You can’t spent much time in West Dorset and not get drawn into the true stories and tall tales of smuggling and how it affected people. (I’d like to know of any smuggling songs if anyone knows any.)
Its a well known saying near Chesil Beach that on a dark moonless night a smuggler could tell where he landed a boat between Portland and West Bay by the size of the shingle; which starts pea sized at West Bay and ends Boulder sized near Portland. I had read some accounts and stories, (returning again to the Burton Bradstock website among others), and was struck looking at lists of people prosecuted for smuggling by the breadth of ages and types people that were involved, from teenagers to widows. It could be a dangerous, violent activity with harsh punishments to those caught smuggling who were sometimes very young; several months in jail, hard labour, deportation and sometimes death. Having never read the classic novel Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner (published in 1898), this seemed a good time since it is set somewhere along Chesil Bank near where our work will be sited. The bank is a huge shingle barrier beach that stretches from West Bay up to Portland (on it there are still remnants of anti tank defence from WWII). It drops steeply into the sea and the pebbles are so smooth that the combination of strong undertow and slippery pebbles can make it impossible for a person to get out of the sea. Locals tell me you can hear the thunder of waves upon shingle for miles inland.
Moonfleet, set in the 1750s is a thrilling yarn but also captures the relationship of people to the land, nature and sea and the way the geology of the area (the steep banked beaches, the grassy clifftops, the sliding shingle, the high sandstone cliffs and deep quarries) has such a strong influence on the way people live. You can read it on Project Guttenberg if you can’t find a copy.
For with that wind blowing strong from south, if you cannot double the Snout, you must most surely come ashore; and many a good ship failing to round that point has beat up and down the bay all day, but come to beach in the evening. And once on the beach, the sea has little mercy, for the water is deep right in, and the waves curl over full on the pebbles with a weight no timbers can withstand. Then if poor fellows try to save themselves, there is a deadly under-tow or rush back of the water, which sucks them off their legs, and carries them again under the thundering waves. It is that back-suck of the pebbles that you may hear for miles inland, even at Dorchester, on still nights long after the winds that caused it have sunk, and which makes people turn in their beds, and thank God they are not fighting with the sea on Moonfleet beach.
In his poem epic Lewesdon Hill William Crowe also describes the Dorset landscape of 1788 in great detail and in particular the lighting of a beacon on Burton Cliff for smugglers;
(…)From hostile shores returning, glad I look
On native scenes again; and fisrt salute
Thee, Burton, and thy lofty cliff, where oft
The nightly blaze is kindled ; further seen
Than erst was that love-tended cresset, hung
Beside the Hellespont: yet not like that
Inviting to the hospitable arms
Of Beauty’ and Youth, but lighted up, the sign
Of danger, and of ambush’d foes to warn
The stealth-approaching Vesslel, homeward bound
From Havre or the Norman isles, with freight
Of wines and hotter drinks, the trash of France,
Forbidden merchandize. Such fraud to quell
Many a light skiff and well-appointed sloop
Lies hovering near the coast, or hid behind
Some curved promontory, in hope to seize
These contraband: vain hope! on that high shore
Station’d, th’ associates of their lawless trade
Keep watch, and to their fellows off at sea
Give the known signal; they with fearful haste
Observant, put about the ship, and plunge
Into concealing darkness.(…)
I read on Real West Dorset about local filmaker Frank Trevett who in the 1930s created a film about sumggling using family friends and actors. Dope Under Thorncombe – which you can watch here on Close Encounters:
Finally…the poem that opens Moonfleet;
Says the Cap’n to the Crew,
We have slipped the Revenue,
I can see the cliffs of Dover on the lee:
Tip the signal to the Swan,
And anchor broadside on,
And out with the kegs of Eau-de-Vie,
Says the Cap’n:
Out with the kegs of Eau-de-Vie.
Says the Lander to his men,
Get your grummets on the pin,
There’s a blue light burning out at sea.
