Stone Lives

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The above images are available as a postcard © Tabula Rasa 2014

Stone Lives is an artwork that developed from an investigation of riverbank ecology at the meeting point of the Ettrick and Yarrow, at Philliphaugh near Selkirk.

 

Our arrival at the riverbank in an afternoon in late May coincided with a hatch of Stone Flies – aquatic insects emerging from the water to find a stone to air themselves, and shed their final larval form.

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Drawing © Kate Foster 2014

We were there to explore the river junction through movement improvisation, to understand it better as a complex place and to pay attention to more-than-human aspects. We were three dancers  – Merav Israel, Claire Pençak, and Tim Rubidge – and myself as recorder.  The river was low and we could walk on the smoothed rock, ancient mudstones shaped and sifted by ice and water.

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Image © Tabula Rasa 2014

We had in mind the idea of a ‘passing-through-place’, a concept developed by an Australian cultural geographer, Leah Gibbs:

“So what I’m trying to get at with the idea of a ‘passing-through place’ is that some places may not be permanently dwelt in, but are extremely significant, vital places none-the-less. Permanent dwelling, fixity, longevity, are not the only ways of forming meaningful relationships with places.” (Leah Gibbs, reference 1,  see previous post)

As a newcomer to dance improvisation, I was entranced by the dancers’ swift and playful development of ideas. We all followed suit, when Tim placed a stone on his head.

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Drawing © Kate Foster 2014

As Merav said, placing a stone on your head is a way to know the shape of your skull. What shape of stone fits you best – flat, hollowed, rounded, long?

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Drawing © Kate Foster 2014

 

And how do you walk? My sense was of becoming a taut and aware line, a line moving between the shapes under my feet and the touch of the stone on my head. Attention is drawn to what is above and below. Tim described needing to adopt ‘a lightness of touch – otherwise the rocks got too rocky!’  With great balance, the dancers developed the possibilities of a stone minuet by circling in the forms of an early and stately dance.

Meanwhile Stone Flies were passing through their own sequences, taking flight after many larval forms. They left husks of themselves on the stones, an abandonment to life. Females were flying upriver, dipping into the water to lay eggs.

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Photo © Tabula Rasa 2014

 

Merav was the first to see them, and puzzle over their presence. She described this later:

I was going in a direction no-one else was, I was skipping over stones for a long time … trying to see how far into the river I could go and still be on land. One of my jumps, was so! that I had to bend over because I lost my balance, then I realised there was lots of stuff clinging to the stone I was standing on. Something I have never seen before, so I had to squat down to have a good look at them. They blended into the stone quite well so I had to try to figure out: what is it I am seeing? There was an interesting shape, I couldn’t figure out what was the head and what was the tail so I had to investigate the structure. I imagined there was a bit of a split somewhere, that could be the tail – though the head did not really look like a head, on the other side. The colours – there was a nice pattern of lines, greys, lighter greys, and blacks, almost like a tiger. It really was the colours of the stone itself, and it did not seem like they were moving at all.  So I wondered if they were alive.  And I saw they were everywhere, everywhere on the stones around me.

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Photograph © Tabula Rasa 2014

This set me on a trail, I collected husks for some days after – keen to find them before river levels rose. I searched online too, learning that of all the insects that live in water, Stone Flies need the cleanest water. They are ecological indicators of healthy streams, flattened and adapted to be able to cling to stones in rapid currents.  Apart from Trout who devour them, they are best known to fishermen, river ecologists and entomologists.  As one source remarks: “they are rather endearing little creatures once you get to know them”.

The fossil record of Stone Flies stretches far back to the Permian, but their adult life is brief.  A juxtaposition of Stone and Fly offers simultaneity at different timescales – a ‘so-far story’ (see earlier post here).

Stone Lives became an artwork inviting anthropologists at an international conference to share a sense of stone, and life supported.

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Stone Lives Installation at Speculative Ground, 2014 (detail, tactile element). Tabula Rasa, 2014

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Stone Lives Installation at Speculative Ground, 2014 (detail, audio and drawing elements). Tabula Rasa, 2014

 

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Stone Lives Installation at Speculative Ground, 2014 (detail, drawing). Tabula Rasa, 2014

Notes:

This work will be documented further. Support from the University of Aberdeen (Knowing From Inside project) allowed presentation at the Anthropological Association Decennial Conference, in Edinburgh June 2014, as part of a collaborative Speculative Ground Project with anthropologists Jen Clarke and Rachel Harkness.  The conference theme was Enlightenment. Stone Lives assisted an artistic exploration of Land Use. Our contribution  re-works anthropocentirc perspectives with an exploration of multiple aspects of place, articulated through Claire Pençak’s new text on Approaching Choreography.

