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Childerley met shepherd Zoe Hall and many other sheep farmers/ shepherds on her walk © Zoe Childerley.

Walking the line

Land art, as distinct from landscape art, has always been an interesting  genre: Andrew Goldsworthy, Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, have all left  transient marks on the landscape in the course of their practice. It is  Paul Klee who is famous for his quote: “Taking a line for a walk…”.  And that is precisely what photographer/artist Zoe Childerley did. Lauris Morgan-Griffiths talked to her about walking and documenting the unmarked border between England and Scotland, the results of which can be seen at Solaris gallery.

Walking can be quite meditative as the process of slowly, one foot in front of the other, moving  across land which is unmarked and inaccessible except by walking. The slow progress allows one to look, really see, talk to people and feel the history of a place. That is what Zoe Childerley did when she decided to walk this unmarked, invisible border back in 2014, when she conceived the idea for a six-month artist’s residency in north Northumberland.

The project was conceived at the time of the still circulating arguments around the Scottish referendum and  debates around the Brexit referendum – the result of which was announced in 2016 while she was on her walk, bringing the Scottish/English border into sharp focus.

Tawny owl. Nature raw in tooth and claw © Zoe Childerley

Tawny owl. Nature red in tooth and claw © Zoe Childerley

The exhibition seems to have a broodiness to it, although  there is light and shade in the darkness. An optimism. The borderlands between the two countries, the debatable lands, fought over for centuries, survives as a distinct, wild, primal area that has a strength and resilience. The least populated area of England, there are MOD military ranges, sheep farming in the Cheviot hills and the largest man-made forest in the UK.

Its big skies, open country, quiet remoteness, gives it a feeling of  stability and strength that sustains and engenders loyalty and affection from its inhabitants, some connected to the land for generations. However, its history has at times been violent, the border savagely fought over.

Janet looking out over Otterburn Ranges, Northumberland National Park. A Military range where the army suspends activity during lambing season © Zoe Childerley

Janet, who worked for the Residency Programme for  VARC, Visual Artis in Rural Communities, looking out over Otterburn Ranges, Northumberland National Park. A military range where the army suspends activity during lambing season © Zoe Childerley

Country borders have always been political, some as physical barriers blocking entry; others porous, randomly shifted, splitting families. Highlighted now with wars, famine, climate change, political clampdowns causing mass movement from country to country for safety and survival. In Hastings people are well aware of the results of migration as refugees risk their lives as they flee from their country in hope of safety. Childerley does not hedge those issues; major political events that occurred during her walk are written into a simple map drawn on the gallery wall.

To prepare for the walk she first had to research and recce how much of the land was accessible; how much was privately owned and how much impenetrable along the invisible, unmarked border. The walk was almost 100 miles, which she undertook in bite-sizes averaging 10 miles a day – the shortest being eight miles, the longest 14, over one, two or three days. Then a pause, giving her time to regroup, return to civilisation, dry out, sleep and check her material.

A different landscape ©zoe childerley

A different landscape ©zoe childerley

Childerley walked alone – except for the first day when she was accompanied by a local hiker who was a little concerned about her. He gave her three things for her safety: a compass, a whistle and a black bin liner – the most useful of which was the bin liner. She had not anticipated the environment’s dank, general sogginess and bogginess, so the bin liner proved something of a life-saver to keep her bottom off wet ground when resting or eating lunch.

The border took her through rivers and streams, she had to whack her way through brambled and nettles. It was wet, visibility low at times. Her favourite bit was the Cheviot Hills which offered magnificent views across both England and Scotland.

Zoe Childerley in her studio pointing at the map of her walk

Zoe Childerley in her studio pointing at the map of her walk

She retraced some parts of the walk which were so damp and misty that visibility was almost nil. Also, oddly, she encountered very few people on the way; unmapped, it is not a well-trodden route. So she went back to talk to and photograph the borderers and ask them about their feelings for their unique homeland.

“I don’t feel very English; I’m a borderer”;  “It’s an  emotional frontier, an imaginary line”; “Our allegiance ebbs and flows”; “Long memories, the borderers”.

The exhibition celebrates a sense of place, community, belonging – of  people living on the periphery. A land that has been fought over, neglected, but is somewhat pertinent given the now fragile debate about in or out of the European Union.

Scots Dyke, a section of the borderline drawn between the river Sark and the Liddel Water in 1552 dividing the autonomous Debatable Lands. © Zoe Childerley

Scots Dyke, a section of the borderline drawn between the river Sark and the Liddel Water in 1552 dividing the autonomous Debatable Lands. © Zoe Childerley

Zoe Childerley will be giving a talk about this project at Solaris Print on Saturday 20 November, 4pm. FREE, all welcome

Beyond the Pale is at Solaris, 76 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, TN38 0EJ until 24 December. Open Tuesday-Friday, 1-5pm, Saturday 11am-5pm.

 

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Posted 20:33 Sunday, Nov 14, 2021 In: Photography

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