Make every yesterday a dream of happiness

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In July last year, Jenny Staff hosted a workshop, Invisible to Visible, a recording of which was edited into a walking piece itself by Kel Portman. Here, Jenny re-walks a solo pilgrimage undertaken in summer 2020 in Lancashire, England, at a critical point in her life.

This walking piece, Kel’s edited recording of Jenny’s workshop, is one of the shortlisted pieces in the Marŝarto Awards 2023. Below, Jenny and Kel discuss the piece.

Jenny Staff has had a passion for landscape from her childhood, growing up in Lancaster surrounded by hills, wild skies and open spaces. Her playful drawing and performance practice integrates imagination and materials within a framework which allows for experimentation, exploration and the creation of an instinctive and inherent meaning through the act of being present. She explores the impact of walking on physical, spiritual and mental well-being, through its meditative qualities. Looking at the physiological effect and the impact on not only the actual journey from one place to another and the power of moving oneself into a different situation, but also the neurological changes and processing that happens through prolonged steady movement. Through her process-based practice she works with the interconnection of the internal and external environments.

The work Invisible to Visible, undertaken at the Walking Arts Encounters Conference in Greece in July 2023 was a step to push this practice into performance. It was the re-walking of a solo pilgrimage undertaken in summer 2020, at a critical point in her life. Jenny collected the number of physical steps using a pedometer as a way to document this walk, core data to provide a framework to work within. The piece was a shared collaborative walking of this pilgrimage, writ large onto the village square in the center of Prespas, taking up the whole space. Seven women walked together drawing a huge circle in chalk as they walked in silence to complete the 19,273 steps of the original pilgrimage together. delineating a circle, layer upon layer, step after step, building a space, describing it on the ground – sound and line – barefoot stepping, walking together – no leaders, a somatic, silent space to be together and separate, safe – no fear of where to go. – but be in the repetitious act of walking. A powerful act of creating a pause, a space in time, physically, mentally and spiritually, the calm repetition of one foot in front of another, walking together and yet in their own worlds, to connect to land, to self, to spirit, to people, a space of possibility to connect with tacit information – revealed through the act of walking and again in the act of drawing – to describing the process of walking and to bring geographies together, making them visible, in an ephemeral, transient reclamation of space and time. On either side of the walk were two poems, passed to Jenny by her granny, which explore courage, hope and self-awareness. They were read line by line in Greek and English, again connecting one landscape to another through a common vision.

The initial pilgrimage in 2020 was undertaken at a point of personal crisis when Jenny felt at the point of disappearing. She returned to the landscape of her childhood in Lancashire, where she had not lived for nearly 30 years, in an effort to reconnect with herself and break free from unhealthy bonds. Clougha Pike, an iconic form which holds the skyline above her home-town of Lancaster, has a powerful presence, ever changing with the light, moody one minute and open the next, its empty wild and windswept grandeur is imprinted in her core.  A place where she often went to draw and reflect, a place of solitude where she had found peace, beauty and calm but had never climbed. The act of pilgrimage, a magical ritual walk, to go to her core, alone, a space she knew but had never visited, space and time to connect, to come into being, an ontological experiment. She walked from Jubilee Tower, high in the Trough of Bowland, a local viewing point to the sea and mountains of the Lake District, turning inland to walk to the summit of Clougha Pike and back. This very personal pilgrimage entailed ritual releases, collection of inspiration and most of all a space to return to herself, a healing, cleansing walk, an act of drawing an invisible line between one state and another, moving into the light. An act of transformation – contained in the 19,273 steps.

She used this data to re-visit the pilgrimage as a drawing in her studio, measuring the length of her body in paper on the floor. Walking round and round in an oval, nest like form, to undertake the same number of steps on the paper, describing the walk as a barely perceptible line scratched with a metal skewer, inscribing the steps onto paper. This process collected the imprint of the studio floor underneath, textures, fissures – creating an invisible, silent landscape.  She worked again with this format, revisiting the pilgrimage but this time with half skewered steps, half charcoal line, worn and walked, round and round, a meditation, a move into the liminal, connecting the internal and external landscapes through the act of walking, a ritual for mental health, transporting herself back into the process of transformation. Making this visible through the act of drawing, simplicity, calm, showing what we can’t see, a shadow of the pilgrimage, a shadow of the self, a shadow coming into being. The drawing becomes the realisation of the event, a relational description, reminiscent of Dorothy Wordsworth’s practice of walking backwards and forwards retracing her steps, when she was unable to take to the hills, an exercise in allowing the mind to free itself through the motion of the body. A celebration of resilience, recovery and restoration one step at a time.

Kel Portman’s video is a response to the act of ‘walking with intention’, capturing the essence of the circular, performative walk as meditative practice. The rhythm of walking emphasised by the use of stop frame and the sound of chalk on cobble stone as the repetitive chalk marks slowly become visible. Constant movement, before and after, walking together, held by their movement and creation of a temporary visual space made in a portion of shared time. Framed at the end with the final poem of hope gives a nuanced interpretation of the piece.

At either end of the piece Jenny delivered a poem given to her by her granny: 

By Joyce Cary

‘The Truth is that life is hard and dangerous:
That he who seeks his own happiness does not find it:
That he who is weak must suffer:
That he who demands love will be disappointed:
That he who is greedy will not be fed:
That he who seeks peace will find strife:
That truth is only for the brave:
That joy is only for him who does not fear to be alone:
That life is only for the one who is not afraid to die.’

Salutation to the Dawn.
Translation from the Sanskrit edits by Mabel Rowley

‘Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life,
In its brief course lie all the verities
And realities of your existence – 
The Bliss of Growth
The Glory of Action
The Splendour of Beauty:
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision:
But today well lived
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope
Look well therefore to this day!’

The winners and honourable mentions of the Marŝarto Awards 2023 will be announced in February 2024.

Jenny Staff

Marŝarto23 shortlisted

I am a walking drawing artist who is concerned with he intersection of internal and external worlds and how walking certain routes and repeating them as drawings can open up spaces previously untraversed. Connecting traces of self and others in a poetic mo...

Kel Portman

Kel Portman

Marŝarto23 shortlisted

Kel Portman is an artist, curator, independent researcher and educator. Co-founder of walking artists collective Walking the Land Former senior lecturer in printmaking, photography and digital arts at The London College of Printing (now the London Colleg...


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