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Tree rubbings, Crystal Palace Park, 2018. Courtesy Olivia Scott-Berry

The Land + The People is an on-going project looking at human interaction with natural and man-made environments in response to the Pollok Free State activist camp founded in the early 1990s to protest the routing of the M77 through Pollok Park, Glasgow, and the GalGael working community that arose from it. [1]

A work-in-progress day for the project was curated by Gwen Dupré at Govan Project Space on 18 August 2018, showing work from Gwen and her collaborator, Bristol-based musician Jamie Maule. It comprised an exhibition of material from and responding to the Free State and GalGael, and a programme of events including a reading group discussing texts that informed research, and a creative group workshop using a sound collage by Jamie to think about ideas of connection to place, delivered by Catherine Lacey and Gina Dupré. 

The following essay was written by Olivia Scott-Berry after correspondence with Gwen about Pollok Free State, and a trip to Crystal Palace Park where tree rubbings were made by Olivia and Jim Scott-Berry.


1.‘There’ll be nothing left’ [2]

Fears about the posthuman—what comes after us, how we have shaped it—often take the form of/are prompted by the prehistoric, with its intimations of a pre-human deep time almost beyond comprehension.

One instance is the parallel development, in the nineteenth century, of geological understanding of the earth’s history and the industrial use of those structures and strata. Both formed a subject of popular interest, as evidenced by the Crystal Palace. First designed to house the 1851 Great Exhibition of commodities from around the world, it was then rebuilt in a South London park, alongside a landscape that is still populated by life-sized models of dinosaurs based on conjectures from then current knowledge (since disproved by further fossil evidence). [3]

2. ‘interesting things come out of a space that’s uncomfortable’

The rationalist, commodifying approach of that era relies on a fixing of forms, in periodised sequences that disallow a more complicated engagement with deep time. Many contemporary returns to nature exist within this sphere, assuming human superiority (through knowledge) of an idealised landscape, clearly demarcated for use. Increasingly, however, this pattern is being disrupted by evidence of the damage of such usage, from the eerie geology of the Anthropocene, such as the ‘new rock layers laced with plastic’ predicted by geologists, [4] to the archaeology of its consequences, as in the exposure of ancient sites by the recent heatwave. [5]

Post-apocalyptic fiction is often so effective at exploring these realities because it takes as its premise social and natural orders that have already been interrupted, allowing for the speculative development of new approaches using non-conformist models and analogue technologies to form and record a new community. Such instances cut across accepted sequences to suggest that not only were they always incomplete and incorrect—as in the case of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs—but that different kinds of pattern altogether have always been in operation.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975.

3. ‘a space appearing where a space had never been before’

Land shifts throw up fossils. Footprints appear in the sand at low tide. [5] Time seems to slow in spaces preceding human thought . Encounters with the prehistoric have been disrupting this rationalist sequencing since it began, and have continued to represent a challenge to it into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Indeed, fictional and filmic representations often accentuate this by representing such irruptions to the corseted Victorian era, when the land that has been taken as a colonised background is forced into a reckoning with its deeper, older realities. In Picnic at Hanging Rock, the unsettling sense of deep time experienced at an ancient rock formation by four schoolgirls, three of whom subsequently seem to disappear into it, along with their governess, causes widespread disturbance. [6] 

Such instances often seem hysterical—breaking with accepted modes of expression, and as such incomprehensible, frightening—because they fracture our usual experience of time, self, being. Their mode is often the surreal, paranoiac: the amateur detective following a trail of  zig-zagging string across a collaged board. Their lines spiral out, becoming the labyrinth it is supposed to be guiding them through, their trail bread crumbs that blow away with the wind—unreliable glints in the soil. And yet it all leads … somewhere. To another kind of knowledge apparent in these patterns and their very disruption—of the way time and the earth’s forces really seem to work, once they are approached in this more diffident manner, with a willingness to learn.

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Tree rubbings, Crystal Palace Park, 2018. Courtesy Olivia Scott-Berry

4. ‘there’s a survival kit to living in nature, to living in life, to living in a scheme, to living in the world, to living with each other, and that was all part of it’

Taking the cue of Pollok Free State’s experiment in living and learning—particularly the woodwork in the camp and its later incarnation as GalGael ship-building workshop which practiced carving in a way that responds to the material itself—we have responded to this particular trail of connections through techniques of rubbing and casting that reverse the assumed directionality of rationalist/romantic approaches (humans climbing up, digging out, building on), and with it the investment of autonomy. (Free State founder Colin Macleod connected the carving techniques of Abenaki people of Canada to the ‘struggle to reclaim native language and traditions’ of the Lakota people of South Dakota, seeing parallels to the Free State project in both.) [7]

