The weekly walk with[out] edges at 7.30am this morning was ‘A walk that sees below the surface of the earth’. It connected unexpectedly with my drawing of tree roots during the workshop with Dilip Sur and with the plan I had formed, but not yet executed, to draw a tree upside down. I ceased to walk on a solid, static surface. Below was more life than above. Other people were walking at the same time in other places, all trying to see beneath the surface. Now I realise that this would be the direction of the shortest distance between us.


I began a drawing with roots at the base and then I turned it upside down and continued. I had checked the internet for clues about the depth and spread of tree roots. They may spread further than the canopy of the tree, but in weight they are lighter. I felt my way into the drawing. Trunk and branches growing from the inside and roots reaching for water and nutrients. The physicality of the process resonated with the embodied act of walking.

I have uploaded my drawing for another artist (Aya Hastwell) to fuse with other people’s words and images to create the weekly collage. We are walking every week for a year with a different prompt each week and this will be the 26th collage. We are half-way there.


Dilip Sur in a recent drawing workshop talked about drawing ‘inside out’ to explore what it is that is being drawn, not to represent, but to enquire into being. I looked out of the window and chose a weeping birch tree. The unseen roots became vast and extensive. The cracks creating the texture of the bark were like happenings, re-imagined by the charcoal. The tree spiralled out from the centre of its branches.


The limited imagination of roots was humbling. To confirm the failure, I inverted the drawings to see if the roots might resemble the branches above ground and pledged to draw the trees upside down as the next exercise and to find a way for the trees to extend beyond the confines of the paper. Dilip spoke of the metaphor of the tree, the necessity of  strong roots and I thought about the bronze age timber circle, given the name ‘Seahenge’ with an upturned tree stump at its centre, the branches  of the tree reaching down into another world. I had created a performance piece with Judy Nakazato in 2016 called The Listening Stick that voiced the conflicting responses to its excavation in 1999.


This process of drawing was resonating unexpectedly with other spheres of my practice and the next day during another drawing activity I recalled Dilip’s quote from  Nietzsche:

One must have chaos to be able to give birth to a dancing star” — Friedrich Nietzsche

I drew chaotically, responding to my own marks by trying to create some kind of order and new meaning from the chaos.


What might it mean to bring chaos into walking?


I find myself part of a rather wonderful collaborative group which has acquired  the name ‘Mud Collective’. We have crafted an audio walk that connects Iraq and the UK through soil, telling the story of a pot made from earth samples brought in a suitcase from Basra to Cambridge.  The collective comprises: Dr Nawrast Sabah Abd Alwahab, Kelcy Davenport, Shaima al-Sitrawi, Sarah Strachan, Will Crosby and myself.

The walk was featured as part of The Cambridge Festival and can still be experienced via the Mesopotamian Mud website.

I see strands running through my practice that were not visible to me at the time. I try to extricate an essence that I can convey in words, but the words induce paralysis rather than release.

I am walking through mud. It tugs at me, slows me down, gives way, allowing me to sink and lift. Mud as the sticky substance in which ideas cross, the wet messiness, sensory and unbounded nature of it.

Mud has become an unexpected protagonist sliding between projects.

It is more tangible than untouchable abstract notions floating in the air and dropping occasionally or falling with the rain.

Now I find the connecting substance in the ground. It gives the body priority over the thinking mind, strips away the layers of obscuration created by language and replaces them with the muddy language of the earth. Or does it?

I am using human-formed language to say this, but now it is merely a rudimentary pointing device, pointing away from the screen to the muddy margins. It does not let mud speak for itself.

I carry mud from one place to another or the idea of it…

It seeps into another collaboration and works its magic there. It is common ground.