The Mountaineer and the Artist…

I’m still reading Tim Ingold’s Correspondences.

Today I am reading The Mountaineer’s Lament. In which the mountaineer sees all the peaks as conquered, so there is nothing left to explore. Whereas he says the walkers and artists see it differently. Their mountain is not a thing to be conquered, ticked off a list and then moved on from. The mountain is to be explored and inhabited and there are different discoveries to be made every day, hour, minute, second. Heraclitus is alleged to have said that you cannot tread twice into the same river. Cannot the same be said of the mountain? The mountaineer might say this face has been climbed, so there’s no point in doing it again. But no day is the same as the one before. The weather is different from hour to hour. The condition of my joints is different now to the last time I climbed. So can we say that the mountain is like the river? Every time is a different experience, and my experience of it is different to yours.

Stuart Mayes and I had a wonderful 3 hour zoom conversation this week, in which we both sat sewing. I can recommend this, rather than the thing where we stare into each other’s faces intently. It made for a more relaxed morning, similar to if we had been in the same room, or coffee shop, where it is never the done thing to stare at someone’s face for so long. That is exhausting! Our chat turned to how we (he and I certainly, and I’m sure other artists too) churn over the same problem, topic, area of expertise… mountain? I was talking about how I had done a studio talk in which I had explored my shifting practice over the last ten years, only to discover that it hadn’t really shifted much at all. 

I have been circumnavigating the same mountain, and that actually, in ten years I have spiralled around, to find myself looking at the same view. Except the weather has changed, the ground beneath me is a different terrain, the people around me are different…

I find myself again looking at children. Ten years ago I was looking at how they fail to develop so well if over-protected. That way we create scared and vulnerable children, who develop into scared and vulnerable adults. In recent weeks I find myself considering a set of statistics – see blog post from April 1st: 760 children

Again I am looking at how we have failed our children. I look at the vulnerability, the fragility, of a child malnourished and cold. I fume at the injustice, am driven to make work about it, while acknowledging the endeavour is probably futile, and in ten years time, once I have circumnavigated the mountain, I might be looking down at the same thing again, from a slightly shifted perspective. This mountain will never be conquered, certainly not in my lifetime.

But there is a satisfaction in inhabiting the mountain, rather than ticking it off as “done”. I have a hope that one of these days I might see a glimpse of something different, from a familiar but slightly different angle, that might show me something I haven’t seen before. It is that that keeps me scratting about in the soil and picking up twigs and drawing the same things over and over again, with a different pen, a different colour ink, on different paper. Or I stitch another stitch, similar to the one before, on a different fabric with a slightly different thread, just in case this time something useful is revealed.

As I spiral up this mountain, actually, possibly around/down/over/along/through… I wonder about the connections I can make to shed light on what I do. I can work with other people, not just artists and musicians, and I can keep shifting my perspective. The knowledge gained is important in itself, for its own sake. For my sake.The wandering around gives me the opportunity to make those connections. Not like the mountaineer hammering spikes into the rock to hang ropes from to scale to the top as quickly as possible, but to deepen my understanding of it. 

I wonder if my presence changes the mountain?

Probably not.

Muslin wrapped twigs

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