Researching the River Skerne

Does a diverse approach enrich your artistic process?

Research walk with Daf and Emma. I’m at the front.

Discover Brightwater

The life experiences of myself, and the participants I work with, are valuable lenses through which to see the world anew. The physical process of creating art is the skill of taking those thoughts and experiences, and sharing them in a way that others can connect with them.

I have always found it difficult to settle on one mode of communication. I try to use my photography and art skills to explore and investigate the world around me. Some of my process involves deep consideration, careful observation, and collection.

It’s a child-like imperative to choose the best stone you find, or to point out animals you spot along the way. Collecting feathers or a leaf. There’s a sense of adventure to this form of experiencing the outdoors. You can bring parts of it home to consider it in a personal way.

Picasso is rumoured to have said that he spent 65 years trying to draw like a child. So, childish pursuits are in fact high art! Fun has it’s place in the pantheon.

It was a rainy day which hung heavy in the sky, and a cold mist blanketed the land. Winter in the North is usually worse than this. It’s been wet and reasonably warm, apart from a couple of wintry storms. The river Skerne has overflowed many times this year.

Daf took us around the outskirts of Hardwick park and along some public footpaths. The mud was thick and clingy. My waterproof hiking boots no match for water up to my shins! But it felt adventurous. I’ve not seen mud like that since Glastonbury 2004!

The landscape is a mixture of farmland, forest, wetlands, old railways, and of course the picturesque perfectly manicured Hardwick park. Teaming with stories of the past and present human activity. Going for a walk generally takes me longer than your average adventurer. Firstly, because I’m stopping every few minutes to pick something up or to take a few photographs.

Secondly, because I’m unwell with a pain condition. By halfway around the trek my face was an embarrassing shade of purple and my language had become decidedly blue!

You have to go into the landscape to get a sense of it all. And, I always push myself to achieve on the days I’m ok, even if it does mean a few days in bed afterwards. Chronic pain could frighten a person away from a challenge. Luckily for me, my freelance lifestyle means I can build rest days into my practice.

The walk took us around 2 hours. It was worth it to see the great tits, pheasants, and water birds. This part of the research has been so valuable in our decision making process of where to situate the Gem Trail, and what kind of gems of knowledge that we might use as our way markers.

We are working in partnership with many different groups to consider the restoration of the river Skerne, which was once the 7th most polluted river in Europe! So, it’s really important for us to treasure what has been achieved so far, in order that we can conserve this precious space for future generations to enjoy.

The visit definitely set our brains into a spin. There are a few things for us to consider:

  • Accessibility
  • Land rights
  • Vehicle access
  • Audience

Accessibility in terms of the people who may use our trail. How will families or wheelchair users be able to engage?

Land rights: because the landscape is still very much mixed use there is a complex array of land owners to approach in this instance.

Vehicle access for tradesmen to help us to install. In this circumstance it would take some serious consideration.

Audience. This is a big one for me. I work with people that usually don’t access art. Working with people who didn’t get the posh school. Does Hardwick park have that audience? At the minute I think I’m more into Shildon and Newton Ayecliff. My comfortable industrial landscape.

Lots to think about.

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