In Other Tongues

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.

leaves

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unravelling Bryn yr Ysbyty

Like Y Glonc, Bryn yr Ysbyty provides something of a toponymic puzzle in this upland part of Montgomeryshire. However, unlike Y Glonc, at least Bryn yr Ysbyty finds an easy translation in modern Welsh. Assuming there has been no corruption to the place name it translates to the English hill of the hospital.1 So, the puzzle in this case is where is the hospital? A previous post started to explore this question but leaves much left unsaid. What would farmer Richard Jenkins and his family have known of this hill (then bare of forestry) as they passed it on their way to church or market?2

Two and a half miles south-west of Bryn yr Ysbyty is the village of Carno, famed for its battles around the end of the first millenium and as a staging point on the Roman Road from Caersws to Pennal at the head of the Dovey estuary. In the twelfth century the religious houses began to expand their power and gain land throughout England and Wales as local chieftans shared their Crusade gains with the church. And so it was that small portions of land by the river in Carno were granted to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and the earthwork (Caer Noddfa) in the centre of the village has been associated with them (although it seems of Roman origin).

These Knights Hospitallers had their origins in the Crusades “for the protection and entertainment of pilgrims in and to the Holy Land” as Mrs. Davies puts it.3 Back in Britain this duty was extended to the protection of travellers more generally and this point on the road was seen as a suitable one in this rough landscape. The Mother House for the land at Carno was at Halston in the Marches and at the dissoultion of the Monastries in the 1530s the land passed initially to Alan Horde.

Where once battles were fought over land by the seventeenth century the fight had moved to the legal system. From a dispute between Sir Richard Price Knt. (Carno) and Sir Roger Owen Knt. (Arwystli) around the end of the 1600s disagreement would continue for the next two hundred years over the exact line of boundaries (a scenario played out across the kingdom). Much attention is paid to the runes of the antique toponyms especially as the distribution of tithes relies heavily on the accuracy of land production. Much of the tithe would go to the church but in Carno two townships seemed to retain an echo of a previous ownership: “In the townships of Derwlwyn and Trawscoed, the great Tithes belong to the Owners and Proprietors of the land”—Davies ascribes this comment from an 1812 Terrier to the fact that these are the former lands of the Hospitallers.4

However, the Hosptallers were not the only religious order granted land around Carno—to the north side of the village the Cistercians held land and Davies outlines the extent of this land up to Talerddig (including the farm of Cefn Brith which lies only three-quarters of a mile to the north west of Carneddau).5 Here Davies also exposes some of the sentiment that went in to the bequeathal of lands to the church as she quotes from the Charter of Gwenwynwyn:

I Wennunwen the son of Owen of Keveyllawc under the influence of piety for the salvation of my soul and of my father and mother and my ancestors and siccessors have given and granted and by this my present charter have conferred […] in free and quiet and pure eleemosinage and perpetual possession freely and quietly well and peaceably without any sort of reclamation and exaction and secular custom the whole land which is called Havot Oweyn […]

After the Dissolution this land found its way to the Purcell family, and remained more or less in that line until it was sold by Sir W. Williams-Wynn Bart. in the late 1800s. This is an side but hopefully illustrates the complexity and passion involved in these minor boundaries. Outside of the great manors and their paled Parks the upland ‘wastes’ around Carneddau would have been of lesser importance. But as land ownership became more precise and enclosing of land became the vogue the details assumed greater importance. Where today we may rely on a GPS plot of a boundary line previously lines were marked across the ‘wastes’ by reference to obscure topographical features or, where required, the setting up of boundary markers.

So why the hill of the hospital up here on the edge of the ‘wastes’? Despite Davies’ observations about the land of the Cistercians incorporating Cefn Brith it does seem that (according to the 1851 and 1861 censuses) the area of land around Carneddau (and one can assume the neighbouring hill) was tied to the Trowscoed township. Davies has assigned this township to the erstwhile land of the Hospitallers. She also notes that the place name Croesdy (1.25 miles NW of Carneddau) may reference a former boundary cross for the Hospitaller’s land as possibly did the long stone of Garreg-hir.6 So, maybe this hill was the hill of the Hospitallers (as they owned it) or maybe its prominence indicated a proximity to the hospital itself in the vally nearby especially if you were travelling from Manafon in the east (and so, away from the main valley road) and in need of a safe place to stay.


