Over the past few weeks, we’ve found ourselves almost overwhelmed by the possibilities for work that Dawlish Warren opens up for us. The a-n Professional Development Bursary is something of an anchor. So I’m returning to our starting point – the Buffer Zone – to think about our progress so far.
Dawlish Warren includes a popular beach resort and a nature reserve that extends across a low-lying and constantly shifting spit of sand; in between them is an area known as the Buffer Zone. According to a 2006 Teignbridge Council report, the Buffer Zone exists “to absorb and dissipate the high level visitor usage pressure […] minimising conflicts with the demands of protecting the Nature Reserve”. It’s also an important habitat in its own right, where many species thrive ̶ alongside humans and their dogs.
While the Nature Reserve raises questions about what constitutes ‘nature’ and whether it can or should be ‘reserved’ or ‘preserved’ or ‘conserved’ in relation to human activity, the Buffer Zone is a complex, transitional site that acknowledges the interrelationship between human and other interests. It’s been a powerful trigger for our shared inquiry into human/nonhuman dialogue.
It also stands as a useful metaphor for our own collaboration. The project brings together three independent but related practices with a view to finding out more about where they intersect. The Buffer Zone is a designated ‘soft’ space where our practices can safely bump up against one another and mingle. But it often also results in work no one of us would have devised alone. So in this second sense, a buffer might be a way of moderating the impact of self-censorship and allowing a wider range of ideas to thrive.
In a third sense, found in computing, a buffer is a shared area or holding place where data is screened and processed. So our buffer zone is where we consider together what can be publicly shared – and how; what should be held back and what needs more space to grow. These conversations can be complex.
While at the Dawlish Warren Buffer Zone and Nature Reserve, we’re each gathering research and documentation to feed individual work. But we’re also taking advantage of the opportunity to work together in ways that are new to all of us – specifically, experimenting with live activations of space, body and matter. In challenging and supporting each other to take creative risks, we’ve entered a territory where none of us feels completely comfortable. We also find ourselves creating a new and unruly body of shared work that is disrupting our ideas about how to document, develop, refine and attribute outcomes. It feels like a fitting response to this dynamic, liminal place.