“Suddenly I came out of my thoughts to notice everything around me again-the catkins on the willows, the lapping of the water, the leafy patterns of the shadows across the path. And then myself, walking with the alignment that only comes after miles, the loose diagonal rhythm of arms swinging in synchronization with legs in a body that felt long and stretched out, almost as sinuous as a snake…when you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities. Exploring the world is one the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.” Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
I have always had a connection to the land and to the practice of walking. As I researched the subject I found that numerous philosophers also had this connection to walking and returning to the land Nietzsche in order to write, while Kant walked to distract himself from contemplation. Nerval needed to walk to cure his symptoms of deep melancholy, Rousseau walks are famous for allowing him to think. Walking allows us to contemplate ideas about society, it is a secluded form of mediation and allows for us to study nature. The English landscape has deep roots; it is embedded with revolts, with tragedy, class struggles and political acts all immersed within myth, within the realm of the unknown. Kierkegaard was a wanderer as was Kant, Rousseau and Nietzsche. It was in fact central to their works.
I think this can be put down to the experience that can be had within the wilderness of the land Walking is a political act in itself, it allows an escape from reality. I have always had a connection to the land and to the practice of walking. As I researched the subject I found that numerous philosophers also had this connection to walking and returning to the land. There is something that allows us to think outside of the constraints of ideological mindsets through a wilder experience with nature. There is something very spiritual about my experience with the land, very personal. We are more and more detached from the natural landscape and how to navigate it without the means of technology. I feel that the landscape has been here so long, and we have been so little that it is vitally important not to undervalue it. Nature allows us to go beyond what we already know, which I feel is crucial in order to challenge ourselves and question what we believe.
“I felt a sensation of candour and amplitude, of the body and mind opened up, of thought diffusing at the body’s edges rather than ending at the skin.” Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot.
There remain huge taboos about mental illness in our society. Through escapism, a wandering to find oneself but remain lost, I am able to begin to understand my own mental health issues. The more time I spent with the project, the more I realized it has this multiplicity: it speaks of fact and fiction, this realm and a spiritual other, of a journey, of the land, of Englishness, and of a sense of place. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems, and I feel as though these problems come from our inability to escape. We have the ability through the Internet to connect, but instead this is used to draw us apart. As Rebecca Solnit states, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away”. In Walter Benjamin’s terms, “to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.
And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography”. Personally I feel a huge abyss between when I am out doing work, at one with nature, and when I’m in my technology-fuelled working world. I try to get lost within it. To wander. Again I refer to Rebecca Solnit’s works. “The Indians refer to it in English as ‘wandering’. They say of a certain man, ‘He is wandering,’ or ‘He has started to wander.’ It would seem that under certain conditions of mental stress an individual finds life in his accustomed surroundings too hard to bear. Such a man starts to wander […] and knows the desire for what Buddhists call un-being.” To get lost is to lose control, to lose control is to separate from this stream of society, only then can one begin to question it, only when one is truly marginalized and on the outside can one begin to look.
The project Liznojan began in 2014, it is an on-going project that allows me to work in a free manner, using experience of place as a tool to express my concerns over larger political and cultural concerns with the current state of affairs in the UK. Liznojan means to learn whilst following a track. This series allows for a new experience with nature to take place through the activity of walking. It is both poetic and ambiguous in nature. Liznojan is a union between a mythical fiction and the English everyday, in order to create a sense of ambiguity and unease. This sense of unease is one my generation often feels currently, anxiety disorders are on the rise as is depression. This lost link between the landscape and the rise of mental health disorders is one not lost on me. I feel that the landscape has been here so long, and we have been so little that it is vitally important not to undervalue it. Nature allows us to go beyond what we already know, which I feel is crucial in order to challenge ourselves and question what we believe.
Liznojan is a personal experience with nature; it is not about the traditional sense of a purely physical journey, but more of an experience in the sense of a philosophical discovery. By exploring the boundaries of the unknown one can begin to find one’s true self. The work is an amalgamation of documentary and fantasy. The place could be of this world or bordering on the realm of the unknown.
“We lack – we need – a term for those places where one experiences a ‘transition’ from a known landscape… into ‘another world’: somewhere we feel and think significantly differently. They exist even in familiar landscapes: there when you cross a certain watershed, recline or snowline, or enter rain, storm or mist. Such moments are rites of passage that reconfigure local geographics, leaving known places outlandish or quickened, revealing continents within counties.”
― Robert Macfarlane
About Joanne Coates
Joanne Coates‘ image-making is often a dance with self-doubt, both poetic and practical. It is this balance between states that the image-maker uses to create a sense of unease and ambiguity. Coates uses the medium of photography to translate visual stories that lie somewhere between myth, reality and the everyday. She seeks an intimacy with the viewer, and to feel an attraction with place. Her work looks mainly at social issues inherent within British culture. Born in 1989 and educated at London College of Communications.