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Swim Circle

By: Richard Light and Paul Clark

“Water is the eye of the landscape” 

Water holds a lens up to the world through which one can experience it differently. It is an element easily entered but within which one cannot survive without adaptation. How we adapt and respond aesthetically is the substance of this blog. The circular swim through the Lakeland tarns is the heart of the artwork around which other work is orchestrated.

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# 21 [3 February 2010]

 Loweswater 29.1.10

 It is impossible for us to be here and not remember our first efforts in 'Swimming Home' a couple of years ago on a warm summer day:

 Now it is midwinter and the other side of the year. We walk in and arrive at the same place on the shore. Paul immerses himself in the lake, while I immerse myself in preparations for transforming a tree, a tree whose fruits are to be painted stones.

I paint the stones while snow settles on them and reflect that bathing in a tarn is best, but bathing or immersing myself in the performance of art is good also - 'dipping' into 'Swim Circle' has that same invigorating and transforming effect. Even thinking about 'Swim Circle' while engaged on some mundane task - washing up - has that effect on me - this is the power of 'art'?

We are engaged on a project whose fruits are memorable experiences; and these are organised into a frame of mind, a structure of meaning - Swim Circle.

When we finish we walk away from the shore and into the woods, two walkers pass us - it is grim weather and their demeanours seem to increase the general grimness of the day. Our fantasy is that they walk along and discover the pieces we have constructed and that their discovery starts them talking, so that they feel uplifted - their day is redeemed and enlarged by our work - they are happy, we are happy, our experience has had a positive effect on theirs.

We skulk around in the trees trying to see what they do, trying to confirm our fantasy. They definitely stop in the vicinity of the work - beyond that all is guess work. They talk? About what? About the two pieces of work or what they see as litter? Are they outraged or appreciative. But then maybe art should evoke outrage?

They move on and we walk back along the shore in a cloud of unknowing. All this has to find its place in the 'big picture' - Swim Circle.



# 22 [27 February 2010]

19th February 2010

Friday, 4am - Fire starts in offices at rear of Green Door Studios where I have studio space. It spreads into the studios and fire engines are called to Kendfal from across South Cumbria, an aerial crane being brought from Barrow.

The fire spreads and devastates the studios. All my work related to the SwimCircle project is not burnt but is exposed to smoke, water from the fire fighters and after the roof has to be ripped off, falling slates and debris and whatever the weather brings to the exposed building.

Over the next few days we learn it could be arson but nobody can get into the building because its fabric is damaged. Even the police can't complete their scenes of crime enquiry.

Such an intrusion into the process of the swimcircle must be considered and reacted to. It seems everything in the studios for each artist is lost. All my work over the last ten years that was stored in my studio appears gone, although its still standing locked in an unsafe building.

The impact of this on the project for me is as yet unknown. But already I know I want some burnt timber and ash from the fire to use as pigment.

Whilst others studio members reel from the loss of work, equipment and livelihood, I can see new ideas for future work. Its like a forest fire creating space for new growth.

See the Green Door rising blog for more comments about the studio fire.



# 23 [23 March 2010]

13th March 2010 Bowscale Tarn

We approach Bowscale Tarn from the northeast, from outside the circle, having driven up the M6. The tarn sits on the north side of Blencathra on Bowscale Fell and it's the most northerly point of the swimcircle. Facing north, it gets very little direct sun and we know it will be cold.

As we near the mountain, the landscape is very different than in the central Lake District. Here it's more open with more distant horizons and the large mountains of Blencathra and Scafell dominate.

At the tarn side, we find it completely enclosed in five inches of ice. The only loose water is where the outlet releases a small beck down the hillside. Its clear there will be no swim today, so we symbolically immerse feet and hands and splash our heads in the icy water. This swim is still to be done but it will have to wait until later in the year. It owes us a swim.

I set my post with a stone from Loweswater beside a large rock, out of immediate siight of walkers and take film of the water surface and photos of the frozen tarn.

Walking down afterwards, the sense of knowing the body of water by swimming in it is missing. To some extent it remains a stranger.



# 24 [25 March 2010]

Bowscale Tarn is on the swim circle and therefore  (roughly) the same distance from Blea Tarn - the centre - as all the other tarns. Yet try as we may it felt like we were going to some sort of extremity. True it was the furthest north but there was an emotional distance here that transcended previous swims.

That intuition was confirmed when we arrived to find that the tarn had retreated behind a frozen screen and would refuse, for the moment, its part in the performance.

