Earlier this year I went on a week-long retreat as part of the process of exploring fear and risk within my practice as an artist. I stayed in a small wooden hut in Epping Forest. It had running water but no bathroom (an outdoor bath that could be filled from the kettle) and an outdoor composting toilet.
The journey there was a two-hour cycle from my home, laiden with enough food and supplies to last the week. The hut is in a forgotten corner of Epping Forest, just inside the M25. It is a public woodland but there are no car parks, pubs or popular walking routes, and so it’s very off the beaten track.
I wanted to take away all of the things that surround us every day- the comforting sound of the radio or music, distractions of the internet, and the pressure of projects and emails.
I decided to spend a week in the hut with no expectations of any creative outcome from the time, and no specific projects to work on. I would be allowed to write, draw, make sound recordings and take photographs, and otherwise I would have no access to the internet, TV, phone, music or books.
It was a transformative week. The woods all around were full of fallow deer. They must have been descendents of the fallow deer that were kept in Epping Forest when it was a royal hunting forest. But they had proliferated without any other predators and barely any human interaction. Walking through the woods, at every turn there would be deer, startled at my approach. And at times I saw them all together, a herd of maybe a hundred deer or more, grazing in the fields.
As I walked in the woods every day I noticed that the deer spend alot of their time in the woods, hidden beneath the trees. The best grasses and greenery to eat are in the fields, but out in the fields they are exposed. They will cross this edge, between the wood and the field, nervously and cautiously, and in a herd for the protection of numbers.
I wondered about this nervous crossing from the familiar, hidden spaces of the woods, into the open, into dangerous territory. Just spending time observing the deer gave me insights into my own fears. How sometimes the blank page or the empty stage can feel like an open field.