form of experiential learning. All art making could be understood as experiential learning as a source of knowledge, but performance has a particularly strong affinity with experiential learning as an active embodied process. My take on performance has to be influenced by my Dramatherapy training, in which a group or and individual can engage directly with performance to learn from experience.

One practitioner who works directly with performance as learning is dramatherapist and Social Activist Augusto Boal. He starts with theatre but develops it with the idea of the spect/actor, simultaneously spectator and actor. The spect/actor is performer and audience in one.

In Rainbow of Desire Boal describes theatre by quoting 16th century Spanish playwright Lope de Vega as ’two human beings, a passion and a platform’. This confirms the theatrical mode of performance as being a collective experience. In this case the ‘company’ is two, (and possibly more) persons interacting with one another. The passion is a reference to strong feelings and often suffering. Passion implies experiences beyond the mundane. Finally there is reference to the platform. In theatre this is usually the stage, as separated form the audience. Boal however moves beyond the actors and spectators as physically separated on auditorium and stage.

What is important to Boal is the act of separation rather than the form of two physically separate spaces. He says ‘The separation of spaces can occur without the ‘platform’ existing as as an actual object. All that is required is that, within the bounds of a certain space, spectators and actors designate a more restricted space as a ‘stage’,: an aesthetic space’.1 By this he says ‘In its greek root ‘aesthetic’ means ‘of or pertaining to things perceptible by the senses’’. Boal goes on ’So theatre does not exist in the objectivity of bricks and mortar, sets and costumes, but in the subjectivity of those who practice it’. He establishes theatre can take place anywhere you want it too. I chose a beach.

Boal continues ‘The ‘theatre (or ‘platform’, at it’s simplest, or ‘aesthetic’ space’, at it’s purest) serves as a means of separating actor from spectator; the one who acts from the one who observes. Actor and spectator can be two different people; they can also coincide in the same person.’ (Boal’s italicisation). The individual performer is witness to their own performance in real time and retrospectively.

Boal says ‘The aesthetic space possesses gnoseological properties, that is, properties which stimulate knowledge and discovery, cognition and recognition; properties which stimulate the process of learning by experience. Theatre is a form of knowledge.’ Here he describes theatre and performance as experiential learning. But away from the confines of theatre as a building with a stage, as a state of entering aesthetic space as a form ‘in the subjectivity of those who practice it.’ then theatre and performance as separation between actor and spectator, could be seen as having occured when I made the beach a stage, an aesthetic space, in which I was both spectator and actor. This is reflective practice.

My reflection, or my ‘review’ was live in the doing and the senses, direct in my direct recollection of the experience, reviewed by the witnessing of the camera and my seeing and editing the footage, in the production of the gps track, as a direct reflection of how I recreated an image of an idea, and how I deviated and moved form representation to improvisation. I witnessed myself in performance. Now you witness what came form my performance.

Boal offers one perspective, and there are other perspectives from other arts and performance theorists and practitioners, but in my reflection, reconnecting with Boal’s idea of aesthetic space resonated with my experience of going from walking an image of an idea to making the beach a place to improvise or perform a new image of an idea. He goes on to further develop the idea of the aesthetic space which offers some interesting insights.

He talks about how aesthetic space has a property of plasticity. It can can be anything we want it to be. ‘A battered old chair will be the kings thrown, the branch of a tree a forest…’ The Solway beach became a canvas to draw an image of an idea, then it became a stage on which to choreograph a dance with a piece of seaweed. Boal says ‘The aesthetic space liberates memory and imagination’.

He also says it offers an affective and oneiric dimension which ‘exist only in the mind of the subject… The affective dimension fills the aesthetic space with new significations and awakens in each observer, in divers forms and intensities, emotions, sensations and thoughts’. In the affective dimension the performer is in the moment and observing them self in the moment, they become spectator and actor. The affective dimension is ambiguous and dichotomatic. I think this is the bit that makes reflection on experience in situ available.

Boal goes on to say ‘Oneiric space is not dichotomous because in dreaming, we loose our consciousness of the physical space in which we the dreamers, are dreaming, here she penetrates into her own projections, she passes through the looking glass; everything merges and mixes together, anything is possible’. Which is why at the end of the walk/dance/performance I knew something had happened, but only on reflection at home did this thing that happened decompress. The act of making images of the experience helped with this. I think this aspect is the bit that makes, in the words of Monet and Rothko, the art the experience. The art form becomes a form of knowledge. The art making is research with the art made is the process and product of research.

