Richard Skelton & Autumn Richardson are two of the artists we have collaborated with for our 'Of The Land' installations. Their work, taken from their most recent piece 'Memorious Earth' will be on display from 14 October - 4 November at our Westbourne Grove shop, London. Here Louisa Thomsen Brits introduces their work, ahead of her talk at the Westbourne Grove shop, taking place next Thursday 6-8pm.
So many people are clamouring for attention that quiet voices are hard to hear. The notes of subtle lives and the undersong of the land itself are easily submerged. But if we stop to pay close attention, things speak to us; share their history and their ancestral music.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins gave us the word ‘inscape’ to describe those aspects of an entity that make it distinctive and irreplaceable – ‘the outward reflection of the inner nature of a thing’, its essence, its ‘oneness’. He invented the word ‘instress’ to communicate the energy by which all things are sustained and held in being.
Hopkins coined and reminted words to express his searching vision and love for the natural world. Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson reclaim words and search for lost and forgotten lexicons and place names to explore theirs. Like Hopkins, they diligently and tenderly observe natural phenomena and have an intuitive understanding of the presence that is the innate gift of all things. They are poets, artists and listeners, word hoarders and musicians. Their work is informed by landscape, loss, memory, topographical investigation, archaeology, geology, animism, ecology and language. It explores relations between selfness, nature and ethics.
Hopkins recognized that his poems ‘err on the side of oddness’. The offbeat is often viewed as peculiar and inaccessible. The work of Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson is unusual but important, beautiful, arresting and sibylline.
From an isolated fell-side cottage in south-west Cumbria where they lived for the past six years, they set out to walk, to quietly observe the local flora and fauna, to listen and record. Then, like magicians, evoke the spirit of the land, call forth the song of minutia and celebrate the disregarded and misunderstood.
The couple collaborate to create prose, poetry, art and music, (released through Corbel Stone Press), that trace the rhythm and flux of nature, describe the plurality of narratives in a particular place and capture a polyphony of voices – those still in existence and those that have been lost.
Like folkloric tales passed from one generation to the next, their work is deeply comforting but stippled with unease and shadowed by the darkness of greed, death, and loss. Their landscape is elemental and disquieting. They appear unafraid of the vast serenity and infinite mysteries that can’t be measured.
Memorious Earth is a recent collection of music, artifacts, artworks, photography, film and chronological texts that show a deepening of understanding and relationship with place over time. It’s a celebration of engagement with local landscape; an elegy that comes from openness and empathy with creatures, stones, rivers, hills and grasses. It interweaves information from archeological, ecological, historical and linguistic records to lead us to an appreciation of the earth as a storehouse of memory that has a hidden state we need to understand. It asks us to listen to the testimonies of the landscape.
Each subject is diligently and tenderly observed then organized into a variety of form on paper and film. The book contains tables that shift our perception of the relatedness of subjects through the ages and list poems that, by the simple act of naming things, acknowledge their existence and confer dignity upon them.
The historical names for alder, ash, beech, birch, elm, hazel, juniper, lime, oak, pine sallow, willow and wych-elm are printed as cross sections of each tree – a beautiful, radiating enumeration.
During the film, fog slowly slides over an almost barren landscape, words silently appear then recede and sound that seems to come from deep inside the earth surges and falls into almost silence.
The artifacts, a collection of delicate objects that might otherwise go unnoticed, (an unidentified feather, a curl of dried bracken, bark, papery seedpods, a bone, a frond of grass), have totemic qualities.
Every element interacts with the greater whole - like prayer beads, each object, image or poem is potent, a singular and lovely focal point, a conveyor of knowledge and narrative, its magic linked to the next. This rich and revealing oneness suggests a rekindled relationship between lost entities and the bright possibility of interconnectedness.
At the heart of Memorious Earth is a duel presence – the spark of existence and the spectre of absence. Richardson and Skelton offer hope and express quiet outrage at the degradation of the landscape. They describe the resulting tension in their work as, ‘a rift between the desire to invoke and celebrate what is here, and the duty to catalogue and mourn the passing of what has disappeared.’ Their poise, awareness and commitment ignite a response to salvage something from the passage of time and provoke us to appreciate the regenerative aspects of decay and to recognize that shadow and beauty coexist. They ask us to see the inherent worth in living beings regardless of their utility to human needs, to become sensitive to mortality and the immensity of the life that is our unifying matrix and to engage in a more intimate relationship with the natural world.
Words by Louisa Thomsen Brits
Imagery from Corbel Stone Press