29.02.2016 - 31.03.2016
Happiness doubled by wonder *
The Tambopata Rain Forest inspired in me a powerful reconnection with a particular state of innocence, one of intense childlike wonder. Overwhelmed by the sensorial clamour of the place, the heat, humidity, sounds and smells, all unfamiliar, all enthralling, not least among them was the sheer visual complexity of the jungle. Looking about you it is difficult to settle your gaze on any one thing, the rich tangle of shrubs, trees and vines, far from being a passive backdrop, is host to a myriad of wonders and innumerable narratives that play out to an intricate soundtrack of birds, insects, monkeys and frogs, mostly unseen, their presence betrayed only by their sounds.
Perception is radically different here to that experienced in a tamed landscape, it is an environment of vital forces, a near pristine habitat of living systems that are evident at every turn, (Tambopata National Reserve is one of the largest contiguous areas of primary rainforest in the Amazon basin and considered by many to be the best). Walking in the forest new and intriguing natural phenomena assail you at every turn; to realise a singular viewpoint or focus is impossible and perhaps more importantly, seems senseless to pursue. Very quickly a strong sense of being ‘within’ takes hold and, surrounded, you realise your perspective is rarely one of any great (physical), distance from a thing observed.
It takes time to feel your way into this place, as initial fears and uncertainties slowly fall away - although never entirely - they are replaced by transient sensations of ease, familiarity, comfort and most frequently, elation. Days are punctuated in unanticipated ways - the distant sound of a large tree crashing to the forest floor, the chatter of monkeys, call and response between Toucan, the grunting, crunching and snorting of a passing band of White-lipped Peccaries, (not to mention their eye wateringly pungent odour!), the relentless flow of industrious leafcutter ants across the forest floor, all are fascinating, all are utterly absorbing. Once you stop to observe a given phenomena you become aware of all the surrounding relationships that give context to that which first caught your attention. Hours pass in what seem like minutes, the days never long enough to exhaust the feeling of enthrallment. It is the complex living connections, visceral and dramatic that are in essence the magic of the place. Here it is possible to feel deeply, what we, (in the ‘developed world’), have lost by all we have gained.
Returning home from the jungle, there is so much to process, so many impressions and experiences, thoughts, feelings and ideas. Reading through my notebooks, looking at photographs, films and drawings made, listening to numerous field recordings, it feels too soon…a sharp pang of emotion, a sense of loss even, tells me it is indeed too soon for me to acknowledge this experience as passed, (past).
My starting point for this residency was to explore unlikely parallels that might be drawn between my ‘habitat’, North Uist, in the Western Isles of Scotland, (arguably one of the most Bio-diverse places in the U.K.), and that of the Amazon Rain Forest, (the most Bio-diverse area of the planet); locations whose natural circumstances could hardly be more different but each of whom is of immeasurable value in their own right and should I feel, be acknowledged and treated as such. This particular strand of enquiry, (a component of other deeply held, long standing creative interests), began with field recordings made in Uist in early 2015. Now, enriched by juxtaposition to the Amazonian ‘data’, the work needs time to develop, I am excited to see where and to what it will lead. I hope I can do justice to all that has brought me thus far.
For an artist whose work primarily stems from walking and consideration of phenomenal relationships, a visit to the Amazon Rain forest was nothing short of the most treasured and exquisite of gifts - one that will enrich and inform my practice far into the future, one for which I do not have the words to adequately express my gratitude for. I am eternally grateful to Nina Rodin and The Trélex Residency for this wonderful opportunity and to Kurt Holle / Rain Forest Expeditions for their unstinting, remarkable generosity in facilitating it. Equal thanks go to all the hardworking staff at the Refugio and Tambopata Research lodges, to the guides and researchers whose knowledge, expertise and good humour added so greatly to the whole experience. Thanks goes too to the many visitors who took a keen interest in my work and who welcomed me to join their walks, in particular Edith Wu, Lynette McLamb & Todd Steiner, with whom, (in the company of Robin their guide), I saw so many marvellous creatures.
I am grateful also to CNES (Western Isles Council) and Creative Scotland for the Visual Arts Grant that supported my residency and last but by no means least, to my partner René Jansen, for his encouragement and support and for holding the fort and walking the dogs in my absence – I couldn’t have done it without you.
North Uist, April 2016
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)