This phrase, "At the Edge of the City Where the Wild Comes In", keeps coming to mind when I think about what I want to express in art. So much so, that it feels like the centre at the beginnings of a manifesto, or the title of an exhibition. This post is me exploring my half formed ideas about what it means.
I love living where I do, at the edge of Bristol. From the window is a view of Ashton Court Park, which is home to ancient oak trees, fat and hollow. You can watch the (tiny, from this distance) red deer heading up the hill, and at night, can sometimes hear the owls.
When you walk up the hill into Ashton Court, it feels like you are on the path to not just another place, where plants and animals thrive, but also another time. A time when humans lived as part of that world, not in flats in a city, looking out on it. To me it feels if you walked on from Ashton Court up the next hill, and the change in time and place was as much as the difference of Ashton Court to Bristol, you would walk into the medieval wilds, and the world of the The Dark is Rising. Really you come to a golf course and manicured countryside. Still, it lights up my imagination.
It's connected to the feeling of great safety that I get when walking on an ancient green lane, sunk into the land by centuries of footsteps, sheltered by twisted old hedgerows. Like being held by a great steadying hand. These places have so long endured. And perhaps will not just continue as tourist trails, but will once again become highways, if man becomes wild again.
The thought of the wild returning is also sinister, and you can see it in the city too. Walking by the riverside, the thorny brambles push up between the tiles of the Chocolate Path and saplings spring from the cut walls. These plants do not care about being part of a balanced eco-system or being a part of our pleasant human city, they are just looking for a space to anchor to suck up whatever they can get of the sunlight. They are like messengers from J.G.Ballard novels, whispering paranoia, of an organic world trying to consume us. At the same time, the flowers poking from the path edge are little firework explosions of joy.
I know it's not just me that feels unsettled by not being part of the wild. Art is full of books, pictures and films about our uneasy relationship with "mother nature". Just one example: it seems to me that the geometric black and white animal drawings that are so popular at present (like this one from Faye Halliday Art) are incantations in pen, trying to reconnect with the wild world.
I was so excited, listening to Landmarks (Robert McFarlane), which spoke the feeling that I'm trying to turn and look at. Listening to that lead me to Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain, which gave me the thought that living in the city we never find out even what our ears are for - that they are for finding water in the hills, and knowing where the deer are and what the wind is doing. No wonder we live stressed.
One of the fields in this thought landscape is the sense of doom that our current world is unsustainable, as the news often tells us. Unsustainable in terms of the resources we are burning. Unsustainable in terms of the inequality between people. I do not believe that I have created enough to fairly exchange for everything I have been given. As this civilisation is unsustainable, it seems to me it will collapse. I feel that for people to live well long term, we need to be part of a balanced eco and social system, ingrained in nature. But how to get there?
To be continued...