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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.
# 14 [5 August 2009]
30th July 09 Burnmoor Tarn
Another long, soggy underfoot climb up from the The Woolpack Inn, this time arrived at via the extremes of Hardknot Pass where the lesser motorist reversed gingerly from inclines and bends that proved too great. Richard, however, knew the road, although I was glad to arrive and park up.
Walked up passing Eel tarn again, now seemingly nearer in the brighter light. We likened it to a daily commute along a familiar route.
New boots bore me well along sodden floating ground and running streams. Black beetles fought battles for control of small piles of sheep shit in heroic struggles that had the appearance of mating rituals.
Before we set off, Richard shared with me the fact that there were pike in the tarn. He said he did not want to carry the knowledge alone. I thanked him for sharing the information. All the way up, my brain could not let drop the image formed and it was only when I had entered the water - clear and brisk under the westerly wind - that I let go the anxieties with more immediate, existential matters on which to focus.
The walk back down was twice as hard going and we both felt the distance after a good cool swim. A chilling breeze, even in warm weather, makes demands that are not always immediately apparent. We wore warm hats and jackets where other walkers out that day looked sideways at us in their short sleeves.
The pub was consistently refreshing and we made the return route via a different, easier road.
Two days later my legs still struggled up and down stairs.
# 13 [31 July 2009]
23rd July 09 Stony Tarn
A long drive into Eskdale across changing landscapes of mixed woodland, open fell side, and near and distant crags brought us to the walk up to Stony Tarn. We walked past Eel Tarn, feeling relieved we had not chosen that one to swim in. It was full of weed and lilies (and presumably eels) and looked very shallow. After the clarity and depth of Seathwaite Tarn, I had realised just how much I prefer the clarity, purity and depth of high water. I also thought how Roger Deakin would have loved to feel the sensation of the underwater growth and the touch of aquatic creatures on his skin.
Richard and I had been discussing the difference between lower water, prone to farmland run-off producing an ecology able to sustain weed and other life forms, and the high tarns where few nutrients gathered. Purer water.
We climbed higher, away from Eel tarn and arrived over boggy ground and thick ferns at Stony Tarn. We had brought snorkels to enable greater viewing of the underwater space, filled with large clumps of weed and single strands reaching upwards with horizontal strands flowing in the current.
Water boatmen swarmed like midges on the water surface. Film was shot of the state of the water. Eventually, a linked film of all the surfaces from all the tarns will be edited together.
The descent brought on a thirst that only a pint brewed in the microbrewery of the Woolpack Inn could quench.
# 12 [31 July 2009]
14th July 09 Seathwaite Tarn
Arrived at the reservoir after a walk up the sodden tracks from the road below gaining a first sight of the reservoir’s dam from down the valley. As we approached, the sound of overflow water grew louder. A slight wind drew choppy waves away from the dam towards the closed wall of hills that lie at the far end - a wall that conceals a pass into the valley beyond.
We approached the island just off the shore and saw that the water was so clear. We decided the stake with the stones from Moss Eccles Tarn should be planted on the island, on a slope facing inwards looking over the water towards the far shore.
The swim across and back was glorious. The water was so pure and clean it meant very high visibility, the sun increasing its clarity. The turquoise water, darkening slightly with depth, was astounding and made watching Richard swim from below the surface so easy. With each underwater sweep of his arm or a kick of his legs, trails of air bubbles followed the movement emphasising the dynamics of propulsion.
Afterwards, we walked onto the top of the dam and watched the water roaring over the wall. Looking down, it seemed as if the falling water was flowing upwards and becoming like fire as the white water hit the pool at the bottom. Perceptions had been altered.
# 11 [29 July 2009]
Thursday, 23rd July - parked at the Woolpack Inn, Eskdale, and took path up to Eel tarn along jumping brooks and through high furns. The wonderful atmosphere of this area began to assert itself as we approached Eel tarn and skirted it. Waterlilies and reeds festooned half of it and the imagination fed on what might lie beneath the dark surface - Eel tarn refers not to eels but to an old Norse word for 'evil' (will-o'-the-wisps hang over it in autumn - wow!) . The far away hills towards the west were coloured in a blue/mauve that gave rise to an immense yearning to abandon the swim and travel to them, explore them, live there forever, and be happy.
Instead we went on up to Stony tarn where the land got boggy and beautifully wild. We arrived and got changed below a towering crag. The sun was out at times but not over us. We got into a dull, sap green water that boasted big umbrellas of weed that hung in the depths quivering at the slightest hint of current or movement. We had snorkels and spent time in this underwater landscape having more confidence to allow ourselves to see what was really there - I came away with a store of images which, I guess, will filter into the art work we do for the exhibition or recycle in my brain for years.
Afterwards we had great difficulty in collecting sediment from the bottom of the lake to use in our paintings and experiments - it was so Stony - what did we expect?
# 10 [29 July 2009]
Seathwaite, Wednesday 15th July – passing clouds as we walked up from the Duddon valley. The water was enclosed by a high circle of hills and we walked on to where an island lay not far off the shore. No people around and the scene had the wild remoteness that I crave. Swam to the island and Paul placed a post on the far side.
