Featured artist, August 2019
somewhere-nowhere (Harriet & Rob Fraser)
Harriet and Rob Fraser have worked together for the past 8 years as Somewhere-nowhere. Their work uses the power of curiosity and pause to engage with all the elements that give a sense of place, and let stories gradually reveal themselves. These stories may provoke further investigation or action, or touch on issues of struggle or loss in a local-global system where everything is connected, and balance can be elusive. Through photography and writing, with installations in rural spaces, they deliver creative projects that tap into and tell the stories of the natural environment and the people connected with it. They blend documentary with creativity and aim to inspire others to engage in debate and to go and find out more for themselves.
image above: Haiku in the Trees – the last of seven trees wrapped with words from a haiku written for the Glencoyne Pine in as part of The Long View series of installations 2016
image below: Everything is Connected – this 110-metre long yellow line on the Wasdale Screes was the first of seven installations for The Long View 2016
What are you currently working on?
We have been collaborating for eight years now as somewhere-nowhere and we have thankfully got to the stage where organisations are approaching us to carry out projects. That said, we are freelance, so our minds are pretty full-time on work and the Next Thing … fortunately we love what we do so that’s not such a hardship.
After the brilliant Evolving the Forest symposium at Dartington, where we installed ‘Space for Imagining’ we went straight on to site an installation in the National Forest as part of Timber Festival. For ‘Haiku in the Trees’. We wrapped seven trees in orange cloth, each bearing cut-out letters to allow the tree bark to ‘speak’ the short-form text. The haiku was lifted from a longer site-specific poem that Harriet wrote for the National Forest, celebrating the area’s rich mining heritage and its ongoing process to become the most densely wooded region in the UK.
We like to work on self-directed projects that allow us to take time to gather material; in the process the project finds its own momentum and always develops in ways we cannot predict. In the past we spent three years with hill farmers on a project called Landkeepers; then focused on a project that had as its focus seven ‘remarkably ordinary’ trees spread in an arc across the Cumbrian landscape called The Long View. There is so much learning to be done through projects like these, and we love gradually deepening our knowledge of rural places and the broader issues and complexities of life. Poetry and installations arising from these longer projects feed into the pool of ideas we draw on for shorter-term work.
Our current ‘big’ project is called Sense of Here, which builds on our previous understanding of place. Over the course of 12 months we are bringing exploration of the outdoors together with consideration of land use and environmental care. It’s about taking time to pause, to feel the wonder and pleasure that can come from being outside, and listening to different views and opinions in this time of climate change and biodiversity decline, mindful of the fundamental need for us as a species to do what we can to care for and enhance an environment that supports natural ecosystems andthriving human cultures. We have imagined the Lake District National Park as a clock face, centred on The Under Helm Sycamore near Grasmere, with 12 hourly segments of 30-degrees each. We have been moving around the area month by month with a series of walks in each segment and a wild camp on each transect line. And each month we have delved into an issue that’s part of the fabric of this place, and is relevant in many other areas: the issues include soil, water, trees, communities, tourism and farming. We are currently in the July segment, between six and seven o’clock, and considering community, the social fabric of this place we are lucky to call home. At the core of the project we want to reveal the feelingand knowing of place.
We are being ambitious with our aspirations of Sense of Here.As well as producing a touring exhibition and a book that will launch at Grizedale Forest in the autumn of 2020, we are running two artists residencies about place-making and organising a youth assembly with Cumbria University for 2020. We are also very excited about an interactive map that we have developed with the help of Esri. People from across the UK and beyond are sharing views about the environment and access to open spaces in their local area, and about what’s valuable – and vulnerable – in The Lake District. This is England’s most visited National Park, and it’s our local area, our ‘here’.
The Your Sense of Heremap is starting to glow with Blue Dots from people across the UK and even further afield. Where is your ‘here’? Does green and open space matter to you? Anyone can click on the dots on the map and see the anonymous responses that are being sent back to us. We encourage as many people as possible to speak about their own connection to place and what matters to them. Over the coming year these responses will filter into our artwork.
Other work includes as consultants, and while it’s not always ‘art’ we can’t help taking an ‘artful’ approach to what we do. We have just completed a report on social cohesion on and around common land in England’s uplands. We have spent the past year interviewing and photographing graziers (hill farmers), land owners and other stakeholders on three commons on Dartmoor and in the Yorkshire Dales, to find out the state of the current system and the hopes and fears for the future of land management, and suggest ways of working towards a future that’s positive for the environment and for people. The culture of rural land use has always been close to our hearts and this if often reflected in our work.
We have a few other smaller projects on the go at the moment, including a couple that are really exciting, but we cannot speak of at present – both involve placing poetry in the landscape. We also have a trip to the USA to look forward to in the autumn – inspired by our Sense of Here project a college in Illinois has invited us to spend a week with them as guest lecturers. We’re going to learn a lot out there beside the Mississippi among extensive oak forests and prairies – and we’re told we have a high chance of seeing rattle snakes. Bring it on! While we’re out there, we’re also fulfilling Harriet’s long-held ambition to visit Utah, and walk among the trembling aspens of Pando, a forest of 80,000 trees which are all, in fact, the same tree. How could we resist?
Sense of Here involves the placement of a canvas each month through 2019 with different words each month – this is the January Canvas beside Wolf Crags near Keswick in Cumbria
What would you say are the primary motivations for your work?
A curiosity, a passion for the natural environment, a desire to spend as much time as possible outside and a hope that through our work people may become more curious about what goes on in rural spaces and form a better understanding of the way that everything is connected. We don’t like polarisation of views and we like to bring joined-up or systems thinking into our work.
We enjoy what we do immensely and although sometimes it is physically challenging to be out in the fells in winter, or in the driving rain, we couldn’t imagine doing anything else; the rewards far outweigh the graft.
Clouting the Twinters – A poem placed on 21 sheep to wander across the lakeland fells for the winter of 2014-2015 as part of Harriet’s MPhil ‘Open Fell Poetics’ with Glasgow University
Any particular people who have had a profound effect on you?
It might sound a bit strange but with neither of us having come through a traditional arts background we are not as well-versed in the arts world as we might have been, if we’d studied formally. We are like sponges though and whenever possible take time to go to galleries, museums and other arts spaces just to see what is out there. We also read quite widely on subjects that are usually associated with the environment, though not exclusively.
(Rob) I was inspired to take up photography in my teens through the immaculate landscape work of Ansel Adams, the documentary work of Eric Valli (particularly through his book The Honey Hunters of Nepal,and most of all Joel Meyerowitz’s sublime large format study of the north east corner of the USA, Cape Light.
(Harriet) The first poet to fire me up was Anne Stevenson, and it is her poem, Still Life in Utah, that gave us our name, and made me want to visit Utah. The opening line begins: ‘somewhere, nowhere in Utah.’ Of the many poets/writers whose work speaks to me I could list Gary Snyder, Harryette Mullen, Maya Angelou, Wendell Berry … there’s a very long list, and it’s not just the greats. Writing shared through poetry groups I attend locally all comes into the bigger pool of influence, and I’m inspired by the way that contemporary writers like Camilla Nelson are pushing boundaries. Artists whose work I admire include David Nash, not just for the work he produces but for the feeling that goes into his process: it’s from the heart, natural, and unpretentious. And of current artists exhibiting, I’m particularly drawn in by the work of Olaf Eliasson.
treefold east is one of three treefolds we created in 2017 as a legacy of The Long View and the UK Tree Charter – words inscribed in the treefolds form a poem spanning the Cumbria landscape