The words “incanted” and “enchanted” share the same etymological root. An incantation is defined as “the use of spells or verbal charms spoken or sung as a part of a ritual of magic” also “a written or recited formula of words designed to produce a particular effect”
To walk out into any wilderness; to become untethered, disconnected from the rigours of quotidian life became something of a regular routine for me. In my formative years as a young ornithologist, I spent many solitary hours in the parks and reservoirs that surrounded me in East London, attempting not only to sensitively observe my beloved avian companions, but also to connect. It is the sense of connection that permeates my written works of the last 10 years or so. Attuning to the subtle voices and moods of any given landscape takes some considerable time, effort, and sensory acuity. My walks became rites, modes of transcendence and deep connection with the theatre of nature.
A walk may have a particular rhythm and meter, and very often words manifest in the imagination. Yet a walk only has rhythm if it is regular, unbroken, a direct path. Walking into bleak, treacherous terrain, the fractured landscape breaks that rhythm and subsequently words become abstracted, disarticulated, mimetised in the very place from which they emerged. This becomes the impetus for much of my work.
I confess to being a reluctant poet, and so many of my texts took on the characteristics of incantations, invocations, a numinous summoning of the genius loci. It seems counterintuitive that in order to connect with the natural world, one has to separate, dislocate, isolate, in order to hear the multitude of voices that reside within. For me, there is an ineffable energy that emanates from places that have themselves become abandoned or forgotten, and once attuned, one becomes a conduit through which places are given voice, and words come to me almost unbidden.
I began to leave small oblations sequestered in the remote places I visited – small, tacit way markers that I call “placements” made from natural detritus. Assemblages of grass, shells, worm casts, bird skulls, leaf skeletons, symbolic objects that resonated in some way, not only as a private way of marking my presence here, but a form of exchange, a transaction with the landscape that I hoped to honour and vivify. Often I would transport these subtle offerings from one location to another, creating an invisible line of energy, connecting one place to another, like a telluric current. Once placed, these sculptural objects would lie in situ, unseen, unheralded, and then a slow decomposition and gradual consumption.
Nature does not know death – it only knows transformation, the gradual transition from one state to another. Moss, Ivy, Lichen, Fungi – these are the attire of the abandoned. Once left untended, sites of human habitation in particular are slowly consumed, transformed by the agents of time and weather, an encroaching natural decay. This is a form of alchemy, a way of knowing that we are part of a continuum, living life in anticipation of the inevitable moment of transition. And so I attune my senses to the lost voices of this continuum, attempting to reconstruct a half-imagined past for those remote, abandoned places, borne on the marks and scars of the land, the hidden energies, revenants, apparitions, the sounds, and spoor of the ancient and archaic – here the land is incanted, enchanted – these words have to be spoken in order to gain energy, brought to life once more through my transcendent imagination.
Baz Nichols / eijls is taking part in Radical Landscapes: Innovation in Landscape and Language Art at The Plough Arts Centre, Great Torrington, Devon from 23rd March to 22nd April 2019.
In support of the exhibition, The Learned Pig’s Spring 2019 editorial season is devoted to Radical Landscapes.