St Abb's National Reserve

St Abb's National Reserve
View from my office

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

When one sets out to make a piece of work one has intention; this is merely the starting point after which anything can happen. I read this (with great relief) the other week and shall attribute the observation to the relevant artist when my memory serves me once more. These intentions can come about in different ways- the continued practice and production based on already-established themes, on gut feelings and first point being that often one's expectations are overturned in the process of dealing with practicalities, by discoveries made through deepening one's knowledge or encountering the totally unexpected.
I have been on St Abb's National Nature Reserve now many times. Each time I visit there are people. A great many visitors are there, I believe, for that magical connection with nature that brings a feeling of solitude (not loneliness). When one imagines privacy it is usually associated with a man-made, enclosed space, a locked door. Despite the footfall, St Abb's still has the ability to enclose a human in its extraordinary space. It is not, I feel, a matter of the location being hidden or secret, but that it is enormous in its capacity to hold experience: it is old beyond comprehension and continues its monumental processes, its formations and migration, its erosion and growths; Archaeology, Geology, Biology- subjects of enormous breadth are required to deal with the conception and continual thriving of St Abb's- and all this despite, or aside from the mostly, inconsequential human element with imposes itself upon the place.
I happened upon a family at Pettico Wick not long ago- more on that in another post- the small bay is only visible from high above and from the sea and feels remote enough to make the arrival of another human feel like an intrusion. My cheery 'Good morning' was enough to send the party packing; by the time I had made my little investigations around the rocks and back I was alone.
I had entertained a piece of work communicating the thoughts and feelings of visitors and workers.
How does one go about interacting with visitors who are clearly there to avoid this kind of contact? The reason they are there seems obvious, if outwardly anti-social (as society deems people who are more inclined to solitude)and so in the act of further engaging the public with the reserve am I at odds with one of the primary aspects which is special to St Abb's- that it is possible to at least have the sensation of being alone and the opportunity for a kind of communion?
There are, though, many visitors to and through the reserve every year and many who are happy to stop and chat, I am not trying to give an impression of habitual hermitage at St Abb's. I am interested in how people engage in the place and how much they (we) are aware of this level of engagement. 'It's a nice place', is a good,all round summing-up of what is communicated to me. People watch the birds,walk their dogs, walk with family- so is there value in communicating these ideas? This residency is not about attracting wholesale, rafts of visitors to a natural theme park. I'm not around to sell the place. It's about appreciation, I think, about wonder and about that magical engagement with nature which I feel is at one level enriching but on a deeper level fundamentally important. I'm not there to tell people how to interact with nature or to make judgements on their experiences, either.
I thought, also, that I would be making work across the reserve in a way that is sympathetic to the ideology of the Trust, to take nothing away and leave nothing there. This work, however, is not the final piece, as so to speak. I find the landscape is my sketchbook, so far, and that I use the act of moving fallen branches, of twisting foliage and assembling natural materials as a contemplative process which allows me to contemplate assembled information, to experience the place for myself and to intervene in the landscape, with my own creative ideas (without permanently altering) so being part of a process of call and response with the environment. I happily continue to make work on the Reserve but don't think that it, alone, does the job of encouraging a deeper appreciation of the uniqueness of St Abb's and its importance in the wider world. Like the initial idea I had about collecting the thoughts and feelings of the humans who migrate across the surface of this piece of land, the action is not a medium that will gain any unknown knowledge or insights; It signals proof that I have spent time there,it makes me-as-artist visible and perhaps signals an awareness of the Reserve to the wider world but for the moment it creates a reason to be there which will hopefully lead to a more satisfying outcome.

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