Following The Water

This blog post was first published on my AN Blog on 3rd May 2019, and follows on from Place Based Practice and the Urban Rural Divide.

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Yesterday I went on my 4th Urban Rural Exchange walk with collaborator Karen Wood. In our last walk we followed the path of the canal from Kings Cross, and this time we started at Canary Wharf, before as Karen put it, following the water through the docks and quays and the Mudchute City Farm, under the River Thames to Greenwich.

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As I mentioned in my last post, my ongoing work with Karen forms part of the work enabled by my bursary, in addition to attending The Rural Assembly conference and receiving 1:1 support from Artist/Curator Rosalind Davis.

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I met with Rosalind earlier this month, and found it really useful, although not perhaps in the way I imagined. When I applied for the bursary and included mentoring sessions I imagined myself focusing on making new contacts and developing new exhibition opportunities, building networks and planning shows.

That is still a key part of what I am doing, but what I have realised is that the time to sit and reflect, to discuss what I want to achieve and why, is in itself really important. By talking with Rosalind I was able to see that I can create the most value out of investing time and attention in the opportunities that I already have lined up.

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Rather than always leapfrogging over the top of existing plans to focus on what comes next, I need to make this time to stop, consider what it is I want to achieve, and go deeper.

I think perhaps the constant feeling of needing to look ahead is something that comes from being self-employed/freelance, and having worked that way for years. Going from project to project, planning ahead for the next source of income. But I’m realising more and more that there’s value in being present, and being 100% committed to where you are now. Through making the most of current opportunities, new ones follow.

For instance Rosalind helped me to consider what events I could run alongside my planned exhibitions, how my belief in the need for interdisciplinarity and dialogue could inform these, who could be invited/involved, and how such dialogue with my collaborators could be recorded and shared more widely.

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Two of the exhibition opportunities that we discussed are the exhibition that Karen and I are having at Spitalfields Studios, launching on Thursday November 7th, and an exhibition with the artist Jonathan Mansfield, at The Pound Arts Centre in early 2020.

I’m also going to be carrying out some collaborative work with US based artist Kathy Skerritt in June/July. Kathy and I were due to be working together in Cleveland, Ohio, before I decided to stop flying, in the face of fast moving Climate Change (see my post Declaring a Climate and Ecological Emergency). Now Kathy and I are exploring ways of linking and exchanging our place-based practices from a distance, and have started making work that weaves between my local river and hers.

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Kathy and I share an interest in the relationship of our bodies to the body of the earth and bodies of water, and my experiences yesterday in London connected deeply with this, as Karen led me on a walk through the Docklands to the river.

I was saddened by the straight edged ‘cleanliness’ of the Canary Wharf area, with so much money invested in infrastructure for people to make even more money, and no investment in the plants or animals that could so easily be supported to live alongside. With no spaces created for natural vegetation, the geese were left to gather stray bits of plastic rubbish to make their nests.

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As we walked, we noticed the water flowing between pools in a manicured park built above the underground, and as we moved away from the newer areas of development towards lower rise residential buildings, the number of water birds living among the buoys and docksides increased. Coots, Great Crested Grebes, Grey Wagtails, Canada Geese and Mute Swans.

If only, as part of giving planning permission for new developments, there was always a condition that the needs of the non human world be taken into account too.

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We paused at the Mudchute City Farm for lunch, walking through a shock of tangled Spring green, in contrast with the controlled spaces and structures of before, before moving on to the Greenwich foot tunnel. From water above the underground, we stepped into a space dug beneath the massive River Thames, her enormous bulk flowing above our heads and cooling the air with moisture.

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On the 1st June Karen comes to me in Wiltshire, and I will plan and guide her on a rural walk, although I’m not yet sure where. Our walks together are so packed full of noticing, of the collecting and documenting of experiences, that it takes a while for everything to start to settle and to make sense. Today I’m taking some quiet time, at home, to pause and reflect, before I start to follow the water once more.

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