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A Year in the Life of a Field


commissioned by Arnolfini, Bristol, 2021-22 

In March 1981, Arnolfini hosted Somerset, by artist Lizzie Cox. A multi-disciplinary project based on the creative documentation of a ‘year in the life of a field’ in Nettlecombe, near Taunton in Somerset, the piece was eventually presented as eight-foot square fabric box, hung with textiles printed with motifs recalling the changing seasons.

The box was ‘activated’ by dancer Kirstie Simson, with specially composed music by Stuart Gordon. Cox wrote that she ‘wanted to remind people of the optimism of the landscape, of nature and of farming activity, and therefore of life’.
Forty years on, when successive lockdowns have meant that the slow, steady observation of the natural world has taken on a whole new significance, we have invited another local artist to spend a year investigating Cox’s Somerset. Sam Francis, an artist and producer based in Weston Super Mare, will respond to the archival traces of the piece, and the intriguing canon of UK land art.

Let the Idea Travel: solo exhibition at Arnolfini, 2022, photo credits: Lisa Whiting 


Let the Idea Travel focuses around a new film work by Francis, ‘In Here Dreaming’ alongside text pieces and a handmade book created during a residency at UWE’s Bower Ashton campus. Experimental and elegiac, created in dialogue both with Lizzie Cox’s artwork and through connecting with people who knew her, and rooted in direct experience of a range of sites in Somerset, Francis’ work reminds us of the richness of the Land/Environmental Art movement, then and now.

In Here Dreaming.......


FIELD WORK

Marking the four Wiccan solar festivals throughout 2021, I visited the field and other connected locations in the area, to discover the life of an artist and a project through the everyday mysteries of a field and a life lived in Somerset. 

FIELD WORK #1Memory Traces

20.3.21 
Watchett + Nettlecombe
[Vernal Equinox
]

at St Audries bay undressed in layer stripes I enter the water timed in blue : in green imagining a field, a life lived in colour.


| m e m o r y      t r a c e s |

through the buzz songs of others
a place(s) in relation to a person
(and/or the other way around)

              | here | gone |  real |
shrouded in chock-full drawers, glutted boxes
footsteps: new-old, just-out, in-out, about

               alive | a life | oh!
stitched myths told lithe through grazing fabric
cracked orange slashed earth

                a field far more | less ordinary
than what. my ears hear for all of this,
eyes all a vigor, hands in sight


many

conversations

                   are

              taking

                place

                 here

               in/side

                  this

         reddened

                 land
 

A FIELD n.



shul n. track (Tibetan)

"a mark that remains after that which made it has passed by - a footprint, for example. A path is a shul because it is the impression in the ground left by the regular tread of feet." (Solnit, 2005)

 = equal =
  light | dark

[ b e n e a t h    t h i s ] 
      _______here_______
        | then | now |  
                                           
1:2 becomes 3:4
[ rhythm ]
feet | seasons
[ a spring in her  step ]



At Nettlecombe, woken by a commune of ravens
overhead. Beneath a dawned yawn of rumbling,
tumbling oaks, verdant with lichen
pale gold, ripened moss chest.

Brown of root-earth-systems prop up
green dwellings of under-grassy-land,
hold of hand.

an utterance

 
Many conversations (have) take(n) place in this place


Veering up-down, 1:2 under-hollow-foot,
without pause.
3:4 over-jagged land.


Echo-trace thrills on the chill breeze, endless routes
trill in cheek by jowl.
What now is then seen, past, trailing, continuous.


100 creeping thistles grow,
slow down low. Just a touch high.

a long intonation

------
endnote:
Here it is that I begin a year-long exploration of a work and a person, a place(s); part 1:4 in seasons.  Discovering a life lived in colour through the fall of footsteps, the brush of a hand, the breath of a life told rich through the voices of others. A visit, discovery, a family so warm.  Of a  life lived in a barn, then a chapel. A certain field, a studio. A life lived of love, of art, of work.