1. Although known for Anglicising ‘awkward’ non-English place-names the Ordnance Survey has remained relatively consistent with the labelling of this hill since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. See: “OS Map name 028/SW,” in Map of Montgomeryshire (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1885-1896), accessed March 4, 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/montgomeryshire/028/sw
2. Richard Jenkins and his family occupied Carneddau at the time of the 1881 census and so the first series of the Ordnance Survey.
3. Mrs Davies, “The History of the Parish of Carno,” Collections, historical & archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire, 33 (1904): 106-7.
4. ibid, 127 and 129.
5. ibid, 134-135.
6. ibid, 137-138.

“[I] decided to go up there myself”

Soaring Flight, the title of a 1960 painting by Peter Lanyon. Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, the title of a 2015/6 exhibition at The Courtauld Institute, London. As the exhibition’s title states, the exhibition focusses on Lanyon’s work inspired by gliding. Lanyon’s gliding is perhaps a twentieth century version of Turner’s apocryphal snowstorm-mast-tying incident for, according to the exhibition leaflet, Lanyon was “[f]uelled by a desire to experience the landscape as fully as possible.”

Links have been made between the work of Lanyon and that of Constable and Turner. Whilst (despite his skying) we can only see Constable as a son of the soil, albeit one beholden to the weather that scratches at that soil’s surface, Turner was always a disciple of light and air and one can easily imagine that he would happily have been swept up into some vortex had he had the chance. Lanyon had this chance by coincidence of his life being lived a century later. Lanyon’s pre-1950s painting are very earthy and rooted in and under the West Penwith geology, his authentic Cornish roots and knowledge of tin mining ensured he would never be a painter of only surfaces as he drilled down into the rock, epitomised best in St Just (1953). Lanyon’s landscapes are earthy and fleshy at once as human bond with land is explored in pigment.

But Lanyon resists the sort of landscape painting that requires a position fixed in time and space, he cycles the lanes of West Penwith to experience movement through this Bronze Age landscape. He crawls on his stomach to the cliff’s edge and throws his imagination down into the air and spume of the zawns. From seeing gliders soaring over his landscape in the mid-1950s it would only be a matter of time before he too would be up there in the landscape (“[I] decided to go up there myself”) into what he would term the “airscape”. Birds too had offered Lanyon this way in to another way as the 1955 canvas Bird Wind hints—the colours are earth-bound but is the painter or the viewer? Are we all a hundred feet above the land turning in some invisible thermal?

In the composition of his canvases Lanyon did not conform to traditional landscape diktats where the sky is at the top and land beneath. In 1951’s Trevalgan the ‘sky’ almost wraps around three sides of the land. This pushing of traditional boundaries is also witnessed in his constructions (three of which are included in the exhibition), these works are experienced in the round and hint at the direction Lanyon will take but also, perhaps, offer a nod of gratitude to Naum Gabo whose Constructions in Space with their soaring and sweeping forms must surely have left some mark on Lanyon’s creativity and artistic trajectory.

By the late 1950s the land has almost been left behind, certainly any remnant of landscape tradition has been, as Lanyon soared in his glider towards an Ingoldian weather-world where the air has becomes medium rather than subject.1 At first the land still anchors like a gliders aerotow and its cable—in Rosewall (1960) Lanyon observed that “the sky which in traditional landscape occupies the top half of the picture is in this painting all around and is the element from which the land is experienced.” Lanyon learned to glide in 1959 and was flying solo by 1960 a fact celebrated in his canvas Solo Flight (1960).

In his short gliding life Lanyon seemed to release himself more from the soil and celebrate as he explored that zone which is part of this world but at once not. The airscape was no longer for simply viewing the landscape from but experience in itself. Lanyon favoured a gendering of land and sea but perhaps the air freed him from this binaric thinking.  The vocabulary changes and he/we now soar, glide, drift and fly through air, on thermals and currents, making “aerial encounters” with “invisible forces” where Lanyon discovers that “air is very definitely a world of activity as complex and demanding as the sea”. The coagulated air of the canvases and constructions tells of Lanyon’s exploration of the invisible air, they are smudged and blurred as previous boundaries are transgressed.

