In an era where technology rules the day, every day, when does humanity observe, experience and exist through physicality? As I'm writing this post, I'm glued to my computer screen; recollecting a physical encounter between my body and nature by lending my words to an intangible coding system. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Space, Place and Sensations, a seminar attached to Odyssean: Topographies at Hestercombe, Taunton - the culmination of four artists' residences undertaken in the Orkney Isles.
Following a morning of lectures delivered by Harriet Hawkins and John Wylie on land experience, Natasha Rosling (one of the four Odyssean: Topographies artists) and collaborator Vilma Luostarinen reinvigorated our physical selves through a feast of earth- and ocean-inspired food. Titled Edible Coastlines, the lunch entwined the physical and the cognitive; encouraging our minds to forge new, imaginary spaces within the caverns of our bodies through the tactile sensations of touch, texture and taste, and the optics of colour and form.
Poetic and ritualistic in its delivery, Edible Coastlines is a veritable odyssey: its menu, which reads like stanzas in a poem, provides a lyrical migration along an imagined shoreline where land, sea, body and mind all meet. There's also a personification of both nature and alimentation which sparks a meditative journey in the mind: dumplings are described by the artists as 'body cakes', laid down to rest on an ocean floor of kelp. Even the seaweed platter mimics a form other than itself: dense and moist, it resembles the rich and nutritious soil that exists beneath our feet.
"The Isle of Body,
Dumpling, potato, soy mince, mushroom, leek,
Resting on a Bed of Delicate Greens,
Land purslane and tatsoi with sea sprigs and sea spirals,
A Sip of Ocean,
Dashi, British kombu kelp, mushrooms and mineral water.."
"Layers in the Cliff Face,
Strata Crackers, raw buckwheat, sunflower seeds, shony seaweed, sea salt flakes,
Time has Been Folded into it,
Carbon Buns, charcoal, fresh yeast, sea salt, honey, and air worked into organic flour"
These playful linguistics - onomatopoeic and at times alliterative - tell a story of the land, ahead of its proposed wanderings through our bodies. The imagery of layered sedimentary rock and compression of fallen trees ignites a new consciousness and respect for the ingredients both in the meal and in the land. It takes time: time to prepare, process, cook, serve, eat and digest; time to seed, grow, decay, fall, compound and recreate. Time: an element rarely afforded to us by modern living.
The audience, who are guests at the Edible Coastlines table, become participators and creators: each viewer scoops celeriac-spinach dip and tumeric-infused cabbage onto a strata cracker, and slowly ingests it into their own body. The transferal of energy, from land to body, and artist to participator, is rarely the centrepiece of an artwork. This physically and psychologically intimate connection introduces a part fictional, part factual narrative. It's an immersive storytelling activity: one which entangles us in a ritualistic act of eating.
Attention to detail such as the casting of rocks to form bowls and a predefined order of service (a bed of seaweed and kelp waited patiently in our plates for a dumpling followed by a wave of dashi served by the two artists) generates a refuge of stillness. Mirroring Harriet Hawkins' morning lecture on subterranean spaces, Edible Coastlines, much like the sport of caving, separates us from everyday modernity and reconnects with a bygone natural history. There's also a tinge of nostalgia for the lack of nature in our lives: each place setting has an individual message reminding the audience of childhood curiosity - mine read "a nose nestled between the shrubs."
Through the ingestion of earth- and sea-based assets such as charcoal bread and seaweed, the viewer and the land are brought into closer proximity: something that ultimately couldn't happen without a pre-established distance from it (distance between humans and nature is a theme which flows through the exhibition and a concept highlighted in John Wylie's talk.) Though consumed, the food is presented with a refined, dining etiquette to foster a new found respect for the land, our own bodies and fellow humans at a collective, non-hierarchical table.
And yet, distance lingers: the experience remains human-centric and throws into question whether nature is being brought towards us, or us towards nature? The audience is being healed by the land: when is the land to be healed by the audience?
All photographs courtesy of the Odyssean Project, 2018.