Yesterday I met with Visual Artist Gemma Gore from Southampton. Gemma and I visited the Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, near Ringwood, south of Salisbury and on the edge of the New Forest. The lakes are a legacy of sand and gravel extraction, which continues nearby, and the River Avon runs alongside them.
Gemma and I are both members of PaC, a peer group for artists that meets once a month in the New Forest, so we’ve met and walked together before. I really wanted Gemma to be a part of Queer River so that we could explore the connections between our practices and watery places/bodies in more depth, including Gemma’s collaboration From Doggerland with Netherlands based artist Jo Willoughby, together with our thoughts on neurodivergent/autistic artists’ perspectives.
‘Gemma’s practice tunes into the body’s pluralistic, sensuous ways of knowing to question the osmotic / inter-dependent nature of connection between multi-scalar bodies. What are the configurations and poetics of care? Informed by the dichotomy of how it looks / how it feels, and the murkiness in between, Gemma considers the capacities for intimacies, asking how can we continue to live together within the context of crisis on earth? Grounded in positions of disability, motherhood, queer-ecology and radical vulnerability. Gemma’s work both emerges within and creates acts of unknowingness, gesturing towards remembering ancestors.’
I’ve written a little on here before about neurodivergence, and the relationship between Queer and Autistic perspectives – see Neuroqueer and Art, Ecology & Autism – but it’s something I want to explore more, and was really pleased to have the chance to start to discuss it with Gemma on our walk. I’m sure it’s something that she and I will return to again in the future.
Before we visited Blashford Lakes I did a little digging online in terms of the ecology and culture of the local area. I’m really interested in post-industrial sites, and in the impacts of extractivist practices on ecosystems. I’ve worked at other wildlife sites before which were previously quarries – for example a residency for Outdoor Culture about 12 years ago at College Lake near Tring – where chalk was previously dug to create cement for the M1 and Heathrow Airport. Whilst there I researched the history of the site, and the migratory bird species that visit, including swallows and hobbies, and made artwork for a bird hide in response.
I’ve been thinking recently about deep time and rivers, through the Ripple Effect project I’ve been learning about how the River Avon might have been in Paleolithic times, and in my chalkstream research I’ve been reading up on chalk and flint formation. Put together with a fascination for flint tools and other archaeological finds, and an increasing interest in the geology of Wiltshire/Hampshire, a visit to a site with a history of flint gravel extraction by the side of the Avon was a perfect fit for the next Queer River walk.
Rather than try and capture the whole of my conversation with Gemma here, I’ve used a little description with some images and quotes to hint at our thinking. I have always found wetlands such a rich place to respond to, and felt very at home in the wet woodland, reed beds and pond edges of Blashford.
After parking my car in the car park we followed the gravel paths around the site, pausing at bird hides to eat chocolate hobnobs and share sources of inspiration, from talks by Astrida Neimanis, to the What is a River? illustrated book by Monika Vaicenavičiene. On our way we caught glimpses of a kingfisher through willow branches, looked at a blackboard list of recent bird sightings, and discussed the practicalities of living and working as an autistic artist.
Lastly we ended up in a large glass fronted hide which overlooks the biggest lake at Blashford, Ibsley Water. Inside we paused to write and draw with soil paint made by Gemma and some of my botanical inks, and then Gemma read from a piece of hers called A Cave (2011), from an earlier body of work focusing on underground/geology.
We could only see a little way across the lake because of the fog, and were joined by a few people who came and went in frustration, at not being able to spot birds through the white hazy water droplets. I enjoyed the thought that we were breathing in the water, and the effects that were created by the fog in terms of sound and vision, as Widgeon and Coots called out from the whiteness, and reflections rippled with the breeze.
So what has my time with Gemma given me? As I say, I’m not going to try and sum up all that we discussed in a neatly packaged conclusion, but it is helpful for me to write down some emerging thoughts.
I’m left thinking that my queerness and my neurodivergence can’t be separated, and they both provide me with opportunities to see and experience connections beyond human cultures and communities that I might not otherwise. I have a few new links and books to investigate (thanks Gemma) and after previously reading some of Astrida Neimanis’ work am now enjoying listening to some of her talks (thank you Astrida).
I enjoyed taking the inks, made with plants growing near my stretch of the Avon, down to meet their watery cousins further downstream, and watching Gemma using them to respond to the ripples on the water.
I find the media that Gemma uses, and the way she moves between them inspiring, and enjoyed sharing our fascinations for embodied experience, geological history and queer ecology. It’s also validating, as well as useful in a more practical way, to be able to talk about our needs as neurodivergent people, and how to ask for these to be met as self-employed artists.
And then there’s all the things that are half formed, felt and emerging, that will pop up when I’m next on a walk, or by some water, or reading something new. Things that can’t be forced, and are all the richer for allowing them to choose their own time to make themselves known.
Walking with rivers – with people, reeds, lakes and the fog – is about not being in control of what will show itself, what will offer itself up to be known, and that’s what I love about it most.
See here for a post from Gemma on our walk together.
For more information on/examples of art as a response to extractivist practices, see Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss
One thought on “Walking with… Artist Gemma Gore”