judith

writingsamples


Sample Extracts from Artist Diaries

Antarctica – A Place in the Wilderness

To stand on the Antarctic Plateau is to float on the surface of a giant white flying saucer, in the centre of a flat white disc suspended in the clouds. The edges of the disc glow where the sun hits, and all around - above, below and joined at the edges - is sparkling white. No features, no noise, no life at all, not even an insect. All that surrounds me is endless silence, so silent it is loud to my ears, broken every now and then by a wind that picks up and sweeps across the surface of the plateau; white running into the flat white horizon but glistening in more brilliant white. No smell, but sweet in its emptiness, I can smell what emptiness is. The sixth sense is here; the absence of all senses.  Here is the physical world's manifestation of that empty place where we find our intuition when our brains are still - that is Antarctica.

… About three quarters of the way to Wilkins where we are heading, the surface changes to blue ice. It is the most exquisite thing - a cool, gentle turquoise disappearing downwards in a translucent glow, the polished surface reflecting back at us and impossible to grip underfoot, the snow blown off by the winds. And the disc, forever floating outwards. In places, lines of deeper turquoise snake a route across the ice - old crevasses refrozen over. To travel in this area we move between the canes of the cane line, set three to five kilometers apart. At regular intervals one is way-marked on the GPS and the GPS points us in the direction of the next cane…

 

Rothesay – A Place on an Island

…The sky today is a crumpled blanket of sheep’s-wool curls. The dense knit holds in a silent stillness over the island; the water becalmed, the hills turned to stone. The only movement is when a gull cuts through the middle-air, throwing the scene into a momentary three-dimensional film clip…

 

The Home and the World Arts Summit

In June 2012 Aune Head Arts, based at Dartington Hall in Devon, England, hosted The Home and the World Arts Summit. This arts summit explored questions such as:  what does it mean to be at home in the world; what does home mean to us; how can we be more aware of our ‘inhabited place’ in the world; why do we all too often fail to understand the impact we have on the world around us?

My conference paper, Sensory Relationships to Place, was presented at the summit and can be read here.

 

Extracts from: Judith Parrott | Walking the Bridge | ABC Radio National 360 Documentaries 2010
 (
Click here)

“We have journeyed as if protected by a special guard from heaven’s great king. After many a sad farewell and with a feeling nearly akin to regret we leave our home and friends and a prospect perhaps of never visiting dear Scotia again.  My brother, Thomas, and I left Glasgow on the 1st July 1852 for Greenock to sail thence for Liverpool per Princess Royal Steamers and from Liverpool for ship Birmingham for Melbourne, hopeful of Australia.  At 3:25pm a last hearty shake of the hand was exchanged, the paddles began to move and we were parted. For some distance we could describe the wave of a handkerchief on shore and we waved our own in reply but as the distance increased it grew fainter and fainter until it was lost to the view.” (Extract from James Howie’s diary on his voyage to Australia)

Like so many before me had done, I left Scotland in 1985. I left with the taste of adventure like salt on my lips and a mind curious to know the world. I left carrying my heritage like a mantle around me. I found a world out there bright with colours and sounds and smells, rich and vibrant. In the same way as many from my generation and those before, I found Australia at the end of the road. But it was new Australia I found, it was to be twenty years before I was privileged to meet and work with the Traditional Owners of the land. And the new Australia can be, in some respects, a bewildering antithesis to home …

Twenty-one years on I returned to Scotland. I have boarded a ferry and sailed with the wind in my hair to the Isle of Bute. I am in the little town of Rothesay. The central heating is on, bags unpacked, cupboards stocked, beds made up, friends phoned, neighbours greeted. I have opened out onto Scottish soil like a flower to the sunlight with my feet once more connected to the centuries that live within me...

The sky today is a crumpled blanket of sheep’s wool curls, the dense knit holds in a silent stillness over the island, the water becalmed, the hills turned to stone. The only movement is when a gull cuts though the middle air, turning the scene into a momentary three-dimensional film clip. And behind the silence of the old stone walls, another Rothesay swells and bursts with life…

The evening has the light of summer in it; the grass is dazzling – so green it is beyond green. The air has taken on a brilliant Antarctic clarity with the dry cold weather we have been having. It brings the mountains of Aran and the Kyle Peninsula so close they seem to creep up on us in the night, stealthy across the still, dark water.

And in the morning they are smiling mischievously on our doorstep, sharp and bright as polished pennies. Everything has a crisp edge; the stonework on the pubs and cottages, the edge of the road where it bends around the castle, the blades of green grass stepping down to the moat, the quills and wing feathers of the swans.

