Phone Box Artist – Carol Laidler – Yorkley

I am an artist based at Spike Island in Bristol. My art practice spreads across different forms, combining site-specific installations, writing, performance, sound, photography. It examines memory, perception, human existence alongside the more-than-human. 

At the core of my work is the conversation: the excitement of anything-can-happen/ parallel lives/ the discovery of same and difference/ co respondence/ the subjective character of experience/ can we ever really know what it is like to be someone or even something else? 

Under lockdown I have been writing. Using the backs of envelopes, torn out pages from old books, clay for squeeze and touch. Using my typewriter for the gesture, the post to send and receive, (and Zoom of course). I was fortunate to work on a collaborative physical installation: ‘In Free Fall’ for the Centre of Gravity exhibition, which interrogated the collaborative act and its inherent tensions; in a world of uncertainty, how do we find agreement? 

By working collaboratively, weaving together ideas and words, both from and with others, the work challenges notions of the single narrative and explores the idea that identities are not fixed; they are fluid and evolve over time. I think of it as a method of coinciding incidents. 

I engaged with:

Mollie Meager, Dorota Rapacz, Sara Rickard  

Research in Yorkley:

“The Distance Between Us” 

I wanted to focus on the idea of distance and closeness/ telephone conversations/ voice communication across distance/ looking from the telephone box into the distance/ how does the telephone box frame the outside view?/ here and there.

I wanted to make a creative writing workshop that considers being outside and inside, distance and closeness. I wanted the workshop to involve a short walk in the area near to the telephone box, taking time to pay attention to the details both near and far, spending time looking and listening as well as exploring any anecdotes, history or natural history existing within the place. 

I was interested in the intimacy of listening to someone you cannot see, someone far away. 

What I did:

Before lockdown I visited Mollie and Dorota in Pillowell and I walked in the area. I had hoped to visit the area more. But in keeping with the project, I spoke to Sara, Mollie and Dorota on the phone. 

I went on radio Gloucester with an Open Callout asking for people to call me and tell me what it was like being in Lockdown. Later we also put a flyer in a local newsletter. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive any responses.

In my home I did a lot of reading and writing about distance, isolation, connection, and also about the natural world, about trees, birds and even bats. With no car and access to public transport being a risk too far for me, I was contained.

The thing I have missed most during Lockdown is walking through trees, or standing on top of a hill and looking into the distance. I wondered what it is like to live through this time, away from the city in the Forest. What have been your experiences of Lockdown? With the distance between us, I can’t physically get to you but I can walk with you.

So in the end Mollie, Dorota and Sara had walking conversations with me by phone, sometimes with precarious connection, as we walked through our different scapes. I walked in the city and they walked in the Forest. They described their experience of lockdown to me, a stark contrast to that of mine.  

Distance

the amount of space between two places,

from a place that is not near,

to a point that is far away

I’d certainly like to do a few more walking conversations with other people from Yorkley, Pillowell or nearby. 

Conversations about the distance between us:

The Distance Between Us – 

Locked down alone in a small house in the middle of the city. Leaving my front door means crossing into the middle of the road to avoid groups of people spreading across the pavement. I’ve started wearing a mask even in the street. My main point of contact with others is the phone, with or without image, this small flat object in my hand bringing me friendly voices and flattened smiles. The telephone has become really important to me. 

Since I couldn’t visit the Forest, we arranged to walk together and apart, talking on the telephone. 

The following are extracts from our walking conversations and images sent by the three artists:

SR

“All I can see is snow. It’s all snowy underfoot. I’m off piste, not on a proper path. I’m following a broken down netted fence. I’d say it’s been broken down by the boar But if I follow this fence a little bit to my right, I know I’m going to come across a style soon, which will take me through the wood. I call it a secret wood. It’s not at all secret really, but to me it is because there’s not many people that go through it. And certainly there aren’t any other footprints. Where I am at the moment it’s all virgin snow. Animal footprints, probably a fox or a dog

Nobody’s been over this style today. I can see that. And I can see the extra snow that’s falling which is a good centimeter. It’s icy underneath so I have to be careful.

Now I’m on what one of the wider forest tracks. It’s got that lovely sound that snow has under your feet. You know that sort of warm crunchy sound. You hear that crunch? It’s melted a bit here, blue sky above, lots of lovely trees. A range between the conifers, and the old woodland, deciduous trees: the beech and chestnuts. There’s a little brook running to the side of me and a fern that is actually still green. It’s the bracken that’s died back. The boar hide underneath the bracket this time of year, so if you go through the bracken and you hear a rumble or some noises, it means you’ve probably disturbed a boar. 

“Do they ever get annoyed?”

“Oh yeah, they’ll snort but they wouldn’t chase us because they are afraid of us. You just have to stare at them, they are protecting their young. But dogs have been attacked by the boar.”


DR

“I have a forest just behind my house, you know, kind of crossing the road. And, here I am on the track to the forest. 

I think we all of us reflect on this situation, how it affects us, does it affect us? 

My house is built on a little slope. So I go down from my house, cross the road, which is at the other side of my fencing. Then crossing the road, past two or three houses, I come to it. And this track leads me straight to the forest. So I’ve got the view of the forest from my back window. I like this immediacy of the forest, going straight into it. I’m quite keen to explore and find different routes around there and joining up them up, gathering knowledge of the place. I kind of create like a map of this. 

I walk with my son, we’ve managed to establish a routine of an hour walk a day. He always wants to go up from the house to the kind of flat part of the forest there. And what he really likes about it is that on the way back, he’s going down hill. 

We would have our route but because we were going regularly we started choosing paths we didn’t before and any paths we come across. And I think he’s now got a sort of map of the place. He’s actually quite happy that he has become quite knowledgeable about the forest.”


MM

“There are a Couple of beech trees in front of me, parallel to each other into the sky. It’s only a small plantation of conifers, actually, but there are some larch trees behind, which will probably have to come down because there’s a disease and they’re going to fell most of the large ones to stop it spreading in the Forest. It’s very poignant, isn’t it? Given the situation we’re in.”

It’s such a strange time. It feels like a pause in life somehow. And in some ways that’s nice, in some ways. Most of the time we make ourselves too busy. And so we’re a bit less busy and you can think a bit more.

We’ve set up a Samba band and until Christmas we were managing to meet in a field in the forest. Which is lovely. It’s a fantastic group. Meeting in a field and playing.

I’m looking over towards the recreation grounds in the valley. And then I look at the hill beyond and it’s a solid forest that you can see on the horizon. Wonderful, wonderful.

“Where I am in the city I look down this alleyway it’s just puddles and grey.” 

Further information, images & links:

Hopes for the future:

I loved visiting the Forest and I will come again as soon as it is possible. For me the project has been very stop and start. I had hoped that more would come out of the open calls I put out. But it was very special to talk and share thoughts with the people I did talk to. I relished hearing the descriptions of the forest as we walked, to compare same and difference. My horizons have been very limited in the last year, to hear your stories was inspiring. 

I will take fragments from the walking conversations I have had and perhaps make a few more. I will interweave these into a larger piece of writing with photos and drawings and make a book that will be placed in the telephone box, a ‘telephone book’. 

I’d like to also make a soundscape inspired by the conversations that could be played in the telephone box. Not of our voices but of the birds, trees, and footsteps. 

Email  carollaidler@rocketmail.com

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