Reference: Gibbs L 2014,  Arts-science collaboration, embodied research methods, and the politics of belonging: ‘SiteWorks’ and the Shoalhaven River, Australia. cultural geographies 21(2) 206-226

 Grateful thanks to support from the funders and conference organisers:

 

LOGO-ERC

 

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Little Green Book

We are delighted to be able to share this Little Green Book with you which has been imaginatively designed by Felicity Bristow of But ‘n’ Ben Bindery & Press, Maxton.  Click here to open the Little Green Book

The Little Green Book is based on our environmental policy and reflects our activities as a small rural based organisation that runs arts projects and tours performances and exhibitions both near and far. It is a simple achievable policy to help us to start to actively reduce our carbon footprint.

Please do share this Little Green Book with others and use it as a basis for writing your own.

Alongside the Little Green Book we are compiling an online directory of suppliers that we have found and used that have sustainable credentials and clear environmental policies. Please do tell us of suppliers you would like to recommend both locally within the Scottish Borders and beyond the Borders.

Rethinking the border

Cinema Sark
Cinema Sark, John Wallace
photo, James Wyness

Borderlands: The Historical and Cultural Significance of the Anglo-Scottish Border

13 December 2013, Gallery North, Northumbria University.
Convened by Dr Ysanne Holt (Northumbria University) and Dr Angela McClanahan (Edinburgh College of Art)

On 13 December Claire, Jules and I attended ‘Close Friends’, the first in an ESRC seminar series hosted by Northumbria University on the theme of assessing the impact of greater Scottish autonomy on the North of England. The programme can be consulted here and an account by our close friends in Dumfries and Galloway, who spoke at the seminar, can be read here

My impression of the event was that it offered a forum for meaningful and incisive discussion on a range of topics that are not easily covered by those representations of debates (dressed up as real debates) which take place in television studios. Nor are such meaningful discussions likely to happen in the village and town halls of the Borders. This was yet another excellent opportunity, following the series of discussion events hosted by the Environmental Arts Festival Scotland in the autumn of 2013, to listen to a range of speakers covering topics of critical importance to the margins, edges, centres and borderlines in, around and between the counties of Southern Scotland and the shires of Northern England.  The complexity of cultural, social and economic relationships between the regions was aptly described as a set of superimposed Venn diagrams, not dissimilar to a living ecosystem.

Without echoing too much what has been said in The Commonty (above), we learned that the whole notion of ‘North’ is up for fresh discussion in the light of moves towards Scottish independence. Regardless of the referendum result, preparations, both practical and intellectual, will have to be made by those regions adjoining Scotland. Both Northumberland and Cumbria might very soon, in the face of possible Scottish independence or at least a process of moving towards greater autonomy, find itself on the extreme Northern fringes of a different England, itself independent of Scotland. And paradoxically or if you prefer, reasonably, professionals are looking with great interest at topics of mutual interest to regions on either side of the borderline: land use and (crucially) food production, tourism, transport, cultural strategies, not to mention differing policies, attitudes and initiatives relating to health and education. In addition Northumberland and Cumbria might themselves be forced into a new East/West dialogue, again looking at areas of mutual interest in the wake of their (possible) increasing isolation from London following the production of new abstract spaces along the border.

As a discussion around the arts and individual arts projects we were treated to illustrated accounts of projects from Dumfries and Galloway (John Wallace’s Cinema Sark, shown in the image above), North Northumberland (Northumbrian Exchanges) and the ghost town of Riccarton near Hawick. There is a long and deeply embedded tradition of cross-border cultural merging and collaboration, a well-oiled machinery of processes and institutional methodologies that are set to grow and develop over time in spite of national political changes. There is no University of the Borders which represents the needs of the creative and cultural community on the Scottish side – any notion of advocacy or mediation on the part of Edinburgh or Glasgow is fanciful. It would therefore be apposite (and again wonderfully paradoxical) to look to institutions like Northumbria University for such advocacy and mediation, not only because they have already begun the work of cross-border collaboration, but more importantly because doing so subverts the notion of border as a produced space implying exclusion, exclusivity and divisiveness.

