Field Notes.4 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Welcome to 2017. Here is the fourth and final set of notes from Gian Paolo Cottino during our Forest Residency in August 2016. These notes follow an early dawn walk and a remarkable time listening to the internal sounds of trees on the final day of our residency.


Moving between sleep and wakefulness.
This morning we awake at four thirty and proceed to walk towards the east, towards dawn. We are experimenting with Petra’s proposition of moving between sleep and wakefulness and to witness one another in this place.

When we reach the open fields belonging to the estate (as does the plantation we have been camping in), our path is sided by a ditch or a trough, and a wall holds our path back and above this ditch in the earth. This is the Deer Leap that Charlotte had told us about. A system devised to keep the deer that would jump down into the estate’s grounds from ever being able to return to the surrounding common woods.

I stay back and watch the group descend a small distance into the open valley of the estate. There they settle in a sleepy and silent witnessing of dawn. They look east and watch the pink and orange glow of the sun rise as a ball into the sky.

I feel the desire not to join them in that silence and set about looking for a tree. I see an old oak towards the north with a small incline of earth to one side of it and I walk there to lie down on my poncho. As I move between sleep and wakefulness I watch below me a line of experiences looking into the sun.

I feel strongly aware of following my instincts, and I notice the judgement of my self as I separate from the main group.

Looking on from here, I see the awake sleepers as a pride of lions in the early light of a savannah.

To the heart through a tree.
After Petra’s Sweaties and Friskies exercise ( revolutionary fun), I walk toward a circle of ash trees. They are maybe six to eight metres tall, their circumference between 30 and 40 cm. There are perhaps eight of them and they are still young and supple enough to bend easily in the wind.

Placing my ear against it’s skin I listen to one of these trees and I become aware that I can hear it’s wood, it’s fibrous body, bending and stretching and creaking like a ship in a sea of earthly fluids. I hear it’s branches touching another’s. Then I hear my heart and I become aware that it is beating faster and faster, louder…and I sense also that the tree is aware of me. Extending Ben’s craniosacral exercise and practising it with a non human being, I touch the tree and move into the tree and then responsively allow the tree to move into me. The whole experience softens me and yet I simultaneously feel strengthened by the sensuous exchange . As the whole group embraces my proposition to repeat this exercise together, I see our experience of this time and place shift and go deeper still. And I am definitely thankful.

Field Notes.3 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here is the third set of field notes from Gian Paolo Cottino. The fourth and final one will be published in the new year.


The Water Hole.
I plunged into a pool of water whose surface was being strimmed by the wind. I was my father as a younger and leaner self. I watched him disappear under the water, agitated and concerned. Then, he re-emerged, calm, knowing and un-movable by the forces that had gripped the younger man to become dependent on drugs.

This morning, at first light, I walk to the water hole we had seen on our initial hike through the plantation. I want to look deeper within me, I want to find the stillness in these waters…and from this stillness to know.

I find my place under a pine tree on the southern edge of the body of water. Facing the north and in the midst of morning practice I see a man approaching on the track to my left. Ahead of him a Staffie dog is running, excited and bashful, seemingly led by a contortion of irrepressible muscle. I notice the man has removed his shirt to bathe in the sun’s light even though the morning is still crisp. His body is muscular and tattooed, and his head is shaved. I can see the dog’s curiosity is leading him towards the area I am in, and for a moment I consider the possibility of my presence surprising him and causing him alarm and agitation. For a moment I consider also that this man might equally be surprised by me and become irritated by the otherness between us and perhaps even question my purpose. But then I watch in stillness and I notice I am invisible to them. I notice also that it is the choice to be grounded and still that means I have been unnoticed.

The man sits down on the large boulder to my left and bathes in the light of the sun. Concerned of startling him I introduce my presence with a greeting.

His voice is soft, his being suddenly startled by another’s. We converse tentatively, about the water, the deer, the fox and the dragonflies and then he carries on with his journey, leaving me in the peace we’d both sought.

I see your strong neck vibrate and repeat your heart’s desires into the hard wood and I notice that it is with this beat that you make your home within the tree.

Field Notes.2 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here is the next installment of observations from our time in the King’s Wood in August 2016 from collaborator and artist, Gian Paolo Cottino.


I feel I belong
I belong when I allow myself to belong.
I belong when I have the courage to belong.
I belong when my authentic self is welcomed by others.
I belong when I acknowledge the other.
I belong when I can give thanks.
I belong when I accept differences and take joy in the connections.
I belong when my eyes meet another’s and I see them light up.
I belong when I utter my name to the earth and I speak my truth.
I belong when I dare to have desires and longings.
I belong when I step away from the stories I tell about who I am.
I belong with my ancestors.
I belong to my self.
I belong in the landscapes within me and in the folds of the body I caress and walk upon.
I belong when I do my best.
I belong when I witness the mystery and I allow it to see me, naked and raw.

Then I am well.

Working to no logical conclusion, they appear as suspended in the experience of work. Are we all caught in a loop of performance?

I see big casted knots of plaster in varying colours float just above the ground, soft and doughy lengths having been worked into different configurations, yet each rooted in a practical task, each functioning in relation to the elements.

Field notes.1 – Gian Paolo Cottino

Here are a series of observations and field notes from Gian Paolo Cottino, during our working time in the forest. Gian’s detailed and poetic observations elucidate our activities and realms of conversation, through the lens of his experience and thought processes which arose from this intense working time together. I will publish them in a series of 4 parts over the coming weeks.


