S A M    F R A N C I S










GRIZEDALE ARTS: Lawson Park Diaries

Lake District, March 2020, original post on Lawson Park Website

Monday 16th March, Day 1
From the meeting point at the train station I follow in convoy through the winding roads leading to a steep dirt track snaking up into the fells where Lawson Park is located. The former farm and home of Grizedale Arts HQ - the art space, the project, the homestead huddled within the tangled woodlands.  There are introductions, instructions, lunch and talk. Our hosts wax and wane tales of will, wonder and strife at the magic they have forged here. Whimsically dropping hints as we commence the task of piecing the picture together. They speak of the shoulder tourism months of Autumn and Spring, and in Praise of Shadows where “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty” and of the intersected weave of roof slates called ‘Wrostlers’ that evoke a Cumbrian wrestler’s embrace. Of borrowing from Arts & Craft votary, social revolutionary and local infame John Ruskin who resided on the edge of nearby Coniston Waters.  What is this, what is that, how is this, how is that. And we three temporals assimilate in this quixotic assemblage. Information squeezed like lemon into my greyish cloud matter, my low GB memory card filling up, downloading in a trickle of rain that hasn’t stopped in forever. And we head out to the roadside to pick acres of wild garlic that wafts on the edges. We chop and grate, squeeze and bake, season and stir, filling jars with luminous pungent green goo for the stockpile alongside the toilet rolls and the space for the pasta that can no longer be bought. 

My bedroom has two beds. I've never had 2 beds all to myself before and vie to make the most of them both. To say the view from the window is quite picturesque is like saying THE V(irus) might be a bit bad. It overlooks the Old Man of Coniston all distant and hybrid; voluptuous and handsome, gnarly and wintered, the long lake licking his crooked feet. I lie swooning at him. Two birds (one magpie, one of an unknown species) keep trying to escape from behind the glass and out into the air through the window (stay with me) but they bash their heads repeatedly against both layers of glass. 

The lone wolf howls at the lurking moon around the edges on the other side.

Tuesday 17th March, Day 2
A day of outdoor grafting to clear the land for a new Brexit Orchard of Boris-slaying fruit trees.  Tackling legions of unruly rubus with spiky tentacles sharp as a shock to my soft desk-body. Yanking my shoulders stiff pulling up creeping root stalks as thick as subterranean cables deeply embedded in an unseen, unknown, underground information network. Let us all learn like the rhizomes that shoot out underground and spread new realities deep into being and unbeing. I break the handcrafted wooden rake with my efforts and we pull up the last of the winter vegetables (swede) and mulch the earth in the rain. The air ripe with the ambrosial petrichor whiff of a damp afternoon. I am beat.

“Rest always even when working hard. If you can’t, it is better to be a normal human, working less hard, than a hectic fury” Advice for community living (BraziersPark)

Go online to that other unseeable subterranean information system, scroll about, look at emails, what the fuck is happening? Everything is getting cancelled, on lock down, even lock-ins at home with loved ones unwise. We are being led submissive into a zombie movie rated C19. If only everyone could be up here in forest cloudland with all the tall trees and fair air.  I am literally wading in two types of mud; the actual real brown squidgy stuff that has made its way onto my face and into my socks and the less visible but way more murky stuff of an unknown future (apocalypse?) How are we all going to pay our bills? Will we never embrace again? Will there be a new 2 metre social distancing stick that sells out before it's even on sale?
Is a catastrophe really just like an ‘apostrophe?’

Wednesday 18th March, Day 3
The outlook corner window is a 24/7 private view where a hulking great red rubiks cube spaceship (that is soon to be a sauna) has landed on the ledge of lake world. “I AM EXPERIENCING THE LANDSCAPE” yelled loud across the valley into the shivers and shimmers that hide the guts and gore of the lustrous lake. Yet there is a will for “Romantic Detachment” from this landscape love story. Tales of countryside and village life are interwoven in the projects and words here, which bring to mind the duplicitous torment of Lars von Trier’s headfuck ‘Dogville’ and 1970’s BBC Play for Today rhapsody ‘Penda’s Fen’ which incidentally is set in the picturesque Malvern Hills where I grew up so I know well the realism and urgency to escape. Both films crack wide open what lies beneath this, at first sight, easy romanticism of  picture-perfect pastoral landscapes to reveal where shrouded suppression and lurking horrors reside.

