It really is an ordinary field. Probably like hundreds and thousands of others. It isn’t exceptional in any particular way, so anyone finding a blog about it interesting, is doubtful.

But for me it’s personal. I am writing about this field because it is cathartic, so please bare with me.

I think as an introduction and to lay it out straight in my mind, my encounter with this field is a process. A comforting ritual, a stabiliser. Without spending too much time self-analysing (because the joy of visiting this field is precisely not doing that), it is a low key way of finding something to connect with. Not even that really, just a place I am drawn to look at.

I’ve had a gap (from making art, I mean) and in this gap I have not been able to put meaning to much. I’ve tried. I’ve been a gibberish, timorous, over anxious, self-loathing (like literally wanting to beat myself round the head for three years or so) restrained individual, to the point of  creative paralysis. So with self worth levels as an artist so low, I think I’m actually encountering a sense of freedom I’ve not really felt before.  The field is my anchor place; a constructive, manageable restraint for a person adrift.


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I was decisive this morning, packed my rucksack and walked straight down to the over grown area at the far end of the field (the farthest point from the dump).

I come here and pretend it’s a little forest. I have started using an app called iNaturalist, which allows me to upload a photo of something and  then use it to identify, said thing in nature.

It’s like a super power. I can learn the names of wildflowers, butterflies, caterpillars and feel like I know something. You then save this identification and can build up a whole catalogue of things you have seen. Collecting again. It’s so appealing to collect. It becomes more about the collecting than the thing itself.

I sat on a log, trying to fend off midges and drew the trees above me. Then my phone rang and I had to abort my mission and talk to a friend for an hour. How protective should I be of the field time? It is quickly eroded and is becoming less daily and more weekly now. There is this creeping suspicion that I am not committed enough.

Each day my little window to work feels smaller and smaller. I am good at making plans but not so good at prioritising time. A common complaint, I am sure. I am determined to stay anchored to this field, though. Here, all things meet for me and that includes my failings.


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As you enter the field from the south end, you pass the dump. On Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s it’s closed and this is often, conveniently one of the days I find I have a bit more time to explore. As you go through the entrance to the field you can either follow a path that branches one side to the left (up the hill) and one side to the right (running alongside the railway line). Before you get to this branch, immediately to the right is well worn path snaking through the undergrowth alongside the dump boundary.

It looks so well established. In the winter when everything was bare you hardly noticed it, but now it is the perfect invitation. Before you get to the the dump there is a curious area fenced off. It is a large rectangular ditch and since all the rain, it has filled up with brown sludgy, stagnant water. It’s something to do with Anglian Water at some point, so the sign says. In the water is an array of discarded objects and bits of rubbish. A perfect fly tipping spot obviously, for those who almost made it there.

Further up the path, I feel a bit of uneasiness rising in my stomach. It’s not my usual time, it’s approaching dusk and as I follow the path, I notice how still and secluded it has become. The undergrowth grows taller and forms a roof above my head as I duck through. The path leads along the palisade fencing and I can peer through at the huge metal containers inside the tip.

I can see two camping gas canisters strewn on the path up ahead and wonder. What on earth am I doing? One day I’m going to get myself in a situation I wish I hadn’t. Is it irrational to feel scared or plan stupid to keep poking about in these places? A lone woman pushing herself into dark, lonely places. Am I a thrill seeker after all?  Either way my curiosity about the site means I can’t leave it. Also, I comfort myself with my track record. I have been hanging out quite regularly in these places for sometime and not really been confronted by another dweller, in person, despite the endless clues and traces that tell me they exist.

Anyway, I push myself in and the path closes down to impassable. Only to the left there is a kind of small opening. A tiny clearing that looks inhabitable. I push in, crouching down and squat by the base of a tree. I am completely surrounded. I pause to notice my feelings about being here. It is so calm, quiet and secluded. Like sitting in a little cocoon, sheltered  and protected by the thorny, tangled armour of under growth.

I snap away at some finds, some half buried, some hanging from trees. Their randomness like some kind of poetry. It is this excitement that keeps me poking about in these places. It’s the finds that lure me in. The promise of another object who’s identity can never be predicted. This is the main part of the thrill. Finding. An encounter with another place and another life.

 

 


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I’ve come to the laptop not really knowing what I want to write today. Having just arrived back from my daily walk at the field I can trace back a series of different thoughts that accompanied my ambling, but not one clear thread that stood out. This morning my brain was quite content to quietly squint out over the cattle grazing and absorb.

I have held the field at a distance these last few weeks, partly just circumstance I think, half term, kids parties, jobs to get done but also something else. There is sometimes an effort to go, like approaching it, going there, requires a certain energy and this energy is a particular type. I sometimes find myself looking for excuses why I can’t make that day and I am curious about this avoidance impulse, because when I go, the time I spend there is never not positive. It never doesn’t enliven my feelings of curiosity and I always come away dreaming of a time when I can extend the length of these visits, venture further and explore different times, new paths. But there is another side that wants to shut this all down and I have to be vigilant of it. Perhaps, why I have come in the first place.

