I had been reading about bogs.
The wide, flat immutability of the landscape, the low horizon, the stillness and the intensity of silence—all of these qualities could persuade you that a bog is not just set outside of time, but set apart from life. 
I had been reading about bogs and was then expelled squint-eyed into wet land and a huge blue sky that reflected back in sticky grey clay pools. Of Celtic moor and bog, Sharon Blackie continues, ‘time works differently in the bog. Sometimes, in this disquieting liminal zone in which decay and decomposition are largely suspended, it hardly seems to pass at all.’
Bogs, as in fenlands, as in wetlands, are expanses of watery, saturated, peat-rich earth. Always wet, always fertile, they are ‘storm absorbing’ lands and on that day the ground had ingested Brendan, Gloria, Dennis. To experience The Fens is to feel both its permanence and the passing of time in its seasonal fluxes, in the land that has been drained and culled and farmed and conserved since the Romans. The sedge and grooves of dykes and drains bear the scars of its employment––its assault and immutability.
Against that blue sky, in what was once deemed the ‘Holy land of England’ on account of its many monasteries––Ely, Wisbeach, Peterborough––we became pilgrims, unthwarted by sticky clay-rich mud path and seeking a new work by Studio Morison, titled MOTHER.
This site-specific installation set in Wicken Fen is part of New Geographies, a project which maps the east of England through artists’ interpretations of unexplored and overlooked places. By way of an international open-call to practitioners, and using publicly-nominated sites, this three year project interjects an ancient landscape, that of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, with non-quotidian moments: queer rambling in Norwich; an army of neon-dressed artist-workers in a brown Peterborough quarry.
Like sun-shy moles or deranged urban foxes, we arrive at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, ready to be ‘rewilded’. We are beckoned across open landscape by the large hayrick nestling stalwart on a grassy ridge, and welcomed by Heather Morison clutching tea. Close by, a makeshift canopy serves earthy borscht and hearty bread.
This structure––building, vessel, and sculpture––by husband and wife duo Studio Morison speaks the vernacular of the landscape: a cylindrical space of timber frame from the artists’ own forest, tightly woven local straw thatching, a ceiling oculus cut into the high double layered conical roof and long slit-shaft openings that allow the surroundings to be seen one way, and then another, so that to experience MOTHER is to experience something personal and fleeting amidst the limitless open.
Banjo player Jacken Elswyth roves the site, his folk chords catching in the wind. A crowd huddles in the dark wooden interior for a dance performance, accompanied by an Elswyth melody, by Sam Amos. Wearing a cross-thatched costume and bright trainers, Amos spirals to the long chords of the banjo and Shruti box, shamanic and wild. He peers out wistfully towards the horizon, urging us to join in looking from the inside out.
We had been expelled––from our lives, from the everyday––and ingested into the MOTHER sanctum, its circular heart beating now with life and music, muted in moments of silence or quiet wind. That the work is round is so much the point: not only in the conical and elliptical shapes of the hayrick, but the banjo, the dance and the circling of history, this hayrick being built by a master thatcher who constructed his first on the same site many moons ago.
The permanence of place––be it Greek myth’s mother earth or Gaston Bachelard’s bosom of the home––is often presented as female. For Seamus Heaney bogs are ‘female, fertile, fecund’: he recalls bathing in a moss-hole as a child, ‘treading the liver-thick mud, unsettling a smoky muck off the bottom and coming out smeared and weedy and darkened. We dressed again and went home in our wet clothes… somehow initiated.’ MOTHER draws you into this fertile land. It too becomes a place of fertility, but also generative, active, impermanent.
Birth, rebirth, and fertility were planned to be ruminated on in subsequent programming throughout the Spring. Ivan Morison says, in the press release that the event MOTHER EARTH, “connects to ideas of the natural world, its supporting qualities, but also our own responsibilities and personal connections to it; MOTHER LAND connects us to the place we belong, within this landscape, within a community, within a country.”
In this sense, MOTHER projects outward as a mimetic of the broader New Geographies vision of spatial insularity. Through a network of nine partner organisations in the east of England including East Gallery NUA, Norwich University of the Arts; Firstsite, Colchester; nearby Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge; Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridgeshire, New Geographies proposes something ambitious, befitting the sheer scale and potential of these fertile eastern lands, rich in people, stories and craft. Ten site-specific commissions will take place across the east, including a recent work by Laura Wilson performed in a working quarry site, and Cooking Sections’ guided walk along the coastline of Norfolk, exploring city and seascapes.
Experiencing MOTHER is personal and social. It is a place of solitude and communion, drawing on the healing powers of a particular space and its activation. And as if to honour this generosity of spirit, the sun shifts across Amos’ dance. Beams of light stream through breaks in the hayrick, leaving us wide-eyed and new.
 Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019, September Publishing) p.193
Rose Higham-Stainton writes creative nonfiction, criticism and prose and explores representations of femininity and the body in feminist art practice, literature and fashion. Her writing is held in the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths College and has appeared in group exhibitions and publications including NOIT, The Pluralist, Dazed Digital, LOVE and V Magazine. She recently completed a Masters in Writing at Royal College of Art and co-edited the MA Writing programme’s Attention anthology. Her thesis explores representations of femininity and proposes an aesthetics of resistance through an interrogation of myth.
Heather Peak (b. UK, 1973) and Ivan Morison (b. Turkey, 1974) have established an ambitious collaborative practice over the past fifteen years that transcends the divisions between art, architecture and theatre. They are co-directors of STUDIO MORISON, their artist led creative practice which supports and realizes their ideas and projects.
MOTHER is on Wicken Fen until October 2020. Commissioned by New Geographies, Wysing Arts Centre and National Trust.
All National Trust houses, gardens, parks, toilets, cafes, shops and car parks are closed from Sunday 22 March to further restrict the spread of coronavirus. Please note that Wicken Fen is closed, please do not travel here.