When corresponding with Richard Skelton about his new work with Autumn Richardson, I happened to mention a recent book that I thought he would enjoy ~ Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane. At the time, I had only received the book, not yet read it. When I read it, I was humbled to discover that Skelton was in fact one of the book’s primary subjects! The fact that he said nothing about his inclusion may be a key to understanding this multi-media artist.
Skelton and Richardson bonded over many subjects, not the least of which was a shared love of place names, especially those which had been abandoned like scarred rocks. As modern society grapples with linguistic precision, often complaining, “there should be a name for that,” *AR counter with the thought that there probably is. The film that accompanies the deluxe edition begins with the ancient wolf’s haugr and concludes with the triptych, “that which was lost/now found/resurgent”. A slow fog rolls over the hill, then recedes, like the fog of forgetting. Without the right words, how can we ever express our true feelings, not the ones closest to true, but true? And how can we ever be satisfied with near-misses and inexactitudes?
The book Memorious Earth compiles portions of *AR’s poetic and photographic work: fragments and figures, salvaged sentences and scraps. The aforementioned poem appears as “Ulmus,” an uncommon name for elm. Other poems circle, separate into columns, bleed into unforeseen shapes. The newest included work, “Medicine Earth,” contains a foreboding refrain: and the harmful one that throughout the land roams. Yet it concludes with more hopeful thoughts: this shall be whole … this shall be whole again. In the same way as Skelton and Richardson now seem whole after separate tumult, the fallow land may one day find healing as well. The future is not yet determined.
As to the music, a single, 44-minute piece, “Memorious Earth” is one of *AR’s most effective compositions to date. It takes its time to develop, like that slow-rolling fog: fret, rime, woor. (Proof of our grammatical challenge is evident in the fact that a Google search for “ancient names of slow-rolling fog” leads instead to the rock band Foghat, and that my MacBook seeks to autocorrect woor, changing it to wood.) The tension builds, a low-level drone gathering intensity like a thundercloud gaining weight, darkening at the edges. Layers of stringed instruments intrude upon this cloud, coloring it in shades of grey: slate, gunmetal, ash. At last the cumulonimbus can hold no more. Lines fall, a string here, a bow there, lightening the load. In the end, the cloud passes: not dissipating, but moving forward, like language, like memory, like history, oblivious to who or what may have been lost or spared in its wake.
Thousands of metres below, Autumn and Richard venture from their new home, grateful for the respite, gathering the pieces in tiny glass phials. (Richard Allen)