Threshold. Fragment. Porosity.
Shepherding at Morrison’s Carpark, Wells The shepherd rides his quad bike against a clear blue sky Surveying his sheep, singly, over a carpet of dewy grass. Dewy grass, sheep and shepherd hide sheltered silver trolleys: We’re making sure your trolley is clean and ready to roll. Rolling to a halt, or reversing carefully over tarmac, Cowmen or their wives visit Morrisons to buy lamb. Lamb is not now from New Zealand, but Dartmoor Farmers Ltd, helping the National Park, says Morrisons. Morrisons’ car park covers, right next to town, A Medieval flower-rich dewy grazing meadow. The grazing meadow remaining is Wells’ sheep-less Seasonal visitor car park for a former shepherd. The shepherd rides his quad bike against a clear blue sky Surveying his sheep, singly, over a carpet of dewy grass. Terry Gifford
Making a Day of It A snatch of Harry Belafonte on the radio singing ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, though it isn’t Christmas. A small girl in the park picking up a hazel twig stopping, ambushed in a green hush, as she whips it. Two robins on the lawn prancing preening in dignity outside my bee-bombarded study window. My grand-daughter feeding swans by the lake while they produce a glare she will later perceive as malevolent. High fading contrails producing, for a poised moment, a perfect letter X; immediately erased. A solicitor’s sign advertising ‘Wills, bequests, debt advice’; furtive movement behind the smoked panes. Somewhere else the unheard roar of oceans, the slow smashing of tectonic plates; lava-flow. What is it, this gift of sewing fragments together to make a multicoloured, imperfect day? David Punter
(Above) Trace (debris walks), 2020, etching on Somerset, 25 x 25cm
(Left) Fragment (debris walks), 2021, etching, Bideford Black on Somerset, 25 x 20cm
This work belongs to an ongoing series stemming from daily lockdown walks around my home in the city. I find I am walking in this new, before undiscovered, space of the edge of the road at the point where it meets the pavement. In walking around other passers-by I am often stepping into this space. It is a space littered with debris that acts as a trace or remnant of other walking bodies in this place. I bend down and collect each piece of debris that I walk over. It tells me about other lives and ways of coping through Covid, the stuff that we discard in the everyday once no longer of use. To touch the can once pressed to someone else’s lips or the lid once held in hands seems like a small act of resistance in our new ‘don’t touch’ world.
Much of my work focuses on what we as humans discard in the everyday and how through slow walking encounters with this discarded stuff, strange and unlikely pockets of enchantment emerge through what Jane Bennett calls their vibrant matter. By collecting the debris in urban and rural places I stage a small intervention that asks how we treat our places through the stuff of the everyday.
Windows to the Outside World
2020 introduced lockdowns, quarantines, isolations, and social distancing regulations to people’s lives all over the world. Many people have found themselves in the unusual position of having their time outdoors limited or completely taken from them.
I was living in a small coastal town in Hong Kong during the Spring of the pandemic. I had to quarantine for a period in my little flat and wasn’t allowed outdoors at all. It’s a funny concept really, out-doors. Before the invention of the door, there was no indoors, and outdoors was all existence. My outdoors became my balcony of about 1m x 2m. That little space became my whole experience within the outdoor world.
Mui Wo, where I lived, was quite a stimulating place. In a large bay on the island of Lantau, jungle-covered mountains shielded the town, tropical agricultural plots were strewn on the outskirts with banana trees and other vibrant plants, and feral cows and buffalo wandered the streets. Our flat was in a small traditional village deep in the bay called Tao Tai Tong. The houses weresnuggly packed together and nestled around a village square; the hub of the little community. There was a temple where the locals would gather, and an enormous banyan tree with an ancestral shrine at its base where incense was burnt.
My balcony didn’t face the square but out towards a collection of other small flat blocks. Between us sat a kind of community tip where people would leave and collect bits and bobs. Next to the little tip, a road led past the square and down to the town. Not many families had cars here but ‘family bikes’- tricycles with little seated areas at the back. I’d watch the school run every morning from my balcony. Mums and dads powering away on the peddles with the kids squabbling behind them. Some days the cows joined the morning commute marching past my window on a mission to raid the bins or lazing about below me, munching vegetation and dozing on the pavement. I saw a different perspective of Mui Wo life from that balcony. Behind the little road, I could see some of the agricultural plots, the tops of banana trees poking out from behind the houses. Beyond the houses immediately in front of my balcony, I could see the tops of the jungle-covered mountains. On foggy mornings they were wreathed in mist. With a clear sky, I could watch the sun rise from behind them. Once, an evening of torrential rain caused waterfalls to form on the peaks, appearing overnight, the rainstorm turning streams into cascades.
Yet, there was also something of the great outdoors in my little flat. The chirping of new life in our kitchen. Above our cooker, there was an oven fan with a pipe feeding through the wall to the street outside. That pipe was apparently the perfect location for a family of common minors, a pretty black bird abundant in Hong Kong. Rarely a day would go by when you wouldn’t notice some around the town. They’re easily recognisable; jet black when perched, the bright white circles under their wings show when they’re in flight. Male and female minors work together to raise young and these two were obviously a very good team. Normally a pair will raise 2 broods a year, yet these guys had 3 broods fledged by the summer. Quite an inspiring power couple. When life seemed mundane and isolation was threatening to get me down, I could give some thanks to the chicks. I’d sit in my chair listening to them chirping and squawking with a smile. I found myself talking to them when I was making my morning coffee, trying to soothe their agitation for being cooped up, empathising with their frustration. I felt kind of purposeful, like I was somehow responsible for housing new life, adding some strange purpose to my days. It was those two hard-working birds who deserved all the credit, they had quite a handful. The chicks would fight and push each other out of the nest and down the pipe, screaming and bouncing about frantically trying to get back up. I always expected one day they would break the pipe open and burst out into our kitchen in an explosion of feathers and bird poo.
Weeks later. I had just arrived back from a walk around the allotments, a smile on my face having glimpsed a brown-tailed skink whizz across the path in front of me. I came out of a footpath and crossed over towards the little tip outside my flat. I heard some chirping and looked up. I had no way of knowing, but I’m sure it was the chicks. They sat on a lamppost next to one another, showing off their shiny grown-up feathers. Mum was there too, or dad, presumably still preparing them for independence. I was under no illusion that they recognised me, but it still felt like we shared something. They were hatched and raised in my little kitchen fan pipe, and now they’d add some fluttering wings to the sky outside.
However luxurious and comfortable our indoor lives, there’s a vibrancy of life happening outside our window. I hope if there’s one thing positive to come from this pandemic it’s that more people might notice that. When life appears to be made more limited, we can at least take a moment to examine things up close and perhaps notice some small things that we’d been missing. In my case, amid my frustration of being cooped up, I found my windows to the outside world and learnt that the lines that divide the indoors and outdoors, aren’t as clear as I once thought.