Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The art of walking

Walking is nothing new for artists. It is the backbone for the work of Richard Long, an artist who often makes stone sculptures during his walks and  exhibits photographs of these sculptures alongside textworks in galleries. His art is about mobility, lightness and freedom, the simple creative act of walking and marking that draws attention to place, locality, time, distance and measurement. The appeal of the walk for Long is the human scale at which it unfolds in the reality of the landscape. Likewise, Hamish Fulton considers himself a walking artist. Suggesting art is a way of viewing life, he takes art beyond the mere production of objects. Although only Fulton experiences the walk itself, the  photographs and textworks he presents in his exhibitions and books allows the public to engage with his experience. Long and Fulton use their walks to generate art objects to express their experience of, and reflections on, their walks. By extension, one could argue that the walk itself is a form of art. The Walking Institute founded by Deveron Arts explores and celebrates journeying and the human pace and argues for the walk to be seen as a point of departure for both invention and intervention.

As the human pace encourages rhythmic reflections and detailed observation poets have taken to walking as well. Perhaps the most celebrated example in recent years is Simon Armitage who walked the Pennine way as a modern troubadour and gave poetry readings in exchange for a bed for the night. Armitage did, however, not extend this idea and present his work in the form of poetry. A more exciting poet who uses walking I find the Scottish poet Lesley Harrisson who, in her project Making Space for Water, walked along urban rivers in Aberdeen and Dundee to write a series of poems that explore those rivers as lived and living places.
My project Sharing at the Shoreline is based on my walk along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail. This walk is in no way as adventurous and demanding as the walks by Long, Fulton and Armitage as family commitments mean I walk the route as a number of daytrips, but the activity of walking is reflected in the poems I write. Walking the entire Aberdeenshire coastline implies that I visit not only the beauty spots but also perhaps the more mundane parts of the coastline in between. Sometimes my walks take place in glorious sunshine, but I am as likely to face wet and windy weather. What I found this far is that the repetitive movement of my feet helps me to focus my observations. Last week, for example, my walk led me from Newtonhill and Cove over minor roads past fields. What struck me was that the cold wind determined what I observed during the walk, but that this in the end did not determine how I felt about walking this part of the path in this weather.

Walking the coast in March
Heavy the leaden clouds weigh down the waves
Heavy the slanted rocks wade
Heavy the brambled war defences overlook the scene
Heavy the saturation of gorse
Heavy the burn overruns
Heavy the death-yielding grasses
yellow the verge
Heavy the voice of plastic caught in the wind
Heavy the herring gull balances, heavy its cry
Heavy the droop of the snowdrop,
the daffodil buds
Heavy the fragrance of gorse
The tread of the walker
Moving along the path.

Copyright text, image and poem Petra Vergunst

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Sharing at the shoreline

The Aberdeenshire Coastal Path follows the North Sea shoreline between St. Cyrus in the south and Cullen in the north, passing sandy beaches, cliffs, river estuaries, harbours small and industrial, ruined castles, lighthouses, limekilns and salmon stations. Where sea and land meet, people create livelihoods and spend time for leisure. On this edge the walker finds a natural environment with little shelter to the sun, wind and rain, but which might be compensated by a bird and sea life that has adapted to, even makes the most of, these circumstances.

During spring, summer and autumn 2014 I hope to walk the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path from St. Cyrus to Cullen and express my experiences, observations and reflections, and the many stories I gather en route, in a series of poems. As part of my walks I hope to hold a number of what I would like to call, sharing-at-the-shoreline workshops, informal meetings over a cup of tea or coffee in which I share some of my coastal path poems in return for stories, experiences and reflections from others around the table. If you live or work along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path and would like to host one of those meetings, please contact me at petravergunst (at) to arrange details.

I Feel
Slowly advancing the coastline north
Weighed down by my shell. My trail
Marking heavy in the sand
I offload excess cargo step by step.

The movement a meditation of muscles
Forward-urging, transcending distance. The walk
A ribbon perforated
For provision and pause.

Forthcoming Sharing-at-the-Shoreline events:
Thursday 12 June, 7 pm with Stonehaven Writing Group.

Tuesday 27 May, 10 am to 12 noon at Forvie, Newburgh. Please register your interest
Saturday 26 April, 2 pm at Tolbooth Museum, Stonehaven. Participation is free and prior registration is not required.
Tuesday 1 April, 10 am at Starfish Studio, Johnshaven. Please register your interest with Kate MacKenzie at 01561 360118.

Links to other blogs about the project Sharing at the Shoreline:

Copyright text, image and poem Petra Vergunst

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Creating and recreating

A performance of poetry can be a space for creating and recreating meaning collaboratively. If the point of art is to create a dialogue, the performance of poetry can be seen as a dialogue in which those who attend contribute as much as to any emerging meaning, be it shared or not, as the poet who recites. Performance art promotes the complicity of audiences in events and has, in that way, informed the way I think about the performance of poetry.

Artist Jane Brucker (left) at work in Alford.
This all fell in place during my winter residency at Scottish Sculpture Workshop this winter when I spoke with director Nuno Sacramento about art as creating spaces for making and sharing and with American artist Jane Brucker about her performance art project Unravel. Through her project Jane hopes to assist people to let go and expand the way they think, for example, about the tension patterns in their bodies. Since starting this project, a range of artists has collaborated with Jane to create Unravelling performances. During her stay at SSW she invited me to write a poem.

As the road meandered through Donside on the way to Lumsden and the low winter sun lit the snow on the hills and made the river glisten, I tended to listen to a recording by actor Paul Scofield of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. To be fair, I probably only half-listened, moving in and out of really paying attention depending on the condition of the road. The recording became a soundtrack for my journey, the cadencing of the voice a mesmarising soundscape interspersed with words repeated at intervals to anchor my thoughts.

Last week Jane and I held an Unravel event with two knitters and several passers-by at the shop Alba Yarn in Alford. After an introduction on letting go, each participant started unravelling one piece of knitting and eventually rolled up the yarn into a ball. While they were doing so a silence unfolded during which I read the series of poems I called Meditation, once straight through and then in a different order to create new narrative and meaning. After finishing my reading the silence continued. What stood out for me in the discussion that ensued eventually was the idea that the timbre of my voice and the rhythm and cadences inherent in the poem, did helped participants to let go. Without this soundscape, however, they would have continued their thoughts as usual.

Though our time at SSW is over, Jane and I hope to continue our collaboration over the next year or two. In the nearer future, however, I hope to continue developing my methodology of performing  my poems in ways that encourage the creation and recreation of meaning collaboratively.

Here two extracts from Meditation:

Few – the words
I use to portray
The craft of a creator;
The knitting needle
Like the quill I write with
Expressing the habit of hands.
Many – the meanings
Expressed through those words;
Like a collage of colours
A knitter can choose from;
Meanings through words
Arranged and arranging
Created and creating.

Creating and recreating
Are both the seed of creation
And creation germinating in unravelling.
If all creation is becoming
All creation unfolds.
What might be seen as one act
Unfolds as performance.
Creating and recreating,
The end a new beginning
In the play of time.

Copyright text, poem and image Petra Vergunst