Final Major Project – self-isolation earthwork performance

Following my reflections on self-isolation, making oneself an island, in this current climate of coronavirus lockdown, I wanted to experiment with creating an earthwork in performance. A moat, while ostensibly being a body of water, is first an earthwork – involving the movement and construction of large amounts of earth. I planned that this should primarily involve my push gesture, on my knees, arms extended, pushing the earth away so that it would create a trench and a mound encircling me.

The video above records this process, which in fact ended up seeing much more tearing and pulling than pushing – I encountered several areas where the earth was resisting my efforts, and felt great frustration and hopelessness. I persevered, and it took great physical effort. I paused at the end to rest, recover my breath, and find peace in the space I had made for myself. Throughout we hear and see the effect of external forces (the wind), and some passersby can be spotted in the background, and reflected in my reaction during my recovery period.

I decided to walk out to Northchurch Common, approx. 25 minutes walk from my home, to conduct this performance, taking with me my camera and holder. I chose this place as I was aware of there being historic earthworks in this area, used for a similar protective purpose. I discovered a tree near to these earthworks with suitably low-hanging branches I could affix my camera to, with a patch of ground that would be appropriate for my experiment.

Map of Northchurch common, with the earthwork marked in the centre.
The tree from which I hung my camera, and my completed earthwork – I considered whether to make use of the long shadow of the tree but decided it best to allow focus on the process/form itself of my constructing.

I particularly wanted to engage with the process of making the earthwork using my hands/fingers, rather than using any tool or gloves to shield or protect myself. Firstly, so that my only protection was coming from the earthwork itself – we have no defence from this virus other than the practices of self-isolation, social distancing, and hand washing. Secondly, to directly undermine this hand washing practice – making my hands purposefully very dirty. Thirdly, as a representation of manual labour – I am literally labouring with my very hands, something that is atypical for someone of the middle class, and in our digital world where we engage less and less with the physical, with nature. Lastly, to make this most personal and direct means of expressing – by sensorially and manually engaging with the earth, I felt I might be better able to channel my emotions through my actions.

I chose to dress in black, to reflect the dark emotions I was exploring, and to avoid drawing focus from my actions. But too, the top I wore was similar to a dance leotard. I chose to keep on my accessories (engagement ring, watch, earrings, hairband), which I felt personalised the video more, made it individual and also feminised. It also roots the act in my identity and social strata (something I cannot escape). I kept on my practical hiking shoes, though in retrospect I think it would have been poignant to have worked barefoot here.

That my top rides up at the back in the video, revealing my lower back, was unintended, but is a curious effect. It highlights my vulnerability in this process, as well as being an unflattering view of my body. This harks back to my future self-portrait, which sought too to highlight and undermine notions of feminine beauty.

I think I will need to do some further research, to understand land art as a context, and what female performance has taken place within a context of nature/earth previously.

Unit 2: Fine Art – Dérive (pt 1)

For this 3 week project, we were briefed to take a walk to a specified random dot on a map of Oxford, adopting the dérive (drift) strategy. We were to capture our walk and repeat it as often as we liked to gain a broad variety of experimentation.

The red dot on the left is the destination, and the black dot on the right my origin at the FAD studios. I have entered in here the routes taken on my 1st and 2nd walks in black and blue (though the distinction is hard to see here – the 1st walk follows the orange road directly where the 2nd veered off)

I chose not to use my usual means of finding directions – using Google Maps on my phone – and instead used my instincts to direct me to the point on the map I had been given. For good or ill, I was familiar with the route I might take to reach it directly, since it was the main route into town and then the train station, which I had done before though never in one go. So for the 1st undertaking, I did not drift so much in the route taken, as in what directed my attention. I hoped to capture many different things on my walk to potentially explore further.

I spliced together shots taken from the same height while walking at intervals during my 1st and 2nd walks

I was interested to observe the different surfaces I walked upon, the noise levels in these different areas and the kinds of marks and detritus I might encounter in these different spaces. Walking along a tree-lined main road into more urban city centre in my 1st walk, and then in parkland, surburban residential roads and towpaths in my 2nd (when the ground was considerably wetter). It is also interesting how my pace varies according to the gradient and the stage in my walk. I attempted to transition the shots by matching up the point in my gait and the foot with which I am stepping, but the video did not always line up, with my foot exiting or entering at different heights in the frame.

During my 1st walk, I wrote words I encountered as I walked – to enable this I used an A6 notebook in order to most easily note them on the move. This included words I thought to describe the walk (most evidenced at the beginning of the walk), graffiti, signs, notices and advertisements that caught my attention (most prevalent in the city centre), and words I happened to overhear from the conversations of passersby.

I also quickly sketched things that I took a particular interest in – this varied from symbols to ironwork and water pumps to the cracks in the pavement.

Reviewing the notes I made now the words are sometimes humourous in their decontextualised state. For instance, the conversational words of passersby and colloquial language used by shop signage to entice foot traffic in store are easily confused. Can you tell which is which?

"Oh hello pop in don't be shy" 
"Rohan, it's what's inside that counts"
"See you later"
"Ruby says chill!!"
"Yeah it's basic stuff mostly"
"Do you know where you're living next year?"
"How good is your hearing?"
"I'm getting something from Tesco"
"What's going on..."
"I haven't had any blackouts which is nice"
"So hard"
"Over the next few weeks..."
"No it's not even that"

Below are a series of photos that I took with my phone on this walk (I had not been briefed ahead of the day so did not have my camera with me). I am interested here in a number of themes – pavements surfaces, ironwork and filigree, quirky animals, graffiti and signage, the colours yellow, black, blue and stone. The final image, of a yellow building with white pillars, stands where the dot on my map was placed.

In collating the above gallery, I noticed that three images mirrored the same composition, and were also representative of the beginning, middle and end of my walk. This was quite accidental but I find it interesting that I repeated this action with a pedestrian the focus of each, the pavement tailing into the distant with the horizon somewhere to the centre right of the frame, a tall wall to the right of it guiding our eye.