"I invite you to walk slowly up the hill in silence, taking in the surroundings, coming back to yourself and noticing how you’re feeling.”
It’s a sunny morning in October, and we’re gathered in a small lay-by in the shadow of the Downs. Dutch Artist and therapist Anniek Verholt is giving us a short briefing before we head up the hill to my favourite spot near Blackcap for a Land Art and Mindfulness session.
We’re ten participants from far and wide: London, Rottingdean, Brighton, Eastbourne... the journey here has been eventful for most. Two people got lost, trains were missed, and we’re running late.
I’m flustered to be honest.
Somehow Anniek has remained calm despite the back and forth in the car, and the herding of lost souls by phone and text. The mindful walk up the hill helps to clear my mind of the journey and the complications of organising the gathering.
At the top, the vista of the Downs, the clouds, sea and sky opens out in front of us. For a moment all else falls away as we breathe in the view.
The cows are out in force today, and there’s one very close to where we plan to sit. It slowly wanders off as we walk over and sit down in a circle.
We’re artists, teachers, cabin crew, a psychotherapist, an editor... we introduce ourselves and say what brought us here. While we talk we’re joined by Percy, a black labrador who’s calm but appears to be lost. He adopts us for a bit.
Anniek explains more, then we each walk off to find an area we feel drawn to, to sit for a while to find a connection to ourselves and the place.
The idea is to create some land art using found objects and materials, and to pay attention to what is happening to us as we do it. It’s a reflective process.
I’m impatient to start, and after some guidance from Anniek, I start to gather materials without a plan, hoping that something will emerge.
I’m attracted to the dry cow dung that is plentiful near where I sit, and as I gather some and place it down on my chosen spot, I get the idea to make a cow: they’ve been a source of fear for me in the past, and there was a big one nearby earlier.
I find sticks to outline the body, and use the dung and some flints for it’s face, haws for its eyes. The cow emerges. It’s big, and figurative, reminiscent of a paleolithic cave painting.
I fill its belly with dried leaves, twigs and hawthorn branches. I’m excited, but rushing, and not so mindful - we only have half an hour to do this and I feel time is running out to finish it. I want to get it done.
It’s only afterwards that I notice how busy and packed with thorns I've made the cow’s belly - there’s a lot going on inside it. And inside me, it seems to be saying.
We return to the circle, and talk about the process, then together we walk round to visit each other’s artwork. They are all different, and inspiringly brilliant.
Some are architectural, some are heady, some more heart-centred.
From simple circles, to shrine-like art connecting trees and land, to more complex works on the theme of balance, reminiscent of Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral art.
Alex's vertical sticks line up with the i360 on the horizon, connecting his spot with Brighton and the horizon. Liz's line of white stones, each with a yellow petal laid on top, is beautiful in its delicate simplicity. Frances has made a circle of stones protecting an inner circle of tiny snail shells. Meredith's stones connect two trees at the entrance to a dark wood behind.
We have each followed our own process and created something truly original.
Frances sums it up: "This was an unexpected delight: individuals coming together, each producing a unique and creative piece of land art as an expression of what was happening for each person at a particular place in a particular moment. Then leaving these artworks as traces on the Downs as we went our separate ways. Magic!”
It’s been an insightful morning and I think more on my cow and my process as I rush to get the hire car back on time.
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Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.