Three New Projects 2017

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It has been a while since the last post, so best to announce some news of three projects  which have been gestating over winter, and now forthcoming this year. After much discussion and persuasion (on my part) with artist Deborah Westmancoat, (Westmancoat.com) we have finally agreed on a collaborative project together. This project conjoins elements of Deborah’s “Ancient Scent” residency in Ireland, and my own “Placing the Mark, Marking the Place”, based upon my Placements series.

I created a text, “Small Rite at Gartan Lough”, which was split into fragments and pasted on nine small boards to which I attached found natural elements. This text will never be seen in its entirety, except by myself and Deborah, and so takes on elements of a private and very personal ritual for us both.. a transaction with the land, an oblation, an offering, to ancient places. Deborah kindly took these nine pieces to Ireland and placed them at significant ancient sites around the country. She in turn will collect natural elements from those locations, send them to me,  and I will make a textual response, and hopefully create work from it. There will be additional documentation, and accompanying images and texts, and we intend to make an edition (and possibly exhibit) together later this year.

Deborah’s work resonates with me, as she makes visual works using water chosen at specific times, or with specific qualities to  mix with paint or natural pigments. A kind of alchemical exchange, the transmutation of base materials into sublime works of visual and conceptual art.

Release Date: TBC

The second project  is relatively new, and is yet to be named. It will also feature a collaborative visual/conceptual element with visual artist Tracy Hill, (tracyhill.co.uk) whose conceptual works centred around mapping and landscape I find utterly fascinating.  I am currently working on text pieces inspired by the submerged landscape known as Doggerland, which spans the coastline of Norfolk, and northward towards Northumberland. This inundated landscape is a repository of archaeological riches, once the homeland of an ancient culture now frozen in time. What is now known as the English Channel was once a field of plains and woodland which then became flooded during the great thaw after the last Ice Age. This might have been the equivalent of an aquatic Pompeii, in which people, animals, plants were slowly subsumed by the encroaching ocean. This project also takes into account other deluged mythic landscapes off the coast of Britain. I wrote some time back about the lost land of Cantre’r Gwaelod – The Lowland Hundred, off the coast of Wales, and I remained intrigued by the lost island of Hy Brasil, reputedly sitting off the coast of Ireland. Could it be that these mythic lands were the vestiges of actual landscape that became submerged at the same time as Doggerland? There is physical evidence to suggest this might be true, yet the folk memory of these places still lingers in the oral tradition.

Release Date: TBC

The third project will be a small collection of text pieces and photographic images informed by the funerary landscape at Flag Fen, provisionally entitled, “A Spoken Ark”.

I visited last year, and this is another example of a landscape and human culture submerged, preserved, held in some form of stasis over the centuries..I was captivated by this site, its atmosphere, its ambiguous history, the compelling objects bequeathed to the waters by Bronze Age settlers in the area, each offering being broken or damaged in some way. I wrote about it on this blog, https://placefieldnotes.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/flag-fen-funerary-landscape/ and it inspired me to work on some texts dedicated to the Fen and its people.

Release Due Date: June 2017

Visit frequently for updates and edition release dates, and also Facebook: Place Editions

A companion essay to my work and research on Doggerland has been published online by Unofficial Britain here

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Afondhu

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Afondhu 

limited boxed edition with 13cm x 13cm card inserts, texts, photography, found objects

Published:  TBC

Afondhu, is a compression and corruption of the Welsh name for “river” – Afon  (in fact the River Avon literally translates as the River River), and the Old Celtic name Dhu – “black”, translated here as “Black River”

The inclusion of the word “black” as a toponymic prefix invokes images of the dark, mysterious, enigmatic landscape that succeeds it. Over many years I have visited and walked such places, the Black Mountains, Black Clough, Black Coombe, etc,  all at certain times and in specific conditions emanating a dark, mercurial imagery. Yet upon further investigation, it seems that the very meaning of the word black has an uncertain etymology.

In “The Old Straight Track”,  Alfred Watkins notes the abundance of “black” place names, and asserts that black is a word of “difficult history”.

“… It seems to come from the word blake or blac, which even in Anglo -Saxon days meant “shining, white, pale”,  and which root has given us “bleach” and “bleak”…” 

Watkins makes further reference to the slavic element , “blag”, meaning “blessed”, or “light-given”. It might then be inferred that these places had no association with the word black with reference to darkness, but were perhaps sites of special religious or spiritual interest.

Further into “The Old Straight Track”, and following on from his preliminary research in “Early British Trackways” , Watkins hints at possible links between black places and early coal-routes,  and then due to lack of circumstantial evidence, ties them to possible beacon sites, or forms of ley-sighting points, on which beacons were lit.

