Measuring the Distance

by Rhian Thomas

Measuring the Distance
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Artist's Statement by Rhian Thomas

Measuring the Distance was made following a number of psychogeographical excursions to 'Border Country': the landscape was walked and recorded to enable perception and an intuitive response to sense making to inform ideas on how to visualise the places held in the novel Border Country by Raymond Williams, and convey the power of a human attachment to place.

Historic maps were torn and layered to produce an abstracted profile of the landscape in plan and elevation, depicting the geographical character and location of the novel. The layering is symbolic of the geological composition of this wild and remote terrain, but is also evocative of a land that bears the imprint of human occupation over generations. There are few places in Wales where this relationship between mankind and the land is more visually evident than the Black Mountains, and this is described by Raymond Williams in People of the Black Mountains:

See this layered sandstone, in the soft mountain grass. Place your right hand on it, palm downward…. with this red earth, this place was received and made and remade. Its generations are distinct but all suddenly present…

The work also seeks to address the two counterpointed timelines obvious in the novel; that of Will and his parents Harry and Ellen, versus that of Matthew (Will) returning as an adult to visit his ailing father. Notions of local knowledge, distance, measure and time were visualised in the map by equating measure and distance to footsteps in defining the maps scale. This is representative of how, through the text and experiencing this landscape, we get a real sense of how physical distance is measured relative to key markers in the landscape, and how the characters living in the valley have an inherent understanding and connection to place. It is a place where time is understood and measured by the ritual of trains passing through the valley, the changing seasons and the agricultural calendar.

The trainline in the map symbolises a second scale of time and distance evident in the novel, portrayed through Matthew's return and departure to the valley by train from London. He struggles to distinguish between this landscape as a romantic image in memory and the reality of this landscape he knows so well, an ever-changing entity influenced by shifting cultural and temporal dimensions, and he is concerned about how to 'measure' change. This dual meaning of 'distance' and 'measure' in the novel, and the notions of time, space and temporality which inflect every page, inspired the title of the art map, along with the closing statement in the novel; '….for the distance is measured, and that is what matters. By measuring the distance we come home'.