‘We need drastically to heighten our sense of the first principle of ecology: that “everything is connected to everything else”.’ Robert Macfarlane 2005
‘…how can the planet’s most dangerous species come to its senses, find paths to eco-sanity, perform fresh connections to ‘re-enchant’ the Earth for Homo sapiens?… What kind of everyday magic might make [this] easier to grasp?’ Baz Kershaw 2012
‘A sense of dialogical connection between living things lies at the heart of [Seamus] Heaney’s sensuous intelligence. [In his Nobel lecture] he described how an aerial wire, attached to a chestnut tree outside the farm [where he grew up], brought the voices of the world into the remote farm. Once again, an inconspicuous object – a mere wire – is linked to something large and encompassing: the conversation of humanity.’ Peter Abbs 2014
Since October 2014, I have been living ‘off-grid’. Or trying to. It’s been a challenge and an experiment and I’ve only succeeded so far with the help and support of friends who do live on-grid and who have washing machines, hot showers and 24 hour electricity for those times in the dark winter months when my solar panel and battery can’t support 12 hour+ days of PhD-writing and art-making on my laptop.
It’s an interesting paradox then, this desire to disconnect (from the grid) and how, in other ways, it has facilitated all sorts of reconnections (to friends, community – in the process of asking for their help). And true to the back-to-nature cliche, it has of course cultivated in me a more finely-honed awareness of the natural resources – wood, water – that I use and need.
So it’s interesting too, that in this performance piece, I’m walking parallel to national grid pylons and electricity powerlines, expressly as a visual metaphor for (human) connection, power and agency.
When I first started re-thinking this piece as being more about human power than electrical power (besides, I later discovered, Australian walking artist David Watson has already done that more literal, climate-focused power walk], I found myself obsessively drawing and painting pylons and then juxtaposing or overlaying them with the strings of paper people we used to make as children. And then geekishly finding ways of cutting strings of paper pylon strings too.
Later still, when I started thinking of Dragon Orchard as a possible venue for the post-walk installation, and after all this repetitive crafting on my own, I wondered how it would be possible to craft something collectively with the local community, that conveyed something of the ‘connective’ nature of transmission (as I mention elsewhere, the title of this piece comes from the discovery that pylons are officially ‘transmission towers’) that could be displayed outdoors and that could still be resistant to the unpredictability of our summer weather. (So, something cumulative and connected, but not made of paper…)
Skip forward a few fortuitous meetings – most notably, discovering the craft group that meets at the Trumpet Tearooms nearby – and I found myself making 150 m of bunting from the off-cuts of my yurt liner, my friend Tamsin’s old sheets, my friend Rachel’s curtains, the floral 70s duvet cover of my grandmother’s during her final illness, the 90s duvet cover that saw me through university (the very first time round)…
Into these already-storied fabrics, we – me and the generous, supportive ladies of the craft group – began to sew messages of positivity, power, and affirmation. Our own words or, more often, the words of others that we find inspiring or helpful. The quotes or sayings we have inherited or passed on that give us strength or solace.
Sewing and walking, footsteps and stitches, seem to be natural bedfellows (for example, see the most beautiful work A Soft Armour of one of the walking artists I most admire Monique Besten). I don’t know why, but wonder if maybe it’s something of Paul Klee’s ‘taking a line [or a thread] for a walk’…
To be true to the ‘trans-missional’-processional-ritual quality of the walking performance itself (in which I will pass messages anonymously to and from each person I meet and gift a lightbulb to), the bunting messages have been passed between us; or the wool is deliberately trailed between triangles, forming woollen ‘wires’ that pass between words; or I’ve offered quotes or phrases as a prompt to a friend, who’s offered me another quote to embroider in response.
More recently, I’ve realised that we offer and share quotes and inspirational messages daily through Facebook – which I’ve often criticised for replacing meaningful face-to-face contact with fleeting electronic encounters or a medium for slacktivism (that I always framed my practice of tracktivism as a deliberate rebellion against). So maybe Trans-missions is a desire to embody social media, to walk it into the field (literally). Stealthily subverting those saccharine or uplifting messages we like, share then forget, to more sustainable effect, by using walking as a medium to share them: messages sewn into lines of fabric, that can only be revealed by walking along them.
A clumsy, connective, collective, crafty embrace and a reconciliation of slacktivism through tracktivism under the apple trees…