Human-Nature blog We are up later than usual and tired. The pressure of an ending and its decisions hang about the kitchen. We pile into my car to visit Anthony Collier, one of the trustees. Everyone here is called Anthony so l’ll call him Ant.
I definitely don’t slowly reverse into a fence post in front of the farmhouse.
It was Ant who introduced me to The Trust last year, and since he’s not easily able to come to us, we’re off him, to share some of the work we’ve been doing. We drive into Shropshire in heavy mist.
We sit with Ant for an hour or so in his room in the elegant house nestled into the hillside. The well-kept garden houses sculptures, a raised vegetable bed and an excellent wooden pirate ship.
We chatter about the week and Ant reels off lists of land-artists to research and asks if I have ever looked at word-art and quizzes us about where the project is going. I don’t feel I have the answers. We sit in front of his electric wheelchair like a motley interview panel as Rachel struggles with a Bluetooth speaker. We watch clips of the short films we’ve made - John’s antics as he tries to find his inner farmhand with the angry geese and again me shrieking in the icy river. We listen to the piece that John composed, based on one of our earlier walks. It’s built in layers: recorded sound from the forest; a gently plodding rhythmic cycle on the piano and two clarinet tracks, one bird-like, the other reliving the progress of the walk. They weave in and out of each other and now the soft, regular white noise of Ant’s ventilator gives this piece about a country walk new meaning; different weight. A pheasant pottering outside the French windows adds his own clucking sounds - “oh shoot it” says Ant merrily. We’re brought biscuits dipped in chocolate and hot drinks. Promising to keep him posted we say goodbye and wander out into the green garden, admiring the sculptures but ultimately gravitating to the pirate ship.
Back at the farm we check in on the cow that has been threatening to calve all week. It’s started – a hoof protrudes. Amanda says it could be hours so, again feeling the need to draw some conclusions from the week, we leave the cow barn to have lunch and start another making session. We plan to shoot two more films of us tiny in the massive landscape.
‘Tis here’ - Amanda’s text appears on my phone. We dash for boots and coats and back to the byre. He’s perfect. Black fur still covered in mucousy film that his mother is roughly licking off. He staggers, lopsided, to his feet, swaying, bandy-legged, almond eyes and thick black lashes, so beautiful.
Grinning we head out towards the disused railway tracks to film and afterwards, I sit quietly on the floor in the gallery and write a fast something or other. Sidney looks calm and amused from his self-portrait; dapper in his silk tie.
I sit beneath your canvases on the warm wood floor
Pinks, bold yellows, black shadows, garish spray-can bravado
Behind the Ned Kelly armour though I catch a film of fear
And a weight
And the way it - would come
Pushing down on your chest
Despite your gloss
I glance up
Mystery man of gaudy ties and cartoon glasses
Scatterways and devil may care and screw the rules
The shrug and spit and ‘pah’
I am amazed they are in frames.
Just here - you’ve poured on the paint – the stuff you also used for the walls in the back bedroom is it?
Here it’s dripped, here puddled
You’re a one-two-that’ll-do bloke
And I lap up the thick magentas, gaudy yellows
as your electric blue trees explode above me.
Sat on my bum next to Henry the Hoover, I gawp.
Outlaw, Australian maverick, natural
And apparently you wanted to be a poet.
In our last hour before John heads off, we hatch a plan for the public showing here in the gallery on Saturday 2nd April. We mull titles and rewrites and edits and how to pull the different pieces together – is it all somehow about our urge to feel part of nature even as we divorce ourselves from it? There’s a struggle inherent in the relationship. I don’t know yet quite where we’ll end up – but it’ll be nicely unkempt and playful. And the getting here, even to this open-ended end has been good, which I think is the point.
After supper – a buffet of leftovers from our week - we watch an awful film. We keep watching to the end - too tired to make a different decision. Eleanor comments on the colours of the costumes and Rachel the angle of the shots.
In the morning we finish the postcards Eleanor has drawn and painted, then pop them in the letterbox at the end of the drive. Now they’ll wing their way to the city folk. We do too - driving back over the countryside, past the sleeping red dragon, through the green towards Birmingham.