While I mused on the way natural processes had conspired to cause Bowscale Tarn to 'opt-out' of our project, I had become aware of our determination to press on round the circle and this feeling became lodged in an image of Paul's posts - an image of the posts back through the months at various tarns - arranged in a way that each was almost superimposed on earlier posts - I saw them forging forward round the circle.

When I got back I started work on the image.

# 25 [15 April 2010]

Ullswater 8.4.10

We walk along the edge of Ullswater until we are opposite the small island we have swum to before. It is dull and overcast - strangely tranquil - and already a sense of closure is present as we only have two more swims to do after this. The depth of associations increases with each swim as we turn the circle, cycling through memories of earlier expeditions.


# 26 [15 April 2010]

Ullswater, 8th April

A short walk in on a busy Easter week day full of trippers and walking groups.

We find a relatively quiet spot on the shore, previously visited. The busy activity of boats on the water and walkers on the shore emphasises the isolation of the high tarn swims.

Up high brings greater clarity of light, air, water and thought.

From the high top, wider perspectives can be taken.

At the side of busy Ullswater, we muddle through.



# 27 [15 April 2010]

Blea Water Tarn 13.4.10

Long drive round Shap and through to the head of Hawes Water, thoughts of the watery lost village of Mardale beneath its surface.

Set off into an increasingly wild setting as we ascended to the tarn, flanked by towering cliffs, hidden in cloud.

A cold 5 degree dip in this most perfect of cirques - the last to lose its glacial ice in the district, connected to the Loch Lommond glacier system apparently, and with an ice action that was exceptionally vigorous - how else to explain it's extraordinary depth of 60m.

While Paul sited a post I planted a tiny tree. Then we went to the outlet of the tarn to record the sound of a periodic outflow which could form the audio for Paul's movies of lake surfaces. This was a bit of slap stick as the 'sound engineer' fumbled the takes and a sheep insisted on a voice-over!

Off to the Hawes Water hotel and a pint, but alas no pickled eggs.


# 28 [25 April 2010]

Blea Water  13th April 2010

The high level of Blea Water exposes the surface to strong SW winds that drive the water into a see-saw motion. Downward draughts from High Street accentuate this rhythm and create the pulsing overflow of water at the sill that sits on top of the moraine holding back the mass of water that plunges to 60 metres, the deepest cirque tarn in the Lake District.

As we reached the level of the water, the mist clung to the high ridges, gradually peeling back to reveal snow deep in high crevices.

The sound of the pulsing tarn became the recording taken by Richard for a film about water surface for the project's exhibition.

As we descended to Haweswater, the sense of the glacier that scoured the valleys and created the landscape was strong. The boulders that lay scattered on the ground, abandoned by the ice sheet thousands of years ago, were existing on a much slower timescale. We were as May Flies.



# 29 [3 May 2010]


Gurnal Dubs 16.04.10

This is the last tarn in the circle before we revisit the centre, Blea Tarn, and finish the project. We have swum here before so that the novelty of an unvisited tarn was replaced by a heap of past associations and the sense of closure of the circle.

The water was a fresh 11.5 degrees - a quick dip as the sun beamed, followed by post siting and tree planting.

Talk was of the exhibition and of the mixed emotions ending a project. In completing the circle, I wondered what was achieved.  It felt like closing the net on a set of experiences, caught and forever held in time and place, in that circular domain which became a place of heightened sensibility - Swim Circle. From now we would forever locate ourselves in relationship to this aesthetic watery domain when in its vicinity.

We watched as a fish jumped to catch a fly and was in turn soon caught by a lone fly fisher who suddenly appeared - are we all in the same game?





# 30 [23 May 2010]

Gurnal Dubs  16th April 2010

What was the last swim round the circumference of the circle is the penultimate of the project. A final swim - a return to Blea Tarn, the start of the swim at its centre - will take place after the exhibition is up.

Strange feelings of ending persist though during the walk up and the swim.

Its familiar territory for us here. Gurnal Dubs was my first open water swim several years ago. It was a sudden decision to enter the water then - an April too, but so cold I couldn't stay in for  more than two minutes. This April its warmer - a pleasant cool.

Afterwards, Richard lolled on the bank near my stone post. I imagined all the waters we had swum in rippling through his head.



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Richard Light and Paul Clark

Richard and Paul have been collaborating on a number of projects involving environmental and performance art.

Their collaborative work is both conceptual and experiential and is driven by the elements within their local landscape.

Whilst starting with an initial idea, the projects are allowed to develop with a dynamic of their own.