The windward anchors creep,
And the Gauger’s fast asleep,
And the kegs are bobbing one, two, three,
Says the Lander:
The kegs are bobbing one, two, three.
But the bold Preventive man
Primes the powder in his pan
And cries to the Posse, Follow me.
We will take this smuggling gang,
And those that fight shall hang
Dingle dangle from the execution tree,
Says the Gauger:
Dingle dangle with the weary moon to see.
One of the definitions of Public Goods in economics terms describes them as goods that are not diminished by a persons consumption of them. The air is cited as an example, sometimes the beach, street lighting, free broadcast television and so on (though in the ‘real world’ perhaps nothing really fits this description). Are there other interactions we value that might be called public goods? Things that people feel are precious about the places and communities they belong to – stories, skills, games, songs and so on. Maybe they are more intangible than a place, or element or thing, like the way people use local markets as places to meet, converse or share knowledge.
The notion of Public Goods comes up often in our work; common space and ‘the commons’ as a public good for Being in Common; the role of markets and independent traders in Lancaster for As It Comes, and in Hertfordshire for With Our Ears to the Ground and the social impact of technologies for Urban Tapestries, Snout and Social Tapestries. I can’t quite pinpoint what these public goods are and I want to try and make a bit more sense of them for our Public Goods programme so I’m working with Mandy to create a Compendium of Public Goods – a series of short animations inspired by many of the conversations and interviews we have had with people about their lives and communities. We are starting with a look back over conversations I had with the March History Group in Lancaster about jumble sales, hand me downs and knitted swimming suits… remember knitted swimming suits anyone?
We recently had a chance to meet everybody in the Exploratory Laboratory 2 project on the Jurassic Coast when we all got together at the main briefing event down in Bridport. We caught up with our partners, Julie Penfold of pva MediaLab, Polly Gifford of Bridport Arts Centre, Graham Waffen of Hive Beach Cafe and Caroline of the National Trust, and got to meet our science collaborators, fellow artists and hosting organisations.
The Exlab commissioned artists got together with the Exlab earth scientists, human geographers, production teams and hosts to have a round-robin set of presentations which all got us clued up about themes, the teams and how they were linking with individual commissions. It was exciting to make new connections outside and across our disciplines and see very different points of view and approaches in our various practices.
On the second day of our trip we kicked off our local research for our own Storyweir exploring the relationship between people and the geology.
We got a better grasp the lay of the physical geology and land around the Hive Beach cafe area at Burton Bradstock, explored stretches of the landscape and the beach between Burton Bradstock and Bridport and started with a ‘deep dive’ into the local archives discovering many nuggets of local history and relations to this site that is rich in both the geological history of the mid Jurassic (with rich deposits of fossils in parts of the cliffs) and the social history, myths, folklore, industry (rope and net making), farming and mackerel fishing.
This year we will begin a major new programme of projects exploring the intangible things we value most about the people, places and communities we live in : Public Goods. Through a series of projects over a 5 year period we’ll be making artworks, films, events, exhibitions and publications in places across the nation (and hopefully abroad too) working in collaboration with both other creative practitioners and local people.
In this first year we’re planning a series of smaller research projects to help us meet and engage with collaborators, identify places and communities, themes and activities. We’ll be using our City As Material format for collaborative urban exploration and zine-making as a method of investigating new places with local people, and also focused projects, like Alice’s As It Comes, in both urban and rural settings exploring other knowledges and experiences that are often overlooked or are being swept away by the fast pace of social change. We also plan to continue our research collaborations into new technologies for public authoring, play and sensing the world around us (such as Urban Tapestries, bookleteer and Sensory Threads).
Our aim is to build up an archive, or archives, of the intangible goods that people most value and want to share – transmitting hope and belief through artistic practice to others in the present and for the future. In the teeth of a radical onslaught against the tangible public assets we are familiar with (libraries, forests, education etc), Public Goods seeks to celebrate and champion a re-valuation of those public assets which don’t readily fit within the budget lines of an accountant’s spreadsheet.
