Artist+curator Jonathan Baxter has been working with communities in Craigmillar & surrounding areas since 2021 to explore a range of approaches that embed an ecological way of thinking about Craigmillar’s past, present and future through walking, planting and the sharing of conversation.
After a year spent in Craigmillar ‘talking whilst walking’ and walking in companionable silence with his Line Walk Mindful Drawing project, 2022 sees the start of a collaboration with Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust to plant Craigmillar’s first Wee Forest. 2022 also sees work developing a Creative Action Network group based in Craigmillar, and an illustrative bookwork and 12-postcard set published to document the Line Walk Mindful Drawing project.
For more information about Jonathan’s residency see below.
To contact Jonathan directly please email jb4change[at]gmail.com. All enquiries are welcome. Collaboration is encouraged.
Line Walk Mindful Drawing – a year in the Life of Little France Park was a scripted, but open-ended, two-hour walk on the first Saturday of every month for the duration of a year. Participants were asked to observe a sustained period of silence (approx. 1.5 hours) during which they walked slowly – more or less mindfully – through Little France Park, Craigmillar, Edinburgh.
At self-selecting moments, participants could call for a ‘drawing’ with the following words: “Look at it / Listen to it / Taste it / This will be a X minute drawing” (when X designated a timeframe between 30 seconds to 5 minutes). In response to this call for a drawing, participants were free to respond in whatever way they chose: by drawing in a sketch book, taking a photograph, writing a haiku etc. The intention was to pay greater attention to the ecological moment: observing a reed bunting as it pecked seed from a bulrush; plucking two blackberries from a tangled, thorny stem, eating one and using the other to draw with etc.
Walking between 10am-12 noon on the first Saturday of each month gave a regularity to Line Walk Mindful Drawing and encouraged engagement throughout the year. Indeed, this was the primary invitation: to spend two hours a month for the duration of a year observing the changing seasons within oneself and Little France Park; and to do this consciously, as part of a subject-group.*
Participation for the event fluctuated – due, in part, to COVID-19 restrictions. Beginning with 8 participants in January, peaking at 10 participants in May and finishing with 4 participants in December.** One unexpected outcome of the event was the migration of walks abroad, when three regular participants left Edinburgh and continued to update a group Facebook page with walks undertaken in Heidelberg, Germany and Pontevedra, Spain.
While under no obligation to share one’s response to Line Walk Mindful Drawing, participants were invited to update a Facebook page with comments and ‘drawings’ if they wished to. The use of Facebook created a visible presence for Line Walk Mindful Drawing beyond the participants themselves. It also fostered a growing sense of community, which continues to this day.
Concluding Line Walk Mindful Drawing after twelve months sparked some interesting conversations: should we carry on walking each month? What do we owe the park for the gift of a year’s walk? Do we want to share our experience with others, and if so how? The answer to this final question is partly answered through the publication of these postcards.*** Conceived as an ‘open book’ – a book without a spine – these postcards draw from our collective experience. Not everyone who walked is represented in these postcards. And the postcards themselves offer no ‘conclusion’ to the walk. Rather, these postcards invite you to encounter Little France Park, to “Look at it / Listen to it / Taste it” wherever you may be, and to share your response by sending someone a postcard.
Alternatively, these postcards can be kept as a book to be ‘read’ at leisure or ‘exhibited’ as a postcard gallery – propped up on a shelf or blue-tacked to a wall. They’re our way of saying, “thank you” to Little France Park, whilst also encouraging others to take a walk in the park and enjoy what it has to offer.
* A subject-group can be described as ‘voices/pathways of self-reference developing a processual subjectivity … that founds its own coordinates and is self-consistantial, which doesn’t stop it from establishing itself transversally to social and mental stratifications’ (Guattari, 1989/2013: 3).
** This number refers to participants in Little France Park. It doesn’t include those who walked in Heidelberg and Pontevedra on the same day.
*** At the time of writing these postcards are still being designed – the likely date for their release is May 2022.
Wee Forest Planting – Wee Forests are part of the global family of ‘Miyawaki Forests’ or ‘Tiny Forests’ found all over the world. They’re small, tennis court-sized woodlands that help mitigate the effects of climate change, support urban wildlife and reconnect people with nature.
The Missing T – As an artist living in The Inch, a housing development adjacent to Craigmillar Castle Park, this residency gives me the opportunity to blur boundaries: to step from my door and walk. The first boundary I blur is the psychogeographic boundary of Craigmillar itself: where does it begin and end? Should the focus of my residency be on Craigmillar as a geographic, political, or subjective entity – or all three? And what about the term ‘Communities’, used in my residency title? Are these ‘Communities’ internal or external to Craigmillar? Do they refer to neighbouring or overlapping communities: Niddrie, Newcraighall, Portobello/Craigmillar ward, The Inch etc.?, or to the entangled ecologies of social, environmental and economic relations that flow through and across Craigmillar: people-tarmac-trees-local businesses … among others?
I ask these questions because as an artist I have a passport that allows me to wander. It’s a passport of choice. But the choice is made easier/more difficult based on social, environmental and economic factors: who does and doesn’t own the means of production, for example – both material and subjective? Who does and doesn’t have the freedom to walk? Asking these questions foregrounds the privilege of my position as an artist paid to work (and walk) in an area of relatively high unemployment (7.5% according to recent statistics). It also allows me to frame my residency in contrast to the culture/s of neoliberal capitalism – where people, planet and imagination atrophy at the hands of profit, competition and technological capture. Instead, I go in search of The Missing T, a playful but serious nod to Félix Guattari’s* concept of transversality; a concept (and social practice) that encourages maximum communication across different social, environmental and economic registers and sets off in multiple directions to support dissident subjectivities: people, and other subjects, who choose** to do things differently.
*Félix Guattari (1930-1992) was a French psychoanalyst, social theorist and radical activist. He is best known for his collaborative work with Gilles Deleuze. **‘Choose’ is a misleading word. Does a plant choose to grow towards the light? Nevertheless, I retain the word.
Taking our inspiration from Craigmillar Festival Society, but attentive to the environmental challenges of today, a day-long series of walks ‘Walking in the Footsteps of Time’ were organised as part of the Craigmillar & Niddrie Community Festival. Visitors were invited to walk in the footsteps of time; to celebrate the people of Craigmillar and Niddrie and to ask ourselves the following three questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?
A collaboration between Art Walk Projects, Bridgend Farmhouse, Creative Action Network, Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust, and Mutual Studio.
Image: Sarah Gittins