This is the online journal page for the Artist Walks that took place in 2016: with Ruth Ewan in Swale in February in February; Mike Nelson on the Isle of Grain in March; and Janice Kerbel in Uplees in April.
What follows are the RSS feeds from three blogs created for the walks and populated by the participants. This material includes photographs, videos, texts, and links – some of which are accessible directly below. For the full blogs, see
Artists Walks #2 : RUTH EWAN
a photographic project about the unusual and forgotten
Bedlams Bottom has a horrific history. Escaping convicts from the prison hulks in the Thames were buried in the sands and left to die or drown. Their bodies have permanently stained the ground where they lay due to the chemical changes from their corpses rotting and apparently you can still see this today (I did`nt). Not sure if the name Bedlams Bottom is not more comical than horrific to be honest though, Bedlam does conjure up images of madness but it`s the Bottom bit that maybe questionable.
The shoot was not fun at all! Somehow this whole project is turning into some sort of guerilla style exercise in getting in, getting the shot and getting out. Not exactly conducive to calm collective thought or work. I think I am becoming pretty proficient at spotting the shots quickly though and because of the nature of long exposure I only take one or two shots of each image. At the end of each shoot I have about 10-12 photographs to work with which definitely concentrates the mind. I have yet to return to a location which once again is probably not the normal landscape artists way. Somehow to return to a place I feel would dull my initial feeling for it. The project is becoming about my intuitive response to each location knowing what I know of their histories. This way of working does mean however that there are places that reveal no final shot in the end and these are my missing places 🙂
Bedlam was bedlam. There were policemen and game wardens and angry dog walkers. It is a place I do not want to return to so I am glad about my no return policy. There were dead things everywhere I mean everywhere, ripped up and mutilated not just dead. The images I have chosen make me think of teeth, skulls and seaweed like rotting flesh. Morbid I know but a little like the place itself a horrible history and still pretty horrible today!
Fleur Alston; http://cargocollective.com/fleuralstonphotography
Sheppey Local History Society
This society manages the Minster Gatehouse Museum and works to preserve the local history and heritage of the Isle of Sheppey. For further details, please call Lena Crowder on 01795 875111 or Ken Ingleton on 01795 873709.
In times of threat Harty’s position was a strategic one: with its long views down the North Kent coast and out into the Thames Estuary channels the approach of invading hordes could he signalled to the mainland. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle tells us:
AD 835 “In this year the heathen (Danes) devastated Sheppey”
AD 855 “the heathen for the first time wintered in Sheppey.”
AD 1016 In May King Edmund persued the Cnut into Kent “and the host fled before him with their horses into Sheppey.” King Edmund followed them into Essex where he was killed across the Estuary at Ashingdon. The final mention in the Chronicles comes in AD 1052 when Harold joined forces with Godwine, to attack Kent.
In later years, Harty was a place of some importance as the sea route from London was by way of Queenborough and the Swale. Harty was then the last port of call. In the 13th century many pilgrims visited the church, crossing by the ferry after visiting the abbey at Faversham and continuing after resting to pay homage to St. Sexburga at Minster Abbey. It is therefore quite possible that there was an inn on this spot in those days.
The Elmley Conservation Trust and Raptor Viewing Platform at Capel Fleet give nature enthusiasts opportunities to watch the stunning array of birds who visit the island. Sheppey has the highest population of marsh harriers and also supports lapwing, redshank and oyster catchers to name but a few. The Swale Estuary has now been designated as a Marine Conservation Zone and the Isle of Sheppey is a great place to view it.
Back in the day…
As late as 1893 the Ferry House was reported as being at the bottom of the road from Capel Hill on the left hand side. This ferry replaced a bridge which Hasted referred to as the “Tremseth Bridge broken by the violence of the sea in the 21st year of Edward 1”. The dry bed either side of the Fleet indicates that once the arm of the Swale between Sheppey and Harty was up to a mile wide. During the Great War the Royal Engineers erected a bailey bridge across the East Swale Estuary from Harty to Oare (Faversham). a fantastic collection of photographs of this can be seen at the Ferry House Inn.
Sheppey has a rich history and is known as the birthplace of British aviation. Distinguished aviators such as Shorts, Rolls and Wrights were all based here and on 2nd May 1909 John Brabazon made the first flight in Britain - flying a total of 500 yards at a height of 35 feet at Leysdown. Other claims to fame include Nelson being based at the naval dockyard, and his body returned to Sheerness after he died at the Battle of Trafalgar.
