in conversation with Julius Smit


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

I am sitting at my desk, a multi-purpose creative space where I write, paint, make books and zines, and use my laptop. From my ground floor flat window I look out across part of the communal garden with its collection of well developed shrubs and bushes. In the centre of the lawn stands a mature eucalyptus tree, its pale trunk regularly shreds papyrus-like sheets of bark onto the grass. My window faces east, so in the morning I am often swathed in the energising glow of sunlight.

What is your chosen medium for recording your Landlinks work?

I’ve been involved in photography through most of my life, so it’s a medium I tend to use the most. I grew up with analogue photography but I am now well and truly in the digital realm. I have used analogue Super 8 film and digital video which I would like to use more of. Writing/reading poetry is my other medium and I am very interested in the connection between text and image when juxtaposed in printed formats. My favoured output medium is that of the printed zine; a low cost DIY publishing format with a long history of radical independence. Something well suited to the act of walking.

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

Both urban and rural landscapes, though in the current emergency it’s the rural which has been my driving force. Writers such as Edward Thomas, Richard Jefferies, W.G. Sebald and Robert Macfarlane nudge me to approach landscape in different ways. The ecological and ‘open field’ poetry of Maggie O’Sullivan, Harriet Tarlo and Frances Presley plays a significant part in how I am able to translate the sensory to that of a visual and textual interpretation. Filmmakers Andrey Tarkovsky and Margaret Tait influence my filmic approaches, whilst the photographic work of William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Fay Godwin has always stimulated me to express new interpretations of landscape features

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?

Essentially, I am interested in an alternative visioning when photographing landscapes. By that, I mean what is readily seen is bypassed in favour of the often dismissed. Shape, texture, tone and pattern are common markers which I am constantly on the look out for. Landscape reflects markings through camera and notebook; my footsteps and breathing are inscriptions in the form of images and texts. Walking is like a collaged narrative, the movement of feet intersecting with what is encountered, like the cut-ups of William Burroughs.

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

Walking is about space, reflection, immersion, imagination and an engagement with the human constructed features in both the urban and rural. I have always walked. Growing up as the eldest of four children in the early 1960s, money was tight and weekend recreation usually took the form of the family walk in and along lengths of the Chiltern Hills, a stretch of chalk landscape 45 miles (72km) long north-west of London. Walking is about slowing down, a vital antidote to contemporary ideas of production and doing.

from 'Treads' zine. Work in Progress

Use of language features in your work, alongside the visual. Can you talk a little about these dual observations?

I am fascinated by language in landscapes. I love found words encountered in such sites as street names, on billboards, notices in municipal parks and gardens, inscriptions on benches and tombstones, and graffiti. We often tend to think of writing as that of being located inside, in books, and dismiss as a matter of fact those texts which are situated in landscapes. Isolating a single found word can transform the way we think of that site or place we walk in.

What do you think about when walking?

I am a solitary walker. Being solitary allows for being, dreaming, space and thinking. Making images and allowing words or lines of poetry to come to me necessitates a state of being solitary. I think about things I have read, heard or seen. Things I have made or could make. I am often struck by the emotional pull or a sense of mystery of a place I am walking in, its possible associations with writers or artists. I am often aware of the state of the ‘other’, of my Dutch background and how my memories of earlier British and Dutch landscapes often seem to collage with a particular landscape I find myself in.

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.

To walk as part of a synchronised walking project is to experience a mix of creative impulses in terms of connection and disconnection and how these impulses can create a heightened sense of awareness in the space the walker is in. I took part without any digital tools during the walk and yet I was aware of strong ‘ley-line’ effects signalling imaginary markers as I walked in a rural landscape of gathering and making. The word prompts stimulated me to fuse both text and image.

from 'The Stone's Eye' zine

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

In 2018 I took up two participatory walking invitations as part of Blake Morris’s ‘A Wander is not a Slog’ project. I wanted to experience the distancing effect (how prescient this was to become) of a synchronised walk with Blake Morris and a few months later working with Jess Allen on the postal exchange of a pebble as part of a ‘Longshore Drift’ project. Here, the actions of participation and exchange worked alongside contradictory aspects of my character; being solitary and being open to exchange of ideas.