Two decades prior to Watkins the pioneer scholar of toponymy, W.H. Duignan, noted an ancient farm known as “Black Lees” roughly three miles south-west of Cannock. He stated that ‘Land covered with gorse and heath was locally called black land, as distinguished from cultivated land’ (this also occurs in Northumbria, ).  He goes on to describe ‘Blake Street’, which was ‘the name of an ancient road forming a portion of the boundary between the parishes of Shenstone and Sutton Coldfield, and the [then] counties of Stafford and Warwick.’

Duignan, like Watkins,  posits the notion that ‘blake’ and ‘black’ share the same etymological root.  The country around Blake Street was heath land until the mid-eighteenth century and was therefore ‘black land’. He notes that another ancient road, also called Blake Street, once a portion of the great London to Chester road, formerly went over Cannock Chase between Brownhills and Hednesford and formed a manorial boundary.

Discussions on the origins of the ‘black’ place-names relatively recently resurfaced in the pages of Current Archaeology. This started when Ruth Richardson published a letter, stating that she was researching field names in Herefordshire, that could be indicators of Roman sites. These tend to leave distinct discoloration of the soil; indeed, in France Roman sites are known as terres noires. Richardson suggested that Blackwardine and a blacklands field name in Lugwardine are both linked with known Roman settlements. Extensive enquiries revealed similar examples in Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire.

Some issues later, Carole Biggam asserts that the Old English blaec can mean either ‘black’ or ‘dark’ and cites the opinions of the author of the English Place-Name Society volume for Cheshire, J. McN. Dodgson, regarding the Willaston and Saighton Blake Streets. He interprets them as a ‘black, perhaps dirty, paved road’. Biggam also argues that blac, meaning ‘pale’, is rare in place-names and that any apparent associations with French blanc are coincidental.

These toponymic disputes have brought us no further progression from Watkins’ own uncertain attributions for black places. Perhaps he was wrong to link black sites with OE blac (pale, shining) but OE blaec (dark, black) is an equally valid description of a beacon site.

Excerpted from “Afondhu” limited boxed art edition, by B G Nichols, 2016

Enquiries: whitelineBN@aol.com

 

 

 

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River Placement

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An assemblage of seed heads, allium, thistles, grasses. Taken from the edgelands of Barnes Meadow in Northampton, to be re-situated after a storm at the source of the River Avon, near Naseby, Northamptonshire.

With this assemblage, I have added a kora incantation – “river courses into cloud, raw, elemental, a mighty arc, wild, ashen, fielding intangible narrow throat- sweeping, scouring.” from a new text piece entitled Hyperborea.

Following on from work recently published as Laments and Incantations, this assemblage of seed heads is the completion of a cycle..returning words to the landscape that begat them. Here they will decompose, and re-seed the land at the source of the river.

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The Ammil

The Ammil

Above – detail from The Ammil, text works in progress, entitled Site Composites, a study of landscape elements,  B G Nichols, Place Editions. Text sourced from A Perambulation of Dartmoor, by Samuel Rowe, 1848. Revised and reprinted 1896.

Ammil, from old English ammel, meaning “enamel”

Rowe commented on the singular appearance of a spectacular ammil event in January 1868 that covered the length and breadth of Dartmoor, and it was quickly announced by moor-folk that “the ammil was on”. The only known document of this event was written by Mr J N Bennet of Archeton-

“..the ammil continued for two days and two nights. The effect of the sun shining upon this coating of ice, every point on which the eye could rest, giving forth prismatic colours, dancing and sparkling in the breeze, was beautiful beyond all description. A holly tree, between Princetown and Tor Royal, full of leaves and berries, was an object of wonder and delight to all who saw it..”

Probably the most famous ammil was that of March 1947 which has become known as ‘The Great Ammil’ which is described in Harvey’s and St. Ledger Gordon’s book – Dartmoor, p.199:

For two months white Winter had allowed his artistry full scope, as displayed in fantastic snowdrifts and frozen waterways, but the climax came with light rain, falling with the thermometer well below freezing point. Every bush, tree, sprig of heather, bracken frond or reed, every rail or post, each inanimate object, was sheathed in ice as though in a glass case… The tors, usually stern and grey, now stood like mighty glaciers, towering above a tumbled sea of crystal. Under the cold bright sunshine, each wooded combe of the foothills was a shining wonderland where great trees stood, as if rough-carved in ice, and nothing seemed alive or real but the chill wind which rattled the branches and now and again brought an over-weighted bough crashing down to snow level with a roar like falling masonry.”