BA 2nd Year Fine Art students currently working on the Place and Site Module at The University of Kent’s School of Music and Fine Art have developed a series of questions in response to their research into Ruth Ewan’s practice. The questions will be communicated to Ruth during the course of the walk, the answers remembered, then written up on this tumblr after the walk is completed. The idea is that the experience of the place, the group and the act of walking and talking, will affect how this research is retained and shaped by memory.
Ruth Ewan Walk Questions
Your work is heavily research based. What are the various ways in which you make a starting point?
For No Tail, how did you keep all the research organised and available to everyone on the project?
How do you decide which of your research interests are worth exploring conceptually?
And have you ever ended a project due to a lack of information?
Do you ensure there is a wealth of research available in a particular subject before you begin to explore it, or progress by using associations to other subjects and other relevant information if there is a lack of research?
When you are in the initial stages of a new work how do you go about enlisting people to collaborate with and how much of influence or control are they allowed over the work?
The questions have been particularly developed by Charlotte Kemp, Rose Sizer, Nicola Baxter and Nicole Vaughan, BA 2nd Year Fine Art students currently working on the ’Place and Site Module’ at The University of Kent’s School of Music and Fine Art.
The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making. And so one aspect of of the history of walking is the history of thinking made concrete - for the motions of the mind cannot be traced, but those of the feet can.
The history of walking is an unwritten, secret history whose fragments can be found in a thousand unemphatic passages in books, as well as in songs, streets, and almost everyone’s adventures. The bodily history of walking is merely practical, the unconsidered locomotive means between two sites. To make walking into an investigation, a ritual, a meditation, is a special subset of walking, physiologically like and philosophically unlike the way the mail carrier brings the mail and the office worker reaches the train. Which is to say that the subject of walking is, in some sense, about how we invest universal acts with particular meanings. Like eating or breathing, it can be invested with wildly different cultural meanings, from the erotic to the spiritual, from the revolutionary to the artistic.
Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body and the world are aligned, as thought they were three characters finally in conversation with together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allow us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.
Walking itself has not changed the world, but walking together has been a rite, tool and reinforcement of the civil society that can stand up to violence, to fear, and to repression. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a viable civil society without the free association and the knowledge of the terrain that comes with walking.
While walking, the body and mind can work together, so that thinking becomes almost a physical, rhythmic act…..each walk moves through space like a thread through fabric, sewing it together into a continuous experience….
Language is like a road, it cannot be perceived all at once because it unfolds in time, whether hear or read.
Walking…is how the body measures itself against the earth.
Every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.
On the shore near Bedlams Bottom.
27th Feb 2016
How to Make Archway Tower Disappear.
Underneath the bridge to the Isle of Sheppey, near Swale station.
Saturday 27th Feb 2016
Artists Walk, with Ruth Ewan, 27th Feb 2016
Arriving at Bedlams Bottom
Assembling at Swale Station before the walk
Ruth Ewan Walk - all photographs © Whitstable Biennale 2016
Why were there so many dead birds along the path of this walk?
And a rabbit’s paw.
Artists Walks #4 : Janice Kerbel
Janice Kerbel: ‘Score: Blast’ (9 panel print, silkscreen on paper)
Janice Kerbel, score for Blast, part of Doug
Janice Kerbel, Doug, performed at Tramway.
Short interview with Janice Kerbel focusing on Doug
for Chisenhale Gallery
written by Jamie Stevens
Jamie Stevens: How did you come to the decision to work with theatrical lighting for your new piece Kill the Workers!?
Janice Kerbel: I had been working with voice as a material and during that period I was always trying to find a way to give form to something that could not be seen. I wanted the voice not only to describe but also to have a
physicality. I was thinking a lot about how a particular type of voice exists in theatrical forms. I began to think about a form that had an equal presence - unphysical yet spatially defining - and light seemed to becommensurate to voice. This made me wonder if light could be modelled in a similar way. Voice is obviously attached to language and I wondered whether there might be a language to light, a less identifiable type of language. The one element running through almost all of my work is this question of visibility; trying to find
form for things that otherwise can’t be seen. Light is the very element that allows objects to be seen; I wanted to take away the object and work with the mechanics of seeing - to look at what actually enables visibility, formally and aesthetically.
Works of yours that use voice, such as the radio play Nick Silver Can’t Sleep (2006) and the baseball commentary piece Ballgame (2009), all have a clear relationship to writing. Where does the process of writing sit with Kill the Workers!?
Initially, I thought I would write a play, which I would then use to write the lighting design. But it soon became apparent that what I actually should write was a play for the lights themselves. The script became a composite
of something between a cue sheet and a script. Whilst it’s written in language, it’s written in a language that only the lights themselves can speak.
The piece still has a title – Kill the Workers! – and a dramatic structure. What was the narrative arc you envisioned at the genesis of the project?