King’s Wood, Kent. August 2016.
I walk, the coppiced hearts of the chestnut trees touching me as I make my way to camp.

They keep giving, keep on providing, continuously bringing the earth into the sky. There is renewal here, every day.

I think about renewal through practice, how every day we might renew the self and every day renew our relationship to mystery, recommitting each day to our true longings.

Peripheral Vision
I become aware of myself and of how I am included and enveloped in that which I see. I belong in this material.

As I let go all my senses open, my body relaxes and moves of it’s own accord, and mind follows, diving into the joy of connection. My jaw drops, my mouth opens, I speak with the dragonflies.

I see the wind and feel her all over me, becoming aware and remembering that she is communication between all things.

Seeds high up in the air.

This peripheral vision softens my gaze to see all as one fabric, one material, and yet… it is also the way of the hunter and the stalker and of the indigenous warrior and the martial artist. It is impersonal yet all inclusive.

Crow glitters in the sun of the north.

I see insects and plants I hadn’t been been able to perceive when once I walked upright.

Here there is an abundance of new colours, of new forms, and the small yet sharp intentions of lives. They grow upon me, covering me in their universe. My head wants to go deeper, drop further down. Now I find it difficult to perceive what lies ahead. It is a space of immediacy and intoxicating instinct.

Time slows down and I become entrenched with the ground. I smell and follow spoor. Animals and birds are less alarmed by my slow pace. The light is flickering on the ground and in the woods, playing optical games inspired by the trees. Soon they are kaleidoscopic and hallucinogenic like effects, transporting my body ahead of me and into the thicket.

I am reminded of an article that pointed toward the forest’s interplay of light and shadow and to humans’ relationship with the hallucinogenic plants of these arboreal places (and hence the spool of images and the emotive response of imagination) as the trigger and origin of abstract thought. The leaps of light and the stirring of shadows quickening our mind as it follows helpless the imaginative image.

Turning onto my back I walk the sky and all the weight of my body is lifted.

Where are we with the Waste Lands?

Wasteland KIngsWoods feature

Our research for Is this A Waste Land? has been continuing and has proved both fascinating and frustrating. It feels entirely possible to attach this title/this question to any space or place and the conversation is an interesting one. How do we decide what is a useful use of space or not? Who decides and by what criteria? When I was first envisaging this project, I imagined it for two quite specific sites – an urban industrial wasteland and an industrial forest. The main stumbling block so far has been gaining permission to access an urban site in London. Redevelopment is happening at an enormously rapid rate in London and every plot of land is allocated. This together with anxieties around security and the enormous health and safety red tape in the UK has led many interesting conversations with property developers and site owners to result in a refusal of permission for our request to access their site for 3 days. It is frustrating. These spaces are standing empty and we are asking to use them for 3 days. 3 DAYS!!! It feels a little like banging our heads against the wall. But hey, we are continuing to hunt and to talk and to ask questions.

The common notion still remains that wastelands are of no value until developed. Artistically I want to work in these places to acknowledge what thrives; to participate in conversation about how we might imagine and animate our future spaces. The questions and the subject feel important, so we aren’t giving up. We are looking for new ways to allow this project to continue living and breathing, and with that I feel excited and optimistic.

In the middle of June we were meant to be working on an industrial site for 3 days with all the creative team, preparing to share our work so far with an invited audience. The refusal of access to our desired sites meant we had to postpone. Instead Keren Kossow (my fantastic new producer!) and I joined an incredibly inspiring project, Refugee Tales a pilgrimage from Dover to Crawley via Canterbury, that reflected on the long and dangerous journeys that many refugees make fleeing war and persecution, seeking a safe place to live. Organised by the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, hundreds of people joined the walk across 9 days in solidarity for and with all those detained in the UK whilst seeking asylum. With film-screenings, talks and performances, the whole event became a political carnival, a reclaiming of the landscape in the name of human solidarity. It was an artistic, political, activist, engaged project.

It was inspiring and challenging to be part of and made me reflect deeply on my own artistic work and the contribution it might make in political, social and ecological processes. This experience also highlighted to me the increasing relevance of land and space in the politics of migration and those who are landless. The very fact that a group of migrants were camping under the bridge of the North Circular less than 200m from the site in North London that we were trying to gain access to sits heavily with me. The first time I visited the site, they were there. The next time I went they had ‘disappeared’. Meanwhile a large space next door is left empty. And we are not granted access to that space for fear that we may be travellers or squatters. Most people would not choose to camp under the North circular. Probably most people would not choose to camp on the derelict concrete site that we were looking at. And still our country closes its borders and refuses entry. Is this a Waste Land? is also in part an ode to all those migrants seeking a safe place to call home. 

Despite not being granted space on an urban site, we did manage to work for 3 days in the Kings Wood. A Forestry Commission site, where the wonderful Stour Valley Arts used to be based. We had hot hot sunny weather. We worked long days and shared the work so far with a willing testing audience on the final day. It was great to bring in some people from outside our process for the first time and gather their responses. I have the distinct feeling that we are moving on new territory and it is both un-nerving and delightful.


We have also started to explore possible sites in other cities in the UK and are interested to widen the conversation beyond the borders of the UK. I will keep you posted with our progress. I am exceptionally grateful to all of my collaborators for their wonderful generous thoughts and contributions: Tom Spencer, Petra Soor, Ben Ash, Kip Johnson, Kirsty Arnold, Jennifer-Lynn Crawford and Keren Kossow. It is wonderful embarking on this journey with you all.


all images by Pari Naderi