This feeling relates to Farley and Symmons Roberts’ description of woods that exist in ‘edgelands’ - these ‘complicated, unexamined places that thrive on disregard’ (2012, 10). They cast such spaces as ‘feral because they used to be tame’, beginning life as ‘gardens for long-demolished houses in what used to be the countryside before the cities grew’ (168) – a description that uncannily mirrors the history and present of Kersal Dale. The ‘edge’ that the authors identify as present in such inbetween spaces – neither rural nor urban – is a visceral part of walking through the Dale. Equally, the characterisation of these woods as feral – gone wild - is another key feature.

My practice also occupies this ‘ambivalent interstice’, in its imaginings of the dale’s captive past - enacted mainly through text and song - in combination with digital manipulation of the feral present of the woodland, through video mixing. Alongside this individual response to and expression of the wildscape, I am also developing an intermedial walking practice, aimed at local residents and those visiting the locality. These walks will prompt participants to move through the dale, using the capacities of simple mobile technologies, to activate creative responses to these rich, layered and feral environments, through land art practices and intersections between audio, video and the ‘vibrant matter’ (Bennett 2010) of the space.

            This ‘vibrant matter’ also includes a slough of human waste deposited over years, as people have fly-tipped over the low fence into the steep areas of the nature reserve. Jane Bennett discusses encountering litter and a dead rat in a storm drain in Baltimore and specifically the way that:

As I encountered these items, they shimmered back and forth between debris and thing – between, on the one hand, stuff to ignore, except insofar as I betokened human activity …, and, on the other hand, stuff that commanded attention in its own right, as existents in excess of their association with human meanings, habits or projects. (2010, 4)

Bennett refers to this ‘excess’ as the objects’ ‘thing-power’ and specifically how this produces affective forces which are contingent on the context of their encounter, creating an ‘assemblage’ where ‘objects appeared as things, that is, as vivid entities not entirely reducible to the contexts in which (human) subjects set them, never entirely exhausted by their semiotics’ (5)

As I documented a squirrel hop from the trees of the dale to a shopping trolley and then to overflowing binbags that had been dumped there, for one of my intermedial works, I experienced something similar – an excess, or something beyond the meaning of the waste as it attaches to human actions - but when I watch the footage again, the ‘thing-power’ is not as strong and, as a resident, I cannot get past the human context of these objects; their semiotics are stuck there. Jorgensen (2012) highlights the multiple uses of urban wildscapes, citing ‘drug-taking, sexual encounters and prostitution, joy-riding, dumping unwanted stolen goods, fly-tipping, rough sleeping, lighting fires, impromptu buying and selling of goods, squatting, play and exploration, building shelters and dens, tagging, gathering fruits and other objects, observing nature, guerrilla gardening, taking short cuts and walking the dog’ (7-8). These activities, as in DeSilvey and Edensor’s article, are to some extent celebrated as representing ‘a kind of alternative public realm’; an opposition to the ‘rigorous maintenance and surveillance [that] restricts the movements of things and people…replete with latent possibilities and greater scope for conviviality, experimentation and expression’ (DeSilvey and Edensor 2012, 478).

This is where the ‘wildness’ of human self-will and agency meets the wildness of nature, in uncomfortable ways. It is also where my researcher-self meets my resident-self and sees not shimmering ‘thing-power’ emerging in that encounter, but an aberration. Is it just that I am not seeing it the right way? Am I lacking an understanding of how this particular act of self-will is part of the ‘natural succession’ of the wildscape? Do I need to examine why the ruins of a child’s plastic pink trike are so much worse than the bricks of a ruined house? Is it the lack of picturesque moss perhaps?

On the incline, with the river, unseen but felt on our left,

we walk backwards

into the old tramlines, cut through cobbles

and the abandoned stones of the

houses, enfolded in the raucous greenery of the dale.

The sharp stillness and quiet, the paper-covered windows and the sweep of the road upwards.

On the cliff and looking down over abandoned sofa sets, bags of rubbish and old appliances,

we glimpse the loop of the river and the city beyond.

Whatever the response may be to that question, it is clear to me that the human and non-human, organic and non-organic forces in play in Kersal Dale are what generate its present ‘structure of feeling’. This is not pure wildness, as we might imagine it, in remote and stark natural spaces, beyond the normal path of humans. As Macfarlane indicates, ‘No such chaste land exists in Britain or Ireland, and no such myth of purity can hold…The human and the wild cannot be partitioned’ (2007, 127). However, it is not unsurprising that some of the wilder elements of the natural environment have such appeal, while the ‘wild’ actions of humans in relation to these spaces – fires and fly-tipping – are seen to ‘spoil’ the more pristine beauty of the space (which of course is far from pristine but layered with human intervention and history), creating an uncomfortable ‘affective assemblage’. In turn, my creative practice revels in the contrasts, instabilities and contradictions of these crossing lines and qualities of wildness, while as a resident, there is a clear partition between them that I am keen to enforce. I reach the end of this section, as promised, without definitive arguments about the wildness of such spaces and how my practices intersect with these qualities. However, I am left with productive tangles to take forward, which speak to questions of ‘self-will’ (mine and others), agency and action (human and nonhuman), as well as how these ideas relate to the other key idea I want to explore – ruin and ruination.