Art projects in the Eden Valley

A couple of years ago we were walking towards Lacy’s Caves when we came across a poignant art installation with dozens of tiny human-shaped figurines tucked into the slats of a walkway and in trees. Pale and naked, they lay prone in shallow crevices, some desperately huddling together or seeking shelter, others trying to escape. A few appeared lifeless, having given up altogether. They were all so vulnerable, exposed to the harsh elements along a muddy path that is often flooded by the nearby river.

Lacy's Caves was the setting for a haunting art installation a few years ago

Lacy’s Caves was the setting for a haunting art installation a few years ago

This left a disturbing imprint. That night I couldn’t stop thinking of those lost and desperate little bodies out in the cold, making me wish I had collected them all and brought them home to protect them (though I suspect the artist would not have appreciated this gesture and I’m not quite sure where I would have put them – they would probably have ended up cluttering a cupboard).

The fact that I can’t remember the name of the installation or the artist is shameful, especially as the image of those pathetic figures still haunts me. Without getting too self indulgent (oh, OK then, I do love a bit of self indulgence), they encapsulated the precariousness of human existence and the primal urge for survival. This was an artistic tour de force set within our natural surroundings.

We’re blessed in Cumbria; the constantly changing and dramatic landscapes and weather, the area’s abundant history, along with its deep veins of legends and mythology, have inspired so many artists over the years.

We’re even luckier that this rich tradition continues today, with some astonishing and inspiring work to be found on our doorsteps, often for free. And we’re talking about interactive, immersive and inclusive artwork, not elitist, but for everyone, whether young or old – all you need is an open mind and a willingness to be dazzled and amazed. From Andy Goldsworthy’s Sheepfolds, to the Grizedale sculpture trail, and our own Kirkby Stephen Poetry Path, we are completely spoilt.

The Poetry Path: If feeling irreverent, it is fun to make up alternative rhymes ('The year is young but my bones are old. Oh my word, it's bleeding cold'...)

The Poetry Path: If feeling irreverent, it is fun to make up alternative rhymes (‘The year is young but my bones are old. Oh my word, it’s bleeding cold’…)

This leads me onto Eden Arts, an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, which says it: “Promotes, invests, dreams and cooks up all sorts of creative projects, from commissions to participatory gigs and cinema.”

It has helped to bring us the serendipitous joy of stumbling across the unexpected insertion of human-created beauty into our natural landscapes; the exuberant, evocative resurrection of the Winter Droving traditions in Penrith; and the genius imagination of the Picnic Cinema’s marriage between films and viewing locations (Sightseers will be a blast, the film is about as dark as it gets). Not forgetting the inspirational and whimsical participative project, The Flock, which we just had to take part in (though pompoms seem to be much harder to make than I remember from when I was a child and our multi-coloured sheep was shockingly scraggy).

The Flock: More than 5,500 pompom sheep...

The Flock: More than 5,500 pompom sheep…

One of the current installations is the Canopy Art Project, which is exhibiting a series of artworks in trees and woodlands across the Eden District, with contributions from professional and local artists, schools, groups and the public. Artworks will be shown in a number of locations including Dalemain, Hutton in the Forest, Brough Castle  and the shores of Ullswater.

The Lost Tree  – part of this initiative – has fired my imagination. When visiting my Grandmother’s grave at St Just in Roseland in Cornwall a while ago, visitors to the church were encouraged to commemorate somebody they were mourning on a label, then hang it on a tree. The result was resonant with emotion, branches fluttering with the loves and losses of so many people, a way of sharing grief and paying tribute to the departed in an understated and dignified public manner.

The Lost Tree in Cumbria is a more cheerful variation on this theme – visitors to the website can input information about something they have lost and where they last saw it. Labels will be created and strung from a single tree in the grounds of Brough Castle from August 15 to September 29.

It’s going to be fascinating to see what people write.

And yes, I have contributed – unimaginatively but truthfully. I lost my dignity. It disappeared while I was engaging in some fist-bitingly bad mum-dancing to a classic Blur song in an art gallery in New York City last weekend. Maybe one day it will forgive me and come home, but I’m not holding my breath.

I might also go back and mention my treasured 160GB iPod Classic, which vanished from my suitcase flying back from Azerbaijan earlier this year. Damn it, I knew I should have put it in my hand luggage.

I hope whoever nicked it likes Arcade Fire and Old Harry’s Game.

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