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Wash Lanes

But today (as with so many other days) Wash Lane remains unvisited by the I of these words. A morning run led close by but little thought was paid to the Lane. Until now (a now that will stretch elastically across days to find pockets of writing opportunity). A form of attending arises and the ‘desktop’ becomes the locus of activity; something of Wash Lane becomes apparent a kilometre northwards of its gravelly course. The unremarkable Wash Lane has (unwittingly) left traces other than (or rather, in addition to) the slowly altering stuttering series of gently rising curves.

Of course, the cartographers have been (t)here. Certain aspects of the Lane are given a form of permanence through theodolite, measure, pen and paper—an endeavour not without sweat and physical exertion for the ‘plotters’—and more latterly, the assistance of satellites, seemingly so remote from the gravel and oaks, projects the Lane’s course into digital space.

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Initially the cartographic renderings are easy to keep count of: two 25-inch and three 6-inch maps courtesy of the Ordnance Survey through the late-1800s and into the mid-twentieth century. Two 1-inch maps from 1899—on one version, the cartographer’s hachures exaggerate the prominence of the fold of land that Wash Lane sits within. The outline edition quietly accepts the Lane’s line. The 1940s bring colour, although none to Wash Lane. The dotted line of the parish boundary running along Dove Lane is familiar to most of these chart-views. Over time the renderings multiply and updates and alterations begin to occur at ever shorter intervals augmented by the aerial photography of the last sixty years (a process which itself has increased in frequency).

Prior to the modern mapping came the Tithe map of the 1840s. Wash Lane runs unlabelled here but is clearly found as the lines of lanes and roads has changed little in the intervening years. What has changed are the enclosures that accompany the Lane. Today’s one field to the west of the Lane was five enclosures (Nos. 66 to 70) two of which had their eastern limit set by Wash Lane at the time of the Tithe. On the east side five enclosures had their western boundaries defined by the Lane (Nos. 59 and 62 to 65). Wash Lane itself is numbered ‘204’ and its then ownership will one day reveal itself to a writing I. This ownership is a trivial point perhaps but all part of the Lane’s story; a story that is impossible to give any value to especially on the part of the Lane itself. If the Lane can be described as a self.

The manner of writing (above) has given the Lane an agency that it does not possess in a traditional way; its identity is born from a usage reinforced by a subsequent naming. The Lane must be seen elsewise, perhaps as a multiplicity that has the (mis)fortune to have risen to enough prominence to be awarded a nominal presence. And yet, in its usage it collaborates with users and inhabitants as the geology, morphology and ecology impact how the Lane is encountered and followed; whilst, reciprocally, the Lane is altered through use. It could also be suggested that it grows recursively as the fractal narratives multiply, interweave and die back.

It can easily be imagined that Wash Lane, its course, was born from necessity—a need to move from what is today the metalled road down to Dove Lane (or vice versa). Maybe the strip enclosures to the north of Dove Lane needed better access from the direction of the hamlet or the farm. The Tithe map sets a latest possible date for the Lane but there maybe exists an estate map or manuscript that more clearly sets out the line, purpose and ownership of this brief course.

This further introductory writing arguably does not go anywhere, much like the Lane ‘itself’ but, like the cartographer and the surveyor, the writing I is laying out marks to triangulate from to get to know the meaningless meaning of the Lane. And to remember a care with/of/for words that may have been recently lost.

 

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.

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