FIELD WORK #2: Earth Body 21.06.21 - 24.06.21 
Nettlecombe
[Summer Solstice - Mid Summers Day]


Standing at the edge of nettles begin from glass of window to look out here fix eyes on horizon point not knowing if I will reach there the point a thistle held against the anchoring sky take first step into thigh high grass attempt to locate words don't know how to walk and speak how to walk and write speak into phone which turns speech into words that sometimes do not make sense

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10
stop

reach into bag take out a pebble from Watchet beach drop it on the ground the first stepped steps map out markers on a borrowed line made by walking

11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20
stop

new paragraph drop pebble dash already destination seems unreachable unknowable  the catsears twitch cloudward flecked yellow suns pink dotted dreams

21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30
stop drop stone

another marker on the line of walking made whilst talking steps of others through clover grass dangling lilting laughing into thighs keep eyes on the horizon line I am in this place I am stepping words into air  no ears to hear words wording dissolving

31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40
drop stone 

tyre mark cut into land grass flattened lift leg by knee and crossover this border line dandelion gone to seed blow wishes on the breeze for you the horizon comes closer not touchable am I on track or is the line a curved crook of an arm or fold of flesh out of reach out of time getting colder

41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50
drop


take legs over midway point the grass disperses before steps stepped making way for the path for the line made to walk and wonder what feet have stood here or passed this line before the gong the tweet the whistle the bells of the church beyond the trees

51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60
stop

drop a stone what’s changed but us this quarter portion of the year “I try to move closer but you’re such a deep sleeper” there is a road somewhere in sound that’s not this path or line made by feet walking

61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70
stop drop

a stone smaller this time with burrowed holes filled with time always time with holes way off where I thought I’d be buzz of bee criiiiiiiick of grasshopper flutter butterfly vibrate me forward

71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80
pick drop stone

invisible thud pass a tall thistle but not the one on the horizon the one I will never reach on these steps cut short by days since last here on this line made by walking take final footsteps of the days to land here on this point of land since that time

81,82,83,84,85,86,87,88,89,90,91
stand and place


stop pause place not drop final big stone to mark the end point to bring another land not belonging here but belonging here now nestled in the grassland at Nettlecombe amidst the clovers and the ants etcetera underneath and on top of landform places

drop body down onto earth rest head upon stone

lay still



Body on earth, sweep of hill
Disguise me in the long grass still
Feet on-ground-on-earth-on-core
I, grain of earth, fleck of sand body

Green body
Graze body
Hill body
Till the body of the land body

All short days til midsummer lurch
So much light it hurts now body
Take me out to pasture body
Still literate in all of June now body

Days-old
Age-old
Ruddy-oak
Drink from an acorn-cup body

Arms like wings, like handfast rings
Sing out beyond space-time body
On-silent-stars-on-weeds-on-gone-to-seed body
Lost-long, died-too-young, ash-curl body

Sheep come
Farmers gun
The shock-of-it-all
Terror body

Somewhere out among the hedge-land
Traces in rotation body
Angelica in all-but body, body
Creeping Thistle a long half hour body

Cranesbill
Clover
Sorrel
Rattle in the desert body

Small red ants on wrist-wrung-skin
Small red teeth make bite-mark-bumps body

Pulse-buzz
Atom-blood 
Fertile-fuzz
Plant-seed in the body, body

Turn a cheek from outer things, and
Speak to me of ancient things body
Like we never met like body
Come closer, softer, tell me body

Long-low 
Hush-sigh
Touch-high
Underneath the land-mass body

Face down in the mud-lands shiver
Churn dust up in the soil now body
Cover me in thick moss hair body
If I lay here long enough, in lichen too body

Leaf-like
Twig-like
Stem-like
Limb-like-things body

Too thin roots of sleep now body
Weaved outline of body, body
Etched into the grass like body
Let me lay here til I die now body

Earth body, earth body, earth body, earth body

Lay gentle upon this land now body


Endnote: ‘A Line Made by Walking’ is a seminal piece of Land Art by Richard Long


FIELD WORK #3: All Colour Removed

PART 1: 22.09.21, 20:00
Conham River Park, River Avon, Bristol [Autumn Equinox]


On the bank of the river we light a candle and in the darkness, slowly enter the sedate black mass of water; all dark depth and glimmering glass. First feet, then legs, then body, then shoulders, then in. We gasp submerged in ink as feathers.
Breathing with the flow of the water.
The lush green-black river makes way for us with the ease of air.  Our bodies pushing it aside. It moves around us, through us, with us, within us. We become it. The initial shock of cold gives way as our water-body temperature aligns.
Surprisingly warm.
Calm.
Smooth.