Any discussion of Borders and Borderlands is of great interest to projects like Working the Tweed, for obvious reasons relating to the topography and political geography of the river, less obviously perhaps in view of the fact that Scotland’s Land Use Strategy is currently being piloted in the Scottish Borders and Aberdeenshire. The Borders pilot, in adopting an ecosystem approach, will be considering the following:-

•Provisioning services: e.g. food, fibre

•Regulating services: e.g. water quality, soil carbon

•Supporting services: e.g. biodiversity

•Cultural services: e.g. recreation, sense of place pilot looking at cultural strategy as a subset of the main heading.

While all of these areas are of interest to artists like ourselves engaged with a working river, the last field of investigation sits especially well alongside many of the key points discussed at the seminar. This study will undoubtedly be met with great enthusiasm by the ‘cultural sector’, which includes artists and arts administrators working in the region, but the initiative also carries the potential to encourage new perceptions among the wider community of scientists, educators, landowners, food producers and, hopefully, politicians. We look forward with to Northumbria University’s proposed conference in 2014.

James Wyness

Indicator species

Ecologists have taken four species to act as indicators of the ecological health of the Tweed catchment: Salmon, Lamprey, Water Crowfoot and Otter. Conversations with specialists at Riverside Meetings prompted me to make a series of drawings. These were ink on perspex, and were shown in the project space at Harestanes last October.  Combined with field visits, making these drawings let me develop knowledge and become more observant. I now also understand these species better within my own life – as indications of time of year, of place, of change.

Water crowfoot

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

In summer Water Crowfoot (various species of Ranunculus – the buttercup family) can grow into great mats that include other plants. I learnt these are called ranunculion  – assemblages that can alter river flow and sedimentation pattern, sheltering the locality downstream. How had I never noticed them up till now?

I learnt the five species found in the Tweed Catchment have underwater leaves with varied branching patterns, examples below.

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Details from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

These species show great plasticity – their form is very variable according to environmental conditions. Water Crowfoot readily hybridises, so its precise identification is complicated. I need to look closer to see patterns in ranunculion.

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Photograph by Kate Foster 2013

Lamprey

Three types of Lamprey spawn in the rivers of the Tweed Catchment: Brook, River and Sea. The photo below shows electrofishing at a fish rescue by The Tweed Foundation and Tweed Forum at Eddleston Water in July 2013, where mature lamprey were found.

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Photograph by Kate Foster 2013

Primitive jawless fish, that I had never before seen. Through google I learnt they sift microscopic organisms from silt in the riverbed in the larval form.

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

The larger two species (River and Sea Lamprey) mature and migrate to the estuary. They are parasitic and attach to fish to suck their flesh.

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

Each of the three species has its own characteristic mouthparts (diatoms slipped into the picture).

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

The drawing became about what lampreys eat, and what eats them.

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

Spawning time is when lamprey are most visible – look out for birds gathering to feast at the river’s edge in spring.

Salmon

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Photograph by Kate Foster 2013 with acknowledgements to The Tweed Foundation

Scientists at The Tweed Foundation explained to us what a fish-scale can reveal – you can see more here  about how the scales of Atlantic Salmon show how they move to cold northern waters to feed and grow.

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

 The drawing above is taken from a prediction of expanding scope for navigability, opening the arctic up for human commerce. I have learnt that the Tweed is one of the best salmon rivers anywhere – and also that researchers are speculating about future patterns of Salmon migration in a warming Arctic.

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

As the Arctic opens up to ships, what paths will these cold-water migrants take? Can they adapt?

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

Researchers do not leap to conclusions: – they take a long view, and trust to salmon’s resilience.  I am chilled all the same.

Otter

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

Otter on the Tweed Catchment are becoming more common, but it takes skill to interpret the signs they leave.

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

What for example is the difference between otter or mink scat? or dog and otter footprints?

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

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Detail from Indicator Species series © Kate Foster 2013

Infra-red videos used in camera traps give more information into how otters behave.

Findlay Ecology have made a long-term study of a natal holt, where otter cubs are nursed. It was found that that the male otter regularly stayed in the same holt as the breeding female and her cubs.

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Image © Findlay Ecology Services

Now in my mind, being an otter becomes a sociable kind of thing.  I imagine the parents underground with their cubs, and traversing long sections of river to maintain territory and fishing rights.

Working the Tweed Opens in the Gallery at Harestanes on Wednesday

Working the Tweed opens in the Gallery at  Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre on Wednesday October 9th.

Download an eflyer here Working The Tweed at Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre

It’s sometimes easy to forget just how much the Tweed and its rivers define our region and so it’s particularly appropriate that these four artists have chosen such a fundamental subject for their creative investigations.   Harestanes Centre Manager Michael Scott.

