Wednesday, 7 March 2018

New (and old) methods of practice, by Natalie Reid

The chance to explore and respond to Doc’s archive has given me the opportunity to collaborate and discover new methods of practice. Recently, I’ve been working with master printmaker Lee Turner, owner of Hole Editions in Newcastle upon Tyne. Lee’s invaluable skill in the traditional craft of hand lithography has enabled me to realise my drawings as unique lithographic prints.

The first piece of work I created with Lee was inspired by the annual planting of the Penny Hedge, also known as The Ceremony of the Horngarth. The delicate willow structure, planted in the silt of Whitby harbour, made an impact on my memories of our first research and development weekend as part of this project. Although the origins of this ancient tradition remain a mystery, it has become connected to a local folk tale dating to 1159, in which a hermit from Eskdale loses his life during a violent boar hunt. Allegedly, the huntsmen, guilty of fatally wounding the hermit, have their land taken from them. However, the Abbott agrees to lease it back to them if they perform an annual forfeit. The forfeit, is to plant a penance hedge in the east harbour of Whitby, made from nine hazel stakes and nine pliable willow yethers, on the morning of every Ascension Day Eve. The hedge must withstand three tides or the men forfeit their land. It is also believed by historians that the ritual may be connected to the traditional upkeep of hedges and hedgerows expected from tenants of the Abbott’s land.

I’m fascinated that this discreet and modest custom continues to this day and I see it as an important and unique performance, with power to enrich a sense of identity in a place and unite a community. For me, the seemingly fragile Penny Hedge, resisting the tidal force, forms a poetic metaphor. This small ceremonial gesture has survived the forces and demands of modern society; of changing times, fashions and values.

In Lee’s workshop, the smell of ink is rich and heady. On a large slab of soft limestone, I began by drawing with a waxy crayon directly onto the meticulously smoothed surface. When my drawing is finished, Lee treats the stone to a cocktail of acid and gum Arabic, which then etches gently into these greasy areas. The open areas of limestone are coated in the gum, which in turn attracts water. When the stone is rolled up, the open wet areas repel the oil based ink, but the ink sticks to my drawing, allowing it to be transferred on to paper under the pressure of the printing press.

The chemical process of lithography relies on the natural immiscibility of oil and water. However, there is an alluring mystery, a sense of magic in the method, as the drawn image disappears as it’s etched away, yet is revealed once more as the water and the greasy slick of ink resist each other on the stone.

The term lithography is derived from the Ancient Greek lithos, meaning ‘stone’ and graphein, meaning ‘to write’. As well as making prints, I have been responding to Doc’s archive in poetry writing. For the project’s forthcoming exhibition at Touchstones Gallery in Rochdale, the visual work I present will be accompanied by some new poetic reflections exploring thoughts on social practice within selected customs to which Doc devotes his time and passions. My writing reveals personal reflections, memories and musings of my own present-day connection to the cultural heritage of the British Isles, as well as my imaginations on the continuation and future possibilities of these traditions in our ever-fluctuating Digital Age.