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LEAF ASCENDING, New text works 2015

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LEAF ASCENDING

The central vein

the swollen base

a secondary axis

the proximal portion

paired scales, spines, glands

a separate blade

embryonic shoot

united by filaments

adnation of stamens

anthers connected

a whorl of carpels

the cavities located

an additional structure

an umbel, a corymb

meeting along the margins

an inflorescence

Anemophilus – wind pollinated

accessory structures

describing the arrangement

Immersed, indehiscent

opening at maturity

growth ascending

falling away after its function is completed

bending downward

of two different forms

occuring on the ground

living in rivers or streams

flowering before the leaves emerge

like a rosette

growth patterns

roots that form another

accessory buds

cork, phloem, vascular cambium

shortroot

distinctive stem

earlywood

spaces between nodes

an extenstion of the cortex

scandent

terminal scale bud scar

a strand of wooded fibres

Blade see lamina

calyx persistent

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Copyright BG Nichols 2015 – word-assemblage, sourced from selected publications relating to plant morphology. From a series of new text works, commencing August 2015

I recently completed reading “What a Plant Knows”, by Daniel Chamovitz, Oneworld Books, 2013. This provided the impetus for me to think in a new way about plants. We perhaps barely comprehend the mechanisms that allow them to follow sunlight, eat insects, respond to sounds, feel pain, how they locate themselves, how they remember, how they respond to the seasons. It became obvious to me that plants have more in common with us than we could possibly imagine. The line of separation between species is finer than ever.  This world beyond our normal perception is at once revelatory, visionary, arresting, and thought provoking. With that very much at the forefront of my mind, I began exploring and experimenting with text, not as a poetic response, rather a more arbitrary, stochastic, impressionistic prose. A field of images, flashes, word -trails, which might endlessly combine, and coalesce, a gathering of energies – text as alchemy, word as DNA, a discursive summoning of new forms.

” It appears to me that certain attributes of mind, as it occurs in Man, are common to plants…”

William Lauder Lindsay, 1876

“..the oaks and pines, and their brethren of the wood, have seen so many suns rise and set, so many seasons come and go, and so many generations pass into silence, that we may well wonder what ‘the story of the trees’ would be to us, if they had tongues to tell it, or we ears fine enough to understand..”

Maud van Buren – Quotations from special occasions

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Lithic

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LITHIC

“….Over the last few years, my increasing interaction with ancient and archaic stones, structures and stone objects, led me to ponder whether my long term general interest in the mythology and folklore attached to stone, and its place in human experience might be explored through the prism of a putative “Lithic Memory”….”

“…In setting out to research selected written and anecdotal records relating to our intimate relationship with stone, it became increasingly obvious that the magical, religious and folkloric power of stone is inextricably linked to the presence of the observer, and subsequently to the human perceptual mechanism.  This centres around interesting questions arising from human perception of subtle energies believed to reside within stone,  and the role of stone in the core functions of many ancient (and modern) societies which appear to depend upon such perceptions…”

“…It would not be beyond the realms of scientific reason to recognise that stone, at varying levels of complexity, possesses electronic properties, which may or may not give it the ability to store information, and therefore possess a form of “lithic memory.” Further research into the energetic properties of stone, and it’s ability to “record”;  to literally store echoes of past events, and subsequently to act as a focus for expressions of sanctity, began to accumulate as a murky synthesis of solid state physics, mythology, and psychology…”

“…Lithic, can therefore be viewed as an artistic/poetic/exploratory questioning of the nature of our relationship with stone, focussed upon arcane or archaic monoliths, walls, objects and monuments, and how this “lithic memory” might potentially be decoded and interpreted…”

“…Perhaps the reason that I’m drawn to the lost, forgotten, neglected, ignored and abandoned, [apart from a certain dark, melancholic aesthetic conjured from memory and loss], is that these places act powerfully on the imagination. I see the capturing of images, and coalescent sense impressions as acts of retrieval. My work is most often a futile attempt at reconstructing a half-imagined past, breathing life into that which is inert, giving voice to that which maintains enigmatic silence, re-enchanting that which has fallen by the wayside, obscured,  and mundane….”

“…People talk of “ancient stones” and their associated power, but surely all stone, by it’s very nature, is ancient? Are the stones that line the mountains and valleys not as mysterious, as powerful as those hewn and set down by ancient man?  Perhaps the frequent ritualised interaction of man and stone imbues the stone with some other, hitherto indescribable energy..the life-force of the genius loci? ..”

“…Having visited many ancient, sacred or significant sites, it is interesting to note that for many people, initial contact with such places is tactile. There is something innate that compels us to touch stones, to feel a vibration, a revenant perhaps, or simply to tangibly connect with that which has passed through the centuries?  This is not hard science, and makes no claims at scientific rigour. For me, this is a form of divination, dowsing, something approaching the poetic and impressionistic, listening to the voices within, and trusting the intuitive, the instinctual, and allowing it to flow and permeate the work…”

“..Doesn’t stone, possessed of longevity, endurance, durability, bear all of the outflowings of our creative imagination? Aside from pure utility, as waymarker, grave marker, the ceremonial, the monumental, the sacred;  stone has also been the canvas upon which the first and last humans will scratch, daub, etch, chisel, and imprint their potent imaginings, preserved in perpetuity…”

All text excerpts from “Lithic”, some selections have been edited and reduced, and are therefore not representative of final copy.

copyright B G Nichols, Place Editions 2015

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