Artists explore the hidden side of Lake District Coast

Artists explore the hidden side of Lake District Coast

Three artists inspired by the varied landscape and rich heritage of the Lake District coast, its people and places have worked with local communities to find new creative ways to help the public connect with this unique stretch of the world tackle the northwest coast.

As part of the Deep Time public arts programme, and supported by Arts Council England, three artist residencies have been hosted by the Center for National Parks and Protected Areas (CNPPA) at the University of Cumbria. The residencies, which began in May 2022, were designed to embed artists in Copeland and explore the core themes of Deep Time’s arts program, including the region’s rich geology, diverse landscape, and cultural and industrial heritage.

The artists featured are Alistair Debling, Jamie Jenkinson and Christina Picchi, all paired with a CNPPA academic research partner. All three artists have spent significant time in the area exploring the countryside and speaking with locals to develop their artistic responses. From Wastwater to St Bees Head to the nuclear landscapes north of Drigg, the artists in residence have all worked to get under the skin of the area to inform their diverse artworks.

Christina Picchi is an award-winning Italian filmmaker, artist and writer developing an immersive video installation on the theme of water. She works closely with Dr. Gill Notman, an applied chemistry professor specializing in marine and freshwater biology.

Cristina has worked with Gill to analyze water samples and capture footage from a variety of locations including Copeland’s active quarries, a large dairy farm powered by water runoff from Black Combe Mountain and footage of the massive Walney offshore wind farm array. The video footage, photos and sounds captured by the artist will form the basis of her cinematic work, including state-of-the-art underwater recordings used to capture sounds and vibrations not normally audible to the human ear.

Cristina says This project brings together many of the themes I have explored over the past decade, including the relationship between people and their environment and my ongoing interest in landscapes and immersive soundscapes. Ultimately, I want to create an immersive installation that people can immerse themselves in and connect with this territory and its reality. I have learned so much already and it will be wonderful to introduce a new audience to the richness that lies beneath our feet but is often hidden from many.”

Cristina received a grant from nctm e l’arte to support her work in Cumbria, an independent project dedicated to contemporary art. Launched in 2011, it involves the creation of a collection, support for artists, interaction with Italian public institutions and cultural realities. It focuses on the themes of quality of life, rights and justice, curated by Gabi Scari.

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Alistair Debling: Alistair is an interdisciplinary artist working in installation and performance, based in South Lakeland. He is producing two films that focus on Copeland’s agricultural and nuclear industries, dealing with unexpected stories and stories that are often overlooked. He has with Professor Dr. Lois Mansfield of the University, Professor of Upland Landscapes and CNPPA Director, which included the study of upland agricultural practices, including foraging.

The core element of Debling’s work was a process of in-depth interviews with Sellafield workers to explore their experiences of maintaining a nuclear site and their experiences of being queer. His conversations with the LGBTQ+ network in Sellafield highlight interesting parallels with concepts of “safe spaces”, “half-lives” and “hard-to-reach” areas.

Alistair comments, “People were very generous and open. The conversations were amazing and this has been my favorite part of the process so far; Making connections, finding out new things and rethinking my perspective.

“Both plays were interesting to film since the pages are so cinematic. I also use a technique known as photogrammetry, where I overlay photos of objects, structures and spaces from multiple angles and turn them into 3D digital models.”

Deep Time Jamie Jenkinson

Jamie Jenkinson is a Morecambe-based artist and researcher who develops locally-based research methods to make, reflect on, and engage with Copeland, which he describes as “Copeologies” (spelling “Cope[land]’ and ‘ology’ means to study). He worked on his research with Dr. Jamie McPhie, MA Outdoor and Experiential Learning course leader at the University of Cumbria’s Institute of Science and Environment. Jamie is a former performance artist with interests in art and eco-philosophy.

Jamie has been backpacking the area collecting a variety of information and objects: from photos and digital scans to flower presses, rock rubbings and even water bottles from various locations. Atmospheric sound recordings will also play an important role in an oral history archive, with the artist planning to use up to 5 hours of recordings with local people as the basis for his artwork/installation, encouraging audiences to listen and reflect on their own experiences with Copeland.

Jamie says “This project showed me how complex and rich Copeland is as a territory. From the water sports of Haverigg and the dunes of Drigg to the historic harbor of Whitehaven, the nuclear industry of Sellafield and the peaks of Scafell. The physical differences are so great, they pop in and out of the landscapes. There are contrasts that we don’t often experience in the bigger cities, at least not as viscerally – it’s a different sensibility. My goal is to be playful and relatable; I don’t want people to feel that the work is hard or too big for them. Ultimately, I would appreciate it if people had an emotional reaction to the work and expressed why it affected them – or not.”

Professor Mansfield, Director of the CNPPA at the University of Cumbria added: “The Cumbrian coast is unique; a harsh and ever-changing landscape shaped by its rich geology, cultural and industrial heritage, and communities. Members of our multidisciplinary research team at our Ambleside campus have enjoyed hosting Alistair, Jamie and Cristina and working together to uncover and share some of the stories and mysteries often overlooked by those who visit, live in the county or working. We are delighted to support our Deep Time partners in celebrating and showcasing this Lake District coastal landscape in such an innovative way in 2023 and beyond.”

All three artists will bring their work together at a symposium held as part of a broader series of Deep Time performances, screenings and events, and their artworks will be featured in the exhibition accompanying the project’s summer 2023 launch.

Deep Time is part of a larger coastal improvement project to bring the spotlight to this largely undiscovered stretch of coast. It was commissioned by Copeland Borough Council and funded by the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund, Sellafield Ltd’s Six Social Impact program and the Arts Council of England.

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