in conversation with Lydia Halcrow

Can you describe where you are and what you can see from your window?
I’m in a city in South West England. From my window I can see green things and chimney pots and poking behind, I can just see the hills across the valley. I’ve little glimpses of framed views which now seem fuller than ever with birds and butterflies giving me some hope for the future.

What is your chosen medium for recording your work?
I’m working with paper to record the imprint of found objects collected along the shared walk and added to each day since. Many seem to be cans of alcohol or tins of tomatoes which says so much about life in lockdown and emerging behaviours. Alongside this sit a series of small drawings acting as maps and ruminations reflecting on control and anxiety in our current situation made just after the first shared walk and on subsequent daily walks. The drawings reference the first use of scale mapping in the Cassini Map of France (1747) - and the humble triangle becoming a signifier of ownership and power through scale, something I have been researching for a little while now. It is something that keeps cropping up in my drawings even when I try and branch out into other shapes and forms and appeared again in a small drawing I made after returning from our shared Landlinks walk as I re-walked the shape of the route again in my head.

Scratching the Surface (Abandoned ship recordings, Taw Estuary) 30 x 110cm, Iron Oxide on Hahnemuhle

What and who is the 'driving' force or major influence for your work?Finding alternative and democratic ways to map through the sensorial and embodied nature of walking has been central for many years now. I use deliberate strategies that force me to slow down, observe and notice, often the overlooked things on the ground, the materials, debris and textures we all walk over as we pass from one place to another on foot (or in other modes of transport). Mapping and drawing in collaboration with a place through my walking body is a constant aim in how I approach and develop ways of walking and responding with a place over time and repeated walks and steps, feeling hands and sensing body.

Landscape is important area of creative exploration to you. Can you describe your favourite landscape and why?
The place I keep returning to and the case study for my ongoing research project is the Taw estuary in North Devon. Until recently my grandmother lived on the banks of the estuary so it is a place I have spent much time as a child and then at intervals growing up. I returned there for a sustained investigation through walking in the year running up to her one hundredth birthday and directly after I had my second daughter, so the role of time, memory and the ebb and flow of this place have been a central focus. In returning and slowing down I am working with the estuary to create an ongoing series of maps through my walking body that record the textures, materials and processes in this place at a point in time when rising sea levels as a result of climate change will cover much of the ground over which I walk in my children’s life-time (and probably mine). So these maps offer a non-digital and deliberately fragile and shifting material record of this landscape.

Rust Recordings (Abandoned Ships, Taw) mild steel, multiple dimensions

Can you talk a bit about walking and the importance of walking in/to your work?
I come from a family of walkers, I have long since felt that there is a restless gene in my family that I have inherited, on one side my Grandmother walked across England and across much of Europe with 4 small children, on the other side daily walks were part of family life. These aren’t romantic memories though, walking was enforced when I grew up and most of the time I resented it, so I find as an adult there is a re-appropriation of walking and where / when / the duration of the walks I take. We live in a time of so much control that even doing nothing can take on the quality of a radical act, as Rebecca Solnit explores - a lone walking female can be a radical figure. I see walking as opening up small pockets of space and time to step outside of technology and the capitalist model, and instead to day dream and imagine. I also see that having the time to walk and the body able to do so is a privilege, there have been times when this has not been possible, so walking is something I am thankful for every time I am able to go for a walk, it is never something that I take for granted.

You are part of the Landlinks project and the synchronised walk that took place on 22nd March. We would love to hear your feedback on this networking initiative and your resulting work from that walk.
Coming as this did at a time of Covid-19 restrictions and anxiety the walk offered a shared experience when the world felt uncertain and even the most familiar of walks suddenly unfamiliar and full of challenges and unknowns. I am not good at following basic instructions and tend to deliberately leave technology out of my walks (other than sometimes tracking a route) so this aspect was a real challenge for me - and mostly I failed in following even basic instructions! Not quite deliberately I think, but perhaps with the idea of small acts of resistance in mind, and the backdrop of daily childhood walks being very much enforced this offers up some sense of why I went a bit off route and off brief and off timing. That said I find the range of interpretation from other walkers stemming from a single set of instructions and the act of stepping one foot in front of another awe inspiring, so I feel lucky to be part of this group especially at this strange moment in our collective histories.

Do you collaborate with other artists or groups? If so who and why?
Yes. I often walk and work alone, but sometimes with my children (with a form of playful collaboration stemming from this. I also walk sometimes with groups of school children finding ways to map their places together. I am a member of a research group called Space Place Practice that explores place and often walking in relation to place, this allows me the time to meet others interested in this way of working, share ideas, pose questions and hear about other practices. I am part of an academic research network in that I am towards the end of a practice-based PhD in Fine Art exploring the Taw Estuary through walking, this opens up more conversations and collaborations with other researchers within Art and Environmental Humanities which feeds my walking and thinking body with ideas and possibilities. But equally sometimes walking and working alone is great - and my collaborator is the estuary and the more-than-human world I encounter through my sensing body, so I am never alone, just not walking necessarily with other people.

The Covid 19 is having a massive impact on so many lives. Are you able to say what effect it is having on your working/creative life and what you have planned once Covid 19 retreats?
I have two primary aged children, so along with work, research and life I am now trying and mostly failing to home school them. It is a daily challenge to try and think of creative activities, and also to open up ways of working through daily concerns and fears about this strange situation in which we find ourselves. In many ways I’m trying not to think too much beyond today (and each day) because when I do it all becomes overwhelming very quickly, I think particularly as we have no end date in mind, so in walking terms I am trying to trudge along or as some Canadian fellow walkers in the Himalaya once said to me ‘keep trucking’. I am making less because I can’t get to my normal studio and workshops, so things are getting smaller and more basic, but there is always opportunity in that which I am (mostly) embracing. I am seeing this time in many ways as a time of reflection, if I am lucky enough to stay healthy then I hope that some aspects of our restrictions will stay with me once they ease off - the daily list of thank yous for all the things I am grateful for that I feel I previously overlooked, and the daily list of thoughts and hope for so many others in really difficult and sad situations. I hope that once Covid 19 retreats we might find other ways of living together and with our planet that allows our surroundings the space, time and lack of pollution / noise / human intervention etc. that it needs to exist and to some extent recover from our sustained damage caused over decades of taking too much and seeing places as a ‘resource’ to plunder.
instagram: @lydiahalcrow