- Cley 14
- East England
Arriving at Cley Marshes just before midday on a beautiful sunny summer’s morning, a habitual series of spaces greet me: the car park, the visitor centre, the obligatory shop and the café. Heritage lottery signs abound and these familiar spaces, from and through which to view and consume the surrounding landscape, are all reinforced by practices that focus on the divisions or lines between nature/culture, consumer/product, wild/educated. However, whilst thumbing through ‘Tern’ magazine, pondering over which binoculars I might like to purchase and thinking about which chair might give me the best view while allowing me to enjoy a fruit scone ordered at the till, I am suddenly but gently interrupted by artist Caroline Wendling inviting me to collect my lunch which has been carefully prepared in collaboration with the café staff. Already a division line starts to become blurred.
I am joining Wendling with exactly 8 other participants for ‘Horizon,’a choreographed walk from the NWT Visitor Centre to the beach, part of Cley 14 contemporary art exhibition 2014, curated by artists Polly Binns and Rod Bugg.
Outside the visitor centre, Wendling gathers us together for an informal and friendly introduction to the walk and to each other – setting a collective and open tone. Rather than a solitary experience, we will be walking as a group, together. In prelude to the walk proper, we then set off across the busy road and into the marshes in caterpillar form. Between ball rushes, cow parsley and greeting numerous bird watchers en route, we follow Wendling who, elegantly dressed in linen trousers and cream crocheted blouse, is carrying a beautifully self-crafted large cream canvas bag, the contents of which have yet to be disclosed.
Arriving at the beginning of a long straight path, stretching way into the distance between the marsh and the horizon, the bag’s secret is revealed. Together, we unfurl a length of canvas cloth. Characteristically focusing on every detail with intimate yet gentle precision, Wendling hands out 10 carrying straps, which fit through 10 eyelets equally positioned at 10 points along the cloth. Attached to the cloth and to each other, I’m instantly reminded of artists Gustavo Ciríaco & Andrea Sonnberger’s ‘Here Whilst We Walk,’ but in contrast, for ‘Horizon’ we are not in silence, Wendling, also attached as a participant, talks to us from the front and we talk to our immediate neighbours. Connected to each other’s rhythms, we are made aware of moving together in a line through the surrounding landscape, and we share the experience collectively.
A mirrored surface, sewn into the cloth by Wendling, shimmers, reflecting the landscape around us. People walking past, comment on the spectacle, yet for participants it’s not possible to see these effects. For the walker, this experience is less about the spectacle than the act of inhabiting the line between the vertical procession and the intensely horizontal landscape. In her article Crossing Into The Line architectural critic Katie Lloyd Thomas counterposes the clear and defined ideality of the geometric line as defined by Descartes, which separates and orders through creating divisions, to that of feminist approaches by theorists such as Catherine Ingraham which propose different ways of thinking about lines that are porous and fleshy; exploring the materiality of the line so it can no longer be read as a simple code or boundary. In ‘Horizon,’ the walkers inhabit and become the horizon, reflecting the landscape around us, changing it from a line into a collective action.
Arriving at the beach we detach the cloth, spread it along the shore and are invited to sit on it in-line and enjoy our lunch as a collective meal whilst absorbing the powerful view of the expansive horizon of the North Sea before us. Wendling tells me that in the 13th Century, Cley port was ranked fourth most important port in the whole of England, exchanging trade with the Low Country. On the beach, exchange becomes key. The feeling of inhabiting the line shifts into one of contemplation and conversation as we engage in our extended picnic, reading texts about the definition of the horizon from philosophers and artists including Heidegger and Smithson, while engaging in intense discussions about the view before us.
After finishing our meal the cloth takes on a third transformation. Rolled and tied with the 10 straps and balanced on our shoulders, we make the journey back along the path through the marshes. The sense of ritual is strong. We have made a two-hour pilgrimage to the sea and back with the cloth supporting and framing our discussions. For me, this pilgrimage has supplanted the ever-increasing ubiquitous rituals around the consumption of landscape or heritage sites, which framed my arrival. Invited to walk at a collective careful pace, the constraints of which afford an intensely focused way of looking, and sharing an exchange with fellow walkers, whilst taking care of each other’s rhythms, it is a slow and detailed pace that becomes part of the landscape reflecting it both formally through its linear structure but also inhabiting it through a shared choreograph.