Two of these artists were Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson who are partners and collaborators, who both had two works included in the exhibition. I was intrigued by their work, which formed pictures from words – and afterwards did a little research to find out more about them.
Richard Skelton, who originates from Standish, just up the road from here, is an artist, musician and writer and produces visual works formed from words and “found objects”. Autumn Richardson is a Canadian poet who also produces visual works. Together they have produced ‘Field Notes’, a series of poetic place-studies published as pamphlets by their own Corbel Stone Press. They also edit and publish ‘Reliquiae’, an annual journal of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, translations and visual art.
Some of Richards’s works were inspired by the West Lancashire Moors, specifically Anglezarke, very much my “stomping ground”, so I ended up buying, and enjoying a couple of his books. So I was particularly keen to see the exhibition of their works which extends across Blackwell and Abbot Hall and which opened recently.
Their work is ‘informed’ rather than ‘inspired’ by landscape. It is not impressionistic, but the result of extensive research into specific places, topographies, ecologies and histories. Pages from their book-works frequently spill with word-lists drawn from varied sources: pollen diagrams, dialect glossaries, cartographic records, archaeological tracts
The exhibition, features works inspired by their home in a remote part of south west Cumbria. It includes
music, film, books, pamphlets, prints, artefacts and assemblages that engage with the natural history of this landscape, from the post-glacial wasteland to the present day.
So it’s a “multi-media” exhibition. Many of the works , in books and prints, are “poem-pictures” or “picture-poems” where the words and letters are arranged to create patterns and images that are representative of the theme of the poem. The visual work is often accompanied with a piece of music
Limnology, for example, which is displayed at Blackwell, a book accompanied by a print and music
The book assembles over 1000 ‘water-words’ from the dialect of Cumbria and its tributaries in the Germanic and Celtic languages, presenting them in a way which typographically imitates riverine processes.
Letters cascade down the page, overlap, merge and gather, forming pools and streams. Intermingled with these visual pieces are poems and texts which explore, among other things, water creation myths, the roles of water creatures, both real and imagined, and the paradox of waterless rivers.
This print of one of the images in the book looks like a waterfall of words and letters
At Abbot Hall “Relics” is a series of prints each one with an image formed by different words used for a specific tree arranged in a circular pattern, like tree rings.
The work is inspired by the deforested landscape around Devoke Water in south-west Cumbria where names related to the landscape refer to the names of the trees that were once there:
Birker Fell (birch), Linbeck (lime), Rowantree How (rowan), Storthes (brushwood), Withy Bottom (willow), Woodend & Wood Knotts
The artists have also collected various objects from the landscape – for example, fragments of bark, bone, twigs, leaves, seeds, pods, roots, animal pellets – some of which are displayed in conjunction with their word works.
Richard Skelton was also given access to the collection of artefacts held by the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry (Also run by the Lakeland Arts Trust). From this he created the ‘Museum of Ferae Naturae’, produced in collaboration with the Notional Research Group for Cultural Artefacts.
One of the rooms at Abbot Hall has been devoted to this exhibition.
The museum will explore the customary persecution and exploitation of animal life in Cumbria, offering alternate historic, mythic and folkloric contexts for these artefacts which imply different attitudes towards the natural world.
Carefully selected objects are displayed in glass cases together with related texts.
There’s a catalogue of the works on display at both locations together with photographs here.
I thought it was a marvellous exhibition, reinforcing my appreciation of the work of Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson. There was too much to take in in one viewing so we intend to return, especially as there are other exhibitions at both locations we enjoyed and would like to see again – a display of pots by Emilie Taylor and two rooms devoted to work by the Boyle family “collective” whose art also is inspired by landscape – Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeology – at Abbot Hall