We’d love to hear from communities, practitioners or organisations who’d like us to work with them around this theme – do get in touch.
At the end of March I headed up to draw Coventry indoor Market to spend a few days on the next leg of the artistsandmakers.com Empty Shops Network Tour created by artist Dan Thompson (and involving Jan Williams (Caravan Gallery), Steve Bomford Natasha Middleton and podcaster Richard Vobes.) I’ve been commissioned to draw some of the spaces (and their occupants) the tour is visiting and Coventry Market follows from my drawings in Granville Arcade in Brixton.
An ancient city, Coventry’s medieval buildings were almost all destroyed during the second world war blitz that devastated the city. Its rich history is crossed by stories of King Canute and Lady Godiva. Today Coventry now has a maze of traffic free precincts and modern buildings built in the postwar period and it is far from what the medieval city must have been.
These precincts are watched over by many surveillance cameras and again on this project I to the issue of private and public space that has come up so often for Proboscis in the last 2 years as we find ourselves prevented from taking photos in shopping malls and public squares. PD Smith writes about this issue in an interesting blog post about Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21st-century City, Anna Mintons Book looking at control, fear and the city.
Coventry’s indoor market is a circular space in which you can get lost, dizzy and a bit confused about which door you came in but in the process find everything from a cup of tea to 5 kinds of sweet potato, dog biscuits, birthday cards, fake flowers, fresh rolls, loose cake mix, baking tins and graph paper. Its got a real sense or people mingling from different communities and backgrounds and ages using it to meet, chat and hang out, not just shop. They once celebrated it in a musical.
In many of our recent projects people tell us its less regulated more informal spaces that draw their communities together, Watford Market, Coventry Market, Brixton Market…But these more informal spaces are on the decline it seems and everywhere we see what Paul Kingsnorth wrote in In “Cities for Sale” : From parks to pedestrian streets, squares to market places, public spaces are being bought up and closed down, often with little consultation or publicity. In towns and cities all over England, what was once public is now private. It is effectively owned by corporations, which set the standards of behaviour. These standards are the standards that are most congenial to their aim – getting you to buy things. … There will be no busking, and often there will be no sitting either, except in designated areas. You will eat and drink where you are told to. You will not skateboard or cycle or behave “inappropriately”.
The Empty Shops Network is aiming to celebrate the kind of local distinctiveness that gets lost in these developments and it is working with communities to use empty shops for projects in the spaces and times inbetween other uses. The Network’s projects involve public meetings, informal training for local artists, and showcase the tools needed to run empty shops projects. See artistandmakers.com for details.
You can see more images from Coventry here.
There are no fences here … when you go out of town there are no fences, but I wouldn’t call this a wilderness because peoples homes are here, people live here.
This week I’ve been packing up a set of drawings to send out to the Canadian arctic town of Inuvik for the first leg of a touring show during the the 25 year anniversary of Ivvavik National Park in Canada which was created by a historic Aboriginal land claim settlement The Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed in 1984. In it the Inuvialuit agreed to give up exclusive use of their ancestral lands in exchange for guaranteed rights from the Government of Canada. The rights came in three forms: land, wildlife management and money. (read more on the Inuvaliuit Regional Corporation). As a result Parks Canada and the Inuvialuit co-operatively manage Ivvavik National Park with the Inuvaluit Wisdom that the “The land will protect the people who support the protect the land“. Parks Canada has organised a touring exhibition of work from their Artist in The Park programme which I was invited to be part of by artist Joyce Majiski, in 2003 with whom Ive been working with since them on projects such as Topographies and Tales.
Middle of Nowhere?
Bordered on the north by the Beaufort Sea and Alaska on the West, Ivvavik sits at the north western tip of Canada. A highly biodiverse region of the Western Arctic, its Inuvaluktun name ‘Ivvavik’ means nursery or place of giving birth. It is a portion of the calving grounds and migration route of the Porcupine caribou herd and forms a part of the Beringia Refugium; an area untouched by the last glaciation where an ice-free bridge allowed humans and animals to migrate from Asia into North America over twenty thousand years ago.