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?

As human beings, our need to survive depends heavily on food production, exploitation of raw materials and communication. Consequently, landscapes become both providers and victims as part of the human presence. As an artist, I want to subvert accepted notions of landscape by entering into a visual and textual dialogue as part of raising an awareness of some environmental concerns. For example, sometimes I come across clumps of litter on my walks. This produces an emotional response and yet I am able to question both the product and the social psychology behind this contamination. The issue of alienation from the landscape comes to mind and this is one of the ideas I work with as part of my creative practice.

Can you describe your favourite place and why?

Walking for two miles away from Eastbourne on the South Downs Way takes me to a crossways where two well trodden paths cross each other. Nearby is a wooden bench on which I sit and absorb the landscape around me. It is a favourite site. To the north lies the lowland Weald, to the south the English Channel, to the west a wide stretch of Friston Forest and behind me to the east are downland fields, hills and a cluster of Bronze Age burial mounds. It is a fertile site for the imagination whilst the South Downs Way itself is an historical marker of movement witnessing footsteps from Iron Age settlers to those of unemployed workers of post WW1 and WW2, and the walkers and ramblers of our current times.

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?

Initially being allowed to take short periods of exercise as part of the Covid-19 regulations gave me the opportunity to examine aspects of my work with a new intensity. A sort of fine focussing pushed me to hone in on visual and textual elements in my local landscape. Once Covid-19 retreats, I aim to develop my walking art practice creating moving image works and extending the type and form of my zine creations in such ways as using risograph printing, an environmentally friendly printing process.

'Treads' zine. Work in progress

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

Beachy Head is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain at 162 metres (531 feet) above sea level, a thirty minute walk from where I live in Eastbourne, East Sussex. It is a place I often go to feel re-energised and also to immerse myself in that ‘other’ existence which certain landscapes have. I watch many people walk around the area, aware of many different languages and reflect on the character of the place and its historical associations of smuggling, site of a WW2 radar station and shipwrecks. Many people simply walk and stand to look across the English Channel, mindful of the glaring signs announcing ‘cliff edge’, an edge from which suicide jumpers take off from. In the summer, the ice-cream van signifies a superficial normality, but come November through to March, the place takes on a mantle of shifting uncertainty. All is not what it seems. I think that is why, despite the skewed historical referencing of his ghost stories, M.R. James does appeal to me in the manner of his mystical and unsettling landscapes.

from 'Forest' zine

What are you currently reading?

The South Country - Edward Thomas (2009) Little Toller Books
The Hundred Thousand Places - Thomas A. Clark (2009) Carcanet
Condensations - Nathan Walker (2017) Uniformbooks
A Downland Index - Angus Carlyle (2016) Uniformbooks

What are your other interests?

Theatre, from Greek drama to installation/landscape theatre, archaeology, film-noir, experimental poetry and film poetry are areas which feed into my creative practice. In 2016 I launched a zine called The Projectionist’s Playground for which I invited submissions of innovative poetry, art and photography. Issue 11 came out in June this year and judging by reactions so far, it does seem to answer a growing need for alternative expressions.

from 'Treads' zine. Work in Progress

In a post-Covid-19 world, how relevant to walking could Robert Macfarlane’s suggestion be in his book, The Old Ways, that ‘the voyage out is always a voyage inwards’?

When walking, I’m never without a camera, notebook and pen. Words and pictures, photographs and poetry. It’s how I imagine, experience and interpret landscape around me as part of the creative act. Wordsworth and Coleridge set the pace with their poetic markings to landscape. Marina Abramovic’s performance works and Richard Long’s startling ‘A line made by walking’ are examples of the human interaction with landscape. I like to think in a post-Covid-19 landscape that walking as a creative act can straddle both the internal landscape of mind and the external environment in ways which could be seen to diminish the barrier between the human and the land as part of a stronger, more radical environmental dialogue.
Twitter: @EyeglassZines