The dichotomy of the experience is a key element. Of dichotomy Boal says ‘ This property is born out of the fact that we are dealing within a space within a space; two spaces occupy the same space at the same time.. And all those who penetrate it become dichotomous there.’ As a member of the audience watching Macbeth, I am in the auditorium and also on a heath, there to meet Macbeth. As a walker on the beach, I was on the beach but also on a canvas to paint a picture, then on a stage to do a dance. On a ropes course I am safely moving over a step across, but I am also a person who fears that may fall to their death. I want to return to dichotomy in my next posting, but from the point of view of the art object in fine art.

As a therapist Boal also talks about the effect of the dichotomy on the protagonist actor in the aesthetic space. In theatrical mode, he says, ‘..the protagonist-actor produces thoughts and releases emotions and sentiments which.. Belong to the character, that is to say, someone else.’ In therapeutic mode ‘..the protagonist-patient (the patient-actor) reproduces her own thoughts and releases anew her own emotions and sentiments.’ In the case of my Solway walk, the beach was the aesthetic space and the work done was partly about my material I brought, ie the image of an idea, but also my experience of the place as an active participant as art form and process. In all of my work and ideas about art as a form of experiential leaning, the approach is much closer to the therapeutic mode. From experience I have found this sets the whole mode of working with art appart from ideas and practices found in ‘The Arts’ or ‘Fine Art’.

Finally Boal talks about the aesthetic space as being telemicroscopic. ‘In creating the stage-auditorium division, we transform the stage into a place where everything acquires new dimensions, becomes magnified, as under a powerful microscope, thus brought closer and made larger, human actions can be better observed.’

Boal as a therapist and social activist has a good deal to say about how theatre and performance can enable spect/actors to reflect on their own experience and ‘..help the spect/actor transform himself into a protagonist of the dramatic action and rehearse alternatives for his situation so that he may then be able to extrapolate into his real life the actions he has rehearsed in the practice of theatre’.

In moving from representation of an image of an idea to improvisation of a new image and thus a new idea I believe the Solway walk did this for me. The dichotomy or ambiguity in the experience invited me to ‘rehearse alternatives for the situation’. This is a creative act, it is experiential learning, it is adventure. Creativity is a state of uncertain outcome. The journey of uncertain outcome is built on ambiguity. Art is adventure, and whilst misadventure was absent here, it is present in some arts practices and, if I got my tide times wrong, the Solway is a dangerous place. My suggestion is that art making can be an inner adventure or an outer adventure. This is a thing I will discuss elsewhere.

The key themes in this are 1) that performance is an invention of experience not place 2) and as such, by being dichotomous and ambiguous, offers scope for new experiences, and 3) the performance or art made is not just a representation or symbol of experience, it is the experience, and 4) the performance or art made can be understood as research and knowledge of personal experience. This, alongside other modes of understanding experience, offers some unexpected dividends.

  • Ig talking about curiosity
  • Ig talking about curiosity
  • Ig talking about curiosity
  • Ig talking about curiosity

Performer, Iggy Pop on a beach talking to someone about curiosity.

In further posts the ideas of performance and art making as a transformational experiential process will be further developed. But a key theme is that this experiential process is dichotomous, subjective, situational, emergent and multi-dimensional, and no single account can describe it in complete and concrete terms and working through direct expression of my own and other peoples working practice is the best way to do this. What I present is art making as adventure, the journey and not the destination.


  1. ‘The Rainbow of Desire’ by Augusto Boal  ↩︎

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  ↩︎

An Outdoor Sleep Like No Other

This is the BBC 4 documentary I caught on January the 8th.

It’s a documentary film that recounts the creative process behind performing Max Richter’s celebrated eight-hour opus Sleep at an open-air concert in Los Angeles.

I still have memories of nights sleeping outdoors, as some of the best nights of my life. The thought of attending this event is, for me, just heavenly. I sat transfixed for an hour and a half. A great outdoor art experience.

Link here

Solway Walk – The Experience

The Experience of Walking an Image of an Idea about Art as Experiential Learning

Dubmill Point in Allonby Bay was empty and big. From the road to the low water line was about a kilometre. I chose a spot to walk in the centre of the image above, a low bank of hard sand.

