New Journeys with The Place Collective.

I am posting this a few days after the traditional celebration of Spring on the 1st May and a few days before the inaugural meeting of a new artist collective which I’ve been invited to join. Perhaps then, this is the perfect week for beginnings.

The PLACE Collective is a group of, let’s call them, cultural specialists, engaged with issues of nature, environment and rural landscapes. There are illustrators like me but also professional fine artists, composers, musicians, poets, writers, photographers and film makers, many with respected academic backgrounds. All of them use culture to spark ideas, conversations or action, tipping the balance towards a sustainable life and a cared-for world.

PLACE, standing for People Land Art Culture Ecology is based at the UK’s Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas (CNPPA) at the University of Cumbria. It’s located in Ambleside, bang slap in the middle of the Lake District, which, itself, is a National Park and a World Heritage Site, designated as a UNESCO Cultural Landscape.

Ambleside, the Lake District. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The Collective plans to become ‘a network for knowledge-sharing, research and collaboration’ and ‘aims to create links between artists, rural communities, academics, and organisations charged with caring for landscapes.’ There will be a 5 year initiative of projects, exhibitions, outdoor installations and performances both within those recognised protected areas but also occasionally trespassing outside their boundaries too. It’s good to acknowledge that even cities like my own here in Brighton have wild places near by that are important to the local community.

That creative ‘right to roam’ attracts me. Not only do my interests and values align themselves to the project but I’m also hoping I can push my map-making work into metaphorical new areas; collaboration with others is always thought-provoking. Who knows where my maps will take me if the route isn’t fixed and there are guides suggesting paths I would never have taken alone.

Perhaps I’ll embark on more journeys like the creation of the Echolocation Map I completed a few years ago working with Sussex Wildlife Trust. Using their scientific data, the flightpath of one particular bat (from the endangered Barbastelle species), was tracked from Butcherland to Sladelands on Ebernoe Common. These flightpaths are often decades old if the environment hasn’t changed that much. I was interested in how bats use echolocation to position themselves and how we can detect echoes of ourselves too when we move around the landscape. The old road names that remember the drove ways and the lost villages, for example, or the traces of historic industry and land management that cup and darken the earth…

Perhaps these echoes can also help us figuratively position ourselves in the world.

Map created using data from a field survey of bats tracked at Ebernoe Common by Sussex Wildlife Trust.

By mapping the area, I got a greater understanding of not only the Barbastelle but of the people who lived there and how they had survived side by side for hundreds of years. We should never forget that most places are, historically, home to multiple species as well as our own. I hope the creation of maps like this can show the value in the environments where we all live and by acknowledging their value perhaps engender a greater impetus to look after them.

So, with the smoke of the May Day bonfires still in the air, I’m looking forward to drinking a glass at the inaugural zoom meeting of the PLACE Collective with this group of strangers and our linked purpose. Spring is come and I salute to new connections, new collaborations, new beginnings…

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