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St Thomasà Becket Church, Fairfield. Source: Wikimedia Commons

St Thomas à Becket Church, Fairfield. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Land Marks: Art in Romney Marsh – where the great outdoors steps inside

Art in Romney Marsh is a truly special part of the acclaimed Coastal Currents, where site-specific works of art and performances take up their places in six medieval churches across the Marsh. In truth, the works of art cannot be divorced from the churches which house them, or the wetlands which provide both context and backdrop. As Martin-Paul Everett, one of the featured artists, observed: “The churches are the real stars here… you can’t really compete with them”. HOT reporter Cathy Simpson made the pilgrimage and pauses for reflection.

I love Romney Marsh. I also love ancient churches, where centuries of worship and simple devotion find their way into the fabric of the building and the ghosts gently drift around the present. The six selected churches are all intimate spaces within a sometimes harsh, sometimes gentle landscape, each with its own unmistakable character shaped by the communities which celebrated them and now celebrate the communities.

St Thomas à Becket Church, Fairfield. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

St Thomas à Becket Church, Fairfield. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Artworks engage with the churches to varying degrees; at the time of my visit, for example, a lack of electricity supply meant that Gerry Kelly’s installation at St Thomas à Becket, Fairfield could not be experienced. However, the light, bright and airy space was a work of art in its own right, as much as any imported piece could ever be, and this was far from being a wasted journey.

It is interesting that, for me, the two outstanding installations on this trail both paid homage to the acclaimed landscape photographer, Fay Godwin, but in totally different ways. These are Georgie Scott’s work at St Clements, Old Romney and Martin-Paul Everett’s photographs at St Peter & St Paul, Newchurch. I have not included photographs here because it would be impossible to do the work justice; both need to be experienced directly, in the sacred space which houses them.

Godwin once commented that the rural is threatening as well as beautiful, and that she was ‘quite often frightened out in the landscape’. Her preoccupation with our relationship with nature, in work that was often unsettling – in depicting trampled grass or discarded rubbish – has informed Scott’s way of seeing the ancient marshland with the sheep renowned for their hardiness and resistance to the wet lands around this beautiful church, and with a meditative eye, she reveals to us the quiet spaces even within the contemplation of nearby commerce and the roadway that intersects the village.

St Clement, Old Romney. Source:  Wikimedia Commons

St Clement, Old Romney. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Scott also includes a film, ‘O Passer-By’, which takes us in and around the medieval church’s precincts, building a map of the landscape both as a space for
contemplation, and as a place for interaction and activity.

The setting has invited the outside world to enter inside, while the very nature of the surface on which the film is projected means that the fabric of the building becomes an intrinsic part of its texture – emphasising yet again the interconnectedness of landscape, architecture and art.

Martin-Paul Everett takes a totally different approach: black and white polaroid photographs recall the experience of making night walks in East Sussex. Ghostly images rear up through the monochrome darkness of the tracks and walls which traverse and map the countryside. He explains his work thus:

“To experience a pictured landscape via its pathways, trees and stonewalls is to be left in mind of exertion, of breath and of a resistance in things. These are elements I recognise and acknowledge through Godwin’s legacy as I offer a site-specific interpretation of my own.”

His comment is telling; the nature of Land Marks is such that the prior experience of the visitor is as important as the work itself. The eternal, ancient and modern mingle effortlessly, but the viewers’ sensations are purely personal and intimate. Everyone will find something to delight on this journey.

Land Marks will remain open to the public on 3/4 and 10/11 October 2015; Saturdays and Sundays from 1–5pm. A map and details of all the venues and artists can be found here.

Posted 21:01 Tuesday, Sep 29, 2015 In: Arts News

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