Performance Research: On Mountains
Volume 24, Issue 2
Issue editors: Jonathan Pitches & David Shearing
ISSN: 1352-8165 (2019) 24:2
Mountains are places of ‘great cultural importance’, geographer Martin Price has observed. They are constantly being shaped by human hands, sometimes benignly and sometimes with permanent malignance. Culture plays an integral part in this process and has done for centuries, producing an extraordinarily varied gallery of mountain performances. On Mountainsdocuments some of this history. It explores how performance practice is making sense of mountains, celebrating the range of approaches being mobilized to do this thinking: from practice-research and phenomenological enquiry, to historiography, gender studies and performance analysis, and, in the case of a clutch of articles, wild speculation and thought experimentation. In artist pages, discursive writing and richly illustrated photo essays, this issue centres on performance makers’ and scholars’ capacity to reflect on, intervene in and translate the complexity of mountain environments, drawing on vivid examples from India, China, the UK, the United States and Europe.
In this article I argue that a feminine ‘material’ sublime approach to mountains exists and has for generations but remains under-recognized and on the fringes of mainstream dialogues, which -- historically and in the present -- are dominated by masculine ‘transcendent’ sublime accounts, encounters and endeavours.
The article enables me to explore how in Early Romanticism the concept of the masculine ‘transcendent’ sublime -- an intellectual and spiritual experience that transcends physical matter -- came to dominate discourses on landscape. I then propose how, in contrast, the feminine ‘material’ sublime is located in and present to the physical landscape, not as a place from which to ‘escape’ or ‘disappear’ but as a place in which to ‘reappear’ -- a process I suggest is transformative and therapeutic. To do this, I show how the landscape writing of Dorothy Wordsworth and her female contemporaries represents a feminine ‘material’ sublime ‘mode’ of engaging with landscape that enabled them to see afresh ‘everyday’ objects, people and experiences that were ordinarily overlooked or on the edges of mainstream social and cultural discourses.
I explore the way in which the work of these women and their ‘mode’ of engagement are closely allied with my own practice and have informed a model I have developed for creating applied scenography in the form of walking-performances in mountainous and rural landscapes that emplace, re-image and transform ‘missing’, marginal and challenging life-events. Underpinning that model are seven ‘scenographic’ principles, which I demonstrate through an analysis of a number of walking-performance projects. The Gathering / Yr Helfa (2014), which revealed the fertility cycles of the ewes on a hill-farm in Wales, and two projects specific to The Lake District: Warnscale: A Land Mark Walk Reflecting On Infertility and Childlessness (2015-ongoing) aimed at women who are biologically childless-by-circumstance (2015); Dorothy’s Room and Women’s Walks to Remember: ‘With memory I was there.’ (2018), an installation and surrogate-walking project that maps walks women are no longer able to do physically but remember vividly.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Performance Research: On Mountains on 25/7/19, available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13528165.2019.1624046.