Tenuous Links, Universal Truths and Far Away Things : A sensory journey into the dark to explore the forces at play in unseen and in-between spaces.

TETHER was a participatory, experiential walk exploring our relationship to darkness, place, space and each other developed during a residency at Allenheads Contemporary Arts October 2016

With great care you crafted an experience that reached the heart, the centre of being human

Tether participant

Performed at As Above So Below, Allenheads Contemporary Arts October 2016. www.acart.org.uk

Tether brochure Link to PDF

To Begin…

8 participants enter the space and sit around a small table which is lit by a candle. The candle is surrounded by beautiful, hand crafted spoons.

Welcome to TETHER, we invite you to join us on a journey from light to dark to light, a journey of tenuous connections, fragile links, homemade food and the blues. We will be exploring darkness as a place and as a concept both now and across time.

We start by recognizing the delicate web that connects this place, this season, the underground, the surface we stand on and the sky above us. While at Allenheads, as summer changed through to Autumn, we began to notice the Rowan Tree with its clumps of bright red berries.  We found out that it is traditionally seen as the wayfarers tree, due to the visibility of its berries in the darkening light of Autumn and it has ancient associations with thresholds, both between the roadway and the home and between this world and another. So the Rowan for us here, is a starting point for the journey;  a marker of ingress and egress, of going in and going out, the act of leaving someplace and going someplace else. 

The tree itself acts as a pathway for the movement of materials and a physical bridge between worlds. Moisture and minerals, generated deep beneath the soil, transit through the roots of the tree upwards and outwards through the leaves and are expressed in the berries in Autumn.

The berries containing these particles of place and the genetic code of that individual tree attract flocks of migrating redwings and field fares in the Autumn.”


“The berries are carried further in the stomachs of these birds to be left to take root someplace else. Tiny packets of information moving horizontally, vertically, temporally.  A compound history of place transplanted.

We also may interrupt the journey of the rowan berries.  We too are a threshold to pass through.  We can collect the berries, soak, boil, sweeten, pulverise the material and the information it contains. We are storing the light of summer, rearrange, preserving and storing its energy and nutrients, hiding it away so it can it be released in darker times. We can tune into these echoes of place and journeys to someplace else  – through taste.” 

This Rowan Jelly was made here from Rowan berries collected from the tree at The Old Schoolhouse, mixed with apples collected from the tree at our house in Scotland and carried across the border with us.

To make the Jelly we took a kilo of berries and ¾ kilo of apples, boiled them in water and strained then so that we had the juice. We then put an equal amount of sugar with the juice and boiled for 20mins until the liquid had reached the point at which it would set. We poured the hot liquid into a sterilized jar”

The candle is blown out and the rowan jelly is tasted by all participants in the dark. We move outside, each participant is given a torch , the light covered with a red gel.

We walk of slowly in a line away from the village and into a woodland where we gather as a group.

“Many miles and years from here in a small town in Texas, blues singer and preacher, Blind Willie Johnson, is alone.  He is lying on a bed soaked by rain in the blackened ruins of his home. Blinded as a child by having lye thrown in his face, he is now 48 years old and is dying of malarial fever in poverty. Above him, through the charred roof beams is the night sky and the constellation of Cassopiea.”

We turn on a radio and hear Blind Willie Johnson playing Dark was the night, Cold was the Ground. This continues to play as we walk further into the woods.

We move further into the forest and gather in a clearing. The stars shine above us. A small screen is unfolded and we watch the launch of Voyager 1.

“At this moment 40 years after its launch, the deep space probe, Voyager 1 is 12 billion miles from home, travelling at 17,000 miles a second through interstellar space. It has moved beyond the edge of our solar system and is now moving between star systems bathed in material from the explosions of countless suns. Voyager 1 is the furthest human made object from the earth. Bolted to its side is a golden record containing greetings, images and sounds from planet Earth. One of the tracks is ‘Dark was the night – Cold was the ground’ by Blind Willie Johnston, a song about loneliness, a subject he knew well. It is moving with Voyager into the darkness and silence.

