Our Future is Ancient
Simon started the @NotQuiteLight project in 2016 after a visit to Angel Meadow on the outskirts of Manchester where 40,000 people were buried in paupers’ graves.
As the light fell on to the gravestones of St Michael’s Flags, Simon wondered if the light could bring back the souls, what would they make of the city now. Simon works in the half-light of dawn and dusk to create striking images and performance pieces.
In 2019 Barnaby Festival commissioned Simon to carry out a research and development project around Macclesfield Forest. From this, Our Future is Ancient has developed over the last 12 months.
Simon has visited Macclesfield Forest each month at the time of the full moon, since the winter solstice in December 2019. As we mark the winter solstice in 2020, Simon reflects on the year and presents some of his work for Our Future is Ancient.
What is your fascination with light and how do you approach your work?
I think my fascination with low light is about more than the aesthetic, which is, of course, beautiful. I adore the subtlety of tones and colours, and the strange mix of natural and artificial light. But more than this I suspect it’s to do with transition, and the fleeting quality of this time of day. It’s as much a state of mind. I like that it’s like water falling through your fingers as you try to capture it.
Going back to the visual qualities of twilight, I think it helps me create little film stills. Worlds where some action is latent, there is the potential that something is just about to happen, a suspension. My work gets referenced to Hopper quite regularly, and I guess he must sit within my subconscious.
Tell us how about the processes of making Our Future is Ancient?
The processes for OFIA are quite difficult to summarise. It began in a time before Covid-19, when we couldn’t conceive of the world being placed in hibernation for months on end.
It began as a process for me to attack my ignorance of the natural world, to challenge this city boy’s lack of knowledge about trees and plants. However, it evolved into something much deeper, reflecting the arc of the year, and all that happened within the ten months after lockdown. I added film and audio to the stills, and began to keep a diary.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself, never mind the names of trees, with the forest becoming a place of sanctuary and solitude each month.
It’s been physically and technically challenging, and that has caused me to evolve the work over the year too, learning new ways of approaching my landscape work, pushing myself to work differently.
What are the challenges you have faced developing the work?
A simple challenge at one point was being there. At times, early in lockdown, I felt like a fugitive, leaving Manchester. The big challenge, as it always is for Not Quite Light, is getting up at dawn, especially when it’s around 4 or 5am. It gives me feelings very similar to jet lag. Doing a two to four mile walk with heavy kit, after just a few hours sleep does take its toll.
Also, quite often it’s been raining during the full moon cycle, and that is never easy to work in.
But aside from the physical challenges, I’ve had to really look into my soul, and consider what it was I was seeking to capture, beyond a pretty landscape picture. I’ve read a lot, and been dutiful in keeping my diary. And this has been essential to consider human life, and how we relate to the natural world.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the magnificence of trees, and discovering that they communicate underground, that there is a forest wisdom. It has been a humbling experience.
How do you hope to present the work in the future?
I often find simply taking pictures constrictive, in terms of playing with and sharing ideas, so I’m trying to do a lot more with film, music, audio and writing. Even performance. I don’t want to be put in a box stamped ‘photographer’.
So, I’m intending to produce a book of short stories, which can also be an audio visual book, perhaps offered in a variety of formats such as podcast, film etc. I will also exhibit and perform the work, perhaps working with musicians.