17 Feb 2012

Tales of the Unexpected

These are a feature of any fieldwork, of any deep exploration of a territory - the real and the metaphorical 'turning over stones' and fossicking for hidden, yet vital, threads in the webs of meaning, along with the ecosystem-webs (or rhizomes). The landscape of the Confluence project is a 'watershed' or catchment. ('Watershed' was originally considered as the project title). It is a territory of relationships, not least of which are the human-nature involvements. Landscapes and inhabitants (human and non-human) have their individual rhythms and pace. Some of these are perhaps more obvious (day/night, tides, traffic flows…); others can be revealed through data-flows and monitoring. In a way, many of these rhythms form part of the 'hidden realms' which we've set out to explore in this project. We are examining patterns of bat activity, the ever changing clarity of the river-water and tidal 'muddiness' (turbidity). 
There is perhaps some scope here for rhythm-analysis, which is a term coined by Henri Lefebvre:

"The object of rhythmanalysis is to access the obscure property of the rhythm called ‘presence.’…Lefebvre describes presence as the “facts of both nature and culture, at the same time sensible, affective and moral rather than imaginary…The present consists of one’s sensory perceptions. Lefebvre frequently warns of “the trap of the present” wherein the present is always trying to pass itself off as presence…"  Wikipedia

For us, there are some correlations to be explored - e.g. the relationship between rainfall and sediment flow in the river; between land-management (crops, forestry) and sediment levels (pollution). And perhaps links between bat-activity and influence of light- and wind-patterns?

Another relationship here is the artist-site engagement. Over the course of the residency, our movements through this catchment add up to a type of psychogeography. In this spirit, there will be a dérive - of sorts - along the River Torridge. Jon Pigott and I plan to kayak a section of the river. The dérive (of Debord) involved certain 'rules' (algorithms):

"In a derive one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. The element of chance is less determinant than one might think: from the derive point of view cities have a psychogeographical relief, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes which strongly discourage entry or exit from certain zones"  Amy Elias, 2010 

In this, I am strongly reminded of Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'. This hugely influential film continues to produce creative ripples, for many people, on many different levels. In addition to the mood, pace/rhythm, soundscape and the visual aesthetic, there are other aspects of interest. For example, what it has to say about  'being in' a landscape (or 'zone') in an abnormal way. In the film, the pace of locomotion is slow, meandering, poetic, almost-random, almost-spontaneous. In relation to my own landscape-design based 'deep mapping' or 'geopoetic' work, I have recently being contemplating a term - 'slow tracks', which appeals because of the many possible connotations (walking, music recording, filming…), and its opposition to 'fast-tracking'. Following a 'slow track' is a way of negotiating a space, a landscape, with perhaps a Stalker-esque approach. This sits within the realm of psychogeography, but it veers away from the chance/randomness of Fluxus; it is more akin to the dérive.

"Debord defines derive as a "drifting", a person's transient passage through environments; it entailed "playful constructive behaviour…which completely distinguished it from the classical notions of the journey and the stroll"…yet significantly, this pleasure was created not through random meandering through city space but through movement dictated by simple algorithms - "Go left, Go Left, Go Right" - that curtailed randomness without prescribing exact or motivated direction. Following the algorithm in a derive…one would encounter the unexpected and be forced to view one's surroundings in a new way."  Amy Elias, 2010 

Debord was mainly interested in the urban/city setting. The 'slow track' - for me -veers towards the rural, coastal, post-industrial. I see it as a journey (or infinite possible journeys) through a mosaic-like landscape, each 'cell' of which has its unique palimpsest of meanings, connections and associations. The dérive idea has been likened to aspects of cyberspace journeying. Perhaps a stronger confluence with a much older tradition is that of the Australian aboriginal 'Songlines/ Dreamings', at least metaphorically. So - for us - the challenge is to carry out our downstream kayak-trip in the manner of a dérive! Perhaps our journey could be governed by a self-imposed 'rule' to halt/record solely at locations which were photographed by James Ravilious...or maybe those that appear in the older Beaford Image Bank?