Making Sense of Here – after the residency

Phew, what a week. This is a very brief blog on the first Sense of Here residency, something that’s hard to sum up and in fact is about the sowing of seeds, the beginnings of ideas and the forming of relationships.

The sun shone and the nights were clear, so we were blessed with warm days and starry nights. We’ve introduced the residents in our previous post here – but to recap we were a lovely mix of people with a variety of creative skills and interests. Our time together was not so much about creating anything though, it was more about sharing points of view, taking time to soak up the nature, culture and heritage of the place, and explore in our own gentle, slow ways.

Hugo, Melissa, Anna, Louise, Emmie

The residency was short – just four days – so we never expected it to end with instant tangible outputs. The emphasis was, rather, on taking in new information, through body, mind and emotions, and allowing this to settle.

The production of creative work is not something that happens quickly: any single piece of art rests on a foundation of experience, time, conscious reflection and unconscious influence. Process is a huge part of any work, which is why the residency included the sharing of literature, artwork and insights into this Lake District landscape, and the exploration of the natural world around us. And the context is crucial. For four days we were able to be outside, in the surround of the elements. Our wanderings took us into ancient woodlands, along the banks of the characterful River Duddon (and for many of us, into the beautifully cold water), through fields and onto open hill tops.

Overlooking Dove Cottage

A visit to the Wordsworth Trust was a great start, led by curator Jeff Cowton who shared some of his wisdom on the Wordsworths and their reflections on the natural world. In Grasmere we walked around Dove Cottage, where William and Dorothy Wordsworth lived in the early 1800s, strolled through their gardens, and were given privileged access to their hand-written diaries and letters and first edition copies of some of William’s books. The artists will be exhibiting here in 2020, in the brand new museum that’s currently under construction.

Some books are just too precious to touch … seeing the flow of ink on paper in Dorothy Wordsworth’s diaries was one of many treats Jeff shared from the collection.

Following that huge dose of inspiration we headed to Grizedale Forest to meet curator Hazel Stone, who gave us insights into the current exhibitions (check them out if you haven’t already: Sally Matthews’ exhibition of deer and wolf, and the outputs from recent residents Ben Allan and Karolin Schwab). We shared what makes us curious and inspired and talked about the way that art can be site-specific, and can both reflect and be influenced by natural elements and by the heritage and politics of place. Then, of course, we walked through the forest, visiting Ruup and our own treefold:centre.

Then it was time to stay in one of the most stunning of the Lake District valleys. This is a bold statement – there will be many who claim other valleys are the ‘best’ – but for those few days, the Duddon Valley felt perfect, and the stories it reveals are shared with many other places in this national park. In considering nature and culture, and relationships with land, it showed us all we needed to see: patterns telling of land use over time, with farms, inbye fields, intakes, and the open fell, ancient woodlands, more recent plantations, and areas of regeneration and new tree planting. The view from Wallabarrow Crag made conversations about land use simple: the upland farming system and the commons, the geology, the history, literary connections and more.

The residency was largely about considering place and allowing new perspectives and new information to filter in, and there was certainly plenty of this. It was a time of venturing into the light of things, quite literally, and making sense of here. Now is a time for ideas to mature and for the real work to begin. The residents returned with notes and photographs and with beaming smiles. We know that the residency has been a beginning, and there will be collaboration through sharing ideas, and possibly in the final works. We look forward to seeing what happens next. 

Here are a few of the reactions:

What an incredibly nurturing experience! The perfect space for a week of exploring, questioning, feeling and listening. I feel invigorated to start working on some ideas that surfaced from the experience. The residency allowed me to immerse myself in the landscape, the issues it faces and how art can change attitudes or even lives. We also gelled so well as a group and I feel I have made connections I would never have normally made. It will be exciting to see how we all work now and what kind of collaborations or discussions may start or continue. Thank you Somewhere Nowhere!

“The life is in the people so it’s kudos to Harriet and Rob for picking a group that worked so beautifully. We went for conversation away from the distractions most creatives face when juggling art and paying rent and by the second morning we were comfortable both in silence and in disagreement. This open energy plus the light touch of pre-prepared prompts gave me the confidence to interrogate our setting (especially interesting when it was looking its absolute late-summer best!). Finding myself in an unfamiliar corner of my ‘Here’, and in the company of six others with differing interests, has given me the ‘in’ I’ve been looking for. I’m excited to see how my own practice is affected by this precious collective experience!”

“It was an amazing few days exploring ideas, interrogating our creative processes, and sharing critical and creative thinking. Bouncing ideas off each other and learning how different each other’s perspectives of place are was refreshing. I found it a wonderfully refreshing way to approach photography. In a way I felt like I wasn’t focusing on my practice at all, but taking a step back and taking time to notice and think. And to be creative and express myself in different ways! I am pleasantly surprised to find how inspired and motivated I was by words and poetry. I felt very present throughout and as such had amazing experiences outside in nature – sitting by the river, observing and letting the sounds wash over me; slowly wandering the fields and woodland, taking notice of so many life beings; perched up on the crag, in open dialogue with the fells. Being present also meant meaningful connections with people. All this results in an overall feeling of fulfilment and purpose. As I put it in my diary on Friday evening, “we have parted ways like a braided river, and I eagerly await the confluence, so that we may thrive again as one.” 

Huge thanks to Great Place : Lakes and Dales for celebrating this place and championing the creative talent here, and making the residency possible. And also to Friends of the Lake District for supporting Louise’s residency through their Dark Skies programme.

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