However, Lanyon’s flight from the earth was no attempt at transcendence, the work stayed very much about human experience albeit one lived above the earth. The experience is somehow mediated (grounded?) by the surroundings of the glider’s cockpit and the associated terminology of gliding. There are new languages here for Lanyon and for art.

Peter Lanyon died on 31st August 1964 from injuries sustained in a gliding accident two days previously.

“Find me a thermal to speak and soar to you from”2


1. Tim Ingold, Being Alive (London: Routledge, 2011), 136-139.
2. W.S. Graham, “The Thermal Stair” in  New Collected Poems, ed. Matthew Francis (London: Faber and Faber, 2004), 163-166.

“Very, very frightening me.”

lightning1

“What do we mean by rendering objective the concept of time? Let us consider an example. A person A (‘I’) has the experience ‘it is lightning’. At the same time the person A also experiences such a behaviour of the person B as brings the behaviour of B into relation with his own experience ‘it is lightning’. Thus it comes about that A associates with B the experience ‘it is lightning’. For the person A the idea arises that the other person also participate in the experience ‘it is lightning’. ‘It is lightning’ is now no longer interpreted as an exclusively personal experience, but as an experience of other persons (or eventually only as a ‘potential experience’). In this way arises the interpretation that ‘it is lightning’, which originally entered into the consciousness as an ‘experience’, is now also interpreted as an (objective) ‘event’. It is just the sum total of all events that we mean when w speak of the ‘real external world’.”2

“Perhaps [transgression] is like a flash of lightning in the night which, from the beginning of time, gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies, which lights up the night from the inside, from top to bottom, yet owes to the dark the stark clarity of its manifestation, its harrowing and poised singularity.”3

“The difference ‘between’ two things is only empirical, and the corresponding determinations are only extrinsic. However, instead of something distinguished from something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself—and yet that from which it distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it. It is as if the ground rose to the surface, without ceasing to be ground. There is cruelty, even monstrosity, on both sides of this struggle against an elusive adversary, in which the distinguished opposes something which cannot distinguish itself from it but continues to espouse that which divorces it. Difference is this state in which determination takes the form of unilateral distinction. We must therefore say that difference is made, or makes itself, as in the expression ‘make the difference’.”4

“A philosopher: a man who constantly experiences, sees, hears, suspects, hopes, dreams extraordinary things; who is struck by his own thoughts as if from without, as if from above and below, as by his kind of events and thunder-claps; who is himself perhaps a storm and pregnant with new lightnings; a fateful man around whom snarling, quarreling, discord and uncanniness is always going on. A philosopher: alas, a creature which often runs away from itself, is often afraid of itself, – but which is too inquisitive not to keep ‘coming to itself’ again…”5


1. F.E.Newing and Richard Bowood, The Ladybird Book of The Weather (Loughborough: Wills & Hepworth Ltd., 1962), 40-41. Illustration by Robert Ayton.
2. Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the general theory (London, The Folio Society, 2009), 171.
3. Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (New York: Cornell University Press, 1980), 29-52.
4. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (London: Continuum, 2009), 36.
5. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. R.J.Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 1990), 217.

findings

CarneddauCairnFindsFig. 3: Selected finds from Carneddau Cairn. Flints from cist 1, food vessel from cist 4, collared urn from pre-cairn pit and archer’s wristguard from the hearth.1


1 Alex Gibson, The Excavation of a Structured Cairn at Carneddau, near Carno, Powys 1989 (Welshpool: The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, 1989), 4.


NOTE: The excavation report gives the location of this cairn as SN 999 992 which is approximately 700m to the south-east of the remains of Carneddau farmstead. I wonder if this grid reference is incorrect and the cairn is actually Carneddau Cairn I PRN6313 located at SN 9899 9979. The finds from this excavation are deposited with Powysland Museum and Montgomery Canal Centre, Welshpool.