Crossing Points – Views from a Bike

It’s been a while since I did much artwork relating to Queer River. I have other river related projects and project plans bubbling away, but recently my mind and my individual artwork have been preoccupied with exploring autism/neurodivergence.

Yesterday however,I got my bike fixed, and this morning I’ve been out and about, thinking about how the views we get of rivers from the road affect how we see and value them.

Looking down from next to the road

Back in 2018 I exhibited a piece of work called Heavenly Body, which recorded my experience of cycling a circular route which ‘orbited’ my home in the Vale of Pewsey. I used cyanotypes and sunlight to print images of plants that I found along the way, and stitching to attach objects that I collected and to embroider a map of my route. In the lead up to the exhibition (Art After Turner at The Willis Museum, Basingstoke) I experimented with ways to document bike rides, and started to think about how the experience of a place from a bike ride, differed to the awareness of that same place gained by walking.

In Queer River I have largely thought about rivers and other wetlands from the perspective of walking, although I still plan to explore them by swimming and canoe. With my bike newly fixed, today seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it to visit the points at which local roads meet and cross over the River Avon (the Salisbury or Hampshire Avon). My plan is that this is Part 1 of a series of such bike rides, and that other similar journeys will follow elsewhere.

On this morning’s ride I stopped in three locations, drawing in two of them and taking photos in the third (some men were doing maintenance work on/under the bridge, so I didn’t stop for long, although my interest was piqued and I’ll pop back another time to see what they were up to).

I thought about how we know that we are passing over a river – especially if we are in a car and travelling that bit faster – the signs that we might notice such as a line of vegetation along the riverbanks, or a rise in the road that we’d feel in our stomach. Some river bridges have signs indicating which river ithey are crossing,or more open barriers which offer a view of the water, but on high sided bridges we might not be sure whether we are crossing a river or railway line. Obviously travelling on a bike is much slower than a car, and more exposed to sensory information. We feel the bumps in the road more readily, and we are exposed to changes in wind direction, temperature, river-y smells and sounds.

On one bridge I stood up on the road and drew, whilst on another I left my bike and walked down the bank to sit by the river’s edge. Up above I felt self conscious, exposed to the drivers who I imagined watching me and wondering what I was up to, and conscious of not getting run over. Down below I was removed from the road noise, slightly hidden away and could see under the bridge to the light on the other side.

Up above, I looked down on the water and spotted heron footprints in the mud, the aerial view of a removed observer, whilst down below I felt robins and wrens flitting and clicking around me and watched a Mallard Drake fly down in front of me to land. It was cooler nearer the water, and the smell of the mud exposed by the low water level filled my nose. I was surrounded .

As I said before, this is the first Queer River bike ride, so it’s just a start. This morning’s experiences and the possibilities offered by bicycles for collaborative journeys and embodied, artful research will continue to swirl and connect in my brain, until I decide what happens next.

Published by James Aldridge

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

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