After dark I steal through the library. All is in order, no one around, all is quiet like a good library should be. Greedily I eye up books, lift papers, flick pages. Hungry for words and letters in combinations and forms I haven’t seen before to generate a new world order. All the while the eyes of the hairy mullet fella in the lift follow me around with suspicion. I skim two decades of projects and discourse, artists and events, praise and scorn. “We are all Artists, None of us are Artists”. So many of whom have passed through this place were I to list them all they would tumble off the page like lemmings. The imprints and indents of multiple hands and voices, some quiet, some loud permeate the arced space, landing seen and heard in the air.  There is a thought-through functional aesthetic at play in this place; a workaday breathable sculpture where everything forms part of the whole however you might piece all the parts together. The long-lost gong strikes and reverberates in a jumble of meaning and perception to twist and turn, even scream and shout if you like, here in this place of multiplicity. Let us find out for ourselves “With Care and Attentiveness” and “intelligent effort” all that captivates and challenges us. Digressions in craft, controversy and subversion seek to debunk the myth of the artist as “dysfunctional outsider visionary”. We must BE USEFUL like one of the many dozen mugs which are part of the working domestic collection you can see here and can even own a part of here.

And what am I doing here again? I’m no artist and am no more useful than a mug and less so than a tree in the forest.  No more than a walking dust pile, a fleeting organism of lukewarm air susceptive to foreign microbes despite my sturdy genes and workers' hands. Have all that passed through here caught the virus of making, doing, thinking and art or passed it on? Is it embedded within the papers I flick through? What is it like IRL where the virus is shitting eggshells over everyones lives? Up here in our seven-day utopian province in the trees, we three interlopers begin to make alternative fantasy plans to counter the dystopian mood at large that filters through electromagnetically even up here.
“They say that utopias are made by the disillusioned, the angry and the lost”
That may well be the case but then can we build a utopia from this new dystopia?
Is it utopia if you believe it to be so?
Therefore I might be.

Thursday 19th March, Day 4
A languid horizon morning looking out at the voluptuous horizontal. Oh the tire of labour. The clouds throw down shadowy shapes that maneuver their muscles over the terracotta mountain of dead ferns. Framed by the window it is like watching a meditation movie in portrait if such a thing even exists. Maybe I will lie in watch and wait as it’s fronds unfurl all the way to darkness. I am clearly not disciplined or elightentened enough and soon get hungry for eggs. More poring over books and publications in the afternoon seeking out hints and clues in the rhetorical undergrowth til the sun lunges towards a downwards dog.

I head out into the depths of the long limbed larch trees. A scourge of forest, a tangle of branches like a game of Kerplunk with pine needles for marbles. I hopefully mistake felled tree stubs for deer. Roving the fells you’re never far away from the sound of travelling water. Let it be known from now on as ‘The Streams’ instead of ‘The Lakes’ as I've only seen one of those. Two ducks (him and her) self isolate in an inky tar-black tarn. I am in love with the blotched, virus, high-vis rave lichen I catch upon here; a hangover from the local ‘Out House Crew’ who raved in a man-made cave down by the lake BACK IN THE DAY.

My lover joins me half way for a virtual walk and we saunter into a den of iniquity on the flank of the forest that someone else has constructed for us. I take a wrong turn on the way back and am lost for miles and out of battery. It is touch and go but I manage to get back on track (don’t tell anyone I got lost). It would have been a cold and sorry night for this unprepared fool from the south.

The sun dyes the sky lurid pink over spectacle valley as the world holds its breath trying not to cough. 
pan, a prefix from the Greek meaning "all", "of everything" or "involving all members" of a group.
demic (not comparable) (rare) Of or pertaining to a distinct population of people. (ecology) Of or pertaining to a deme. (dialect) Dysfunctional; broken.

Friday 20th March, Day 5 (Spring Equinox)
We do Raku glazing and firing this morning and wanna do it all day. The day is doing a good impression of spring, teasing us to take our clothes off and demanding that we put them back on again. We return to the Brexit orchard and lay down squares of Wetherspoons carpet for twenty seven apple trees from each EU country grafted by local enthusiasts keen for the task. Did they get the irony? Grunting like good goats we yank up tarpaulin embedded with the roots of years of self seeded ideas.  Rolled up it looks like three dead bodies head to toe which stirs a recurring dream I only just realised I have.

This time last year I went to the Orkney Islands to do a project with a friend and on Spring Equinox I swam in the chilled north sea waters. Today marks that day of the year once again and I head down to the lake to dunk myself into its soft watery mass like a ginger nut biscuit for the briefest of moments so I don’t fully dissolve. I AM HIGH. I muse that maybe this is what I do now at this time of year; I go somewhere new and on the 50/50 day/night I swim in icy cold water. I haven’t been to civilisation since Monday and venture to it to stock up on supplies (wine). Everything’s shut down, shuttered up apart from one corner shop where there’s tumbleweed for sale in place of loo roll. “What Fresh Hell is This?”  It’s weird and eerie and strange and I want to get back into the trees godspeed. I put my sunglasses on to mislead myself but it’s getting dark so I can’t see. Maybe that’s for the best. All the while the ‘People from Off’ whizz at speed through the lanes in alluring lycra to the vexation of the local People from On.