We stroke the river with arms wide open and swim to the other side of the bank.
Long breaths, long strokes.
So still, so calm, so flat, so seemingly welcoming in its subdued liquid rhythm.
Reflections.
Ripples.
Beauty.
Its stillness enables an ease of movement as we cut across it. Gliding through algae, gathering moss as we osmose with the flow of the water. Its smooth cadence a hushed soliloquy.
We become symbiotic with the water.
Floating on our backs, the day-old full harvest moon is not quite visible through the linger of city fog, yet is felt and known on this day of equal dark and light. Preoccupied with turning things to other things, time into a different time, then to now, to tomorrow.  A blend of grey, of night and day in lunar time.

I push my head down below the water's surface and swim towards the field. I summon its greenness, its mass, its form, its staying the same, its changing. Within the water that is black yet sometimes green I imagine grass. In its movement, the stillness of pasture. In its shapelessness, the form of a blade of grass. In its liquidity, the solidity of land. The finite boundaries, to the boundless formlessness. They say that black is not a colour yet here in this green black cosmos it is not monochrome.
Colour puts itself to bed at night and emerges at dawn.
A swathe of grass, a body of water.
All water is united.
The water that I swim in now may rise someday to douse the field and paint it green.
I lift my head up above the waterline and take a breath as I leave the field.
From field to water to air.
It is dark, it is light, it is dark.

We swim up river unhurriedly in reverie of this watery darkness and our place within it. The rhythm of the elements, the wisdom of the water moving our buoyant bodies forward.
We drift in a trance.
Gliding with ease.
Silently.
In our own river-worlds.

Past the steep banks of the river with its tumbling ferns and hanging vines. Past silhouetted trees curled around the edges. Past small sounds of the night. A wolf. Past a phallic landmark that rears out of the water. Through river reeds and all tickling things underneath. Beneath the invisible moon.

we turn to return…..



The river turns its face the other way.
Slow change, fast movement, spinning.
No more still waters, no more flat surface pool. No more kind encouragement. No more gentle touch.
How huge, deep and dark the river is.
It twists and turns.
We slip into a whirlpool.
The highest tide tipping, spilling, rising, turning. Right at this moment of return.
In sync and out of sync.
The river runs through us; its rolling motion rising against us. It runs quickly along its own track at high speed.
We look towards the bank to gauge movement of location versus movement of body. Five strokes forward, three strokes back.
Swimming against a force.
The silence changes its tone. Darkness adds more shades of black. The water becomes ominous in its movement. Sounds become hushed.
We are very alone here. There is no lighthouse to see us home.
We pick up our pace, double our strokes.
Breath becomes short.
I sense my body may not be strong enough.
The power of the river, the intensity of this new flow.
Will the river swallow me? Take me into it’s dark hidden depths?

Slow deep breaths, words of encouragement exchanged. Summoning strength, getting colder. 
My breath becomes shorter; a wheeze begins in my lungs.
Why now?
Why is my breathing strained and difficult - in the moment when I need to breathe the most?
Are my muscles getting oxygen?
Is the cold making my body stiff and clumsy?
How can I glide again?


We make for the steep river bank which is impossible to climb. We grip onto hanging plants and curl fingers around juts in the rock.
Vertical, slippery and black.
I hold on to a thin plant stalk growing out of the wall.
It snaps.
I find another, and try to grasp it softly.
A tenuous connection holding me for a moment.
Balancing.
Holding me against this new tidal energy wanting to sweep me away.

No way back, no way out but through the rush of the flow.
Things are moving fast now; water, time, dark, cold.
A battle of will and energy ensues.

