in conversation with Caroline Morris

Can you describe where you are while writing this and what you can see from your window?

I am sitting at my desk, which currently shows the aftermath of recent acrylic ink use. I am lucky to have a ‘study’ to work in with a good-sized desk, bookshelves, and a comfy seat to sit and read. Looking to my left through the window, I can see the trees at bottom of the garden and just about make out the field behind which at the moment is a swathe of teasels. Regretfully, in the coming months teasels will be replaced by a building site. However, a few steps from my door I can get into the green and ‘reasonably’ fresh air, which is always a tonic, despite the slightly neglected agricultural landscape, the rhythmic susurrations of the dual carriageway and the occasional roars emanating from the nearby airbase.

What is your chosen medium for recording your Landlinks work?

Generally, I’m not very loyal to any one medium; I have quite a mixed artistic background. I set out on the 22nd trying not to have planned particularly, so the medium needed to just document for me. Therefore, I went to my go-to walking medium, the camera. In previous projects I have some sort of plan in mind, can return to places repeatedly and so to a certain extent I can let the project decide the medium. In this instance, apart from a particular start and end point, any planning was out of my hands and probably wouldn’t have been in the spirit of the project. The visual documents of my walk are the material for some lockdown play – hence the recent acrylic ink stains on my desk.

What and who is the 'driving' force or major influence for your work?

The impulse to create is a driving force and, possibly foolishly, I have only in the last six months realised how key creativity is to my mental wellbeing, likewise walking. I also live with a creative person which helps drive things. For the last twenty years I have also been influenced by museum and heritage practices which may explain why I particularly relished ‘decay’ as a prompt word, especially as I was walking the towpath of a defunct canal. I have become drawn to the traces of the past in the landscape; the textures, erasures, imprints left by past events, and the abstractions and beauty you can find in decay.  Although not a walking or landscape artists, I have always been inspired by the work of Cornelia Parker, Susan Hiller, and the director Peter Greenaway.

You work in a variety of different mediums...and working methodologies may differ. How important is research and experimentation to your work and can you outline some of your working processes for us?

Perhaps for the first time, in this project I have not started with masses of research. Usually I trawl the histories of the place, look at maps, have certain ideas about a place before I walk it. I have a particular interest in folklore, heritage and hidden histories; walking routes that include places associated with such ‘stories’ means that research has been a key part of my process. However, this does mean that it can become a bit of a quagmire. I’ve fully embraced the Viewranger app as a means of recording walks, and also enjoy the possibilities that the What3Words app throws up – some serendipitous word combinations with the occasional oddities. Then it’s time to play with the pictures, route drawing and words to see what comes out.

Can you talk a bit about walking and the importance of walking in/to your work?

Using walking as a starting point for work only came into my practice since finishing my theory-based research a few years ago. Perhaps it was a reaction, a means of getting away from theory, that pushed me out of books into the landscape; even my art practice had been research orientated before that. Or perhaps it was only then that I realised that the walking was a creative act and could be a part of my practice rather than just as an enjoyable thing that keeps me sane: slow on the uptake perhaps. Walking also means that it is far more difficult to become bogged down, it gives perspective on work and life somehow.

What do you think about when walking?

Walking is excellent thinking time – unless you set out with that intention, then it’s just a frustrating route march, you can’t force it. So, unless I have something specific project in mind, I try and make myself just walk to see what happens. I’ve not always let serendipity do its thing but that’s a relatively recent lesson learnt. The lockdown furlough has actually been a real help in loosening up in that way. I also like to practise a technique a mindfulness practitioner once told me about; focusing on one sense, sound for example, rather than fixate on one aspect of it you think of it like an orchestra with different parts of the whole rising to the surface of your attention and then receding, crescendos and diminuendos as it were.  In this way you can focus on the landscape and not disappear in the cares and concerns of ‘real’ life, which leaves you open to creative possibilities.

You are part of the Landlinks project and the synchronised walk that took place at the end of March. We would love to hear your feedback on this networking initiative and your resulting creative response to that walk.

