Futility is the way home
Walking The Miners Way Trail on Saturday 5th August
This performance piece will involve walking the 27mile Miners Way route in Dover district. I will be carrying 10kg of coal and shall endeavour to complete the trail in a single day.
Meeting 21st-century challenges with 19th-century answers.
Futility is the way home looks to merge the notion of an uphill struggle and the improbable nature of humanity to invoke change, to create an artwork which becomes self-aware of its own futility. By walking the 27 mile Miner’s Way Trail, a route which connects the abandoned mines and mining towns of the Kent Colliery System, whilst carrying ten kilograms of coal, I am enabling the viewer to engage with the preconceptions of endurance and futility. What is it like to view a work which knows and comments on its own failures? A work which insists upon its own difficulty and, somewhat Biblically, punishes the artist for attempting to bring about change he knows he cannot.
The walk will start at the home I grew up in, follow the trail in an anti-clockwise direction, then cyclically return to the start. By inviting people to view and perform any and all of the walk with me, I am opening the performance up to a somewhat dérive experience, whereby we will engage with the landscape, history, future, policies, ecology and society of the area, through the existential lens of a futile endeavour. At ten stages of the walk I will take one kilogram of coal and make an arrow, pointing in the direction of travel, on the ground. Each of the arrow constructions, as well as ten parts of the walk, will be videoed and photographed for documentation. These will be added to a live blog which has been running to document the full process of the project.
After the performance piece I will write a poem about the experience. This will be printed and hung for an exhibition along with photographs of the ten arrows, a map graphic, and a video which will alternate between the ten one minute clips of the walk and those of the arrow constructions. All of this will be mounted on a wall which has been covered by the eleven hessian sacks used to carry the coal; ten individual sacks of one kilogram, and one sack to carry all ten others.
By futilely marching across the Kentish landscape, I am fusing a global issue with the local community, referencing individual inaction contributing to global apathy. In punishing myself, I take the blame for those who talk but do not act. Utilising differentiated visual mediums, the project tells a story to the viewer, imploring their emotions in the most fundamental method for solicitation of empathy.
The performance will start in Wingham, at the home I grew up in, and follow the route counter-clockwise, until I end up at the start, at home.
The walk will take approximately 9 hours:
- Wingham - 8am
- Goodnestone - 8:45
- Aylesham - 9:30
- Nonington - 10:00
- Frogham - 10:30
- Sheperdswell - 11:00
- Elvington - 11:30
- Tilmanstone - 12:30
- Northbourne - 1pm
- Eastry - 2:30
- Hammil Foundry - 3:00
- Ash - 3:45
- Staple - 4:15
- Wingham - 5pm
The work will comment on the ever growing feeling of futility in the fight against climate change. Some younger generations have expressed a feeling of pre-traumatic stress disorder at the inaction of society to tackle global warming. These mines closed 28 years ago, yet the industry they created has still not been replaced with greener technologies, sustainable energy or sustainable employment. This work will talk about that feeling, drawing on the inadequacy of action to create change, by pushing myself to walk with the burdens of our modern society on my back.
Futility is the way home
Bearing down upon me,
finding my bearing,
Scorched ground bleeds through
to make contact,
foot on land,
between rocks and a hard place,
between coal and Earth.
Boring, bleeding, burning, boiling, bearing, burdening.
Dry land, dry mouth, wet brow, sore.
Sounds from movement,
silence from inaction.
Tearing, teetering, toiling, taming, tombing, tasking.
Delusions of vast change
fade into realism,
fall into chasms,
burn into dust.
As the coal was carried in hessian sacks, the dust from the coal fell through the mesh holes and covered my neck and hands.
The performance was filmed by my wife. We selected ten sections of the walk as well as the ten arrow constructions to document.
These are the ten arrows which were made and left at ten locations along the trail. In creating the arrows at various waypoints on the trail, the piece conveys a sense of movement. These provocative visuals, to push people into action, are an aggressive insistence for the need to progress forward. Much as Alÿs’s artwork trails water, the duration of which lasts but a moment, by leaving the coal to be enveloped back into the soil, the trace left from my work continues to comment on society after the performance has finished. Ice is quick to form and quicker to vanish. Coal takes eons to form and is vanished far too quickly by contemporary society. Though my hope is that the fixed feelings of those who see the remnants of my performance, will push them to question these reminders of our current failings.
Some students joined for the majority of the walk, from Shepherdswell to Wingham.
This is the map I used to follow the route, and plan where to place the arrows.
There were a few people who asked about the performance along the way, curious to know why I was carrying a sack of coal and leaving some as arrows as I went.
The sack weighed 11kgs, ten sacks filled with 1kg each, then an eleventh sack to hold all other ten. The sacks weighed 1kg in total.
Purely by coincidence we bumped into the organisers of the Kent Miners Festival hanging up banners on the route.
A few practice arrows on a practice walk to establish locations and looks of the arrows.
The first full 27mile route with the full ten kilograms in a back pack.
This was the 4th of 6 times practicing the route, to build up my body to be able to complete the challenge, but also to familiarise myself with the trial.
This is the news article the Kentish Gazette wrote about the piece.
As the sacks are the remains of the performance, they should be used in some manner to physically connect the exhibition display with the performance piece. This also serves to give verisimilitude to the display of the work. To form a less clinical experience for the viewer and one which conveys a sense of the physicality of the work, as the sacks not only have a natural element to them, they have also been stained and dirtied by the coal; there is a look, a texture, and a smell, which will enable the coal to have some presence in the display.
One week after the performance, I walked to the first five arrows I had placed. Only one remained intact, with four others having been disturbed and destroyed in some manner. On Saturday the 2nd of September, I will go to the other five arrows, having been there for one month, and photograph what remains from those.
It is not enough for me to just make thought provoking art, but to form provocative art which urges the viewer to change. By forcing myself to walk with the burdens of our modern civilisation on my shoulders, I am creating art which punishes for the impertinence of asking too much from my viewers, for thinking art can push society as much as society pushes art. Though not propagandist, this work is activist.