I have another project that I have been working on with a friend over the last year too. Part of coming to the lowest point in my artistic non-career meant looking at what I really wanted to achieve in the first place, before I even contemplated starting again. About 2 years ago I started searching possibilities and considering where I would most like to push forward and use my creative abilities.

It led me to dementia. It was something I knew little about, only that my nan had it and we as a family didn’t have any idea what we were dealing with and no-one really wants to talk about it, ever. My first thought when it came up on my google search was… it is the worst thing that can happen to you and my second was it can’t end at that thought. Then I came across the most amazing charity called Arts4dementia, who hold training days for artists. I booked on with no idea what I could have to offer or where it would lead, but since the workshop in September 2017 with Arts4dementia, I have thought about little else.

For almost two years now I have volunteered with a local dementia group and got to know the most wonderful people in the most difficult of circumstances. Within this group of people, those living with dementia and their loved ones, we all come together and the most amazing moments happen. Being there each week, is being part of something special.

The project that myself and my good friend and artist Anji Archer have  had in the planning stage for what feels like forever, yesterday had confirmation of Arts Council funding. This feels momentous! We can now make our drawing workshops happen for people living with a dementia and their carers, at Stevenage Museum this September.

I will start another blog alongside this one to keep a record of the progress of this project.

 


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The corners of the field are becoming particularly over grown right now. Spring is in full flourish. I feel I could bring a blanket out and spend the whole day laying and listening. Is there any feasible excuse I could find to do this?

On my walk this morning I thought about mental health and the idea of nature deficit and considered this idea of being in nature for its psychologically effect on us, it’s healing potential. The world health organisation say ‘access to green spaces can reduce health inequalities, improve wellbeing and aid in the treatment of mental illness’

Eva Wiseman’s article in the Observer last weekend interested me greatly. Her discussion of nature being used as a symbol of privilege, where deprived areas have more restricted access, while others flaunt it endlessly on social media as a symbol of spiritual depth and wellness. It being framed and ‘cleanly repackaged as valuable, a wellness product to sit alongside jade eggs and yoga mats.

She so eloquently points out…

‘despite its happy side-affects, nature is not for us. It exists in spite of us. It persist greenly, finding new ways to grow around our awfulness’

I love that ‘finding new ways to grow around our awfulness’. I want to ponder on this sentence.

I walk down the hill with skylarks in full swing, baby bunnies darting in and out of the hedges, two red kites gliding over my head, sparrows chasing each other along the fencing, with the warm morning sun in my face. Sunny, easy, mornings like this package well. All I need is for some little birds to perch themselves on my shoulder and I’ll break into song.


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The prospect of a field visit these days brings with it new expectations. I’ve turned it into something else. Re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust and her exploration into our long and fascinating history with walking, chimes with me, for so many reasons.

In my own meanderings around this small area of land, I am brought to consider my own motivations. Do I walk to alter something within myself? Like a mini pilgrimage, am I searching for change, to emerge after each encounter a slightly more enlightened human being?

I have grown increasingly suspicious of my motivations and interpretations. The meanings I construct from this field come directly out of some internal monologue as I walk. As I near the field I think of my personal history with the edge places. Firstly, what are they? Somewhere touching the town but not part of it. Physically, a place created out of it’s proximity to the last garden fence, the last factory on the road, the borders of the motorway. The protrusions, visual and audible, from the town, mark it as a ‘next to’ place. Also physically marked by it’s nature. A little buzzing, tweeting, long grasses gently swaying in the breeze, the odd butterfly fluttering by, a little glimpse of idyllic. A hint of another time, in an old bit of farm machinery, left rusting in a view that looks constructed for a puzzle scene.

This edge place the one within my monologue, is my own fantasy within myself. I remember, and I think it is true, that when I was young (probably under 10 say) I started fantasising about the fields behind my house. They were agricultural land, large fields with hedgerows, we called them the tracks and we went there, for many different reasons. Walking, sledging, horse riding, bike riding, etc. but when I was home and under my covers at night in bed, I would imagine being there in the dark and strangely it gave me a feeling of safety and comfort. I thought if anything bad happened,  if I got really sick or the end of the world came, I would go to the tracks and I could somehow sit in the grass and be sheltered from the chaos. Nothing could touch me.

Over time this fantasy has been tweaked and altered, at times it has housed the illicit love affair, allowed me to play archaeologist, explorer, flirt with new possibilities in identity and today, at this moment in time it allows me to be an artist, or at least fantasise that I can carve out that possibility again.

But there is a change now. This edge, this dividing line echoes with something that never use to be there, was never a conscious thought and that now is inherent within this meeting point between us and the natural earth. This small and insignificant edge, feels loaded with signs of our own imminent destruction. The edge is of course, all illusion and fantasy, one we have created because we see ourselves as something separate.

I took a walk with my dad and he walks with his mind continuously in the past. He narrates a story of this edge with memories of springs before they ran dry, populated by a vast variety of species that were once numerous. He views it all through a prism of destruction. He paints beautiful ghosts into what is there today. I physically struggle with this image and try not to disengage in despair. My feelings of sitting in the grass, sheltering from the end of the world look quite pitiful. This quiet, unassuming edge can look sinister from this angle.


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