Voyager appears – illuminated in the dark

“Voyager is still sending us information about its surroundings. These 20 watt radio signals take 18 hours to arrive. They are so faint that the amount of power reaching the deep-space tracking antennas on Earth is 20 billion times smaller than the power of a digital watch battery. They arrive on Earth with all the weight of butterfly landing.

Voyager’s voice will be heard until its power fails around 2025 and the signal is lost. But maybe not lost? A message in a bottle is never ‘lost’, it is tethered by memory and intention to the sender forever. We will know it is someplace, on the way to somewhere else. What will our feelings be when we finally lose contact with Voyager?  When the eighteen hours to receive a sign becomes never? Will we feel that there is something of us, out there and still going in the endless dark. The outer edge of us?”

Each participant moves to a place in the woodlands where they stand alone, in silence in the darkness for a while. We gather and walk slowly in in single file in the dark back to the village and again enter the room.

“We celebrate our return by a tasting of homemade Cantonese Mooncakes. Moon cakes are a traditional part of the Chinese celebration of the mid-autumn full moon when they are offered between friends and family. We used the following ingredients to make our mooncakes: For the dough Plain flour, Lye, golden syrup, vegetable oil, vanilla extract. Balls of lotus nut paste were then wrapped in the dough and pressed into Mooncake moulds which shape them and make imprints on the top. They are then baked.

Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony”, however our mooncakes have a star imprint. This star is the signature pattern of Elizabeth Sanderson from Allenheads who was a famous quilt maker at the turn of the century. Hand stitched quilts with intricate designs made to a particular pattern, technique and style were made in this area for over 200 years. We have started learning this quilting technique.”

“On the mooncakes we have transplanted a symbol of another time and tradition (the Sanderson star) to symbolize this community and place, and on this quilt we are sewing the code from golden record carried on Voyager 1. The code is needed to extract the information it contains, the sounds, images and greetings.”

Participants are invited to place stitches in the quilt.

“During our journey through this residency, new links that have been made, new grooves been cut and new journeys undertaken, but we have found ourselves, time and again, taking a step back and noticing the web that we are in. We have been trying to tune in to moment and place through time. Just like the voyager signal caught in the deep space antennae, like the radio catching a blues song, like the rowan jelly carrying the echoes of the underground – we are trying to sense what might be there in the spaces in between, reminding ourselves to receive not just broadcast.

A spiders web isn’t just the silk. It is the anchor points in the grass or wall, it is the grass or wall surrounding it that provides its position in the world and it is the spaces between the silk. The web wouldn’t exist without all these. They are all vital components in how the web exists with the world.”

“To be, is not to be in place but to be along paths. The path, and not the place, is the primary condition of being, or rather of becoming. It is of the essence of life that it does not begin here or end there, or connect a point of origin with a final destination, but rather that it keeps on going, finding a way through the myriad of things that form, persist and break up in its currents. Life, in short, is a movement of opening, not of closure. a proliferation of loose ends. It can only be carried on in a world that is not fully joined up.  Thus the very continuity of life – its sustainability– depends on the fact that nothing ever quite fits.”

Tim ingold

Farewell drink with homemade blackcurrant cordial from our home in Scotland.

Categories: 2016, Interactive, Performance, Process, Research, Site Specific

Jo Hodges

Jo Hodges is a multidisciplinary public artist based in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
with a background in Human Ecology, community development and social justice.

Her work investigates ecological and socio-cultural systems, processes and relationships, and explores new strategies for working in public. Her practice takes many forms; temporary and permanent works, site specific installations and socially engaged projects and processes. She is often led by context, where the outcome is determined as a result of process.

She is interested in research, experimentation and collaboration at the intersection of environment, culture and technology and exploring the role of art in social change. She is joint Director-Curator of Sanctuary Lab, a public art laboratory in the Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park.