This contextual project, much like my practice is about searching. My research,presented as a ‘map’, is an exploration of what fuels my artistic practice, not an analysis of the final outcome or an object but what drives and inspires me to create.
My work is based around my love of being in and moving through the landscape and the easiest most instinctive way to do this is to walk. At one time I would walk to a place and create a stone circle or arrange a collection of leaves in an appropriate pattern, but over time it was becoming apparent that it is the actual process of walking and where the journey takes me on a spiritual level that is important to me. I may take photographs and write poetic or factual notes at relevant moments of the walk and often measure it by how many steps I have taken. I do feel there needs to be some evidence of my experience so that it can be shared and expressed, I therefore ‘map’ my emotional and physical responses to the journeys I take to use as a record. These shared moments are my inner, heartfelt, ‘of the moment’ responses to being-in-the-world. These walks have to be in the ‘wilderness’ of the cliffs, woods and moorland, not the grey, built up suffocation of urban territories where there isn't the space to think without there being someone else’s ideas influencing your perception of the world. There are walls blocking the horizon, concrete covering the earth and the constant reminder of the view that the world is a bad place and to make it better you should consume. The space and freedom to roam gives me the opportunity to think and just ‘be’, allowing a reconnection with an inner-self and also that big, cosmic something that we are interlinked to. This is the something that flows through everything, the life and essence of who and what we are.
By becoming consciously aware of the essence of our being and the illusion of separation from the ‘whole’ comes a deeper understanding of our truth and what we want from life. Meaning and purpose to life becomes more apparent. I believe this brings a joy and knowing back into our existence and this need to search for the knowing resides within us all.
Through the research for my practice which has been over a period of a year and a half, I am realising that my work is about my search for a way of life that suits me, a way of ‘being’ that feels right to me. I want to live my truth. Walking, taking these journeys are my way of finding a freedom that allows me to be me, without the pressures and expectations of society and its rules of how we should and shouldn’t live. I feel that I am waking up and choosing life.
What bubbles inside me is the need to want to ‘be’ not just for my own happiness and fulfilment but also for the benefit of the ‘whole’. The world is in a place of self-destruction. We are losing the will to live, becoming apathetic with numb hearts and minds. Our culture is driven by production and consumerism that is destroying our world around us, ecologically and spiritually. We numb ourselves to the pain and fear so lose the ability to trust in our own feelings and natural instincts. We have lost our way and our meaning. We cling to old ideas and notions of competitive individualism that create that void of separation and a disconnection with the living body of the Earth that gives us everything we need to live, from the plants that heal and nourish to those that create shelter. If we could become aware of our truth and our place in the ‘whole’, an unsustainable life of consumption will give way to an empathetic, interconnected life of sustainability, which is the inner desire of us all whether we realise it or not. “....to an almost total eclipse of the ‘life-world’ in a modern era is a nearly complete forgetting of this living dimension in which all our endeavours are rooted.” (Abram, 1997, p.41)
Throughout history our culture has viewed pain and the expression of fear as dysfunctional. Religion and in more modern times the ‘new religion’, the mass media, inform society that suffering is good and should be done in silence. Showing fear and despair is a sign of weakness and we should socially ‘put on a brave face’ and to not do so would be a sign of failure. Ultimately the pain does not go away and eventually becomes worse. “The truth that many people never understand until it is too late is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer.” (Brown and Macy, 1998, p.34) I believe this bottling up of feelings leads to a lack of self-worth and self-destructive behaviours.
“Our society has turned increasingly through the century to a desperate pursuit of pleasure and short-term gratification.....in the consumption of goods, sex, entertainment, alcohol and drugs and an obsessive pursuit of money as an end in itself.....we doubt the possibility of happiness and the continuance of life. Feelings of despair over the world and our future may be pushed below conscious awareness, but they surface again in other guises. They may be expressed outwardly against society in acts of violence and vandalism and inwardly in self-destruction.” (Brown and Macy, 1998, p.35)
Our feelings are our natural instincts, our way of knowing what is best for ourselves and the world around us. Our feelings inform us of our truth and if we ignore them we disconnect ourselves from a knowing and from the whole of which we are part of, like a motherless child who does not have access to the spiritual and physical nurturing of the loving mother. Our instincts and emotions shape our perspective of the world we live in, they tell us who we are. “Sensations, emotions, intuitions, concepts, all condition each other, each a way of apprehending the relationships which weave our world.” (Brown and Macy, 1998, p.42) It is through this world that we experience who we are, so to have the freedom to express our emotions is allowing us to express our truth. From an inner truth comes creativity, a place of pure expression. When an artist’s work comes from this place you are viewing a true expression of who they are.
Because modern day society has become so contained and restricted, long walking is no longer a part of our lives. We are always in such a rush with so much to do, so therefore tend to drive everywhere. Walking is now a leisure pursuit that takes place at the weekend when there is time, if there is time. There are cultures where long walking is a natural part of their life and often an initiation into adulthood. An example being the “Australian Aboriginal behaviour known as ‘Walkabout’, usually understood in terms of some internal urge that results in Aboriginal people leaving a locality without notice to travel for travel’s sake.” (Bell and Taylor, 2004, p.223) These walks could last for years as the individual retraces his ancestor’s footsteps. These are spiritual journey’s that are done instinctively, a deep seated custom that runs through the blood. As someone that grew up in the sticks and then didn’t learn how to drive until they were thirty-six years old, walking was a necessity from a young age and so it became natural to walk everywhere. Eventually I discovered it was essential to my physical and spiritual wellbeing, so intrinsic to my creativity and art work, as states walking artist Hamish Fulton “No walk, no work” (Davis, 2007). It is a way of being, a way of life. The walking I do is not an amble or a derive but is strong and has focus. “....the walking of what I speak has nothing akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours.....but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.” (Thoreau, 2007, p.11) I believe it is the restraints, pressures and shallowness of society’s ideals that impel people to follow their instincts, to ‘take to the road’ on a journey of self discovery, the challenge and rawness of the wilderness often appealing to their need for isolation and liberation.
My practice is the documentation of my journey to find and the result of feeling the connection with the ‘cosmic whole’, the essence of life, God and therefore myself. My vehicle to this place is my body and its physical relationship with the landscape. Through my body I experience and shape my reality. “Since the person is a being-in-the-world, the coming-into-being of the person is part and parcel of the process of coming-into-being of the world as a whole.” (Wylie, 2007, p.160) I use walking as a meditation. Through experience I have realised that by challenging the body I can reach a place of euphoria and transcendence that takes me to my spiritual center. It is here that I feel at one with myself and the world around me. It is through this physical engagement with my inner self and the environment that I find a freedom to be myself, the realisation of my own potential and a reality that is real for me. These journeys into the ‘wilderness’ are pilgrimages. “To the deserts go prophets and hermits, through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.” (Krakauer, 2011, p.25)