Dubmill Point on the South Solway

My intention was to walk the image below; my sketch of an idea about art making as experiential learning. I wanted to recreate this as a walk on the beach. I would use gps to track the shape I made, and record the walk on camera, and see what happened when I moved an idea from one artform to another, from an image to embodiment. I would walk with intention, attention and attitude. I would then write about my experience, reflect on theories and practices from the arts and learning, and see where this took me next. In my model below I would follow up this experience of art making into reflection, inquiry, reportage and further art making. I would not only walk my talk I would walk my thoughts.

art as experiential learning model

I set up my camera so as to get as much of the walk as possible without me becoming a dot in the distance. I set up my GPS and found my central point, meant to be the ‘Art Making’ part of the image of an idea. I set off walking in big loops.

Music : overdub1 by Chris Reed

As I walked it I kept seeking to return to the centre point. At first I found I lost sight of the central point. This would mean my GPS track would not reflect my drawing, so I put a marker there, a bit of seaweed and started again. I treated this as a rehearsal, an initial loop round my experiential learning model.

I set off again to recreate my drawing. I walked a line, one foot in front of the other, but by passing through the central point, I also walked in wonky looping circles. I got into a rhythm, I started to pay attention to how this might reflect art making as experiential learning. The central point became the place I returned to, but the loops took me to different places on the beach.

After a while I started to develop a kind of relationship with the central point. It occurred to me that instead of just walking the shape of the image of the idea, I could do a big slow looping dance with the centre as my static partner. I trained as a dancer and wondered why I had not thought of this before.

In the moment of being in moving as an artform, in the intelligence of that material, in witnessing my doing and the senses, it felt like this had significantly changed the experience. I found a freedom from mere representation, from figurative form, and improvised a new form. It became performance. Through this experience I learned a new thing about my art making practice.

All in all it was a quick and easy thing. It took me about 20 minutes to walk a mile. There is quite a strong tradition of walking as art and performance art in outdoor settings. These forms are interesting in that they are durational, the art making only happens when the person is walking or performing. The experience may well be documented through film, photography or other forms, but it is unlike a painting in which the artform exists after the making it. The artform is the experience. Performance based arts are very experiential and offer interesting opportunities for experiential outdoor learning. But Mark Rothko stated that the art, even a painting, is the experience.

This is something I want to explore further. If the art is the experience, and we work with the outdoors as art, the art we make outdoors can tell us not only tell us something about outdoor experience, it can be the outdoor experience. We make something that is outdoor experience. This interests me a great deal.

Doing strange things in the name of art, like walking around in circles on beach may seem meaningless, but often I find that the most important learning comes out of what seems to be the simplest most meaningless experiences, or experiences that seem to have many different meanings. Ambiguity is important.

Walter de Maria, made action-art and land-art, only available when experienced directly in the outdoors. He said…

“Meaningless work is potentially the most important art-action experience one can undertake today”

…but also

Any good work of art should have at least ten meanings.

Walter de Maria 1968

See video here

Read article here

But my intention was to use this to explore my model of art as experiential learning, and at the time what struck me was that by changing from walking the shape of an image of an idea, to performance, dancing, improvising the idea directly in the space, my model changed, and so did my idea about art as experiential learning.

The image that immediately came to mind was my life as a map with different experiences and interests, different places, other artforms made, with the artform I am currently working on as the one with the closest proximity to where I was at the time. In my next post I want to reflect and report on this aspect.

The Solway – Betwixt and Between

A Visual Introduction to The Solway

The Solway Firth exists in a permanent state of being betwixt and between.

Between England and Scotland, between sea and sky, between high and low tide, between being land and water. It belongs to nobody. It is one of the least industrialised and most unspoilt large estuaries in Europe. It is as magical as it is dangerous. To visit on foot you need your wits about you as it can change from sandbank to fast flowing seawater in minutes.

Below are some moving and still images of the Solway. More material will follow of other peoples experiences of the Solway.

  • sky over the solway

Solway Walk – Introduction

Towards a Model of Art as Experiential Learning

On November 18, 2020, I went to Dubmill Scar in Allonby Bay, the English side of the Solway Firth, to walk. I went to walk as art. Guided by the art therapies and experiential learning, I make art outdoors to explore and express personal experience. I work with the outdoors as art.

Most of my art making revolves around a series of place based projects. For this project on the Solway, I started with walking, but walking as a creative act. Walking in the space, I try to pay attention to what is happening with an attitude of openness to experience. I seek to be in the space as an experiment to see what happens rather than be in the space as a venue for activity. The art is the experience, and the experience is the activity.

