I was commissioned by the Armitt Museum in Ambleside, Cumbria, to create a piece of work for their centenary exhibition 'Sublime Transactions'. A group of artists (including Sir Peter Blake, David Toop and Jon Wozencroft) were invited to visit the museum and take a look at the extensive collection of artefacts before choosing a special object to respond to in the making of the work.
I fell in love with a collection of plans for a railway line, drawn up in the 1840's, that would have connected Ambleside with the existing railway at Windermere. Although it reached the final planning stages of development, the railway was never built, due in no small part to the objection of the 'patron saint of the lakes', William Wordsworth. I became interested in the grounds for his objection and how it raised an issue that is still current in the Lake District today – the ambivalence the residents have towards the newcomers and tourists.
There will be an artist's talk at the Armitt some time in summer 2012, keep an eye on this page for details.
Here is the text I wrote to accompany the piece in the exhibition catalogue.
I was drawn to the way the fine black lines tentatively traced their way across the white terra incognita of the huge pages, quietly suggesting their proposition to the viewer, careful not to make too much of it. They were the antennae, the aerials. Their connection to the landscape outside, with its rain, its scree and rocks, its mud and water and stains, seemed tenuous and ethereal, as though they might, charged with the static crackle of their own content, float off the paper altogether.
This fine, carefully cursive text hinted almost euphemistically at the giant project, its dirty earth moving and bridge building, these pages knew nothing of soil and the soot that would- could- follow them in the name of progress.
That there were many copies of these plans at the time, served only to increase their magnetism. The little black hairline cracks of landscape and railway line must have found their way into the homes of many landowners and shareholders, perhaps sitting on quiet desks, suggesting and inventing the future by the power of osmosis alone.
The plans discovered opposition in the form of old man Wordsworth.
Some Kurtzian figure waiting at the end of the line, rather than the top of the river, but exuding the same malevolent, hypnotic aura, a diaphanous web woven with his lifelong thread of words.
Instead of tempting artisans and labourers, and the humbler classes of shopkeepers, to ramble at a distance, let us look with lively sympathy upon persons in that condition when, upon a holiday, or on the Sunday after having attended divine worship, they make little excursions with their wives and children among the neighbouring fields, whither the whole of each family might stroll, or be conveyed, at much less cost than would be required to take a single individual to the shores of Windermere by the cheapest conveyance. It is in some way such as this only, that persons who must labour with their hands daily for their bread in large town...can be trained to a profitable intercourse with nature where she is the most distinguished by the majesty and sublimity of her forms.
The old man wants his wild territory desolate. He retreats as modernity advances ever closer, his world is shrunk by Progress and his ego wounded by its lacking ears to hear him, or desire to listen.
Save me! Save the ivory, you mean. Don't tell me. Save me! Why, I've had to save you! You are interrupting my plans now. Sick! Sick! Not as sick as you would like to believe. Never mind. I'll carry out my ideas yet – I will return. I'll show you what can be done. You with your little peddling notions – you are interfering with me. I will return. I...
The old man's will endures. He is made Laureate. The only Laureate never to write an official poem. He edits. He reviews. He slowly picks and combs through his youth's work, with brittle fingers. His will endures. In 1847 his daughter Dora dies, and he stops writing altogether. In 1850 he dies. Yet still, the old man's will endures.