In summer 2003 I met up with artists Joyce Majiski Ron Felix, Audrea Wulf and James Ruben, guide Mervyn Joe and elder Sarah Dillon and flew out of Inuvik, across the Mackenzie Delta towards Sheep Creek. From the air (and in the imaginations of the temperate zone) the arctic taiga and tundra, is a frozen desert. But landing at the junction of Sheep Creek and the Firth River we saw tussocks of wild flowers, embroidered cushions with succulent jewel like plants, luminescent mosses and ferns; miniature gardens of Babylon. Out on the land there were larger traces of life and stories of trappers, miners, hunters and travelers. The language of the north I grew up with paints an image of bleakness, but there the myths of desolation fell away.
“Have good time miles from nowhere!” someone had said before I set off. In the world’s ‘wildernesses’ like Ivvavik it is easy for a visitor to be lost in such a reverie of wonder at landscape that you miss the lives and culture that are part of it. There is a disjuncture between the notion of wilderness as barren, by definition disconnected from the social, and the view of land as homeland, a social place of culture, food and everyday life. To many outside the north the Arctic is still shrouded in an aura of romanticism portrayed, as it has been through the history of polar exploration, as a landscape of sublime desolation. To some, I expect, it’s not a place but an imaginary landscape far away from their everyday lives. I wonder what is the global consequence of this enduring vision of the land?
One day we see five caribou. Pregnant cows lead the herd from Ivvavik into the calving grounds in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); an area rich in oil reserves. So important are the grounds the Gwitchin people refer to them as the “sacred place where life begins”. If the ANWR is opened for drilling many people believe it will result in untold damage to the herd and the people whose lives and traditions depend on it.
Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to spend a few days drawing Granville Arcade/Brixton Village, on the first leg of artistsandmakers.com Empty Shops Network Tour to six towns across England, created by artist Dan Thompson.
I joined Dan, Jan Williams (Caravan Gallery), Steve Bomford and podcaster Richard Vobes, for lively discussion and to create new work on site for an all day event on the Saturday, you can hear Richard Vobes podcasts of about the project here.
Its been a while since I had the chance to stay in one place for a few days drawing, talking to stallholders and getting to scratch a little below the surface, seeing the flows of life. This year we’ve (Proboscis) been involved in several projects that have looked at the issue of common space and how its changing alongside the implications of huge shopping malls, department stores and the privatisation of public space. It was a real pleasure to be in a place where the character of it is created by the people using it to trade and to socialise. There was an almost constant sound of conversation, laughter and music and the smells of all the food being cooked or sold.
Exploring empty shops is about celebrating local distinctiveness and the project will also show local communities how to use empty shops for meanwhile projects. Each project will last less than a week from start to finish and Dan makes a very open space for artists to follow their interests. Each week will involve public meetings, informal training for local artists, and showcase the tools needed to run empty shops projects.
The tour has been organised by the Empty Shops Network, with the first event happening just a week after the project was conceived at a meeting of organisations involved in bringing empty shops and spaces into meanwhile use.
The tour is supported by the Meanwhile Project, and the Brixton event is using a space provided by the Space Makers Agency. After Brixton, the Empty Shops Network project will visit five further towns, with dates in Shoreham by Sea, Coventry, Cumbria and Durham to be confirmed in coming weeks. See artistandmakers.com for details.
You can see more images from the Brixton week here.
Jan, Dan and Steve.
Steve and Terry – the butcher – in front of the pictures Steve and Jan took during the week.