We three indulgents gather a buffet of leftovers plus extras enough for a party of five. Even while eating we’re talking about future food we will make and selecting our preferred crockery to eat it from. It’s Friday (!) and anxiety about our imminent return to the V world stalks our talk like a Russian zealot at work. It may well be the last time we can socialise in real time for some time so we drink 2 bottles of wine instead of our usual 1 and concoct fantasies about Trump getting THE CV and talk of things we can do in this enforced downtime. We talk what of art and what of culture as our work and lifestyles mutate in this new catastrophe. As the breadline draws closer we will have to pick up the crumbs and be resilient and frugal, thrifty and canny and fluid as flux.

Let us all just go live up in the trees.
There’s more than enough for one each.

Saturday 21st March, Day 6
As everyone knows, Saturday is animal day. I had a chat with a snow white goose with blueberry eyes and a tangerine beak who told me how to live simply. I poked my finger through the fence, yet pulled it back into the glove so that he was only pecking the fabric but it felt real enough and was a fair exchange. I cuddled a 2 day old lamb and tickled him under the chin and he revelled in it like a cat (who knew). After 6 days of earwigging the invisible bird chatter I think I’m finally grasping their dialect now “whatever it is, just do it and make it useful” they say. And the owl hoots to mark the end of lunchtime again as I nurture my food baby.

Some things I have been coveting at Lawson Park: 1. All of the ceramics; the hand-thrown cups and bowls, the tit jug and the reform flasks made in the pottery studio where I painted bum shapes onto the corners of tiles for a body-formed bathroom. 2. The floors and walls that are made up of 1cm wood strips taped together that remind me of the matchstick models our father used to make for us in prison when we were little (a newly remembered memory). 3. This remoteness. 4. That view. 5. The social realm (and making the most of it).

While over in V world…….. What fresh hinterland is this? Whatever, just make a public statement about your intent and make it now! If I had to make one it would read: ‘FUUUUUUUUUCK!’

Being in a relationship with THE V: This is just not working out for me. I wanna see other people. You’re coming on too strong. This is too much too soon. Maybe we should have some space for a while. Why don’t we talk like we used to? You seem so far away these days. Our future is rocky. I AM NOT OK WITH THIS.
And we hang by a thread that looks a bit like a noose dangling us over the unknown.
Yet is that a sphere of hope lithely lurking beyond the horizon line?

Sunday 22nd March, Day 7
The final morning before we return to a new world of not normal as we know it. What the heck is this (un)reality gonna be like in real times? Am I worried enough? Is the future looking into a black mirror? For a moment I take solace in looking out of the window at my old man whose unwavering solidity and ability to keep calm in a crisis reassures me for a wink.                     

We spend our final hours in the library cataloguing books and objects where I happen upon these quotes from the u/dys-topian masters:
‘...reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays....’ Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, 1932)
‘From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent human inequality, had disappeared.’ George Orwell (1984, 1949)

There’s an iceberg wedged through the stratosphere here that I've only just touched the tip of. And I did so from tip to tip with the end of my tongue which has now gotten stuck to it. Will THE V stop the icebergs from melting? Or will it melt revolutionary philosophies all over the lands where together we can mold and dream ways to rebuild a better world for the other side of the edge? Is this all just nature telling us to slow down/STOP and take another look with new reality-tinted glasses? Can we be HOPEFUL that something new and better can perhaps be birthed from the mire? Let’s take up our microphones and listen in close to cultivate alternatives like new crops out of the meltdown. Despite the devastation this will not last forever yet things will be forever changed.

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others” Rebecca Solnit

In years to come when asked where I was during the worst of times, when this shit got (un)real.  I shall reply that I was up high in the trees at arms length and high altitude, peering into the hollow having high voltage thoughts and low talks of hopes and of fears, of things that matter and things that really do not. But we were together. Let us hunker and BE WITH each other in whatever ways are possible in this newfound universe. 

And so I move with the wind with my eyes wide open/blinkered shut headlong down the M6 and through the M5 gash homeward bound to the great unknown future, with an eerily quiet wallop that no one is around to witness. 

As we move out of the darkness of the rotating year and forwards into the light, let us find comfort in watching nature do its thing.

Of movement and dust that is all after all.
text in itallics arefrom quotes discovered in the Lawson Park library