On other days when the air dampens, the mountains creep away again, turning to softer lilac and seeming unreachable as if in some mysterious land. The colours and shapes are imprinted on my being. I am part of this place in a way I can never be in any new country to which I might travel. I know and I understand the lapping of the water, the sigh of the wind, the curl of the hills. And the voices that have grown out of the landscape resonate with its ups and downs, its unexpected hiccups and its gentle folds…

The sounds and the smells and the colours and patterns, which layer on my mind, are as I have always seen and heard them and they fit the imprints within me like a gossamer glove. The track takes us down into the woods and the sweet moist smell of moss and mushrooms; And onto the causeway at the northern end of the loch. We climb up past the rich smell of horse stables and wet grass and wind out onto a little country road, which we cross to pick up another track on the other side. We were fully prepared to be walking today in howling gales but the sun is shining and the breeze is light and mild. We pass more farms of curly cows and shaggy sheep and a group of six excited sheepdogs race out to round us up, the little white-washed farmhouse dappled in the sun.

As we approach the turn at the top of the hill and enter the silent hollow that cradles the ruins of St Blane, the atmosphere draws up our laughter and disperses it to a motionless hush. A high stone cliff to one side protects the hollow from the winds and gnarled old trees twist fingers to the sky. In the treetops, a host of rooks and ravens quietly caw, their black silhouettes massed in the bare tree branches. Then, as if in response to some invisible signal, in one swirl, they lift from the branches and swoop and turn against the grey sky, calling and crying to a kind of echo in the hollow. I feel us as four witches returned to our coven…

Elusive, invisible time, it stretches thinly into the infinite past and binds me to my world, a shimmering thread that at once both grounds me and leads the way to my future…

I nestle securely down into a cocoon of history that is part of me, my eyes replete with familiar, irregular shapes, my skin soothed by the soft worn textures of the buildings. The flagstones where I walk ooze warmth upwards through the soles of my boots where it trickles on through my bones, the warmth of hundreds of years of feet on stone, the smooth worn sensation resonating on my feet. My ears are met by gentle, rounded echoes, off surfaces rich and full with time…

At every step in my day my senses are swept over with messages from the past until it becomes an imperceptible blanket that cloaks me from the heady roar of the rushing present. I see and hear and feel the calls from the past with each turn of my head and it must be there to keep me grounded and true. Without it I float above the ground not quite knowing where my feet belong but knowing that the ground is not mine. I am lost and at sea…

So many things that tell me who I am and tell me I am home. Not just that I can close my eyes and find my way in a landscape that sits slowly in its space. The air between the places, that too is full, full of sound that knows its way effortlessly through the channels of my mind. The voices that lilt and turn with the shape of the hills, sketched and moulded by the land, resonating with a country that is mine. Sounds that weave connections light and elusive as feather down but when layered one upon the other that build to a warmth that is deep…

We open the doors from the street and voices raised to “Happy Birthday” burst out of the confined space and into the biting air from which we enter. We drag the door shut behind us as we squeeze into the tiny room, which bulges with laughter and the heat of a coal fire licking around the gaps between the bodies. We are held in by heavy oak beams and around the whitewashed, stone walls and the large sandstone flagstones of the floor. It is a competition to be heard and everyone must shout louder and louder above the next voice. In a corner a fiddle, an accordion and a host of other instruments, which I can’t quite determine, tumble in and out of hearing behind the cacophony of the pub and those who sing along.

We wriggle into a seat near the bar. A woman in her nineties opens the door to let in a fresh sweep of cold air. The bartender squashes through the crowd to escort her further in and she joins us with her fiddle, striking up with those already playing. And the young men in kilts, little girls in pink dresses and the elderly are joined for the evening within the old stone walls. It is New Year’s Day and I am here in this place through some hole in the looking-glass running in a parallel universe where nothing has changed, where everything is connected, where I am back where I am from and I understand it perfectly…

There is nothing straight about this little town. It twists and turns and hiccups in idiosyncratic surprises, which make me laugh with delight at how life is always at its best when it is slightly offbeat. And it is the unsophisticated that binds me to this place, the crumbling old walls, the back lanes, the closes with layered stories billowing in the air captured there, which everyone can feel but no one can say why or how it is they feel them.

These lingering stories play a role in the layers and keep me connected to a history that is mine. They make me talk and turn my head to look. They make me listen for something I didn’t quite hear but in the listening I hear other things and they weave a cocoon of common understanding around us, they open our eyes and our ears so we always know where we are…

It is a beautiful summer evening and, like many in the town, I take a stroll along the esplanade. The water is milk opal and the great weight of the sun bulges in the sky and splits the water with a strip of pure gold. Silhouettes saunter with their ice-creams, dribble footballs or sit to watch the sun go down. A gaggle of teenage boys fly on the swings in the little park, soaring as high as the bar, the brooding huddle of hills as their backdrop. The town is out together for its evening walk…

We unambiguously reflect the weather and the season and paint the canvas of summer with our style and our bodies and our chatter. And so we are held together by obligations of land and sky, by traditions forged within the landscape that are so much a part of us we do not know they are there. They spill over us and melt us together with a smooth unfractured motion of caramel pouring from the pot…

Our social rules might seem in one breath to hold us back, to confine us in what we may or may not do but in the next they are the loving arms around us, the balance for a world that rushes too hastily to a shallow grave.

