Site-specific Contemporary Art in Derbyshire

Alec Finlay - white peak | dark peak

Main Commission

Peak District

Alec Finlay made several visits to Derbyshire throughout 2009, each time based in a different part of the Peak District and collaborating with different poets. The 'word map' of the Peak District is now complete.

68 poems can be accessed using 20 'letterboxes' covering the entire area, through the project website, or through a printed catalogue. The 'letterboxes' were installed just before Easter 2009 and there was a launch of the catalogue to accompany the project during Derbyhire Literature Festival, together with a Renga workshop with Linda France.

Alec says of the project,

The artwork is here and there.

The catalogue is a port to 68 poems – or renga-view, named so because they are composed in the traditional Japanese linked-verse form, renga, and are places to see from, or to, view.
Together the renga-view compose a word-map of the Peak District National Park – a word- map is a descriptive poem of location.

You can experience the renga-view from the catalogue, as audio, via the 20 QR-codes printed on the front and back cover and the individual pages dedicated to each location. QR – Quick Response, a matrix barcode that accesses the web via mobile phone technology. Click your camera, hear the poem.

You can experience the renga-views there, on the white peak | dark peak website, which displays the topographical poem typographically, the lines layed-out to follow the skylines of tors, dales and hills which characterise the Peak District.

You can experience the renga-views there, in the field, by journeying to any of the 20 letterbox locations dispersed through the Peak, collecting the rubber stamp circle poems the boxes contain. The audio is available there, in free download form, again via QR-code, on a plaque concealed within each letterbox. Walk to the views associated with each letterbox and you can stand where the poet stood, with the poem in your ears and the view before your eyes.

The work may be an imaginative journey taken from anywhere in the world; or a guided walk in the landscape – you choose: here, there, or make a journey between the two.

I have worked with renga for a decade now, as a form of mapping and social sculpture. The accumulation of cultural attitudes towards the moors and dales of the Peak seemed to invite a contemporary equivalent; a renewal in contemporary terms of poem-viewing as an everday practice, an ideal form of travel log. And so the first white peak | dark peak renga-views were composed on a rainy Sunday, June full moon, 2009 – the anniversary of Basho’s arrival at the Shirakawa Barrier. That day he was too poorly to attend the nearby renga held in honour his visit, so he sent Sora with a verse for the pot. I wasn’t well enough to walk up Mam Tor, but I could still see the broken ridge out my window.

A poem is a view, a view bends to a form – each of the poets walked, looked and wrote in their own way; some composing the poem along the path, step by step; others taking notes to recompose over time; some collaborating, others soloing; some in sensible gear, others hailed on or menaced by lightning. I made my poems as much from what I found on walkers and climbers blogs, flickr and truffling through guidebooks, as I did in situ, trusting to the fidelity of those who walked and saw further – poet as radio. The renga-view desire to doube: if you go there, compose your own verses, each poem is expanded exponentially.

In an age when plinths are crowded and bronze scarce, poetry proposes itself as the ideal form of public sculpture.

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Arts Council England Lottery FundedDerbyshire Arts Development GroupDerbyshire County CouncilEsmée Fairbairn Foundation