The Lark Descending

St Martins Walk, Dorking 2018


10 – 27 May

As part of Surrey Unearthed, an innovative project from Surrey Hills Arts that aims to deepen engagement with the Surrey Hills landscape, artists Ackroyd & Harvey present The Lark Descending, an open, interactive space that features an evolving exhibition and events programme exploring the artists chosen location, Leith Hill.

The exhibition is built around six key elements:  Air | Terra | Soil | Water | Clay | Oil, assuming the multiple layers of the land itself, and referencing the imminent threat to Leith Hill from exploratory oil drilling.

The exhibition opened to the public with an inspirational live performance by long time collaborator artist/composer Graeme Miller and virtuoso violinist, Calina de la Mare.

The artistshave lived for many years in Dorking and are deeply connected to the area, spending much time on the hill – walks, photography, nature nurture, forest feasts and foraging – embracing the touch of wildness the place offers. Their sense of revealing the vibrancy and vulnerability of the hill is integral to their exhibition, to unearth why we strike a deep relationship with this landscape and place, and why people are compelled to protect it.

Air | An aerial view of Leith Hill is captured through drone footage and subsequently imprinted directly onto a wall of living grass, producing a bio-chemical photographic work. Grass, grown from seed in controlled conditions, has an extraordinary capacity to record complex photographic images through the production ofchlorophyll. The grey scale composition captured in a black and white photograph is captured in the blades of grass in tones of bright yellow and green.

Terra | A number of trees are displayed from the artists open-ended research project Beuys’ Acorns, which in 2007 saw the germination of hundreds of acorns collected from Joseph Beuys’s seminal artwork 7000 Oaks. Beuys’ Acornstrees grew for many years at a nursery on the slopes of Leith Hill, and current research is focused on socio-ecological justice, with the artists looking at the close proximity of the proposed drilling well in Leith Hill to a Site for Specific Scientific Interest (protected by law to conserve wildlife and geology), and a high-profile action being mounted to preserve the legality of human rights to peacefully protest against oil drilling without fear of an injunction.“We must continue along the road of interrelating socio-ecologically all the forces present in our society until we perform an action which extends to the fields of culture, economy and democratic rights.”  Joseph Beuys, 1982

Soil | Bookwormsis a short time-lapse film first commissioned for the bicentennial birthday of Charles Darwin in 2009, celebrating the digestive power of earthworms, the legacy of book collecting and the plain unpredictability of life.Conversation between the artists and Dorking residents, antiquarian booksellers Chris and Michèle Kohler, explores Darwin’s relationship with Leith Hill Place. It was here that Darwin conducted his formative worm studies. In observing stones left on the foundations of a kiln within the estate, he concluded that parts of the stone became buried by the action of earthworms excavating soil from beneath and depositing it above the surface. ‘Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible.’ Charles Darwin

Water | Drawing inspiration from the aquifers and springs that lie below Leith Hill, a social dreaming public workshop is led by Dr Julian Manley on 17 May. Social dreaming seeks to engage with visual imagination and emotional awareness, to open up new pathways and encourage participants to delve deeper into their subliminal perceptions of place and landscape. Strength of public concern over the potential contamination of the aquifer, the source of water courses that supply the Mole Valley catchment area, and further afield to south London, are also addressed.

Clay | Referencing the mudstones that lie beneath Leith Hill believed to hold oil, the artists present their 2017 work The Satanic Formula (after Senanayake), a recalibratedchemical formula for the extraction of energy from fossil fuel inspired by the work of Dr Ranil Senanayake. The title draws on William Blake’s prophetic description of “the dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution where “all the Arts of Life they changed in Arts of Death”. The formula shows the introduction of new gaseous inputs into the atmosphere that did not previously exist, and their causal acceleration of global warming and climate change. There is also a further feature about this formula that gives cause for concern, the fact that global oxygen is falling as a result of burning fossil fuels; nothing else on the planet apart from the photosynthesis of green plants and ocean plankton gives the amounts of oxygen needed to sustain life.

Oil | The exhibition space will be populated with local people, campaigners and activists, creating an open platform for discussion, and probing conversations that resound locally, nationally and internationally into the conflicts and constraints arising from the proposed commercial oil exploitation of Leith Hill. A photosynthesis portrait from the artists Protectorseries body of work is displayed.

The Lark Descending, a playful take on Ralph Vaughan Williams’ piece “The Lark Ascending”, seeks to reveal the deep chords of influence yielded by Leith Hill at a time of unprecedented threat.

For the opening reception, artist|composer Graeme Miller and virtuoso violinist Calina de la Mare played a specially commissioned sound work. Film clip 

The exhibition will be augmented by a series of talks, workshops and discussions. For updates please check online