Muddy running shoes, algal stains on clothing and a stiff back from sitting by a river overnight are the unusual reminders of a conference. The ethos and spirit of art.earth, Dartington Hall and Schumacher College pervaded proceedings of In Other Tongues. Billing itself as “a creative summit” was the signal that it would not just be a talking shop but would see participants embodying the activities of the two and a half days in Devon.
Amidst an atmosphere of support and respect a range of activities were available from traditional conference papers to workshops considering the possibility of “exploding human language” by communicating with (in multiple senses) trees, and from an immersive (literally) River-based workshop to collective writing workshops, along with a broad and varied programme of performances and film screenings. All carried out in the buildings, gardens and wider estate of Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon.
On day two I led a session called “running a #DartingtonLangscape,” in which I invited delegates to join me on a 6km run around the Dartington estate and afterwards for a participatory performance presentation. Five people took up my offer of a run although I was left with only three for the second part of the session! No participants were harmed in the making of this work it must be pointed out.
During the run I asked participants to be aware of their surroundings and how their bodies were responding to the exertion. I collected words of response from participants and combined them with my own observations from running the same route the previous day. For the second part of the presentation I presented fragments from a paper whilst I ran up and down a small hill before the participants (inserting myself in the picturesque frame provided by the view). This presentation culminated in a participatory performance in which participants were invited to use one of their group words or phrases from the run and to repeat it how they liked whilst I continued to run up and down the hill reciting my own walk observations. The combination of running, repetition and environmental factors began to break the language apart…undermining meaning to give a language sound analogous to the experience of running…heightened awareness rough-cut with blurrings and mis-hearings.
Having only led group walks previously it was interesting to note how the exertion of running exaggerated the dynamic of a led-group. Although only six of us in total our little group flexed, stretched and extended through the landscape yet somehow remained a whole of sorts, signals were transmitted along the group and points were selected for re-grouping and conversation. Individually and collectively the attention required from running knitted us to the landscape through extended moments. The assemblage of the group retained a cohesion despite varying levels of running ability/experience and will also persist in some small way beyond the parting of the individuals after the conference as will the echo of the hills and hedges in the muscles and on the skin of participants. [Thank you to those who agreed to be part of this session].
Through the night following the run I and a few others joined Tony Whitehead on an “Overnight Sit” on the banks of the River Dart. This extended period of sitting (in silence) opened up for me a new reading of exertion and provided a valuable opportunity to explore the differences between this apparently stationary form of exertion and the mobile form experienced in running and walking. The hoped for sonic drama of the dawn chorus was somewhat muted by the slightly damp weather from 4am but the light show provided by the moon and clouds on the woodland trees which rose up from the opposite bank of the River more than made up for this, especially experienced as it was in that condition somewhere between being awake and asleep. Others spent an equally sleepless night but in much different environments as they avidly watched the events of the General Election unfold via their TVs, phones and computers. The riverbank of the Dart may have appeared detached but…
Hopefully some work will unfold from recordings I made during the run and the sit.
Thank you to the art.earth team for another stimulating yet refreshing few days in Devon.