• Martyn Hudson Watts

Reiver lands


Back in 2013 a group of us based in Newcastle and Northumberland developed a project to try and understand the knowledges that we shared with each other. That conversation included Allenheads Contemporary Arts, VARC and others and we spent a few months thinking about art and culture in rural communities. It was fun and convivial and like any university-supported project full of problems and contradictions and I thought a lot about it ever since. Call Centre has allowed others and myself to come back again to those places that some never left. What were those themes that still, to some extent, haunt me?

Firstly, it was clear that universities often act as predatory knowledge extractors willing to take data and archives and folklores from communities without sharing much in return. I was told, up at Tarset, by one respondent that she wasn't really interested in anything I could share with her and nor was she particularly keen on sharing her hard-won knowledge with me - I was neither asking the right questions nor being reciprocal.

Secondly, and it seems trite to say this but those who are immersed and embedded in specific localities have knowledge of that landscape and the art that can be produced in it that is very different from people like me parachuting in with the arrogance of the outsider. We must listen so carefully to the voices of those fields and trees. Alan Smith often posts pictures and films about the 'nothingness' of that landscape knowing full well that the thingness of those places are complex and emerge out of deep histories.

Thirdly, this is debateable land, reiver territory - from Allenheads to the border and beyond. Indeed it is a land of many borders - the littoral of the sea, the fells and mountains, rivers, dialect, peoples. None of this is seamless - we can see the seams in the land and below it, the fractures, schisms and boundaries. Indeed we can see those fractures in our own interiors as our minds struggles with who we are, who we are not and who we construct solidarity with. And beyond this are other places, artists, satellites and correspondents all bringing to us here the embedded knowledges of their own microspheres.

All of this is debateable, its up for grabs, experimental and often chaotic - it reminds me of that fractured landscape up at Allenheads. Contested, antagonistic and full of learning and care.

© 2018 Allenheads Contemporary Arts, Allenheads, Hexham, Northumberland NE47 9HR

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