In 2018, The Ash Project worked in partnership with Whitstable Biennale to present a series of artists’ walks. Walks curator Rose Thompson devised four walks in collaboration with artists, encouraging different ways of looking at and exploring the landscape in Kent.
The programme included walks in Blean Woods, Whitstable, Kings Wood and Folkestone, they were researched and presented by Hannah Lees, the Walking Reading Group, Adam Chodzko and Fiona Macdonald (Feral Practice) and Marcus Coates.
Ash walk from Challock to Chilham
The first in this in this series of walks was hosted Hannah Lees who led a walk with readings through a landscape in which ash was a rare sight. The walk incorporated a small amount of wild food spotting for wild garlic, dandelions along with the identification of specific plant species. All of this will be interjected with short readings covering topics from the Renaissance to realist magic.
Lees’ broad artistic practice has led her to explore the ways that gathering to eat and drink can connect cultures and rituals from different times and places. She is particularly interested in how civilisations form and end around an ever-changing relationship between what is valued and what is discarded, and has used food by-products to produce sculptures.
Ash walk along the Crab and Winkle way into Whitstable
The second in this series of four walks was hosted by The Walking Reading Group (TWRG), which is run by Lydia Ashman, Ania Bas and Simone Mair.
The group facilitates a knowledge exchange through the discussion of texts whilst walking. On this walk, TWRG focussed their discussions on care in relation to the environment, taking the ash dieback disease, which has now infected ash trees across Kent, at the centre point of the discussion.
Selected texts included writing by Helen MacDonald, Elizabeth Povinelli and images by John Constable, these texts all allowed us to explore the different ways we relate to the environment. This formed the basis for a series of conversations that happened during the walk.
Ash walk in East Blean Woods
The third of this series of walks was hosted Adam Chodzko who led a walk into the near future as part of a funeral procession for some of the UK’s last remaining ash trees. With many surprises encountered along the way this walk was a stimulating, interactive and eye-opening experience in the woods.
Chodzko’s practice uses a wide range of media including video, installation and performance. His work is characterised by a keen curiosity, exploring the interactions and possibilities of human behaviour – the gap between how we are and how we could be.
Ash walk “Ask the Ash” from Folkestone to the Warren
The fourth and final walk in the 2018 Ash Walk series was hosted by artists Marcus Coates and Fiona Macdonald. The Ask the Ash walk took place in Folkestone and extended upon the artists’ ‘Ask The Wild’ project. In this walk they invited ash expert Tony Harwood to join them to act as an interpollator between the human and the non human worlds.
This event is part of Ask the Wild, a project by British artists Marcus Coates and Feral Practice. Ask the Wild offers fresh perspectives on personal, social, and political issues in human society, by bringing the expert knowledge of the natural history disciplines to bear on everyday human problems and dilemmas.
Over 80 people participated in these events and they reached a younger and more urban audience than those that might typically attend events organised by the Kent Downs. Also many participants had not attended art events before so there was a great cross pollination of our audiences. Both of our organisations were really excited by the diversity of the walks presented and the open format that they offered for reflection on the complex set of ideas that accompany the loss of ash.
The walks were a great way of bringing new audiences into the landscape and provided opportunities for artists to engage with ash trees and their decline.
“Whilst there is a precedence for this kind of work nationally, this hasn’t been explored deeply in Kent so we felt this was a good and confident move for the AONB. In terms of our work, it was unusual for us to explore a predetermined issue with artists, but each of the selected artists found plenty of room within the theme to explore their own questions and interests, and this worked well.” – Catherine Herbert, Deputy Director of the Whitstable Biennale
“Fantastic walk in unknown territory, informative, funny and glamorous leader, Learnt much about mystery, charm, tales of long ago and facts galore” – participant response
“I enjoyed spending hours thinking about trees and being in the woods, Plus I didn’t know about ash dieback, so Ive been educated” – participant response
“It was a thoughtful extraordinary walk” – participant response
“I am spotting ashes everywhere now – and I am still considering whether their buds remind me of deers hooves or badgers noses” – participant response
“Lovely walk in the Kent Countryside with knowledgable audience and interesting folk, this is a very worthwhile project” – participant response
“Beautiful scenery, bluebells and a few sightings of ash still struggling to survive” – participant response