David Chatton Barker makes a start as artist in residence at Brown Wardle, introducing his artistic approach, his relationship with this ‘noble and majestic hill’ and how he will explore its landscape and history through a toolbox of creative means…
I moved to The Vale of Whitworth two years ago, to an eighteenth century farm on the sloping south Pennine moors in the shadow of a noble and majestic hill named Brown Wardle. Since arriving the hill has been a powerful and imposing presence and I have gradually begun to peel back the many layers of its far reaching history through archival research, oral history and experiential rambling around its slopes through sunshine, gales, snow and pea soup mist.
My artistic practice is strongly connected to the landscape, to the layers left by past events and people and the importance of our relationship with these paved over histories. Do past events imbue themselves beyond tangible remains and marks left behind? How can these be shaped into new creative interpretations for a modern world? My main creative focus for the past eight years has been Folklore Tapes, a heritage arts project exploring folklore and archaic anthropology through sound, film and performance.
Historical research into Brown Wardle Hill so far
The main focus for this residency and the archaeological dig is Brown Wardle Hill’s ancient past, its prehistory, when hunter gatherers moved through a very different looking landscape than the one we have carved out over years of ‘progressive’ agriculture and industry. Several archaeological digs around the hill from the 19th century have led to the area being sited as a vital Mesolithic and Neolithic location, to this day it remains one of the highest concentrations of Mesolithic flint discoveries in the country and therefore presents a huge question mark into our far reaching past.
My research into the hill’s more recent, colourful history has revealed itself through its people and events…
- The Churn Well where people collected the water for its healing qualities.
- The local long distance running champion Treacle Sanderson, who used to run around its base.
- Ailse O’Fussers ‘the Limer’s Gal’ lived at Pot Oven Farm (the closest farm to the hill), where she ran the ancient ‘Limer’s Gate’ track way, once the most important packhorse trade route in the area.
- A cunning man and herbalist, named John Stott, lived at Brown Wardle Farm and collected herbs for tinctures that once grew at the base of the hill.
- During the cotton famine of the mid-nineteenth century, a group of workers assembled and built a tower of babel twenty eight feet high before leaving it to elemental ruin.
- A folktale tells of a vengeful shape shifting water spirit named ‘The Queen of the Well’ who inhabits the well on the hill’s summit.
Practical methods to investigate Brown Wardle Hill
I will use the landscape of Brown Wardle Hill as my main studio, weaving a collective and imaginative exploration of the site as I experience it through its ever-shifting elements: incorporating playful, chance-based, performative ways of reading the site, making visible what has lain hidden and audible what has been forgotten. There will be three main stages to the project; before the dig, during the dig and after the dig.
In Spring 2019, I will become part of the archaeological team of Dig Ventures, led by Stuart Noon. As they unearth trenches on Brown Wardle Hill, I will work creatively alongside the team, sharing discoveries, recording the dig and mirroring their methods by translating them into creative processes.
Processes, methods, activities will include:
- Sound recordings mapping the hill and dig: This will form part of the Brown Wardle Hill Radio Show, to be broadcast live online on CAMP radio.
- Community engagement through conversations, exhibitions, workshops and performances.
- Notebook work; drawings, writings shared.
- Processes of time lapse burial; using the medium of film buried in different layers of the earth allowing for bio-chemical processes to alter the image.
- Physical and digital maps which playfully overlay different periods of history.
- Pigment / sculptural process – using different soil types (clay, peat) to create pigments painting and sculptures to draw out and manifest its history.
- Performances on the hill – for walkers / for the birds / for nobody
- Collaboration with oral dialect readers / brass band / school choir and more.
- Environmental appreciation through wildlife survey pamphlets.
There will be several main outcomes of the project:
- The residency will end with several immersive live events taking place in venues across Whitworth, Facit, Shawforth and Bacup.
- A permanent sculpture.
- As a lasting legacy the project will leave an in-depth publication box of maps, books and DVD produced in tandem with the archaeological findings and artistic engagement with the landscape and local public. This will be distributed to local businesses and archives around the country.
All the work undertaken will be recorded and made available on this blog