Piety and Blisters

In the post today, I received a Sunday Telegraph article from a friend, dated 1st December 2013.  She had saved it and promised to send it to me so when I picked the letter out of my mailbox, recognising the writing and feeling its crackley paper contents, I knew what it was.


The article is about the nature of pilgrimage, ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, and was written to accompany Simon Reeve’s TV programme that was aired about the same time.  It was a three-parter in which “Simon Reeve retraces the adventures of our ancestors, and learns about the forgotten aspects of pilgrimage – including the vice, thrills and …” delving into the minds of early ‘spiritual’ travellers and why they sought to make pilgrimages.  Simon Reeve’s own journey in the making of the programme turned out to be a revelation to him.  ‘Like many of us, I had associated pilgrimage only with piety and blisters‘.


So, in this most holy of holy weeks, it seems fitting to ask why many of us still seek spiritual enlightenment through pilgrimage, even though, like Simon Reeve, my own pilgrimage is also of a secular nature?  And how might I define my own interest in the nature of pilgrimage?


To answer this question, I revisited some of the ideas I put together to form the basis of my research project.  (As it is written in academic speak, I have since created a more easily digestible version, have a look at my website: terra incognito).  And quite by chance, I took these 3 pictures when I recently took shelter from the rain in the doorway of the former Bucca Gallery in Newlyn.  It appears that someone has made a bonfire in this space and taken wood from the door surrounds to fuel the fire.  It struck me that the blistered and peeling paint represented a liminal space so I have included them in this post to illustrate my point.

peeling paintwork: state of suspension
cracked and peeling paintwork: state of suspension
burnt paintwork: state of suspension
burnt and blistered paintwork: state of suspension
crumbling paintwork: state of suspension
crumbling and brittle paintwork: state of suspension

The most difficult thing in any research project, is to find the right questions to ask (and this is before the addition of a horse entered the equation even though it makes no difference to the fundamental question).  Perhaps the question can only be fully formed when I am closer to the answer?  Even the title has gone through many variations – with many more to come, I’ll vouch.  But my thinking at the time was along these abridged lines:

To Be A Pilgrim? : the thin veil between Gravity and Grace.

In a post Descartian world, how might an aesthetic framework that relates to the duality of immanence and transcendence associated with the activity of walking be conceived?  For research based on a visual arts practice, how might advances in science and digital technology be used to visualize an art form that expresses an abstract metaphysical state of being which is understood intuitively? 

Outline of Proposed Research:  Initially, my aim is to examine some of the ways in which people seek transformation through the activity of walking, where the liminal space might simply be the distance between ‘A’ and ‘B’.  In particular how the embodied landscape experience might transcend connection with materiality and how that might be represented within my own practice that uses blogging, drawing, collage, light, video, photography and emerging digital technologies?  It will form the culmination of 10 years of research and experimentation in a personal area of interest.  Pilgrimage as ‘threshold’ to New Realities.  The desire for pilgrimage is a defining feature of humanity and sets the journeying nature of walking apart from man’s primal need to gather food or building materials for shelter.  The anticipation is that a transformation of some kind is expected to take place.  This will form the fulcrum of my research.   The state of suspension between one level of consciousness and another.  Noting the growing trend towards the tourist-pilgrim who is looking elsewhere for realities far removed from the mundane, everyday existence, ‘in search for a revitalising centre’ (pg. 298, Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice, (2001), by Francesco Careri).  And John Brincherhoff Jackson, an observer of landscape, ‘roads no longer merely lead to places, they are places.’ (ibid, pg.14).  For the purposes of this thesis, the act of pilgrimage will be used as a metaphor for a symbolic walk in the journey towards spiritual awakening: paths in a landscape as trains of thought.   Which poses the question, how might one image such an activity which at its core requires no outside assistance?    etc.etc.

If you would like to check out this particular pilgrim’s progress, follow my journal blog: pilgrim on horseback.