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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

17/05/23 - Danby, Walking & Collecting Land Samples


17th May:

Experimentation: Gathering Materials

As time is not fully on my side at the moment, and with the need/wants to spend time away on my residencies ever growing, I am unfortunately not able to commit to completing them. Rather than miss out completely on working in the field, I have decided to revisit my initial method of taking day trips to specific locations around the North Yorkshire Moors. I do intend to go further afield and into southern Scotland as the border is only a couple of hours drive from my house, but for now, I will use local landscapes to aid my research journey.

If you were to scroll quite far down this feed of conversations, you would come across accounts of where I frequently explore landscapes that would be within the county of Yorkshire. I have discussed the importance of my locality and the need to explore what is here and not what is beyond my reach i:e my original interest in the Arctic. I have explored and created work within, Guisborough, Over-Silton, North Gare, Carlton, Levisham, to name just a few. Each location celebrates its own Yorkshire identity and with this, each landscape demonstrated its own individuality. The idea to take up one day location visits to create work does excite me again. The feeling of exploration and being within the landscape is what drives this research project after all.

With my residency to Scotland cancelled I knew I needed to not sit on my laurels and instead get myself out and about and exploring ideas within a landscape accessible to me. I decided to revisit Danby, a location I had previously explored with my students in September 2022 and whilst I was there, I fully enjoyed the diverse range of landscape scenery that I traversed within. Due to my responsibility of being a teacher, I had to look after a group of large college students and so my commitment was to them and not my own individual endeavours. I therefore decided that I would one day return and of recent times, I did just that.

Danby is located in the central north of the north Yorkshire Moors, between Castleton and Lealholm; a short drive off the A171 before Scaling Dam. It is a landscape which hosts a variety of natural and man-made features, including, woodland, rolling hills, varying wildlife, the Danby Lodge, farmland and even an art gallery (Inspiredby). Naming just a few examples of the differentiating landscape, Danby has what I deem a small and intimate location which can be explored in a day but through exploration, a person would encounter varying degrees of environmental aesthetics. From my first visit in September, I was guided through open farmland, along sheep covered hills, then down into a compact forest running parallel to a gentle stream, which itself was surrounded by beautiful tones of green fauna and moss, which expanded itself wildly on any surface. How wonderful to be given such a transient transition between environmental appearances within the space of a forty-five-minute walk. This time around, I decided to approach Danby from another position.

For some time now I have had many ideas stored in my brain or roughly scribbled onto paper either as a sketch or as a collection of words. Whichever way my thoughts are presented, I know they cannot become a reality unless I go out and act on creating them. Currently I am working towards using an Earth battery to create imagery within the field, but this is a work in progress piece however, when visiting a location, I would be able to collect ‘land’ samples that could be used as a power source and so this trip would allow me to collect ‘power’. Another idea linked with the EB and sampling, is using electrical current fired into the samples to explore what marks/affects an electrical current could do within a land sample. My final idea is to return to film myself walking through a specific landscape. The feedback from my work ‘Through’ discussed how my landscape was man-made and so I am taking it upon myself to remove the man-made element and film myself within a wild landscape. Locating a wild landscape is difficult (no need to explain again the unpristine landscape) but with a Google map scout I found a location within Danby that was removed from the man-made elements and could be used to film within.

With a location specified, and a sense/plan of what I intended to do (with reasoning), I drove forty-minutes to a point in Danby that was on the edge of the lodge road, a place where I could leave my car safely and return to after a day’s work. This location would also be not too far from where I intended to film my ‘Through’ part 2 piece. I asked Rebecca to come with me on this one-day trip to support me with filming and carrying some equipment to which she kindly agreed. When exploring on my own it can become difficult due to equipment and trying to complete tasks, although I understand my solo intentions, but for this trip I decided it would be good to have the support and also to show Becca what I get up to in the field. After a short walk, I pulled off the path and walked into wild landscape where it began to drop gradually towards a forest far off in the distance, a forest I recognised as a place I visited on my first time to Danby. There was a great deal of wild landscape within my parameters and plenty to demonstrate movement through and within such a place. Finding a central point, I set up the camera equipment pointing up hill as I wanted to use the ridge as a point in which I could collect my silhouette for the initial entry point of me within the film. The ridge would work well as a horizon line to remove any further distance to be viewed by the audience and instead close off the view of the landscape and just keep the gaze on what was present.

After a couple of equipment tests, I headed up hill and positioned myself off camera, allowing for time to pass and so the audience could just be with the landscape before I moved in and through it, navigating my way across a wild place. Once several takes had been made, I swapped the camera position to one that pointed down the rest of the rolling hill, looking to the small forest. Another ridge was visible but this time it was at a lower point, enabling me to walk off the audience’s eye site and under the horizon line. Further several takes and filming was wrapped up. What I thought might have been a much more challenging task, was executed well and in a timely manner… a good surprise indeed. It must be said that what was filmed does not fully represent my time within a specific wild landscape (especially if you are reading this), but for me, it is a representation of the methods of practice. ‘Through’ communicated movement and rhythm, as well as time, but it had certain ‘faults’. This time around, I wanted to recapture those elements, but I also intended to demonstrate navigation and non-human materials (except for what I was wearing), hopefully accumulating into a twin-linked film that allows for a passage between spaces, including the audience’s gallery/viewing space, when exhibited. I will include the final film when edited into a new blog entry.

Once filming was completed, Rebecca and I explored the landscape more, walking within and through it, encountering scatterings of rocks, rabbits, drops in the land, long grass, more rabbits and then we came across the farmland and a gentle stream, which delved into a small forest. I recognised this location as it had been the same area of land I had explored with my students. We continued to walk into the forest, following the stream and at times, having to jump over several boggy patches (queue Rebecca falling into one…). The forest and stream worked hand in hand, presenting itself as a quiet and muted environment, one that was in constant dialogue with each natural element. Moss growing across fallen trees, stream water rising and falling into the earth bed, taking earth into it and then reshaping the land, mushrooms sprouting within the grassland and wildflowers scattered across all viewpoints. What we entered was an exchange of natural pleasure, living organisms working together to thrive and be what it is, a natural condition, and with Rebecca and I, the invasive humans, we took pleasure from the environmental aesthetics.

Within the forest I decided to collect small samples of the landscape, due to its diverse range of natural elements. I brought with me a small trowel and collection of petri dishes, the dishes to host the collected samples. I made sure to extract only a small amount of land and without trying to cause any significant damage. There was something rather interesting with collecting land samples, almost in field scientific action, but this action was all part of a test. I knew that sample collecting will be used throughout my research journey and by doing this now, would aid my knowledge on how to collect, record and use.

After some time spent collecting samples, we walked out of the forest and into the farmland crossing fields until we came across the Danby Road which would take us to the car. With this day complete, I knew I had gathered a good number of resources to take home to the studio and work with at a future time. I stated earlier my intentions with the gathered materials, and I look forward to what experiments I explore and what outcomes divulge.

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