Originally published on a-n, July 2018
Simon Lee Dicker: Silent Swim School (sssh…)
It was an unseasonably hot day in the verdant grounds of the Dartington estate. Bathed in the dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy, a group of artists and curators headed towards the river Dart.
Image by Hannah Cochrane
Led by the artist Simon Lee Dicker, who brandished a pair of undies on a stick, some chatted excitedly, getting all of their words out before the silent activity. Some participants were discussing the differences between fresh and saltwater swimming, others the inherent meditative quality of swimming in nature. More yet were comparing their badges which Simon had given out before we had set off to the river – a variety of the old swimming rule pictures, but without the NO. Yes to smoking. Yes to heavy petting, and yes to dive bombing. Others expressed concerns over ‘beach bodies’, and there was a notable mix of excitement and nerves in the air as so many people prepared to expose their figure to friends, acquaintances, and strangers, a figure which is so often obscured under clothing. Or perhaps that was just my own anxiety.
You are on your own but we are together
Upon reaching the desired swimming spot, a place where the river meandered to leave a sandy point bar, we stopped. Nervous laughs and slight glances were exchanged as we all undressed.
Simon had now done away with the pants on a stick, and, removing a piece of paper from his pocket, he cleared his throat. Silence fell as we turned to listen to what he had to say.
Move slowly into the water
Hands in first
Let the cold bite
…And bite it did. Despite the heat of the air, the cool current of the river took my breath away, and I gasped involuntarily.
There is something intimate about swimming; semi naked bodies, wet hair and gasping breaths. People that I had known for years I no longer recognised in this new context, and people I had known for hours seemed like close friends. In the earthy waters of the Dart, we were all the same; existing together, moving through the water as equals.
Image by Hannah Cochrane
Dislodged seeds floating on the skin of the water
Mud and stones underfoot
Taking a breath, I dived, revelling in the orange water. I kicked, propelling myself along the smooth, slippery stones on the river bed, and opened my eyes. Dappled light filtered down from above, the orange fading to green.
To the left – fish!
I tried to get a closer look, but they darted away, flashing like light on tiny knives in the murky water. Lungs bursting, I came up for air and came face to face with another person. Rubbing the river out of my eyes, it took me a while to recognise them as my uni lecturer. My first instinct was to go: “Steven! Have you seen the fish?!”
…But this was Silent Swim School, and I bit my tongue. Smiling, he dived and swam on.
And so did I.
Alone, but together.
Image by Andy Ford
After the event, I asked Simon why he decided to do a silent swim, and what drew him to wild swimming. He responded saying that Silent Swim School was “borne out of a desire to disrupt the order of things by creating a space for independent thought and reflection whilst still in the company in others”, rather than a specific attraction to wild swimming itself. He likened the event to an ‘anti’ walk and talk that “encouraged direct, unmediated contact with the world around us”, and in that aspect he definitely succeeded; it was a beautiful experience. An experience that seemed to take place in not-place, where time and being dissolved into the rich brown water, and flowed out to sea. There were no expectations, no obligations, and only one rule. sssh…
Silent Swim School was developed for Jamboree 2018 // A National Gathering of Artists & Curators – Dartington, Totnes UK
Italicised passages are extracts from Silent Swim School (sssh), a spoken piece performed by the artist prior to the swim.
Simon Lee Dicker is a UK based artist whose work explores a discordant relationship with landscape and the natural world. From intimate drawings and transient installations to event based social activities, each work is the start of a conversation often evoking ritual activity and personal narratives that involve other people in the production and presentation of work.
All text is by Kat Hall unless otherwise stated. www.katherinehallart.co.uk
Sophie Chapman + Kerri Jefferis: Desire Lines and Disorientation
We gather on the ground, and we co-create the ground upon which we gather
In the heart of the Dartington Estate, a group of artists and curators stood in a circle, sheltered from the midday sun by an old oak tree. They were all centred around two people, one of which was reading extracts from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects and Others, and Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking. We all listened attentively, the speaker’s voice accompanied only by birdsong and the soft whispers of a light breeze.
The duo at the centre of attention were Sophie Chapman + Kerri Jefferis, two artists who work exclusively through collaboration, with a focus on improvised and poetic activities, performances and events. For Jamboree 2018, they had devised a Walk & Talk session entitled ‘Desire Lines and Disorientation’ that took inspiration from the aforementioned texts, as well as the work of choreographer Charlie Morrissey, to consider paths, divergence and the social imaginary.
