Writings and Proposals

Heaven Dips
Proposal for an installation/intervention by Russell Mills and Ian Walton

The Background

To most people the Lake District is perceived as being merely picturesque, pastoral, beautiful, quaint, - a chocolate-box Arcadia. Whilst these terms do apply to the region, especially to the Lakes and mountains at its core, Cumbria also comprises the industrial coastline of West Cumbria (from the historically and economically important seaports to the present implications of Sellafield), the rich farmlands of the Eden Valley, the bleak fellsides, Hadrian's Wall, the twin capitals of Kendal and Carlisle separated by the massive Shap Fells, the Northern shores of Morecombe Bay and the Solway Firth, etc., to make a large and divergent region which has been shaped by the climate and by human occupations within it.

This proposal seeks to suggest that apart from the chocolate-box image, the Lake District (as indeed all environments) is itself a continually changing work of human art, accumulative of the riches brought to it over two and a half centuries of human/physical development, of writing, of painting, of radical thinking and of personal self-exploration.

Many of our most influential and radical writers, thinkers, poets, artists and cultural theorists have been inspired by and drawn to the Lakes, from Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey. De Quincey, Ruskin, Tennyson, Turner, Hazlitt, Shelley, Keats, Emerson, etc., through to more recent figures, such as Kurt Schwitters, Adrian Berg, Andy Goldsworthy, John Hilliard, Melvyn Bragg and Fred Hoyle to name a few. Our awareness of the aesthetic of the landscape as being profoundly political and economic has been shaped, to a great extent, by their works, stemming from their reading of Nature as process, as metaphor, as school, and from their recognition of the ‘inseparatability of phenomena’.

Following the Wordsworthian imperative that poetry (or in this instance the arts) should disclose in the workings of the universe, analogues for the workings of the human mind and soul, i.e. nature underwrites the evolution of human culture, we propose an ‘installation/intervention’ (for want of a better definition) which is dependent on and which emphasises, the primacy of process allied to an abandonment to the risk of the instant.

Throughout, "Heaven Dips" will be based on the premise that all primary sources/signals are seen as potential, immanent not fixed, in constant flux and thereby capable or open to continual change. The chaos in unseen energies, the collusion and collision of the elements will be the triggers for all subsequent events. Environmental and climatic changes would drive and activate a series of processes, beginning in the land itself, from there via various editing and mixing facilities to be transmitted to a selection of end-user sites - public spaces, educational institutions, clubs, galleries and the world wide web.

The Installation/intervention

Six contemporary Aoelian Harp-like devices would be designed and made, each constructed and strung to complement a specific location and to capitalise on the prevailing winds of each site. Electric pick-ups and radio microphones would be connected to each, therby enabling the sounds to be routed to a mixing desk or a series of mixing desks. Locations will be determined by several factors of contextual continuity i.e. cultural/historical/economic significance to an areas evolution (or decline). Accompanying each harp, located nearby, would be a discreetly installed thermal imaging camera (heat seeking video camera as used by the Emergency Services, architectural surveyors and environmental agencies in the search for either heat loss or pollution) continually capturing the changing landscape (rural & urban) and the events that occur within it. Thermal imaging is a unique film process which enables the viewer to detect heat thereby producing images which transform naturalistic images into near negative images. Images of the everyday become evocations of ‘future ghosts’.

Sonic and visual signals will be transmitted via radio mics to pre-set mixing desks and receiving sites for further transmutations. Similarly six sonar microphones would be lowered into a series of Lakes, Tarns and rivers to gather and transmit the sounds of any unseen underwater activity. Again thermal imaging video cameras would be located nearby overlooking these sites. Audio and video signals would be transmitted to several venues say, in Cumbria and London, where they can be intercepted and transformed using video and audio mixing desks, en route to video projection sites, the internet, etc.

Possible sites for location of Aerial / Aoelian Harps and thermal imaging video cameras;

  1. Hardnott Roman Fort and Pass (main East-West route to & from coast).
  2. Workington, Iron Beach (industrial heritage).
  3. Sellafield (present & future heritage).
  4. Jenkins Crag, Langdale (the beginnings of mountain climbing).
  5. Kirkstone Quarry (working quarry bridging old industry with current economic climate).
  6. Dove Cottage, Grasmere (Wordsworth's home & birthplace of English Romanticism and the seeds of ecology).

Possible sites for location of sonar mics and Thermal imaging video cameras;

  1. Haweswater (man-made resevoir in which the flooded village of Mardale is intact).
  2. Wastwater (deepest Lake in England).
  3. Rydal Water (Wordsworth's favourite Lake).
  4. Cragwood on Lake Windermere (apart from being the tourist heart of the Lakes, Windermere hides on its shore the site of Cragwood where there are a series of partially submerged huge slabs of rock, all meticulously carved with large inscriptions, immaculate Roman letterforms cut in secret by a stonemason called Longmire in the 1830's. [Longmire was also a poet & a wrestling champion!] These bear either treasonable criticisms against the government of the day or appreciations of influential figures of the time such as Newton, Davey, Nelson, Jenner, Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott and even Robin Hood).
  5. Whitehaven (once a major seaport influential in bringing growth to the county).
  6. Grizedale Forest (a tarn within the forest; to reflect on its history of change from agricultural to forest and to cultural centre).

Possible end-user sites;

The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal; Abbot Hall Art Gallery & Museum of Lakeland Arts & Crafts, Kendal; Dove Cottage, Grasmere; Tullie House Art Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle; Grizedale Forest, near Hawkshead; public and/or gallery sites in Manchester and Liverpool; Euston Station concourse; Piccadilly Circus (using large back projection screens); Tate Modern at Bankside (projected internally or externally); the Lloyds Building; Canary Wharf Building; Leicester Square; Royal College of Art; the I.C.A.; World Wide Web; etc.

All of the above are intial ideas and are not fixed; further research into contextual appropriateness will suggest others. Another possible end-user site might be a "live" venue, indoor or outdoor, where all the signals can be fed into a series of mixing facilities, transformed via effects in real time to create a live event, a new aural and visual environment, a concert of sound & vision ... Also all elements could be transmitted via the internet, inviting users to access and re-mix/respond in real time and return their transformed material to a central "response bank". These could become the basis of a new work - edited, mixed for a book, a CD-R, a film, etc.

Such a project would also extend our area of practice from the studio to public places, thereby giving wider access to the public and avoiding where possible the usual elitist aesthetic ghettos of the "art world".

"Heaven Dips" can be considered as a form of cultural and environmental acupuncture, an aerial or antenna focusing on temporal moments, charting the ceaseless changes and movements within and on the land, the water and the air. Harps driven by the winds, pulses of unknown origins rising from beneath the waters and electronic scannings across variable terrains will cause any person or animal entering these environments to make an unwitting transition from spectator to participant. All audio and visual signals having been transformed via various treatments, will on one level capture the essence of the ‘economy of nature’, whilst on other levels will pose questions about our socio-political responsibilities to our environment, issues of heritage, ownership and access, aesthetics of place and of economics, thereby creating links between a known past and possible futures. The familiar will be re-animated through a re-contextualisation of the given elements. Anchored by a contextual reverence for culture the "Heaven Dips" will also explore notions of the ephemeral and the enduring. From the animate, organic, random flux of nature, energies will be transformed into new visual and sonic contours of the everyday media landscape.

Russell Mills and Ian Walton










  2004-05 © Russell Mills design: raffaelemalanga.com