(In a Forest of Signs)

Chalk Walk page

Chalk Walk consisted of a journey along the chalk path that runs between Brighton Marina and the village of Rottingdean. During the walk, small piles of coal were left at intervals a few metres apart upon the sea wall, and subsequently photographed. Each pile was arranged in a unique formation, taking into account existing cavities in the rock, the shape and colour of the wall, and proximity to any erosion or human interventions (screws, posts, etc.).

The work, though ‘silent’, embodied many of the ideas behind my participatory practice, with the omnipresent crashing of the waves soundtracking its composed visual elements. By situating the work at intervals along the linear path of a popular walking route, its audience were able to approach the materials involved from a multitude of positions – first as a pile of stones, then later as a deliberate incursion, experiencing the work as a process, a temporality that extended into the past (the memory of the piles they had passed) and the future (the expectation of those yet to come). This sense of temporality was underscored by the nature of the objects involved – coal and chalk are not only themselves products of processes, but those processes, rendered in the sedimentary layers, are made available to perception upon their surface.

Chalk is a defining feature of my practice - serving as an accessible and temporary method of augmenting the environment, as well as harbouring latent pedagogical and artistic connotations (school chalkboards, cave-paintings). I was also interested in its life-giving properties, particularly within the Sussex area. Chalk is present in both the water and the ground, and is as such integral to the habitation of the area: it provides sustenance for the flesh, but also serves as building material for much of the area's housing, literally shaping the landscape upon which the city is built. Furthermore, though life-giving, chalk derives from death, as the sedimentary remains of micro-organisms. It is an embodiment of the cyclical nature of humanity’s relationship to their environment. Like chalk, coal is a natural material comprised of fossilised remains, though of wood rather than shell. It also harbours life-giving properties - we not only require trees to breathe, but coal serves to heat our bodies and our homes, and (historically) to allow us to move at speed through the landscape.

Given the stark white nature of the chalk path, the inclusion of black coal along a path with no foliage of any kind is quite a dramatic visual proposition. The coal serves as a type of noise upon the environment, an unnecessary addition that breaches the area's uniformity. Each black pile is a violence upon the landscape, a disorder that points beyond the expected. The utility of natural materials in this way highlights the different processes underlying their very existence: the inclusion of coal prevents the perception of chalk as simply a thing that is there, instead opening it up to its own potential. To perceive the difference inherent in the two opposing materials is to lead the perceiver along a conceptual path as to how such differences came about, what material processes each has been subject to before that point, and what it means that they have ended up here together. Such perception relies upon a dual immediacy that allows objects and contexts to be witnessed concurrently. A focus on the extremely subtle differences in positioning, compacted by its presentation outside of any art context, created a work that did not particularly look like art at all. It is only through the act of navigating the chalk path and finding such piles recurring at intervals, that the work appears deliberately fashioned, rather than mere debris. Likewise, it is the time taken to travel towards the coal sculptures, and the act of walking between them, that places the perceiver in a position of orientation - it is the journey through a shared environment that makes the objects within it significant.

Chalkwalk also functioned as a performance, of a kind - the act of photographing each sculpture served as a more direct way of engaging passers-by in dialogue, framing the work as art, or at least as aesthetically interesting. In addition, walking a white chalk path while carrying 10kg of black coal is not exactly a subtle undertak- ing. The construction of each pile left me covered in increasing amounts of soot until, by the time the 3-mile trek had been completed, I was standing out as obtru- sively as my sculptures. The final performative element was the idea that I should, upon emptying the entire 10kg of coal upon the sea wall, collect that same weight in chalk and take it home with me.
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