A poet, a visual artist and six hares
Over the course of 2015, a poet (Lisa Matthews) and a visual artist (Melanie Ashby) spent eight weeks in residence on the Northumberland coast. These artistic residencies took place over four seasons, during periods that included the spring/autumn equinoxes and summer/autumn solstices, and both artists lived and worked in Beadnell, recording their experiences of, interactions with and creative reflections inspired by the unique coastal environment of Northumberland.
The six hares were spotted one very early morning in June, enjoying the shelter of caravans.
The seeds of A Year in Beadnell were sown in rambling conversations between us (Ashby and Matthews). Our exchanges concerned the writings of Rachel Carson – who most famously wrote campaigning environmental book Silent Spring in the 1960s, but also wrote beautiful, lyrical books about the sea and shoreline that we fell in love with. We touched on a shared love of the Northumberland coast and its relation to the North American seaboard explored by the biologist. We talked about the correspondence between scientific and artistic fieldwork, giving shape to the idea for an explorative work-in-progress. And the project began as a need – to visit, to be on those wild beaches, to wander the paths and fields on the wonderful stretch from Beadnell’s small harbour southwards to Low Newton-By-The-Sea.
Throughout the course of this project we have used a variety of processes to facilitate and guide activities. Some work is based on US marine biologist Rachel Carson’s fieldwork methodologies together with a curated and edited selection of finds, artworks and reflections. Observations and creations are recorded and showcased in this digital logbook and gallery, which will continue to be populated as the project develops and matures. We are using social media to distribute images, sound clips and selected quotations from Carson’s marine writings (she wrote three books about the sea and was based on the northeast coast of America).
The main aims of the project are:
- to showcase and celebrate the natural beauty of the Beadnell area;
- to look in close detail at the environment and beyond the more recognisable landmarks;
- to honour and continue Carson’s ambition, which was to use her writing and research to inspire and instill “a sense of wonder” in the natural world around us;
- to explore the creative process and how poetics, fine art and digital design and development can work together in meaningful ways.
A Year in Beadnell – beginning March 2015 with a pilot residence – has been a period of experimentation, response to and creative-mapping of the environment. During these early stages of the project we felt it of profound importance to spend time in Beadnell and allow the environment to talk to them. The explorative Year acts as the foundation for a wider programme of national and international Coastal-Carson events in 2016-18; all the project activities will have Beadnell as their epicentre.
While the work started out as a voluntary project, we would like to thank project partners Northumberland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Active Northumberland and the County Council, and New Writing North for their support and seed funding, and to Arts Council England for an arts award to complete the second half of A Year In Beadnell.
Along with this website, where you can read the logbook and selected artworks-in-progress in the form of an online gallery, we have published a print book Two Rivers & the Sea (Literal Fish, 2016) – a poetic-visual essay based on A Year in Beadnell. In addition, there is a feature about the project in the wonderful Northern Correspondent – Before & After (Issue 8 – Big Stories from a small corner of England).
Coming next: A Season in Maine
Ashby and Matthews are planning to take Northumberland to the northeast coast of America and travelling from New York to Maine to spend time where Rachel Carson wrote her books.
More detail about the inspirations and resources used to inform the project’s development and implementation can been seen on this website and in the accompanying Tumblr scrapbook. Events and outputs from the project are publicised here and on social media.