Fieldworking is a film shot during a five-day camp in the uplands of Moor House-Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve during August 2019. Six artists, an ecologist and two filmmakers were brought together at a former scientific field station to cultivate multifarious practices of artistic fieldwork. Together we found ways of existing, inhabiting and working within the context of this remote location.
Moor House area of Upper Teesdale was one of Britain’s first National Nature Reserves (NNR) and was designated as such in 1952. However, its potential as a research area was highlighted a lot earlier through the work of physical scientists such as Jim Cragg and British climatologist Gordon Manley whose hut which he erected in the area provided an important infrastructure via which he observed the local Helm wind phenomena. In the early 1950s British botanists William Pearsall and Verona Conway, with the Nature Conservancy, facilitated the purchase of the Moor House Shooting Lodge in order to set up a field station where research into ecological relationships could be undertaken. Weather recording and research into the effects of climate change on the uplands has been undertaken at Moor House for over 65 years and continues today, despite the station closing in 1982. It is regarded as one of the most understood uplands in the world but that I guess can be read on many levels.
Moor House and its upland, blanket bog ecosystem was largely unknown to the participants. The camp intentionally provided an opportunity to experience an unfamiliar context, with the intention of exploring a rawness of perception in relation to artistic practice. The camp wasn’t about endurance, remoteness or having a difficult time with the elements, although it did rain continuously. Rather, it was a space to think about how artists and landscape meet and what happens in that encounter.
Over the five days we slept in tents, used a compost toilet, shared local food provided and delivered daily. We dealt with unfamiliar experiences. We created an autonomous space to eat, work, shelter and dry our clothes. We sat around a campfire, walked, listened and shared different working methods. We hosted a dinner for invited guests, including former residents of Moor House to share experiences and found multiple ways to exist together with such a place. Having arrived from multiple geographies and professional contexts, we came to refer to our collective endeavour colloquially as ‘The Upland School of Art’: a temporary institution focused on finding ways to comprehend, subsist and work in such a climate and place.
Fieldworking is a project by Laura Harrington with Chris Bate, Ludwig Berger, Sarah Bouttell, Luce Choules, Simone Kenyon, Fiona MacDonald, Lee Patterson, Meredith Root-Bernstein and Moor House-Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve.
A co-commission by Tyneside Cinema (Projections) and MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art). Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Additional support from Natural England, Northumbria University and The Arts and Humanities Research Council.