A Lost Tour Guide: Experiments I & II
The anthropologist, Franco La Cecia states that ‘Getting orientated, like getting lost is a cultural experience’. As such I have engaged throughout this project with what happens when we lose things, or become lost. It is not simply about getting lost in a forest – it relates to how artists are engaging with the biodiversity that may be lost through the effects of climate change. So by lost-ness I mean a state of limbo, a nomadic, rhizomic and cultural space-place. Anne Lydiate concurs; 'It is this duality, this ambivalence between nowhere and some-where that gives the state of ‘being lost’ its frisson of excitement, for we quickly understand that within it we can trace links to great moments of ‘becoming’, of transition and perception’.
This art experiment engages with Grizedale Forest as a space-place. I video-ed my attempts to cross different thresholds of Grizedale forest over an annual cycle. The aim is to manifest and image the different anxieties that we may experience on entering woodland. In these recordings I am accompanied by a 1.6 metre red helium balloon. In reference to Grizedale’s many city dwelling visitors (myself included), I am dressed in ‘city’ clothes, which also acknowledges the 19th century flaneur-walker. The balloon is both a metaphor for and actual cause of anxiety. As metaphor, it is the equivalent of a red map pin, saying “HELP. I’M HERE”. In physical terms, the anxiety derives from it being easily punctured in a forest context, which is unnerving when floating a state-of-the-art video camera 6 metres above the ground. Having said that, letting the balloon float upwards imitates a form of visual escape from the claustrophobia of the forest – an escape from the terrestrial and earth bound world of hunting dogs, logging and urban ennui.
I simultaneously shot attempted entries to the woodland using two cameras. One was ground based (the radicle viewpoint, below left); the other was tethered below the balloon (the epiphytic viewpoint, below right). The ground-based camera remained outside the forest, being distanced and static. The epiphytic camera had an itinerant/nomadic existence, embodying a desire to disrupt and de-territorialise a striated space. Whilst appearing anxious, it at least attempted entry to the forest.
In this practice-based experiment a Lost Tour Guide becomes the Lost Tour Guide. However, what exactly is lost? Is it the tour guide who is lost? Or is the tour guide offering a tour of something that is, or had become lost? In actuality, it is both.
The experiment is intended to create a bridge between my initial research into Grizedale as site; the forest as a cultural space; and the ways that its artwork has been mediated. It is informed by new information which was generated through interviewing Grizedale’s visitors and employees about how they engage with the forest, the artworks, and climate change. Referencing the official city tour guides of English cities such as Exeter, who wear semi formal uniforms and tote folding umbrellas and large bags, the Grizedale Lost Tour Guide’s uniform involves a blazer and A-line skirt printed with the Ordinance Survey (OS) map of the South-eastern area of The English Lakes. (See slide show right)
Making this city based ‘uniform’ for an (albeit highly tourist orientated) rural context gave me time to memorise the area and reflect upon how a rhizomic philosophy could be applied to such a formal and fixed entity as a map. Along with Deleuze and Guattari, my intent is to fundamentally question the purpose and method of mapping in relation to something as unknowable and disorientating as a forest. The 'uniform' is an unravelling of a map’s functionality. The specific area of Grizedale Forest is on the back of the jacket, and its cuff buttons are miniature working compasses, but they would not help the wearer unless she took the jacket off. In effect, the Lost Tour Guide is beholden to others. She can assist them in orientating themselves, but can't orientate herself without assistance from them. She is also absurd in this landscape. A white uniform offers no camouflage and is not remotely fit for purpose when walking the more strenuous of the Grizedale trails.
The Lost Tour Guide is not a performance, but is consciously performative, through my intention forming conversations. I interviewed Grizedale visitors about the ways that they engaged with the Forest and its artworks. The experiment is about the revealing of the rhizomic activities that are not yet formed or fully visualised – conversations, anecdotes and tall stories. Most of all it is about celebrating fragmentations, which reform and set off into Terra Incognita (as it was written on old maps, when the internal landscape of a continent was completely unknown to the cartographer).