The fields are seas
A conversation between Lotte Scott and Jade Jamean Lees at OUTPOST Gallery, 22 March 2018.
JJL: So the first question I wanted to ask was, why did the Somerset Levels become the focus of your practice?
LS: It’s been so long now, how did it start? It’s pretty much six years now since it’s been the focus of what I’m doing, and it first came through because I was interested in coracles, during my BA, which led me to willow growers. It led me into looking at the industries of the Levels. Being interested in starling murmurations is what took me to the Avalon Marshes, which is part of the Peat Moors. I somehow managed to get deeper and deeper into that particular part of the Levels. I think what it was, was this very strange sense of time. It’s very artificial, but it is all nature reserves now because all of the peat has been stripped out. It’s a time travelling, curated landscape, which is only about 20 years old, but feels very ancient. That strangeness just sort of got under my skin. I found it quite a difficult landscape to get my head around at first, but something kept bringing me back. I feel like that there is more for me to explore, so yeah it came about like that, I kind of got stuck in the bogs with it.
JJL: I found it really interesting when you said that you were bought up in Somerset, and then moved away and created work about it.
LS: This is the thing, I went to college maybe a mile or two away from this particular area - the peat moors, but I knew nothing about it. I think that was another thing that just kept drawing me back, that you could grow up in very close proximity to a landscape but know nothing about it. I didn’t have friends or family that were from that area, and there was sort of no reason to go there. I couldn’t believe that there was this whole history – the history of the industry, the history of the archeology that I just knew nothing about. It was that strange feeling of ‘why don’t I know about this’ - this hidden landscape that people don’t think about. So, even though I’m from Somerset it didn’t feel like a landscape that was familiar, it felt really foreign, it felt really strange. It is that thing of driving half an hour away from where you grew up, but feel like you’re in this other country.
JJL: You completed a 9 day walk exploring the story of the jadeite axe that was discovered In the Somerset Levels, I wonder if this ‘gesture of return’ as you mentioned in your press release, was a performative act?
LS: I think it did become a performance really. I realised that the whole walk was devised in a sort of honour of the axe. The actual experience of doing the walk was very personal. It felt like the axe was this compass needle directing me. It was more about myself. You know, spending 9 days by yourself walking was very much like a pilgrimage experience. It was very meditative. I chose the Ridgeway as it passes through all of these ancient ritual landscapes. It was really special walking through all these ancient monuments that I had read about for years, then to be walking through that landscape felt very exciting. I think it was more of a meditative experience rather than something partiality to do with the axe. It was the first time that I was able to have that experience of continuously being in a landscape for 9 days. I really wanted that. It was a special experience, being in a landscape on your own for 9 days.
JJL: The show seems to be a documentation of the walk itself, and your experience of it? Would you be able to expand on that?
LS: One thing I came up against a lot in my MA was this documenting of the landscape Vs evoking a landscape. I think there are elements of the show, like the photographs, that are obvious documents of an experience within a landscape. I tried to in my MA to push more into that territory of evoking somewhere. It really references a place, but it is always going to become a different place once you put it in a gallery – it becomes an artwork rather than a research document. The show has sort of become a hybrid landscape. I started off with these two strong materials, the chalk of the Ridgeway and peat of the Peat Moors; they sort of merged and become this hybrid landscape somewhere between the two. I think the motivation has definitely documenting a walk but I’m hoping the work itself becomes something other than that.
JJL: Your work is very physical within the space – a conversation is formed between each piece creating a story of the time you spent in the environments. Can you talk about the relationship between each element within the show?
LS: It’s quite particular to my work that there are lots of component parts, but they really only make sense in combination. With the peat on the wall and on the floor I wasn’t quite sure what that was doing, and I wasn’t quite sure what the sticks where doing because I was obviously making them in the space and waiting for them to dry. I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of these two elements, and having them in the space together they suddenly made a lot more sense. The photographs were really the one element that I could control before I came to install, and they are very much documents of the walk. I wanted to present them mounted on paper – almost like archive pages. I wanted them to be small and intimate. They are slightly bigger than postcard size but are still quite small. The axe is like what I spoke about earlier – the compass needle. I think I needed to separate it out, so having it on a plinth and encased. It makes it important. It’s not on top of the peat or with the sticks as it would be like recreating the conditions it was found in, and that would have become a re-enactment. I’ve worked before with peat, peat drawings and peat within the space. It’s a really exciting element to work with, but also you never quite know what it is going to do. It’s very much about the space that it is shown in and I like that it is unpredictable. It behaves in relation to the space itself and I think that is always a really exciting material to work with. It’s very charged and symbolic of the landscape and it is this almost magical ingredient for me.
JJL: Well, you could see that when you were just pouring it on the floor..
LS: Yeah, I love that moment. I have to surrender to it a little bit. Also, the sticks feel quite new. I suppose what occurred to me when I was making them is that how unique and beautiful each individual branch is. I like the fact that they are this hybrid object. I was thinking a lot about the flints that I found when doing the walk, and obviously being in Norwich there is flint everywhere. That thing of having that white stoney casing then having the black heart of the flint - I quite like that the sticks are this hybrid of wood and stone. That is quite exciting for me. Bringing together the woodiness of the peat and the peat bogs, and the flinty chalky nature of the Ridgeway, have come together in the sticks.
JJL: I also, wanted to just talk about the spatial drawing again, when you came to visit, you was really considering what wall it would be on, would you be able to talk about that a little bit?
LS: I really wanted people to be met by that blackness the moment they came in. it’s a low drawing, but it has that horizon line. It is only two foot high. I was thinking it’s like being knee deep in a bog. I love the fact that there is a gap beneath the wall, and it’s like the black could be seeping in from outside. It’s almost quite threatening. I like that it’s like this black matter encroaching into the space. You have to kind of approach it, yet it is like you can see it coming towards you. I suppose, I was thinking a lot about the theme of walking and the relation to the photographs. Photographs taken on a path with a horizon or a hill rising. I think the drawing is sort of the strongest presence in the space.