A tenderly meandering network of lanes provides a respite from the humdrum of the M6. The monotony of the motorway is exchanged for a vivacious and lusciously green realm of flora: it’s summertime in the Lake District and an ideal time to visit this year’s Lakes Ignite. Aside from the (slightly) drier weather, June is when the entire 2018 programme is viewable across the region. In celebration of the Lakes’ recent recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lakes Ignite has commissioned six artists to respond to the notion of the ‘cultural landscape’. It’s a journey that takes visitors across Cumbria, from the Southern woodlands of Grizedale Forest to the Northern straights of Penrith. In preparation, be sure to acquaint yourself with a roadmap or download Google Maps before you depart: Lakes Ignite’s dispersed nature encourages you to roam between a dynamic mix of historic estates and wild landscapes.
Our excursion begins at The University of Cumbria, Ambleside, where The Strange Names Collective’s three-part artwork, The Buried Moon, invites visitors to consider the geological narratives that occur beneath the Earth’s surface. Part one, The Heart of a Cave – an exhibition of collage prints by Wayne Burrows – layers together imagery of stalactites, stalagmites, crystals and barren spaces to provide a helter-skelter scene for Mayan statues and folklore beasts to inhabit. Melding together prehistoric fictions and natural science, these images collate centuries of hearsay, research and theory concerning the Lakes’ dense batholith. Despite their dynamism, the collages remain two-dimensional – an element that The Strange Names Collective rectifies with part two, a live performance, and part three, a VR experience.
The latter, titled The Fall Through the Earth, transports its audience into the Earth’s core through an arresting animation sequence by Adam York Gregory. We’re reminded, by the story’s narrator, of the curiosity with which we completed our school science projects – our focus being on a model of the moon. Soon, we find ourselves underground, standing above a parapet of crystal-formations and swelling lava. The depths emulated by the VR graphics are impressive as we literally fall from one realm to another, finally ending up on the summit of what appears to be Scafell Pike. We’re elated, emotionally, by the vastness of the snowy, mountainous panorama – a sensation that is grounded by the reappearance of the familiar luna maquette. It’s perhaps Lakes Ignite’s most land-immersive piece – ironic, seeing as the VR headset is housed inside a stark computer lab where few natural elements are present.
Charlie Whinney counter-balances this techno-heavy response with Mountains We Made at Grizedale Forest. Notably, while the artist reflects upon a very “human” perception of the land, he places great care and emphasis on the choice of his material. Whinney has steam-bent local and sustainably-sourced oak from Grizedale to construct his interactive mountain range – which is a down-scaled model of the Lake District’s horizon line. The artist is generous with his material, inviting visitors to travel along it, emulating – in miniature form – the act of walking in the Lakes. An intriguing string of words including ‘fell’, ‘pike’ and ‘park’ have been cast into the layered wood; these are terms that have been reconfigured from place names into modern-mantras for outdoor adventurers of all ages.
Fittingly, Studio MUTT’s Ordnance Pavilion expands upon the well-loved past-time of walking and orienteering. Bold, brash and painted in a luminous yellow, pink and green, the architectural structure sits awkwardly in the landscape – it’s a glowing, futuristic landmark that doesn’t belong to the land. And yet, upon closer inspection, we apprehend the piece’s inherent connectivity to its environment. Located in Langdale Estate, Ordnance Pavilion exists within a man-made landscape – a quarry – rather than a natural one, and its surface is littered with icons from an ordnance survey map. The sculpture does not celebrate nature for nature’s sake, but rather pays homage to OS technology and man’s “culturing” of the land. Inside a pink totem-esque tower, archival images offer a nostalgic insight into laborious OS measuring techniques – a near-obsolete science in the age of GPS navigation.
Like Studio MUTT, artist Di Mainstone places great emphasis on design and humankind’s movability at Blackwell House. Conscious of her site’s design heritage, Mainstone has painted her sculpture in a “Blackwell Blue” – a shade inspired by the house’s interior décor. Positioned on a vantage-point, Time Mirror uses precision-cut mirrors to reflect the surrounding sights – on one side, the glorious Lakes scenery, on the other, Blackwell House. Within this oversized kaleidoscope, the surfaces of centuries-old geology and decades of man-made design melt together in a never-ending flurry of refracted imagery: it pictorially divides, reshuffles and converges different time zones. Nevertheless, our focus remains with the present as the viewer assumes centerstage: Mainstone’s written instructions asks us to capture ourselves within the prismed experience on a smartphone, returning us to our introverted, technological habits.
As is intended, the notion of the cultural landscape shines through in all six artworks. What we see is not so much the land’s geography, but the layers of narratives, traditions and activities carved into the Lakes by humanity – landscape, after all, is a man-made concept. What is noticeable throughout is the prominence of technology and design (old and new) in our interactions with the land. These elements, along with a strong sense of folklore and science, generate a reflection on the ‘human’ that is injected throughout a region of ‘natural’ beauty.
While each artist is mindful of the Lakes’ complex history and its geological significance, the focus remains on providing the modern audience with a sense of dreamlike escapism – and one can’t help but notice the underlining human-centric agenda. With its six-month runtime, Lakes Ignite 2018 somewhat lacks in energy – many people haphazardly stumbling across an artwork or two. But perhaps this is the beauty of it. For those who accept this ‘off-the-beaten-track’ offer, Lakes Ignite provides an alternative – historical, geological, fictional and technological – pilgrimage through one of England’s best-loved locations.
Lakes Ignite 2018 runs throughout the Lake District until the end of July. Find out more at www.lakesculture.co.uk.