The work went through many stages of development but the title was always important. I wondered what ‘kill the workers’ signalled, in terms of being a revolutionary play. Within the piece, the revolution is the attempt of
one sole spotlight to understand what its capacity is outside of the ascribed conventions of theatre. The ‘workers’ are the house lights – the floods which give overall illumination. ‘Workers’ is the shorthand term used
in theatre. The spotlight has a completely different function – to illuminate objects or people with a direct focus.
In this piece, the spotlight seeks to resist this role in order to join the workers.
Can light ever just be seen as light alone? The play doesn’t have a figure to light and, without that figure, light is barely visible. The one light that is most dominant, the spotlight, is striving to be invisible so it is trying to rebel
against its regular usage. So ‘kill the workers’ would mean to turn off the house lights and let the illusion begin. In a way, it’s a call for something that’s outside – a different kind of illusion.
Referencing revolution within theatre immediately brings to mind a host of diverse plays and writers (from Les Misérables to Bertolt Brecht) – what is your relationship to theatre beyond this new work?
I go to a lot of theatre. I certainly didn’t write the piece in the style of one type of theatre though. I wanted Kill the Workers! to make sense in terms of the language of theatrical lighting and, also, to sustain the hypothetical narrative. I want to sustain an idea that if a troupe of actors were to come into the gallery, a play could be performed. That’s also impossible, of course, because the play isn’t written for actors, only lights, but that potentiality is still needed. I want the work to feel as if something is being withheld. Also you come into an
empty space, immediately thinking about who are the workers – have they been killed, is it us, is it an instruction or proposal or is it something which is being resisted? I wish I had a better understanding about that
in terms of the exact title; it’s not ironic, it’s not a directive, but perhaps the question of what it means in relation to the act of seeing is what I am trying to understand in producing the work.
Your work often seems to have an ambiguous narrative purpose, in which very precise structures are built upon fictive beginnings – such as with your voice works and also with the Remarkable (2007) series of graphic prints. Are fiction and fictional narratives a central concern for you?
To be honest, that’s what I look to more than other art forms. I somehow understand or relate to fiction better. I want to understand how narratives can take form physically and within the context of visual form.
How has your involvement progressed with the technical aspects of lighting design for Kill the Workers!? With other works you have often taken on different strategies that require a certain state of removal, for example via
the particular technical codes of sound editing or typography.
With every work I make I try to understand the logic and use the language of a given form. For example in Ballgame I stick to the language of baseball commentary as ardently as I can and it provides the defining structure but then in the edit it becomes material to be worked. If it’s the recorded voice, a line drawn digitally on paper or in this instance lights, in the end it all gets modelled in a similar way.
So the editing process feels similar across different media?
Yes, surprisingly it does. There is a lot of overlap in the process of writing and editing the material. With the text posters that I made (Remarkable, 2007), the process of writing, editing and layout became one and the same. Similarly the process of writing and editing Kill the Workers! was quite similar, which I am really surprised by. Most of my works are digital in a way, so there is also that similarity, although lighting was at once perhaps the most complex and the most rudimentary. What’s really important is that the work has physicality while maintaining a reference to something else. The physicality of the voice, for instance, refers to events happening elsewhere but I want to shift the focus to its physical, formal presence in the same way I try to do with lights.
A potential link could be made with this new work to structuralist film-making, which again was trying to produce or interrogate the relationship between the mechanical source of light and its power to represent ideas. Is that work that you’re interested in or familiar with?
What I had looked at a lot along the way was animation, early animation which used shapes and forms to try to communicate something outside of language. This play doesn’t have movement, it doesn’t have moving lights, only shifts in time, which perhaps is where you might draw a link.
So in terms of formal presence, do you think of the lighting structure in Kill the Workers! as sculptural?
I think of it as material. I’m not sure what would make it more sculptural than painterly, or more sculptural than performative, in terms of what it can do.
Recent solo exhibitions of yours have consistently produced a fairly spartan atmosphere, not dissimilar to the exhibition aesthetics of early conceptual art. Are you interested in that reference point?
That can be read back into the work but I don’t know if that’s my intent. I am obviously informed by and interested in that history but my immediate decisions are the result of the desire to remove anything extraneous,
to strip the work down to its barest essential. No distractions. So the material which is so ephemeral anyway – whether it’s voice, light, or text on paper – asks you to think about that form which itself is trying so hard to refer to something else. So while this piece is trying to take you into the play, at the same time it’s saying ‘no, look at this’. Or the voice is taking you to the baseball game but so much is stripped away that you can’t go there, you have to listen to the voice.
That becomes interesting now, working within the realm of theatre, which often does all it can to represent in an immersive way.
