fieldwork (1999)

Working with a concurrent Field-Work in Geography Conference in May 1999, Fieldwork inhabited the disused Hydraulics Lab of the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, where, amongst other things, scientists recreate and investigate stream-flow conditions. The work was about the fragmentation of, and slippages in, the transfer of information from the field to the office. The exhibition looked at the geographer’s tools, at souvenirs and at alternative ways of writing about the natural world. The space was transformed into a meeting point between the inside and the outside.

The installation explored ways in which we relate to, sample, describe and interpret the environment, and report back on work ‘out-there.’ Listening to the woodland, we hear the stirrings of leaves and the sound of far-off birds.  Putting our ears to the ground we might catch the susurration of a thousand voices:

“…A dust of birds. Blowing in the East…”         “…And not one blow of the burning snow.  Over the dull earth swarm and fly…”   “…And every night the dark glen yew…”

This is the slightly different thing that is said, a narrow line of text fragments photographed at Coopers Hill (Runnymede). Looking, we see the poem in the woods:  a paper line of fragmentary phrases winding its way through the trees. We have access to inner worlds. The remains of this eclogue have been brought back to the laboratory. We view it as a sample of the Outside, an abstraction of the whole.

A major aspect of the installation was Ashness Bridge, and people who participated in the Hybrid Field Book (Collaborative Drawing Project) were asked in a survey to make a visual representation of how to get to ‘here’. These markings were then converted into collage drawings. The notebooks were returned to the participants during the exhibition.

The fieldwork tool is the connection between the observer and the landscape. True it is that Enlightenment science privileged the objective eye, especially through tools of extension such as the binocular and the camera. True it is that power-knowledge is played out through these objects. But are they also performative devices whose bumps and scars record identity as relations, connections and interactions? Could they also be the junction between commonsense actions in the field and the thinking, the processing and the bringing to conclusion that we do?