The Dee Valley in mid Wales has a rich artistic heritage and, after an open call in 2020, I was one of the 4 artists commissioned to celebrate that heritage. The commission was part of the larger ‘Our Picturesque Landscape’ project about the landscape of the Dee Valley and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site.
I began by thinking about how all that previous artistic work, and the artists who had made it, might still be experienced in the valley now. Perhaps it was all still available in the landscape somehow because everything was linked together. Maybe nothing ever really dies completely there. Everything could be connected: human, man-made and natural, past and present. Oneness.
I proposed making a printed work of fiction that featured paradolic images and a fictional text. Paradolia is most commonly used to describe the act of seeing faces in natural structures. In my project these faces would come to suggest the landscape is alive, maybe that it was even conscience.
The philosophical concept that everything material has a conscience is known as panpsychism. My paradolic faces quickly became a kind of visual proof of the existence of panpsychism in the valley. Those artists’ old stories and journeys could be buried in the ground of the valley but still breathing, the artists faces appearing in the trees and in the water. Their voices now howls in the wind.
As with most projects, I start shooting photographs first. The trees were still leafless at that time which visually suited the way this gothic story was coming together. Covid restrictions did affect the number of people I managed to interact with, but a number of narratives developed through the people I did meet.
In the the final version of the work, the text is the valley itself speaking. Very much conscience. It is welcoming people back. The valley is old and wise, but can be a bit cross too. It wants to encourage us humans to embrace its physical realm. Embrace it as something with a conscience and be at one with it. The work became a dramatic landscape talking to us, setting up an environment we could embrace sensually, where we would not be afraid of death.
The viaducts and the aqueducts in the Dee Valley are obviously key visitor sites and visually dominating. I explored many other, less well documented, parts of the valley but I couldn’t ignore the viaducts and aqueducts completely. I developed a collage from both photographs of those imposing man-made structures and other images from the valley: images with a strong horizon that lines up visually with the viaduct and aqueduct shots. It wraps the booklet cover inside and out, and it aims to visualise how everything in the valley is connected. This graphic idea then continued into the design of the inside of the booklet. The text sits above a horizontal black block at the start of the booklet, but then descends line by line into the black as the publication proceeds: burying itself.
I visited the Dee Valley many times during the residency to take photographs and write the text, and also gave a public talk about the work on October 1st 2021. The final publication is called Vale Voice and 100 copies of the A5 B&W booklet were printed. Many of the copies were given to people I met during the project and therefore remain in the Dee Valley.
Selection of images from the work:
A few of the recipients of the booklet: