A walk amongst ghosts of the self

by | Nov 19, 2020

caroline aitken in orchard

Guest blogger Dr Bram Arnold, Associate Lecturer for MA Poetics of Imagination at Dartington Arts School, writes after his recent time with us teaching on Module 2 of the programme on site here at Dartington Trust.

It is late, Halloween dark, the courtyard propped up by a yellow full moon rising, my 11 week old son Merlin is occasionally asleep in the room next door, as baffled by the extravagance of the central heating system as I am – we have the windows open, the night creeps in.

I will go out walking again in the morning, amidst the frost of the autumn and the quiet of an emergent lockdown, a closed pub, a slumbering estate, all leaf blowers, Barbour wellies and little fluffy dogs. I see myself as an MA student, stumbling across the lawn with a whiskey glass. I see myself as an artist checking out a walk at dusk for a performance the following dawn. I see myself as an academic, giving a paper in the dark of studio 1 on brightly coloured paper under spotlights. I see myself as a son who has just lost a father, I see myself as a father who has just gained a son. I walk amidst these ghosts at dawn and the frost just crackles, regardless, the Robin’s continue their territorial flitting’s, regardless, the cattle, bellow hot breath into cold air, regardless, and the season flips from the last bright days of autumn that whisper still of summer, to the brisk cold dawn of winter that calls for the deathly sleep of every thing. I am reminded of the notion of an ecological form of subjectivity, something I am currently writing towards, wherein the ‘I’ of my self is a composite of all the contexts I carry, played out in the new light of a given day.

view through great hall entrance archway

The self thus defined can only really be evidenced by that which surrounds it: like the Magellan Cloud, that object in the sky of the southern hemisphere, that on a clear night can only be seen if you do not look directly at it. It is a deep space object whose darkness in the sky is too heavy for the eye to see, but look just beside it, and the eye can make out this form, darker than the darkness. The best way to talk about one’s self is to look just beside it, to see what it touches, to see where the edges shimmer and to thus arrive at some form of definition of the thing, catching it in each moment anew, simply an ever changing part of an ever changing ecology. That the rush of technology at this end of late capitalism demands we crystalize our ‘self’ so that ‘I’ can become packaged product, calculated commodity, definable data, is part of the torment we are being dragged through at the cusp of this emergent geologic era known as the anthropocene.

On the MA in Poetics of Imagination I gather the students out on the veranda for an iteration of a performance/reading group, a happening called Bibliotherapy for the Anthropocene. A flock of Fieldfares in the ancient yew tree for company, we tell each other stories, read each other poems, and attempt to consider what this new myth of the anthropocene might need to hear to make it feel better. What words do we need to speak, what lessons do we need to be reminded of, what conversations have we already had, over time and through space, culture to culture, generation to generation, mouth to mouth that we could draw on? To revisit these old lessons, in this place of many old and older lessons is a gift and a treasure, gently held, a privilege and a burden: for what do we choose to do with our time, or as Martin Shaw asks, in which temple do we serve, as we step towards this new art school in this old place…

Dr Bram Arnold
Associate Lecturer for Poetics of Imagination, Dartington Arts School 

Bram is an artist who started with walking and kept going into performance, drawing, installation, writing, broadcasting and academia, making work that is ecological in disposition whilst being romantic in its methods and conceptual in its outcomes. His transdisciplinary practice was instigated through studying Social Sculpture alongside ecology under Shelley Sacks at Oxford Brookes University before undertaking an MA in Art and Ecology at Dartington College of Arts, following which he completed a practice-based PhD in walking, writing and performance with Dartington alumnus Professor John Hall at Falmouth University. He lectures in Fine Art at Falmouth University and is currently a Creative Fellow at the Environment & Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter in Cornwall.