Forging new pathways


American philosopher Susanne Katherina Langer’s career spanned over much of the twentieth century. Langer was a writer, an educator and she was the first female to be recognised as a philosopher in America. Her book, ‘Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art’ in 1942, explored theories that covered all of the arts, not just visual art. Whilst flicking through the pages my eyes rested upon this: ‘The “technique,” or treatment, of a problem begins as its first expression as a question. The way a question is asked limits and disposes the ways in which any answer to it – right or wrong – may be given.

Walking is embedded in my art practice. The question that I am asked regularly, is why I walk? Well, first and foremost, it’s a compulsion. The relationship I have with my environment has a direct correlation between the action of walking and the response to walking: the walk undertaken to arrive at the object as opposed to the walk that is the art work. Walking in any landscape is a sensory experience for me. Smell, touch, sights and sounds all feed into the ambulatory capital obtained from placing my feet, one in front of the other, in a repetitive fashion.

Going back to the quote from Langer’s book, I began thinking about people and place and in my capacity to act independently and to make my own choices. How much does society limit or determine my choices and impact upon my sense of belonging and do those limitations affect my sense of agency? The question ‘What gives me a sense of belonging?’ is a very different question to ‘Why don’t I feel a sense of belonging?’ So is my fundamental human need to belong driving my walking, and is my inability to connect socially, preventing me from feeling that sense of belonging?

I have lived in the north of Scotland for more than half of my life. I feel a connection to this land far beyond the confines of my own home. My spiritual, physical, social and cultural connection to Scotland is ever present, but my ‘Englishness’ is always on the periphery. My family hailed from the West coast of Scotland on my Grandmother’s side; driven down to Glasgow during the clearances and settling throughout the border regions of Northumberland and finally into the North-East of England.

The debatable lands and shifting borders that I inhabit through birth rite, are both physical and metaphysical and as a Geordie abroad I am torn between my need to belong and my inability to overcome my social awkwardness. Walking, not only connects me to place, it encourages me to connect socially with the people I often walk with.

Liminality in Anthropological terms, comes from the Latin word limen, meaning ‘threshold’; a period of ambiguity and disorientation. Linked to rites of passage this liminal space also pertains to how we structure identity, time and community. This new body of work is exploring the ‘No mans land’ that is my reality and the Cawdor Circular Burn walks have already resulted in my realisation that in part, I am the destructive instrument behind my alienation… but I am also a catalyst for change.