Two elliptical walks across the beautiful and varied terrain of mid-Wales, facilitated to engage participants in a deepened dialogue with the land and their place within it. Curated and designed by artist Simon Whitehead, the five-day walk opened the 2012 Emergence Summit.
The plan to organise the Emergence Summit for 2012 was hatched in Summer 2011. Surprisingly this felt like relatively short notice to mount something of this scale especially as we had done nothing like it before. Following the success of the previous one day gatherings the event at Centre for Alternative Technology always had the potential to be more ambitious. Our thoughts were turning to the hosting of the Olympic Games in London in 2012. The vision of carrying a torch for a life-sustaining future inspired this new partnership project with CAT.
The decision to call this ‘a summit’ was a bold one especially for a small arts and sustainability project which had only been going for a year and had so far only organized a number of relatively small-scale events. As we began to dream and have conversations about what form this could take, an idea emerged to organise a land journey or pilgrimage to CAT prior to the gathering itself. CAT is such an extraordinary flagship to sustainability and we also wanted to celebrate the fact it was here in Wales at all! We knew that people might think that we were organising an event in the middle of nowhere – CAT of course is close to the old capital of Wales, Machynlleth. We thought we would make a feature of this by making the actual journey to the destination an integral part of the event itself. All of us on the team had had powerful experiences and worked on projects that involved making a strong connection to the land. This idea captured all of our imaginations and we felt that the Summit would not be complete without an element of the project which connected us to the ground on which we stood and the extraordinary landscape of mid Wales surrounding CAT. It soon transpired that we were now committed to organizing not one event but two in one; a conference and a land journey – and then not just one land journey but two!
The Land Journey therefore represented an integral part of the Emergence Summit. The term ‘summit’ accurately described what we thought we were organizing. The connection with both ideas and geography was not accidental – a summit is elevated, allowing for a birds-eye view, a place of wider vision and potentially of a brief respite from the journey where one can sit and reflect on the work done, effort already expended and the company in which one travels.
We approached the Wales based artist Simon Whitehead with the request to create a concept and route for the Land Journey. Simon’s commission involved him creating two long distance walking routes starting and ending at CAT which delegates walked in the five days preceding the conference. Some words from Simon’s notebook…
Shape of the walks:
Ellipsis (plural ellipses; from the Greek: élleipsis, “omission” or “falling short”)
In linguistics an ellipsis can be used to indicate an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence, When placed at the beginning or end of a sentence, the ellipsis can also inspire a feeling of melancholy or longing. The ellipsis calls for a slight pause in speech
Drawing 2 ellipses to the South and North of Afon Dovey I began to change their scale in relation to the different topographies and territories encountered and with the knowledge that these forms would contain the equivlalent of 5 days walking..
I then worked with available pathways and highways contained within each ellipse and the forms became altered and more collaborative with the shape and and geology…what emerged were 2 Kidney forms, one larger than the other..
Both routes are distinctively different, in ways reflecting the landscapes and cultures of the 2 areas. They also offer up choices and different constellations of endurance, rhythm and experience..
Walkers walked across beautiful but sometimes unforgiving landscapes often in excess of what their body or equipment was capable of
Mountain Leaders were experienced at working with army recruits but had never led artists interested in sustainability
Feeding forty-five walkers local, ethical and nutritious food at campsites often fifteen miles away from the kitchen in which it was cooked
Managing expectations of those who wanted to make art more than walk and managing expectations of those who wanted to walk more than make art
Assessing and looking after personal safety of walkers in mountainous terrain
Some headline facts:
Dates of land journey; 1st – 6th September 2012
Number of people on land journey; 45
Number of visitors to land journey; 10
Two groups of walkers walked for five days and average of fourteen miles each day
One group walked from CAT out to the mountains and back to CAT in a northerly clockwise direction, the other in a southerly anti-clockwise direction
Each day there were ‘visitors’ and ‘happenings’ in the landscape by local people and invited artists encountered by the walkers without prior knowledge of them happening
Food artists Touchstone Collaboration created a kitchen from scratch at CAT preparing locally sourced, tasty and inventive food assisted by a small team of volunteers
A small support team looked after each route, bringing food, tents, rucksacs etc
A large bell tent was erected each day on each groups’ campsite for evening meetings and gatherings.
Each group was led by two Qualified Mountain leaders and one group facilitator.
Simon Whitehead, land artist and craniosacral therapist designed the routes and organized the creative visitations.
The two walking groups celebrated and feasted together at the start and end of their journey with a specially prepared meal at CAT.
The land journey finished on the evening prior to the arrival of the other one hundred and twenty or so conference delegates.
“The shape of the routes came whilst walking in a small studio and thinking about the land north and south of the Dovey. I was walking the form of an ellipse. It had a certain momentum and offered openings and uncertainties, whilst keeping its integrity…I kept walking.”
“Only a week has passed but the city is steadily rising up to drown the quiet hills. I can feel the land drift from my body like smoke. The walk is becoming a memory. But it’s a memory that has changed me forever. Great shifts have happened in me. I’m noticing changes in my character. Having been so happy with a bare minimum of possessions in all weathers, I now feel slightly bemused by, and less attached to, all the things my house is crammed with. I’m asking myself what I really need.”