Proboscis have been commissioned by Green Heart Partnership with Hertfordshire County Council to explore peoples ideas about community and create an artists book/publication. With Our Ears to the Ground will focus on four very different types of community in order to get a broad range of opinions across the county: in Watford, Stevenage, rural North Hertfordshire and the commuter areas of Broxbourne. It focuses on finding out the reasons why people get on with each other and feel part of the community and is about developing a better understanding of our communities in order to help Hertfordshire County Council and its partners to plan their work supporting communities over the next few years.
So far we’ve met and worked with local residents to explore what the word ‘community’ means to them, discuss personal experiences and perceptions and discover how best to overcome problems within the community. We have also been travelling in and observing the geography and human activity of the areas, visiting various public spaces and markets, malls, car parks, and countryside. Some of the things we have noticed so far include:
- The impact of transport routes, industrial estates and other architecture- transport defines the community boundaries and defines how people have to travel to get in and out of a community.
- The cultures of sharing in different communities, sharing of resources, goods, ideas, spaces, time.
- The cultures of listening and being able to talk that are so important in helping people feel they belong.
- The impact of working lives and commuting that fragment traditional communities.
- Unsurprisingly friendliness has emerged as a key contributing factor in a strong sense of community
- Questions have emerged about the definition of working class. Working class is no longer as defined as it used to be what does working class mean now?
As part of our commission, Being in Common, for the Art of Common Space project at Gunpowder Park we created a pack of cards containing our catalogue of ideas. The catalogue is a playful exploration of ‘common space’ drawing together fragments and ideas from across the project, to be played with, read individually or assembled into narratives and stories making unexpected connections and perspectives.
The Catalogue is inspired by the collective nature of playing cards. It includes writing, photographs, imagery and ephemera created and collected during the project, and includes material from the Exploration Packs that Proboscis sent to people around the world to investigate their perspectives on ‘common space’.
The Catalogue of Ideas is one of several works made for Being in Common. Proboscis also created three site specific works in the Park using optics, mirrors and viewmasters, to reveal different perspectives of the site.
At The Waters Edge: Grand River Sketches
As part of Proboscis ongoing creative research partnership with Waterloo, Canada based RENDER, Alice was commissioned to develop a new work specifically for the atrium of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Cambridge. Combining new media and traditional methods, the project reflects the Proboscis strategy of engaging the social, cultural and natural histories of specific sites and territories. Alice brought interest in rivers as life-lines, connectors and definers of place that has grown out of her long term work on Topographies and Tales.
For this project she, and RENDER Director and artist Andrew Hunter, explored the Grand River from its mouth at Port Maitland on Lake Erie to Elora. By bicycle, car, foot and kayak, they wandered through and around the numerous cities, towns, villages, communities, farm fields and industrial sites the river penetrates, defines and skirts, making focussed stops along the way at Chiefswood National Historic Site, Paris, Galt and Kitchener. Alice’s inquiries have also taken her to libraries, museums and archives and into conversations with numerous individuals whose lives have been touched by the river. The resulting work is a personal and poetic reflection on a significant body of water whose role as a critical thread through the region is often forgotten or obscured by more recent grids of development, pathways of transportation and community boundaries. As with her other work At The Waters Edge: Grand River Sketches maps a dialogue between the artist and place emphasizing a process of inquiry.
At the heart of RENDER’s ongoing collaboration with Proboscis is creative research grounded in local history and the built environment. Past collaborative projects have included Anarchaeology and The Accidental Menagerie. At the Water’s Edge will be further developed into a publication and Proboscis will play a central role in RENDER’s upcoming GROUNDWORK community garden project at rare.
Proboscis and RENDER would like to thank Robert McNair (UW School of Architecture), Paula Whitlowe (Chiefswood National Historic Site) and Joyce Majiski and Tuktu Studio in Whitehorse (where Alice spent a week working on At The Water’s Edge) for their support of, and contributions to, this project.
Photographs by Robert McNair 2008
Being in Common invited people to expand and alter their understanding of ‘common space’ and built on Proboscis’ continued engagement in the social, cultural and natural histories of sites and territories. It explored notions of kinship and belonging as well as those of property and ownership so connected to the meaning of ‘common’ in the English language and in Anglo cultures.
