Thinking About ‘The Language of Place’

Since the First Friday event last week with, and my walk with Peter Reason before that, I’ve been thinking about the idea of a language (or many languages) of place. In the questions that came up during last Friday’s event, there were a few on sentience and panpsychism (more in relationship to Peter’s work and his collaboration with Sarah Gillespie than mine). I talked with Mark Leahy about how I am open to exploring what a response from a River or other being might look like, and with Peter about what language is/means in relationship to rivers and the communities that form them.

Looking down from the bridge

I could just as easily have called this post ‘Walking with… Joseph’ as during lockdown the large majority of my walking time is spent walking down to the river with my son, But I’ll come back to him in a future post, and concentrate on what I feel I am receiving from the river in this post instead, and whether that can be called language.

Almost at the river

On our walk this morning, along the country road that we live on, with trimmed hedges on each side, rushy ditches edging the fields beyond, and a white rusted pole alongside, I started to take photos of what I noticed (or what was shown to me), and thought about the colours, textures, shapes and patterns, as the language of my local patch,

Dried twists in the ditch

In the event several people talked about how lockdown has led them to spend more time locally, to be with their own local patches and rivers. In my practice I am always exploring ways of recording what I and others notice, and the relationship between the noticer and what is noticed. I’m interested in how/if what is noticed can be affected by the noticer’s experiences of Queerness/exclusion.

During the event I mentioned a podcast from For the Wild that has been important to me, and so am sharing it here. In ‘Reclaiming Wild safe Space’ , Queer Nature talk about how the experiences of people within the LGBTQi+ community, especially within rural spaces, are informed by historic trauma. Where rural spaces may be associated with risk and danger, it can lead to a kind of hyper-vigilance, which in turn may be made use of by the noticer to receive information. Not only information that could warn of potential danger, but information from the beings that make up their local ‘environment’ in the form of sounds, smells, tracks and signs.

Frozen footprints

So how does this inform my own receptivity to the language of a place? It’s very hard to tell. What comes from my Queerness and what comes from a lifetime of practice as an artist, or someone who has grown up with regular access to wildlife rich places, and feelings of affinity with other animals?

When I talked with Mark I spoke about watching a Buzzard fly over the river and pondering whether I can describe that as receiving a message. Not through spoken words, but in a similar way to watching a dancer perform. We also talked briefly about how our openness to the idea of sentience in other beings, and our ability to notice any communication with/from them, is informed by our beliefs. So if I don’t expect to be able to receive a message from a river then I won’t, but if I do expect it, do I read something into it that isn’t there? (this also leads me to thinking about Quatum Physics, and the observer/observed but that can wait for another post).

I don’t have clear answers to any of this right now, but am happy to be developing the language here and in my making, that I need to explore it. While I am considering what the language of a river might look/sound/smell like, I have ordered this book to read too. I will let you know what it’s like.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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