Oh sacred river, let us swim back through the gateway to where Autumn begins.
‘If you go deep enough’ it utters in a breath as sharp as chill.
I take a long breath in and dip down furlongs deep. I swim down down down into the black black blackness as it transforms slowly into green. I find myself swimming through the field. It is dark, it is blackness, it is green beneath its cloak.  I move my body through waves of grass. Breathing in its oxygen. Kicking my legs through the earth water body.
Holding my breath, holding my breath.
I close my eyes. It is dark. I open my eyes. It is dark. The same dark as the darkness of the rivers force.
It is mighty, we are deep but not sunken.
Where there is water there is green there is life.
We are energy, we are flow, stillness and motion.
We are so very small.
I turn upwards towards the relative light. The top of my head breaches the waterline beside the bank of the river.
Inhale gasping deeply.
The candle still burning. 
We are so very alive.

*parts in italic written by swimming partner Kathy Hinde

------

PART 2: 11.10.21, 19:00
Nettlecombe


I arrive in the field, there is nothing to see or to do.
My eyes slowly adjust to the new familiar scene.
Nothing has changed.
Everything has changed.
The waxing crescent moon is out. It’s the kind of moon that wise women sit upon all stoic and stillness.
The sunken sun gives way to the darkness, rapidly stripping away the knowable colours of seasons that were once witnessed from a window.
Bands of green harvest, shades of brown orange trees, a cut of red earth, and then fade.
All shapes and tones carved into the land skein by turn of hand.
Green turns shadow, turns night, turns shade.
An owl, a sheep, a cow, call in the night.
I walk up the sloping hill of the field towards an enclosure of small fledgling trees. Slender trunks wrapped up in tubes. The only landmark in the field.
I think about how we like to have a destination. Where are you going, and what are you doing, and what is going to happen when you get there, and what is the purpose?
I do not have the answers.
There is a slight touch of blue sun still ingering behind a coupling of oaks making shapes in their dance. The owl seems to have shifted its course.
I hear a tractor somewhere over there conversing with a low calling cow. And voices and words send themselves to where I stand from somewhere down there.
What am I doing?
I don’t really have a plan besides the darkness, the equinox blackness of the water as a prompt or a score.
The North Star has five points in its shimmers. Beckoning it’s playmates. I wonder if they will appear.
I stand under and over the moon. Light evidence of air travel hovers above it.
I can just about make out a swathe of fading yellow in a field somewhere beyond right here and over there.
My vision and the night sky move towards each other without effort.
I spin a full rotation slowly, starting at the North Star around to the moon, to the long sky of grey which I inherently know that the sea sits behind. I can sense it in the atmosphere of the light and the quality of the air that I cannot feel from here. To the west, a breath whisper of blue sky tells only ever so slight of the sun now. This turning makes me recall a dream from two nights ago, where I stood at a circular crossroads with many possible exits to take. All of them clear yet none of them signposted. A sense that an unseen yet kindly presence was with me.
Was it the owl I wonder..... 
There is a quality of darkness that it has not quite yet reached. The blackness that I bought from the river has still not quite shown up.
Blue turns green turns silver oil-slick turns liquid black sinkhole.
Green turns brown turns earth turns in for the night.
Do all colours disappear in the darkness. Do all fears come alive in the dark places.
When there’s not much to see, what can you see. Or more accurately what can you hear and feel and sense and perhaps even know from within your bones.
A train moving on the tracks from afar, a chill touching my neck, nose becoming colder, the movement of stars. The imagining of the woodland that I know is beyond me yet is merely a dark rolling shape set out just below the not so dark sky.
The people in the houses down there, what are they doing right now.
What am I doing?
I crouch down writing these words and await the blackness not waiting.
How many nights like this have there been here.
More stars arrive in the flesh of the sky. The last call of the blue only just lingering above the land.
The cow is walking back home for the night.
The owl somewhere unknown.
A momentary twitch on the shoulder summons me to fear of the night. Yet here I stand  in good company with all these old stars, these roaming satellites and all these wise wild women up there upon the moon.
I have been standing still for some time now.
I turn and walk towards what memory tells me was where a pylon stands.  I can just about make out the ghost of it. A far away aimless landmark. It’s not long before signs of civilisation appear over the brow of the hill. A glittering cluster of lights tell of people, and a trio of red lights standing tall beckons them all in invisible signal waves.
I spin around again, only faster and continuously this time until my feet trip over themselves. I stop all dizzying, and the world continues to spin as it does. Take some deep breaths, and turn around to look upon where I came from. 
and then black…….