Inspired by the physical boundaries of the site and the close connection between the histories of enclosure, surveying and gunpowder that coincide in Gunpowder Park, Proboscis created three works which were sited in specific locations within the park. Through the use of optics, mirrors and viewmasters, visitors were invited to experience a different perception of their environment.
As part of Proboscis’ process of artistic research, Exploration Packs were sent to a number of people around the world who responded by creating their own perspective of what ‘common space’ means. These will be exhibited at the Field Station.
Accompanying these works is a Catalogue of Ideas, a pack of playing cards which playfully draws together, in 13 themes, imagery, writing, material from the Exploration Packs and ephemera collected during the commission. The themes, which range from water to human rights, environment to conflict and physical spaces to media, meditate on common space and the commons. Explore the cards via the Flash Viewer.
Art of Common Space Event – 21/22 March 2009 (Spring Equinox Weekend)
Gunpowder Park, Sewardstone Road, Waltham Abbey, Essex EN9 3GP
Team: Alice Angus, Niharika Hariharan, Giles Lane, Karen Martin & Orlagh Woods.
Exploration Pack contributors: Tony Amaechi, Max Dixon, Gill Croft, Saffron Douglas, Myria Georgiou, Andrew Hunter, Rita J King, Joyce Majiski, Adriana Marques, Emilio García Millán, Louisa Rolandsdotter, Anupama Sekhri, Premlata Sharma, Tak Tran, Janet Vertesi, Kasama Yamtree, Nithaar Zain.
Topographies & Tales is about the relationship between people, language, identity and place, revealing personal stories against the larger picture of how our concept of space and environment is shaped by “belonging” and “nationhood”, and how boundaries, barriers and borders come to be formed.
It has included short films, essays, nine Diffusion eBooks, a Creative Lab in London and events in Dawson City, Canada and is underpinning a new body of work exploring peoples relationship to water called At The Waters Edge.
Topographies and Tales is based around a body of work that Alice Angus has been creating in collaboration with Joyce Majiski exploring the perceptions of landscape and of the North. It is driven by interests in ideas of proximity and remoteness, technology and presence, and the concept of ‘wilderness’ against the lived experience of a place. The works are a personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments. They are underpinned by an exploration of how the technologies of travel and communication impact on a sense of time, from the coming of the railroad to the ‘new’ world of data and communications: our perceptions of geography are affected not just by knowledge, but by the way it is mediated. Beginning in the winter of 2001 Alice took the railroad across Canada, from east to west, against the historic flow, creating the film, Near Real Time. Then, in 2003, Alice participated in the first Parks Canada residency in Ivvavik National Park in the Northern Yukon. She began a collaboration there with guide Joyce Majiski which took them to Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms, Scotland in 2004 and Klondike Institute for Art and Culture in Dawson City, Canada in 2005 for their short film Topographies and Tales 2009.
Topographies and Tales 2009 (12.52 min)
Topographies and Tales, 2009 (excerpts 5.30min)
Using music, oral recordings, drawing, animation and storytelling to playfully unearth local and personal stories, memories and myths against a picture of how concepts of space and environment are shaped by ideas of belonging and home. A personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments combining animation and live documentary footage, Topographies and Tales takes a meandering journey through the myths and perceptions the filmmakers encountered on their journeys in the west of Scotland and the Yukon.
Near Real Time By Alice Angus, following the railroad East to West across Canada
Landscapes in Dialogue by Alice Angus, thoughts inspired by the Artists in the Park residency, Ivvavik National Park, Yukon
At The Waters Edge with Joyce Majiski and Alice Angus
The first in a new a series of eBooks growing out of Topographies and Tales. At The Waters Edge are water based investigations exploring different perspectives of what it means to care for the environment and how it can affect the way in which water environments are managed and cared for.
Team: Alice Angus, Giles Lane, Orlagh Woods (2004-09).