I found the words really interesting to work with, and the regimentation of the instructions strangely freeing until I got distracted (working without attachment turns out to be a challenge). In hindsight I wish I had chosen a route that I had walked before, so I would have been less susceptible to the distraction at new things, and which also would have made a more interesting map: a towpath is a lovely thing but makes for more of a line than an interesting map. I felt a certain pressure from the requirement to check in with WhatsApp but then if that hadn’t had that then I would have got even more distracted.

Do you collaborate with other artists or groups? If so who and why?

Before the hiatus in creative practice, I have tended to work in isolation with the exception of a brief collaboration with a Cheltenham based artist, Lorna Trupec – this led to the creation of the Mercian Enactment Society which made four different re-enactments. Since my return to arts practice, I have greatly benefited from my connection with ‘Walking the Land’ but I think this is better described as an association rather than a collaboration – but that is probably better for them to define. I think I am better suited to working alone but collaboration is something which would be interesting to try again, if nothing else it is useful means of bouncing ideas around.

Landscape and the environment are both important areas of creative exploration to you. With current concerns about our environment, how do you see your role as an artist?

I have a particular concern for the loss of the cultural landscape, which is reflected in my interest in heritage and historic traces. I would like my work to be a means of telling the hidden stories in our landscape. Once those stories are told, places can potentially become more valued and therefore more likely to be preserved. I believe that narratives can animate landscapes and through this create more appreciated places. The artist can be a really valuable ally for the heritage industry in communicating with the public – the artist enhances and enlivens this communication and thinks outside the normal practices.

Can you describe your favourite place and why?

My go-to happy place is Dartmoor, especially the high moor. It’s wild, ancient, narrative rich, and on the moor, I feel as though I can really breathe. You can feel completely outside the modern world. The prehistoric hut circles, the tors, the stone rows, the blooming gorse & heather, the skylarks, the woodland, the rivers, the horses; the inspiration from the natural and cultural landscape is everywhere. The challenge is trying to convey the place in some way, which somehow you never quite can.

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?

This lockdown has meant that I have been furloughed from both my bookshop and museum jobs. While many have found this challenging, I have in some ways found this a small liberation, but I am very aware of how very lucky I am being in this situation. Clearly, I have more time on my hands, I no longer have to frantically multitask to fit being creative around my employment. More than that, I can procrastinate madly with less self-recrimination because there is still time to create some work post-procrastinate. Routine is my friend in this, I’ve created mini daily projects for myself, and of course had chance to look at the material created during the Landlinks walk. The key will be being able to keep some of the good habits I have acquired at this time and not pick up the old bad habits when the lockdown has eased.

Your work takes in many locations. It often references a ‘place’ and obviously influences your creative response. Is there a place that means more to you and why? 

Over the course of the last five years I have begun to really appreciate the village where I live. I’ve walked more of it and read more about it. As such it inevitable has become the place that I creatively respond to, especially during lockdown. It’s home so of course it means a lot to me – although my heart still remains on Dartmoor, even when I am unable to visit it.

What are you currently reading?

I have a habit of having several books on the go, especially non-fiction. So amongst others I am reading ‘The Moor: Lives Landscape Literature’ by William Atkins which means I have been to Bodmin, Dartmoor and Exmoor in one week without leaving home; and ‘The Making of Poetry’ by Adam Nicolson which is quite a dense read but interesting; the author follows those walking Romantics, Coleridge and Wordsworth, around Somerset in a combination of literary biography and travel writing. I’m looking forward to the announcement of the Wainwright Nature Writing Prize longlist this year – for the last two years I have challenged myself to at least read the shortlist before the winner is announced, and I intend to try and do that again this year. You get to read some great books.

Ask and answer your own question……Why is it that during lockdown we feel guilty for lack of ‘productivity’ rather than giving ourselves a break during this combination of stasis and upheaval?

We have time and some of us have the space and yet I have heard from artists and others about being blocked, stuck or frustrated. I’m not sure I can answer my own question though: perhaps it’s because we feel as though we should be doing something but are helpless to do so; perhaps it’s just the anxiety, the uncertainty of the situation dominates the mind, overriding the creative impulse. The challenge is become tolerant of uncertainty and be kinder to yourself – easier said than done. So, I’m just letting myself play with stuff and trying not to feel guilty about it.
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