The field is a vast body of water, a chasm of no light. Oh yes it is dark here now. It is black equinox.
Take a deep breath, dive down deep and hold my head under.
The chill shock of the field water is rising.
This is a black place now.
Where nothing is happening. Where everything is happening.
What is there in its deep hollow of no detail or texture. I close my eyes and open them. It’s just the same.
Black is black is black is a vast black hole.
It is in this space where everything lives.
An invitation to fill in the blankness.
What an offer.  What an opportunity.
Does darkness have a smell, does it feel, taste or take a deep sigh in it’s nightness. Does it deepen in the small hours, does it linger in the morning. Does it know what it’s doing, does it care. Is it sure of itself enough to just be here as it is.
Is it?
Does it know about me, does it care?  
Does it?
Will it show me the light if I stand here upon its darkness long enough.
Will it?
Can I?

I swim back down into the darkness of the black black black hole, legs tumbling in the long grass. With each stroke the darkness recedes around me and reaches further beyond my grasp. The water is getting lighter, getting warmer. I move into it all liquid collapse. All crepuscula submersion.
Will I drown here in this dark dark dark reverie, in the black waters of the land?
Do I want to?
I might.
In dark and black is risk is life is love is trust.
Where nothing is and everything is.
Where everything matters and doesn’t matter and is nothing but matter.
Will you resist me?
It asks from its lone infinite abyss as I lay on my back floating in its exquisite mystery with nothing but the stars for guidance as the owl beckons me back to life.


FIELD WORK #4: Threads of the Land

Nettlecombe, 21.12.21  [Winter Solstice]

Step into the threshold, swallow the land.
Shake the blood hand of earth, walk across the skein of it all.
Take a step to begin a reenactment of an action that has not yet occured.
A memoir not yet lived in kith and kin.

It only took a turn of days to get here.

Establish yourself for a moment upon this land of her fertile material.
A ritual to speak of without mention.

In honour of other hands, and other lands, over other days turned greys into the hum green flames of the soil mouth.
A blood-earth handshake made of ancestry in linear form, forebear in the heir, descent of clan.
Feel the rhizomes reach out from your toes.

Can you inhabit the hands and the body and the eyes that made the land play dress up?

If you want to know - ask.

‘Strip it, strip it all away’ the tree nymphs call out to those primal hunches.

And something like brightening spirits rise out of that unseeable place,  passing through the unlit lens of someone else's eyes.

A blow-blackened horse runs a white whisper through the field.

The very thread of it all is a slip twist of places, stories, peoples.
Twist and untwist yourself into them. 
Strip off the fabric of seasons as corn yet to fall.
Tiny strands of all of this seduce a strip tease of summer.
The earth forms cut-threads out of gut-grass that slow the zig-zag march.
A snap of unanimous poppers, a crows caw of velcro, skilled fingers untie dare-knotted bows. 
Things fall out of the folds
.
Shed the senescent bark of it all, off, off and away.
Shed the thin veil of the day as limp leadened leaves, with 
words and
woes and
fields and
clothes.
The landscape in the landscape is the landscape.

Then and then now, is a time without bounds; a figurative return.
Now is a breathing point with breath in it.
Then a last chance to dance.
Those hands that are here now. 
Those hands that are yours and hers now, in a breath that is all but theirs now.
And all of this time just resting a while with particles of love and loss embedded into the gain-tread of just-new boots.

And you just know this all to be true
by recalling the look on her face,
as you look like that too now,
and you know just too now that
some kind of alchemy is taking place.