Totally. It wants to transport you. Yes, perhaps this piece is doing the opposite – I hadn’t thought of it like that. It wants you to be here.
One of the main differences between theatre and this exhibition is the way that the audience is framed. Do your working processes constantly refer to an audience?
I make decisions based on how the work will occupy the space and I do think about audience in that I want lighting transitions and changes to be visible. I want time to be made visible. There should be some kind of ambiguity for the viewers as to where they belong – are they within or outside of the work? While this piece was written in the round, it also made reparations for a mobile, rambling audience.
You have invited John Tilbury to give a talk at the gallery during the exhibition. Tilbury’s context is in improvised music, attempting to produce a different type of listening, where the spaces and relations between notes provide room for unlikely associations or a different type of consciousness within the listening process. Your work often seems to over-emphasise one sensory perception, are you interested in provoking a different process of engagement?
For me, that’s an ambition – to work in that kind of Dionysian way, which is much more responsive, while still maintaining a strong link to structure. I’m always trying to balance those two things.
In this instance, your focus is on the optical and you said that the editing process is often similar across projects but does that mean that you do feel a certain confidence in how your ideas will manifest themselves, even when
taking on a completely new technical discipline, such as with Kill the Workers!?
Yes, it’s like I have to start from the beginning each time. I didn’t really know anything about lighting, just as previously I didn’t know anything about voice, or baseball. The other process that remains similar is the writing of the text, which I spent a lot of time on for Kill the Workers!. I would like to develop Kill the Workers! into a publishable script; a script for lights that exists in written language.
Writing about your work often focuses on what is regarded as your preoccupation with the idea of logic. Is logic a useful concept for you?
Maybe that’s not the right word, though. It’s more about trying to inhabit a structure, listening to the structure and doing what it wants but then once it’s stripped away from its use value you have a form that is completely estranged and can be looked at formally. It’s not really logic but the mechanics of a thing that drives the work.
Maybe the term ‘logic’ is shorthand for that discussion. The one thing I don’t ever want is for there to be any frivolity in the decisions that I make. I want my decisions to be determined by the material, while allowing for a sense of disobedience in terms of how it is used.
Janice Kerbel interviewed by Jamie Stevens, Exhibitions & Events Organiser, Chisenhale Gallery, March 2011.
The opening sections of Brian Dillon’s book The Great Explosion
1. "You have said that you are not particularly interested in the audience, more in what motivates you to make a piece of work, yet ‘Doug’ and 'Nick Silver Can’t Sleep' (Night Hauntings) demand to be heard. What would you hope your listener/viewer would leave your work with, in the sense of an emotional or intellectual experience?
2. Although there is an element of playful humour in your work, it is also accompanied by a sense of sadness and absence. It calls to mind the format of a classic novel, where there is a balance of tragic-comic characters and events. In that your work is concerned with the narrative, I wondered if there are particular authors who have inspired you?
3. You clearly enjoy the process of learning and challenging yourself to use different media and forms of presentation, I wondered what you are currently working on?
4. Which artist or artwork has influenced you the most in your life?“
I saw this at the War Memorial in Margate on a walk last Wednesday, serendipity! looking forwar to today’s walk.
Good company and weather were enjoyed by the twenty or so who assembled on Monday at Harty Ferry. We set off to explore the sites of the munitions works which had exploded 100 years ago with great loss of life as recently described in Brian Dillon’s book The Great Explosion published in February this year. We had been armed with a few tantalising pages from the book in advance, and a small collection of historical photographs which had remained secret until the 1970s.
Mostly artists, we were especially pleased to enjoy the company of 2015 Turner prize nominee Janice Kerbel who had composed a piece of music ‘Blast’ in response to the explosion and to Dillon’s book. She kindly agreed to answer some questions from University of Kent MA Fine Art students at the start of the walk.
We wondered about her interests and the extent of what we would call research: for Kerbel that is an integral part of the work, not a precursor. Other than her long standing engagement with literature, and Flaubert in particular her interests are extensive as her body of work shows. She is currently working on a piece involving a large number of synchronised swimmers…
In response to questions about audience and the diversification of Fine Art into other spheres Kerbel was emphatic that her work is offered to an audience in a gallery or other Fine Art setting. At a time when Fine Art practitioners make use of other creative forms she wants to be clear that Doug for example, is Art, not Music. She has been able to retain control of how it is experienced by not allowing recordings of it. It can only be experienced as a live performance, in an appropriate setting. Although she claims that the audience does not particularly concern her whilst making the work, if they appreciate it that is a bonus.
Many thanks to Janice for spending time with us, and we hope she found the rest of the walk rather more relaxing!