The event was split into three activities, with the first one designed to get us out of our default headspace and re-engage with our physicality. We begun by walking around, focusing on different elements of the body and the evolutionary memory that is in every body – we imagined our feet as a second pair of hands, as our ape ancestors’ are. We changed speed and direction, we walked forwards, backwards, and sideways. We ran, and laughed when we bumped into each other. We shadowed each other, and collapsed in hysterics when we all ended up in a feedback loop of mimicking mimickers, ending up in a tangle of limbs. Gone was the initial semi-formality of the attentive circle; now we were relaxed, playing, having fun in the dappled sunlight under the watch of the oak trees.
We change pace, shape and modalities, we play
We do not need to move in an established way
Now that we had re-engaged with our inner child, we were asked to take part in a trust exercise, partnering up to whoever was within arms reach. One was asked to close their eyes, and the other was asked to lead their partner around the area, giving the ability to ‘see’ without any visual noise.
We were explicitly given the permission to play, explore and be curious. To relax, and trust each other. As each pair wandered off hesitantly, linked only by their hands resting one on top of the other, I thought about how rare it is in adult life that we allow ourselves to truly relax. There is always some tension held in my body; my jaw is clenched and my shoulders hunched from bearing the weight of so many deadlines, commitments and obligations. There is always the external pressure to behave. To conform. The way that Sophie + Kerri counteracted this mindset in a subliminal way through playful exercises allowed each of us to relax and play at our own pace. The whole experience was one of bonding through our joint exploration of the social imaginary.
As time went on, and trust grew, people became more bold. Some ran, others crawled in the long grass on all fours. One pair hugged the huge oak that overlooked us, laughing at the sensation of bark tickling their skin. Each duo also seemed to develop their own method of nonverbal communication, establishing a language of touch.
We move when we feel a pull to, we do not need to talk but we might
We bring attention to where we reside & move around the space & each other
We let our bodies speak too
The third and final part of the event was a walk into the nearby field. We waded straight into the sea of grass, those at the front lifting their legs high and placing their feet carefully, forging a new path that the rest of us naturally fell into. But there were no leaders, nor were there any followers in this group. Instead we operated as a collective.
Before embarking upon the walk, we were given prompts that we chose out of a tupperware. When asked about what inspired them to chose their prompts, Sophie + Kerri replied: “these are our current lines of questioning which we wanted to take the opportunity to share, open them up and discuss with others. Particularly as they have such narrative, or subjective dimensions and this is the kind of life and liveliness that bodies contain and we are making a lot of stuff around this at the moment”. I have included a few of the prompts here for your contemplation.
- What is the role of repeated or habitual actions in shaping our bodies? our worlds?
- When do we turn? Are we always conscious when we turn? We move?
- What events, time, spaces or ideas tend to create new possibilities?
- Where do we feel collectively oriented? How does that feel? Is it important to you?
The duo also explained that they “wanted to give people the opportunity to join a wider ‘thinking out loud’ dialogue or to accept the prompt as a private question to carry and ruminate on. We are very interested in how we cross thresholds and externalise our thoughts and feelings; It is a kind of micro level consciousness raising that is continually happening and defining who we are, and we like to value these informalities as precious by paying attention to them. It is also super interesting in regards to the macro, or like collective consciousness and how this relates to notions of belonging, orientations and social change.”
As we proceeded through the field, the topic of discussion moved from liminality and limitations to space inhabitation. We ruminated upon change and transformation in personal and societal contexts, as well as how anticipation and awareness come into play in social orientations and identities. Throughout all of this, we were marking our passage through the sea of grass; our desires made tangible through the path we forged together.
We embrace circumstance, we embrace the erotic
We dismiss the logic of navigation
We orientate by desire
Sophie Chapman + Kerri Jefferis are artists who work exclusively through collaboration – devising improvised situations, actions, performance and poetic play. Their practice is emergent, experimental and interdisciplinary, drawing on genealogies of punk, dada and feminist paragogy. They are based at the artist-led cooperative, Lewisham Arthouse (London), they are 2/3 of Molejoy (the band), and are 2018 / 2019 Artsadmin artist bursary holders.
Sophie + Kerri are interested in autonomous ecologies, the social imaginary, prefiguration and the textures of our lived experiences. Over the summer, they will be artists in residence at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop (Lumsden) and METAL (Southend). On 5 August, they will share a new publication – ‘private insurrections to loosen public ground’ at Mutters, a project instigated by Matilda Roberts hosted by New Victoria Gardens, Glasgow.
firstname.lastname@example.org + email@example.com
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
Italicised passages are extracts from Desire Lines and Disorientation (A Walking Score), a spoken piece performed by the artists prior to the event.
All images and text are by Kat Hall unless otherwise stated.