This walk needed a large space with open access and no boundary fences, and at the bottom of the tide, briefly, the Solway has a lot of walking space. The Solway does this by being eternally transitory. It is always in a state between high and low tide. The border between Scotland and England, it belongs to nobody but the sea, the sand and the things that live there. These things need no fences or footpaths. I have been visiting the Solway for years. It is never the same twice. It is a space open to possibilities, and as such, a place of creativity.

For this walk, the space was needed to recreate an image of an idea I worked on previously on about making art as experiential learning. My background in experiential learning has introduced me to a number of models of how we learn from experience. In all of them, there is an image of simultaneous movement, around a circle and along a line.

Plan Do Review Cycle

Kolb’s Learning Cycle

Using this idea and image of learning from experience as a starting point I reflected on my own art making and drew a sketch of experiential learning with art making at it’s centre to see how it might look. I wanted to move this idea between artforms. Each artform has it’s own intelligence, and shows things from another point of view. It is used in the arts therapies and is called multimodal working. It is an interesting technique. To aid with this I decided to film the walk.

things from a different perspective

As a starting point for how a model of experiential learning from art may look, I drew this.

art as experiential learning

First draft of a model of art as experiential learning.

In this model the looping line is my passage through time, through my life. The central bit is my encounter with art making. When I make art I learn something and this loops out back into my life and informs my next round of art making.

There a sort of sequence to this. I think about making art, then witness and pay attention to what I am doing and my senses when I make the art. The art form, the material of the art making has an intelligence of it’s own which can tell me something. This is an idea from artist and research Paul Carter called the Intelligence of Material (IOM). As part of this I also engage in reportage of my experience, which is what I am trying to do here. Writing and reporting helps me understand what I am thinking. In formal art based research, this is called exegesis, meaning interpreting arcane texts.

At the time I was also thinking about Rhizomatic Knowledge from Deleuze and Guattari and Bubble Charts as I felt that my experience of art making had an adimensional or three dimensional quality, hence the images at the bottom

But the bit I wanted to work with were the big recursive loops through art-making and back into life, where I did more formal research of artform, ideas, the work of other artists, theories of learning or art-making. So off I went to the Solway, with it’s big unimpeded wide open spaces, always in movement between states, and thus ripe for creativity to walk this image of an idea about experiential learning.

It is difficult to create and analyse at the same time, so my intention was to be in the space and the moment, witness what happened when I was walking as art, then reflect and report later on moving an idea from an image to an act of walking.

Generally what happens is that what I learn through the experience of art making acts like a cascade of dominoes, expanding out into inspiration to new art making, connections to theories and practices of art making and learning and insight into place and personal experience.

Over a series of posts to my blog I want to follow the cascade of ideas and art-making that will come out of the walk, then curate the posts into a themed collection of ideas, practices, artworks, a bit like a magazine. Over time I want to do a series of magazines covering different topics relating to art, experience and the outdoors.

In the next post I want to describe what happened when I did the walk of an image of an idea about art as experiential learning.

Mapping Sensation

Livingmaps Network ran an online event yesterday.

DRAWING MAPS, IMAGINED LANDSCAPES AND PANDEMIC STORYTELLING

A LIVINGMAPS WEBINAR

It looked at the impact of Covid on our lives and ways that mapping as an artistic practice could help. Quote…

‘Drawing, or perhaps more broadly speaking – mark making, is a deeply subjective tool that we can use to enter into other spaces beyond the here and now, perhaps into memories or imaginations of a possible future or as a form of visually representing emotional states.’

Lots of really good arts projects about mapping and imagination, of better futures and utopias, great and small. The idea of using mapping to express feeling and the imagination was very interesting and changed my way of thinking about mapping.

A place I visit called Walton Moss, and seek to make a subject of my art has evaded my skills for a long time. It is too big to photograph, or paint, and capture it’s magnitude. It is not particularly scenic in a classical landscape way, but is very impactful to visit. It seems to exist at two scales of sensation, the very big and the very small.

Walton Moss Sensation Map

So I did the header image as map of the sensations it evokes, show above. What was useful was the way the map, as a form that expresses a large scale object through a smaller scale object worked really well. The idea of mapping feeling freed me from being trapped with figurative depictions of a magical but enigmatic place, difficult to express figuratively.

I used charcoal crayons, felt tip pens and watercolour pencils, then scanned it.