Under the water the stones were a creamy colour and the water seemed turquoise when the sun shone. We swam across to the far side, to a rock face that plunged straight into the water and we found a small shelf to rest on and as the sun beamed down on us we looked back to the island straining to see the post. Underwater we saw visions of churning bubbles as we swam back.
On the way back to the valley we made a stone sculpture in a small abandoned quarry - by this time we were beginning to discuss which pub to go to.....
# 9 [30 June 2009]
As Paul described, it was a bit like the seaside. We swam across Coniston - it took a while and left time for the mind to wander as we swam. To be honest my mind was still swimming Moss Eccles tarn - I hadn't really finished with it or maybe the contrast with Coniston was so great that it floated me back to the previous swim.
As I recollected it, we approached Moss Eccles on a broody, thundery day. It's greenery was already full of reds and browns, and summer seemed to be at it's height. The 'body of water' showed traces of lilac in it's reflections and seemed thick and alive. Then I thought you could as well say the 'mind of water' – for was this eco-system in all its interdependent complexity not, essentially, a sentient being? - self absorbed maybe and withdrawn into a deep silence; locked in extravagant cogitation and idling its time away in endless self-transformation – yet an integrated living creature all the same?
At that moment it felt like our arrival at the lake was a moment of contact with an ancient being who would rather not be disturbed. Our un-stated aim seemed to be to evoke a response from the lake which would reveal it’s miraculous plenitude and personality.
Upon our entry into the still lake it writhed into a turbulent state; this introverted world became a vortex of mental currents, created, confused, and confined in it’s murky depths: it’s thoughts, emotions and sediments were stirred by our intrusion. We looked at it's bed and saw rocking weed through the occasional shafts of sunlight. These were the elements of our encounter with the lake and when we finally emerged, leaving it to calm down, I felt this ‘mind of water’ returning, ineluctably, to its original state of quiescence where it would dream of us for a million years or forget us instantly.
Meanwhile back at Coniston Lake it felt like a beach party was going on and we swam ashore.
# 8 [28 June 2009]
24th June Coniston Water
High summer heat in the afternoon and early evening. No climb, just park and swim. Entered the water from a beach full of picnicking families, who were suddenly entertained by two men walking straight into the water, heading for the far bank. Canoeists and sailboarders were out on the water in force plus an Irishman from Dublin training for the Frankfurt Iron Man in early July. The strength of the water’s call was demonstrated by the numbers of those so called.
We swam east to west through balmy currents and cooler water. Landing on the opposite beach, we were applauded by someone who had been watching us land, then we headed back.
This swim felt different because of the numbers of people present and the fact that we were observed. It changed our practice for the swim and it felt inappropriate to plant a post or paint a mark. This spot already has its signposts and needed nothing further.
The sun reflecting on the surface was intense and we spent some time on a small headland just watching the play of light.
Later, over a pint in a beer garden near by, we watched the light over Coniston Old Man and toasted this day.
# 7 [16 June 2009]
15th June Moss Eccles Tarn
We crossed Windermere on the ferry and set off from Sawry up to Moss Eccles tarn. Hail and thunder-and-lightning on the way up so we sat for a good while under a tree wondering what had become of all the sunny weather. Actually we could see it sitting over Coniston – our next swim. Meanwhile we began to accept that the circle might be begun in the rain, Paul put in a post and we gathered some water and sediment from the lake.
After searching the skies for a sunny gap we gave up and decided to get on with it – as we started to swim to the west the sun came out from somewhere – it flashed and played on the weed below us on the bed of the relatively shallow lake – it waved in slow motion in the slightly merky water. The tarn teemed with life compared to Blea Tarn which was much higher. Vegetation, birds, insects, even the consistency of the water, taken as a whole, seemed to witness the fact that we were swimming through a complex living being – the lake had an existence as a single entity.
# 6 [2 June 2009]
Blea Tarn 1.6.09
We drove north to Keswick, then south to Watendlath, the road climbing and narrowing. As we drove, we discussed a quote from Tarkovsky that Richard had emailed me the previous day, focusing on the value of the individual vs the global/universal approach to art.
Hot sun. A steep early climb then a couple of miles along the valley above the river flowing from Blea Tarn.
Discovering the lake recalled childhood memories of first seeing the sea on family holidays. It's still exciting to 'find' open water.
We made a triangulated swim round the tarn, the water beautifully cool under the immediate sun.
I drove a marker into the ground and drew a red circle in earth pigment. It felt like a statement - now it starts.
Water surface on Blea Tarn - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdZPQjKJLVk
# 5 [2 June 2009]
1st June, Blea Tarn in the centre of the swim-circle; this is the 'fixed point' around which we aim to swim on a circle of radius 12 miles (approximately). Being quite high, we scanned the horizon and realised it was essentially what we would be swimming round; in the north we could just make out Bassenthwaite lake which stood at '12 'o clock' and would be roughly half way round. The water temperature was a balmy 17degrees and we swam a circuit of the 40m deep tarn. Paul placed a prepared post overlooking the lake and we collected some stones from the floor of the tarn - one stone in particular had the shape of Blea Tarn imprinted on it - as if the lake was presenting us with a copy of itself.
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.