in conversation with James Aldridge

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

I am writing this sitting on my bed as home schooling is happening downstairs. From my window I can see my garden. It’s a bit of a jungle, with honeysuckle growing over the fence and shed, and the window is open so I can hear the sparrows chirping loudly.

What is your chosen medium for recording your Landlinks work?

I don’t have one medium in mind for this work, it is evolving as I go along. When I went on the walk I had made a book to record my experiences. It was a concertina book with a different photo pasted onto every other page. Sometimes when I go on a walk I take a book made from photos of that place and then layer writing, found objects etc on top. This time I wanted to use random images from other places/times. I knew that the unfamiliar apps and the script of words and instructions would lead me in a new direction, and I wanted to surrender to that, allowing the images I took with me to meet and mingle with my experiences on the day.

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

My work is an integral part of who I am, so in that sense a good chunk of it is about my own wellbeing and sense of identity. Then there’s my intention to share with others the value of using artful ways of experiencing connection with the more-than-human world. I’ve spent a long time working on socially engaged projects in a range of settings, and they have shown me that art is needed as a way of supporting people to experience connection and belonging, for both individual and planetary health.

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

I’d say research is my work (or my work is research?). It is an unfolding and evolving body of research into the place of art within daily life, and its role in enabling ways of seeing and being with the world that are about relationship, dialogue and mutual understanding


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

Walking has always been central to my work, as a way of prioritising embodied ways of knowing myself and my place within the world. When I was at art college in the early 1990s, I found it very hard to work in a studio, so I used to disappear off to the woods and record my walks and the things I noticed along the way. Looking back, my working practices haven’t changed all that much, although I’ve widened the range of media that I use now, and my research has given me greater confidence in the value of what I do.

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

The walk came during quite a challenging period for myself and my family (and many others I’m sure) and it did me good to get out and give myself over to a process that was outside of my normal way of walking/making. The words, apps and other artists that I was sharing the experience with gave the walk a structure which enabled me to step outside of the need to be in control, or to worry about lockdown, homeschooling and money. It was quite therapeutic!

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

My participatory work takes place within different educational settings such as schools and museums, and in recent years I’ve developed a lot more collaborations with other artists too. My individual practice feels isolated without the collaborative or socially engaged work. By bringing them together I can find a balance, with each feeding into and informing the other.

Landscape and the environment is an important area of creative exploration to you. Can you describe your favourite landscape and why?

My favourite environment to be in has always been woodland. It feels like my natural habitat. I like the fact that it is a rich, multi-layered environment. There’s a sense of continual discovery. When we lived near Marlborough in Wiltshire I spent a lot of time in Savernake Forest, with beautiful old craggy oaks, and deer appearing and disappearing as if by magic. I enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by trees, and the association of forests with myths and stories.

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?

The majority of my paid work has been cancelled or postponed although I am continuing some work online with a project that I’ve been running called Ash Tree Stream, encouraging people to engage with and make art in response to Ash Trees. I’m also developing some new work with Climate Museum UK.
My husband, our son and I are all trying to work at home together and gradually finding our way through that. My arts practice is having to adapt to fit the little windows of time between school work, cooking and playing. It feels very similar to when I was on adoption leave. My work has become much more about my immediate environment. I keep a Kitchen Sketchbook which I use when washing up or just taking 10 minutes for myself, and I use dog walks to make Walking Bundles or write in my Walking Diary.
I don’t know what will happen after Covid 19, I hope we can all use this opportunity to make changes for the better, socially and in terms of the climate and ecological crisis. Within my arts practice I’d like to focus a lot more on the local, and support others to do the same. Less travel, less consumption, more experiences of connection.

What are you going to do for the rest of today?

First I’m going to go and feed the birds and check on my seedlings. Since lockdown I’ve become even more invested in the other beings that we share our space with; the Mason Bees capping tubes with mud; the female Blackbird with a broken leg that comes and feeds before I’ve finished putting the food out and our most recent arrival, a hedgehog which has moved in after years of hoping.
It’s not my turn for home schooling today so I’m working on a proposal for a workshop exploring the changing relationship between a community and their river. I will also be sending images from the Ash Tree Stream project to be included in a book, and gathering images and links for an upcoming series of blog posts on Acts of Tree Kindness as part of my role as a member of the Climate Museum UK team. I’ll also make sure I set aside some time for a walk to see if the swifts have arrived back in our village.