Literally, these rubbing techniques take up what the ground itself pushes up, bearing witness in the negative space left by pencil sweeping over or mould hugging round, producing a record that can then be inverted again to be printed, transferred, passed on, layered, altering with forms and use, enabling personal investment and memorial and a way of looking at wider histories and connections [8]—a form everyone can use to explore and respond to this view of ecology, as it shifts and changes and goes on. [9] 


[1] ‘A community organisation helping to enrich lives by providing a reconnection to place and a sense of belonging through rediscovery of traditional working methods,’ GalGael’s mission is ‘To heal the rift which modern living has opened between folk, work and place by providing a nurturing, welcoming environment for people to reconnect with each other and rediscover a sense of belonging, community and clanship.’- About GalGaelFacebook

[2] All italic quotations are taken from ‘Given to the People’, 2008, a film about Pollok Free State by Simon Yuill.

[3] Of the park’s three eventual mascots, the ichthyosaurs presumed to be like crocodiles,  basking on land, have since been shown to be more like sharks; the nose horn of the iguanodon is actually its thumb bone, and the megalosaurus taken to be quadrupedal is now believed to have been bipedal.

[4] Robin McKie, ‘Colonialism did not just create slavery: it changed geology’The Observer, 10 Jun 2018 

[5] ‘‘A timeline showing how archaeology can make crop marks. The entire area is under crop, and ground conditions are right for marks to appear. The two dark green circles represent crop marks forming above a ‘negative’ feature- something cut into the ground- ditches, in this case. The outer circle probably represents an enclosure ditch, and the inner one an Iron Age roundhouse’- ‘UK archaeology sites made visible in heatwave’Guardian,15 August 2018

[6] ‘At nearby Low Hauxley are the remains of a pre-historic submerged forest. […] These remains are thought to be part of Doggerland, a stretch of land which once connected Britain to the European land mass. Archaeologists claim to have discovered evidence of human habitation here from thousands of year BC together with bear and wild boar footprints.’- ‘Amble Links Beach’

[7] ‘Marion was the first to break through the web of silence. “Those peaks … they must be a million years old.” “A million. Oh, how horrible!” Edith exclaimed. “Miranda! Did you hear that?” At fourteen, millions of years can be almost indecent. Miranda, illumined by a calm wordless joy, merely smiled back. Edith persisted. “Miranda! It’s not true, is it?”[…] “Stop it! You’re making me feel giddy.” ‘- Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock (Vintage, 2013 [1967]), p.26.

[8] ‘Colin Macleod came from a family with Hebridean roots and grew up in Pollok in the south side of Glasgow. After jobs with the Forestry Comission and periods of employment- when he would look for bits of scrap wood and taught himself to care—he travelled as a volunteer for the environmental charity the Scottish Tree Trust to South Dakota. Here he witnessed the indigenous people’s struggle to reclaim native language and traditions, quickly seeing parallels with his homeland.’- ‘Inspirational son begins his long voyage home’,The Herald, 6 November 2005.

‘[Colin visited] the Rosebud Reservation of the Lakota and specifically their Sinte Gleska University. On a later trip to Canada he was inspired to start carving particularly by the Abenaki peoples’- Gehan Macleod, from email correspondence between Gehan Macleod and Gwen Dupré, 2018.

[9] ‘For a genealogist, a gravestone rubbing may become a permanent record of death when a gravestone is rapidly deteriorating. […] The stone’s condition, art, and inscription can tell what was going on in an area at a specific time. Studying multiple gravestones in one specific area can give even more information about history.’- ‘Stone Rubbing’, Wikipedia.

[10] ‘That was the strange thing, that one did not know where one was going, or what one wanted, and followed blindly, suffering so much in secret, always unprepared and amazed and knowing nothing; but one thing led to another and by degrees something had formed itself out of nothing, and so one reached at last this calm, this quiet, this certainty, and it was this process that people called living. Perhaps, then, everyone really knew as she knew now where they were going; and things formed themselves into a pattern not only for her, but for them, and in that pattern lay satisfaction and meaning.’ Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (Oxford, 2009 [1915],p.366.)

Olivia Scott-Berry is a writer from London. She studied English Literature at Cambridge, where she began experimenting with various forms to develop a collagic approach with which to explore her interests in gender and ecology. Her poetry has appeared in student publications Notes and The Dial, as well as various zines, including Pilot Press’s A Queer Anthology of Rage, and she is currently working on her first long piece of prose.