Assisted by  Tweed Forum and Southern Uplands Partnership and supported by the Scottish Borders LEADER programme, Working the Tweed has been exploring some of the lesser known aspects of the Tweed and its tributaries; from re-meandering to fish-tagging.

The biggest surprise for me has been discovering the extent to which we have produced and created so many aspects of the so-called ‘natural’ environment. James Wyness

Information gathered though field visits and riverside meetings with scientists and river specialists has provided the material from which the project room work has been created , encompassing drawing, film, sound and textiles. The project room is about bringing a creative process and a different perspective to specialist knowledge.

There is a huge wealth of knowledge about the river to draw on. My task has been to find creative ways to show some of the complexities of the river system. It’s been a playful process too, even getting educated about diggers and the difference between a front loader and an excavator.” Kate Foster

'Cryptic Digger' Collage, watercolour and pencil by Kate Foster Credit: Kate Foster and Forestry Commission.

‘Cryptic Digger’ Collage, watercolour and pencil by Kate Foster Credit: Kate Foster and Forestry Commission.

Working the Tweed is a collaborative endeavour.

The joy of working on a group project is that you arrive at ideas collectively that you would  never arrive at on your own.  Claire Pencak

Public events and activities like Knowing your River, Riverside Meetings with artists and river specialists and the Tweed Sessions have generated conversations all over the region around the river and what it means to people. This focus on social and public engagement has had a major impact on the direction of the project and it is represented  through the River Way drawings made by people over the summer and the voices of people on sound recordings.

 It has been a privilege to learn from people doing different kinds of work around the River Tweed and understand how the Borders is shaped and interconnected by the river catchment. It’s made me see the region in a new way.  Jules Horne

‘Tweed Tweed’  Jules Horne with thanks to Tweed Forum & CBEC. Credit:  Jules Horne.

‘Tweed Tweed’ Jules Horne with thanks to Tweed Forum & CBEC.
Credit: Jules Horne.

Working the Tweed  runs  from October 9th to October 31st.

The Gallery is open daily from 10am – 5pm at Harestanes Visitor Centre, near Ancrum, Scottish Borders, TD8 6UQ

Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre  is part of Scottish Borders Museums and Galleries Service. The centre holds a Gold Award for Green Tourism and is a VisitScotland 4-star attraction.

Teviot meets Tweed

The nearest river junction to my home is in Kelso. It’s Civic Week.

We live up on a hill. Listening over the past couple of nights, we’ve heard fireworks in the sky. Celebrations down in the valley.
Today, on World Listening Day, the people and parties are gone. We’re hearing a hangover.

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Kelso’s characteristic sound is its cobbles. Growing up, I lay awake in my grandparents’ house in Horsemarket, listening to cars rattling across the cobbles, the drunk race-day men pouring from the pubs, grandad’s unearthly snore, like a slow echoey giant walking the timbers overhead. It wasn’t a place to sleep easy.

By the Junction Pool, where the rivers Teviot and Tweed meet, Kelso is obliterated by a constant rush of white noise. The pool itself is quiet, the water slow-moving. The white noise comes from a cauld, used by the salmon and trout to travel upstream. A small waterfall, in essence. It’s like a soundbed that cushions and blunts everything else.

Junction Pool, Kelso

Layers pierce through. On the far bank, a couple laughing. Overhead – birds. I don’t know birds. Gulls? Something crow-like? Squawks and tussles in the air. Mike is with me and we listen. He names them. Black headed gull. Jackdaw. Something lighter, more delicate – swallow. Very far off – grey wagtail, I’m told. I wasn’t tuned in. I missed it.

Mike hears a birdmap when we go out walking. Each individual, its life, its territory, its name. My own birdmap was always a crude cartoon. Pheasant, cuckoo, and dislocated twittering. But lately, I’ve been learning birdsong ID near my home. The soundscape is pulling into focus. Yellowhammer. Martin. Curlew. Blackbird. Now I can’t get them out of my head. They’re everywhere, vivid. Beaks, lungs, feathers. It strikes me that listening is changed by naming.

Junction Pool, Kelso

Far in the distance, there’s a man shouting through a tannoy. The shows are in full swing, way across the other side of the town. His voice carries over the field, the river. Rags of amplified sound. His lips, a microphone, a cable, amp, speaker, all the way across Kelso to our ears.
Other sounds, close by: the click of a shutter, a blop of rising fish, Doppler flies. Our clothes, hair rustle. A generator drone.

We’ve lived here 12 years. It’s the first time we’ve stood on the bank at Junction Pool.

See video here.

Junction Pool, moon