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.
A heartfelt piece of well written emotion. I truly identify with your spirit, it is similar to mine; having been brought up in the military and still, to this day, at 61 years young, travelling and moving around like a nomad with no real roots or sense of belonging other than where I am at this moment in time.
Each time I look up it’s the same dramatic sky, each time I look down its the same earth moulding my footprints and no matter where we are in the world, it’s the same sun and moon we all see, that’s my sense of belonging. I look forward to each day’s journey, welcome new encounters, experiences and creative engagement…..but, still struggle with always feeling like an unwanted weed, a dandelion that’s dispersed its seed, travelled and regrown where it landed, to then go on and repeat the cycle. People come and go, pollinating it’s brief existence.
The dandelion isn’t treated like a friend, not many love it or get to know it well, but tolerate it briefly before it is rejected, despite its many qualities offered in nature once it has landed on new territory, raising its little bloom of sunshine, shouting out to belong amongst the well rooted local blooms. A dandelion may be an unwanted alien in most gardens but it’s a mighty tough survivor in more ways than one. I am proud to be a dandelion, all dandelions have been and still are welcome in my garden.
I look forward to our mindful quiet walk together in nature where the real magic comes to its own and only those of us who believe in it and allow it’s spiritual connection in, understand the raw essence of how that important connection with our roots is.
Best wishes x
Thank you for reading my blog Lynne. I’m looking forward to sharing a walk with you too. Keep looking to the sun and breathing in our beautiful Scottish air.