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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

03/03/24 - Northumberland Field Work

23rd - 25th February 2024



Residency: Collecting and reading land energies


Between the 23rd and 25th February myself and my partner headed up to Northumberland to stay in a small cabin as a remote retreat. Our place of stay was the Northumberland Nook which is located near Kirkheaton and in between Newcastle and Hexham. We decided to take on a remote retreat as I was wanting to create some work in a remote location which would be my first residency of the year, whilst Rebecca needed some time away from work. Quite interesting to think that my partner becomes a clear of example of a human needing to use a remote landscape to aid their health. Normally I would be staying in my tent, but this time I could not convince Rebecca to camp and instead we agreed to stay in a small wooden cabin. Not as rough and ready like some of the Bothies I have stayed in, but a place that would give us some comforts.



Aside from Rebecca needing quiet and time away from the chaos of work, the reason I wanted to go away was to continue to develop my research. I wanted to approach this residency as an opportunity to observe different factors within the current research. These were -


·      Testing the voltage in a specific landscape

·      Collecting soil energy through an Earth battery

·      Tracing my walking through a landscape as an art form


With these three factors in focus, it enabled me to have a good understanding of what I needed to do and how so. I could have added more factors into the residency as I have previously done, but I thought it best to just work with the three and not overextend my working ability. My objectives were split into three but worked as a collective whole, allowing me to situate my research within one specific area and not have to consider field logistics, which was a relief. The question I need to answer now for this blog entry is, what was I hoping to achieve from these set objectives?


- Testing the voltage in a specific landscape: With me making E.B’s at home and within ice cube trays, plant pots and seeding trays, I needed to test in the field to see how much voltage I could produce on a larger scale.


- Collecting soil energy through an Earth battery: I have managed to collect soil energy through my own small E.B’s within a capacitor but could I collect on a larger scale and when in the field working.


- Tracing my walking through a landscape as an art form: I continue to walk/drift through specific landscapes and I have been documenting this through writing, photography, and film, but what if I could document my walk/drift as a connection to the soil energies below my feet? And so, I wanted to use the E.B as a working sculpture that could ‘draw’ a walking path through and within a specific landscape.


What did I find out when I was away then… well firstly I will set the scene as to where my walk/drift was located. My aim with my walking now is to drift and allow for the landscape to determine where I plant my feet. I would state that trying to drift in a remote landscape should be an easy task with open fields however, a lot of the land that I found myself in was farmland. Farmland in England is tightly compact and bordered with many wire fences and or stone walls. This did hinder me where I could walk, but me being me, and having a little rebellious side (somewhat to Becca’s displeasure), I did not allow a fence/wall stop me, so some climbing was undertaken. I did feel controlled with fences and walls even if climbing over but when within a field my possible route and direction would open up greatly as the landscape would be vast (to a certain extent). I walked for a couple of miles across farmland and roads, with no real sense of direction except for curiosity. I came to a slight incline on a stretch of farmland, somewhat patchy in parts with pools of water and at the peak of this hill was a small but dense woodland. Of course, I ended up within and saw this woodland as a place to make my mark with my E.B. I think my decision came about because of the difficulty I had navigating within this part of the landscape. I had to duck between branches and crawl to get into spaces between the trees. I enjoyed this difficulty I faced and when I found a good clearing I stopped and set up my battery. The clearing itself had a slight curve to it, as if demonstrating that no clear straight line of a walk could occur in this part of the landscape, and with this, my E.B would have movement and show a curved pathway.  


Before this residency, I had my E.B parts arranged and organised to help with the setting up process. I did attach small white cotton rags to each steal cathode and my idea for doing this was to demonstrate each marker point for capturing energy, which in turn also added a sort of sculptural element to the E.B. For every cathode, I would need an anode, and this was created through the use of copper wire (which I stripped from cable I had at home). This copper cable would be inserted into the ground and then daisy chained between cathodes, creating a circuit which could capture and transfer exoelectrogens through the battery and into the capacitor. The capacitor being the last component of the E.B which would store the capture energy.



What did I find out from this residency then?  I will start with the capacitor and collecting exoelectrogens as this was discussed in the previous paragraph. The E.B when hooked up to my metre reader stated a very low output of soil energy, so low that it was less than a volt. I spaced my cathodes and anodes apart at a good distance to increase the possible power output, making larger cells but this unfortunately did not give me the desired reading I expected. A trick to increase voltage with an E.B is to apply a solution like water or vinegar, something that would agitate the micro-organisms in the soil. I did not have an agitator solution with me, but rain was due, and I was hoping that the rainfall would increase the voltage. I left my capacitor overnight hoping that the E.B would charge it and although at a low number on the reading, a length of time would increase the amount of energy extracted into the capacitor. On my return to the E.B the following morning, my meter reading read at the same output. When I removed the capacitor and applied the metre to it, the capacitor had stored a small amount of soil energy which was a positive, but after some time, the soil energy started to deplete. The latter was expected but not at such a quick rate. I will have to conduct further tests with the E.B and capacitor, working with storage, output holding and increasing power (most likely through cell experiments).


A positive for me with this E.B was indeed its presentation, demonstrating my movement within the section of the landscape I had walked through. For me it evidenced how I could utilise a tool which extracts an invisible energy to become a form of land art, a working live sculpture. As stated earlier, I have demonstrated my movement through landscapes as reflective writing and in lens-based processes such as image capture and film. These all play a significant role when attempting to communicate my feelings around landscape aesthetics, but this form of sculpture creates a connection between several components in my research.


·      The E.B is a working tool extracting soil energy.

·      The E.B evidence’s movement of the human through the landscape

·      The E.B evidence’s movement of the exoelectrogens within the landscape

·      The E.B demonstrates the connection between tool and land through marked way points.

·      The E.B can communicate the invisible energy as a trace.


I am starting to see the E.B as a critical tool within my research, becoming a sort of middleman that has several functions and joins parts together. It is a working process, and I will continue to develop its capabilities as I continue with my research but from this residency, I believe I have a new form of artistic outcome to explore at length.


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