PREVIEW: Longplayer Day

We preview Longplayer Day, this week's London-based solstice arts festival, with Adam Scovell writing a piece on his Robert Macfarlane collaboration, Holloway

This week London will host a the first of a planned 12 hour festival called Longplayer Day, inspired by Jem Finer’s 1000-year-long artwork called Longplayer and timed to occur each year on the summer solstice. A mixture of screenings, talks and special commissions, the festival “seeks to inspire audiences into new thought on long-term behaviours, environmental awareness and durational thinking”. There will be a performance of Pauline Oliveros’ ‘Welcoming the Light’; Angharad Davies conducts a “perambulatory performance” in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (pleasant in this heat); Charles Hayward of This Heat is performing on the banks of the Thames, and Richard Wilson will be doing something called ‘The Harangue’ on the Thames Path. This will, we are told, be exercise for body and mind: “There are various venues stretching from Goldsmiths to Trinity Buoy Wharf. The event starts promptly at midday on 21 June at the Great Hall of Goldsmiths, University of London (New Cross), before moving on to Res and News of the World (Deptford) and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music (Greenwich). Performances will happen in parks, bandstands and on the Thames shoreline along the route to the end destination of Trinity Buoy Wharf (Poplar) at sunset.” At 15:50 there’ll be a screening of Quietus writer and filmmaker Adam Scovell’s The Holloway, a short made in collaboration with Robert Macfarlane, Dan Richards and others. Adam has kindly written the following piece for tQ to get you in the mood. For more information about the Longplayer Day, please visit the event website.

A Disquieted Causeway – Holloway

By Adam Scovell

There is something at the end of the path, I thought. I was not walking the path when I finally accepted this reality but when watching back footage that I had shot there; a grainy super-8 vision of a route in Dorset, a holloway. The path was said to be haunted, by the presence of Catholic priests killed many centuries previous and others. The footage was toying with my vision, that there was something that had followed my footsteps, all of the way through Hell Lane in North Chideock, right through the flooded trail, to the top of the hill with its views over the Jurassic coast. The mass was black and hovered, hinting at a shape somewhat akin to a shroud or habit, but hidden in the super-8’s overall grain and flicker. "I think I’m going mad," I told Robert Macfarlane; the writer who had sent me on the quest to capture the pathways that he had walked many times with many different walking companions. I was alone when I walked the holloways, and what was there knew I was alone.

The River Winfred had burst its banks, the water gushing as it eroded the soil still deeper, excavating the holloway’s artery further. I was alone but, at the same time, I was not alone. The need to look over my shoulder persisted, the vanishing point of the pathway always seeming to hide something. There is nothing there, I told myself, more as encouragement than through belief, as if the very stating of such absence had incantatory properties that dispelled whatever most definitely was there. But it did not work: the feeling grew further. I was halfway up the sunken path when I decided to face down the incline and its guardian, obtusely setting up the camera and tripod, firing the mechanism at various times right along the path, daring something to show itself. I recall the sound of the camera mechanism dominating the soundscape, dreading the moment of its ceasing and fearful of letting go of the trigger. For what sound would greet me when the whirling of the cogs and the reel finally stopped?

But the presence had fooled me, playfully highlighting my own absurdity at believing something was in the holloway. A storm was due to hit Hell Lane later that afternoon and, with time pressing, I moved on further up the path. Yet as soon as I moved off, the feeling returned; a busy and vibrant life seemed to linger at the corner the eye. I could feel my footsteps quickening, or at least attempting to quicken as the mud was thickest at this point on the trail, gaining an agency in league with the presence. I remember longing for the top, the hill that I knew to be open and light. I almost lost a boot as the mud immersed my left foot, dragging it under with surprising gusto. In these moments I could not help but look back rather than towards my physical problem, aiming the camera down the path as a gesture of defiance, viewing the foliage rustling in the breeze as the camera was fired off once more. The shadow was, in hindsight of the footage, always at the end of the path. It was never in the trees or even near the sandstone of the upper parts of the ridge, but always at the end.

I had taken a candle to take shots of, the ritual of lighting it coming as a relief when finally in the upper parts of the holloway. I imagined the long winter nights hiding in this terrain, the choice between the cold breeze rolling over the hills from the south or sharing the sheltered path with company unknown not being an easy one. I shivered remembering that the barn I was staying in was at the start of this path. Would the presence consider the barn as part of its territory also and visit its darker corners later that evening? I remember that my mind raced as I even began to consider the name of this road and pathway: Hell Lane. I remember considering, where had this name come from? What did the people who had named this lane know? I took solace at the top of the hill, the sun beaming down and giving surprising warmth for a January morning. I looked back towards the entrance of the holloway, the darkness of the opening seeming to swallow all of the light around it, drawing it back in. I felt gratitude towards the rolling hills for their openness, the presence was very much left behind though I knew that I would have to share its company once again on the descent back to the barn.

Perhaps the presence had become used to my trudging for, during the downward climb, marked by very little filming having shot most of the reels I had brought, it seemed to not pervade my imagination. Even if my night later on was sleepless, the storm tapping its fingers with glee against the wooden panels of the barn, I felt that it was the act of capture that it had disapproved of, not my walking of the track which undoubtedly many people did regularly. The footage returned some months later, the presence unabating in its appearance; flickering at the end of certain shots on the ascent. I can still feel the chill of that January early morning whenever watching the footage back; the feeling of being followed, the mud slipping beneath my boots as I tried failingly to concentrate on both shooting and seeing what was ghosting my footsteps. I would, so I said to myself then, never venture alone to Hell Lane in the wintertime again, though I still wonder what it is that I brought back with me.

An installation of Holloway is screened at News From The World Gallery for Longplayer Day on the 21st of June with a reading by Dan Richards.

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