Perhaps it is the weather that holds us close and warm together. I am not so free to head out alone to a big open sky. I am contained not only by our traditions and rules of social conduct, but by the clouds that hang low with a watchful eye and occupy my time with coats and scarves and woolly mittens. It is the weather that makes me exclaim with delight to all the strangers who pass, that stimulates my eyes and ears and senses. It is the weather about which we commune and talk.

Our land and our sky is knitting me, not just to itself, but to the others around me. We splash together through puddles. We laugh with the wild energy of a storm and we are like children seeing the sun for the first time every time it bursts upon us. It is the weather that calls up the snowdrops and then the daffodils, that bursts the sculptured trees into halos of lime green. It is a constant stimulation for the senses and delays my mind from the lonely wanderings of an endless blue sky…

The weather is wild. The sea has a long laborious heave under the fluttering whitecaps. The hills are purple and the sky paynes grey folding on feathered goose white. No ferries today. Two children skip and leap behind me down a blowy street in well-worn anoraks and soaking jeans, singing a home-made song about chocolate cake and chocolate ice-cream. And, occasionally, chocolate milkshake. A song which gets lifted and claimed by the wind into the day. And it belies me to bottle the day any further than that. So much is always missing from any picture I write that can only be breathed and tasted on the tip of the tongue. It cannot be kept or pocketed or passed to another. It cannot be known more deeply nor sealed in an envelope to be enjoyed again. It is here alone for a fleeting day and gone…

The colour now is layers of steel blue on ice grey with a white patch caught in the sun where a swarm of seabirds have found food beneath the waves. And the hills are deep purple-grey where the heavy clouds dump snow, and the strip of grass is still catching the sun and shining iridescent lime-green. And the gale-force winds are moving everything, clouds, birds, water, trees, towards the east.

Today I not so much walk along as be picked up and carried along with pieces of debris and leaf flying past at all levels, the white caps of the water skidding in their haste, the birds a white flash of feather. Even the lampposts are jiggling and bending to the wind. The roar in my ears, it all brings on a feeling of total disorientation where the sole focus is to put one step in front of the other and inch along the road to shelter. I can’t see for the driving sleet, which screws up my eyes and directs them down. I can’t hear for the roar of the wind. I can’t feel for the numb battering of the elements.

The storms have been unrelenting today with icy sleet which burns my cheeks and makes it impossible to look up from the pavement, sandblasting my skin with horizontal swipes. And as fast as it came the gales speed off across the Atlantic, spinning a trail of milk opal sky and water so calm and benign it flickers its innocent eyelashes at me and tosses blue eyes skywards at any accusations of the battering it gave last night. Not a hint of a breeze but the calm, crisp air smelling of salt and sugar and the honey yellow on blue…

My connection to this place is sensory. It is the smell of wild garlic and the coconut sweetness of broom, the taste of salt from the sea-laden air. It is the light, diffuse to multiple pastel shades, soft and gentle enough to keep my eyes wide and open, still able to see. It is the warm worn stone of pavements on which I walk and the buildings which rise on either side. And the crisp tightness of my skin in cool, youthful air…

That which needs to be old is old and grounded and that which must have the energy and change of youth is in the weathers of the air. My environment is a mirror manifesting from the values of the place that I call home. It reflects back to me exactly who we are and what we believe in. We have built and nurtured our physical world under the umbrella of our beliefs. I can relate to what I see and hear and smell and taste in the air. It does not offend. There is a harmony derived of many voices that relate in the same way to their place, through the same sensibilities carved through the channels of time. And so I have community, a common thread weaving all our minds to the distant past and stretching into a common future…

The land is everything to me. It is the very essence of my being. It grounds me and feeds me and surrounds me with beauty. It connects me to all that is real. From the land springs our culture, our language, our ways of relating. It is our beginning and our end and binds and moulds us into who we are. And so where my seed was planted I can belong. I might see and hear and feel this music in other places, in the scented villages of France, in the tumbling hillsides of Nepal, in the open heart of Indigenous Australia, but where the ongoing bond between people and land has been broken I feel uncertain at every twist and turn. I do not understand the new rules, which flood in to fill the chasms that are left, the hunger for growth and change. An unease churns within me and I am compelled to hunt down once more the connections that stop me drifting down the new world path…
I always carry with me a sense of the role displacements can have in its many shades that filter on and on in a multitude of rippling layers. My heart goes back to a home where it is important to be equal, to work towards a common end, and these are the colours that paint the palate of my day.
http://firstandlastlines.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/judith-parrott-walking-the-bridge-abc-radio-national-360-documentaries-2010/

 
   

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