Summary of insights from a talk and seminar at Tate Brtain 30th May 2015 led by artist Emma Smith, relevant to the Kingley Vale residency.
Emma Smith introduced her project ‘School for Tourists’:
“The School For Tourists is an ongoing project to examine our relationship to place, to question the roles of host and guest and to consider new possibilities for belonging.”
Her workshop began with an exercise to demonstrate that speed of walking is affected by speed of thinking. This was pertinent to the two approaches I compared at the start of the residency of walking through the forest slowly off the main paths to pacing through the site on a visitor path. The thinking was faster with the faster pace, there was also a sense of being closed and frustration at missing out on stopping at interesting places, of not seeing as much.
“walking creates space for imagination” – Emma Smith
“Walking slowly increases level of consciousness” – Iain Sinclair
I’ve been recording ‘whispering walks’ through two repeated routes at and near Kingley Vale for five years. Audio trails with the purpose to process life events and experiences, sometimes to develop creative work.
Walking through the landscape on this residency has given me a sense of ownership of the place, in naming specific trees, in spending time and returning to and through locations, in recreating the familiar, in discovering places previously unknown to me, in not following the main paths. Emma described the visceral relationship to location and feelings of ownership created by a connection to the land. She talked about how her project had encouraged people to cross the boundaries set by planners to keep tourists and residents apart . Her residency at Grizedale found tension between local residents and visitors, and how artists had changed the way the landscape was perceived through romanticising it in paintings, poems and stories, that the views had been constructed to create these romantic vistas. Pre 1840 the region was considered ugly. Later in the seminar Prof John Urry defined the difference being:
land is the place where tilling and working takes place, landscape is the transformation of land to be gazed at for visual consumption and pleasure.
He also defined difference in gaze:
‘Collective gaze’ – seeing with others
‘Romantic gaze’ – solitary or with someone close to us, a dislike of ‘other’ viewers/tourists
‘Spectatorial gaze’ – person collecting views (photos, memories, passing by, adding to their collection)
Referred to mediated and constructed views for tourists, Kingley Vale is SSSI status so there is a limit to how much the site can be changed, but views are constructed through the paths, the Nature Trail, fencing. The tumuli burial mounds (Devils Humps) on the top of the hill were constructed hundreds of years ago with the spectacular views. There are many different types of visitors for education, religion, performances, hiking, leisure and dog walking, research, wildlife spotting.
“Viewpoint is what we see and what we think” – Emma Smith
In the forest there are cameras to watch the wildlife, so animals and visitors can also become the viewpoint.
The act of walking – looking up means the walker feels safe, feeling safe is influence by thoughts. I reflect on my early days and fear of adders, now I walking confidently everywhere in wellies and have less fear I look up more.
Sensory perception – sight and sound. Emma explained how both use the same area of the brain, that there is a limited capacity which means that if we are looking intensely we hear less, and vice versa. Silence allows us to see better, important for the drawing trails.
Emma had questioned with a choreographer how much movement makes a walk, and embodied thought, ie imagining to be on a walk. Would this give the same sense of wellbeing?
Some artifacts can only be viewed through walking, just like the landscape, and the wardrobes I’m hoping to instal inviting visitors to explore further. Natural England encourage people to do this, I rarely see others though.
Emma pointed out that we walk in a different way when we walk away towards something than we do when walking towards home.
“Walking is the most democratic form of movement”
“Walking with another person we accommodate each others physical personal capacity”
So the sensory workshops focus on engaging with land using different senses, one at a time, drawing from those different viewpoints ie what is seen with what is experienced through each sense.
Consider the different viewpoints that have brought more intense or inspired responses, whether these are ‘romantic’.
The last activity of the workshop we devised a way of walking through the exhibitions, I chose smell noticing the smells of the different areas, perfumed cleaner on the stairs, woody floors of the main room. With this focus when I came across a large Turner painting of the sea I could smell it. All the inhaling added to a sense of exhilaration (I presume from the extra oxygen). Breath is another way of affecting experience. Something to follow up.