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Guided by water

Kristina Borg

It was a very wet Sunday morning last January when I reached Pendle for the Nelson Reimagined artistic-research, commissioned by In-Situ. After a super early, awkward Ryanair flight from Malta, as we were reaching The Garage in Brierfield, the taxi driver advised, “If you can see Pendle Hill, it’s about to rain, if you can’t, it’s already started.” Indeed, I couldn’t see Pendle Hill.

Despite feeling totally knackered and overtired by the super early flight and the endless work from other projects during the previous week, I was still adamant to walk into Nelson town and explore it for the first time by myself. With all the preparatory reading and the browsing on Google Maps’ Street View I had done, I was confident enough to be able to orient myself around the main whereabouts. As part of the research, I was interested in looking into Nelson’s green and blue spaces, so what better way than following the water canal route from Brierfield to Nelson?

Image: Photo by Kristina Borg

I dragged myself out, and, there, the first question popped up. From where can I exit the towpath, which is quite literally on Nelson’s margin? What if I feel too tired to continue walking, what access points do I have to exit and continue my way by bus? The lack of clarity made me walk into town via the A682. And that was a perfect introduction to the week of walk-and-talk sessions that followed, during which the locals guided me around their favourite green and blue spaces.

What started off as a very wet morning eventually turned out to be a very white, snowy week, but this didn’t stop us from walking along, even if my Mediterranean temperament felt quite alien.

Image: Canal walk in the snow, photo: Calum Bayne

The green and blue spaces we walked along – Victoria Park, Lomeshaye Park, the Leeds and Liverpool water canal, Pendle Water river, Walverden Reservoir, and many more – are a proof of the potential that Nelson has to offer, but which for various reasons is underused. The locals mentioned lack of signage and lack of access, safety issues and litter. At one point, during one of the walks, we completely lost the connection with the water canal, precisely because of the intrusion of the M65 motorway. We spent almost the entire walk circling around to find our way back to the waterway. But what struck me most was the way how such green and blue spaces on Nelson’s margin were assigned with a specific purpose, that of leisure, and initially there seemed to be a certain resistance to connect them with the town centre.

Image: Drawings by Kristina Borg

I flew back home pondering on the one and the same question, how can we create a better exchange between Nelson’s green and blue spaces and the town centre? How can we connect and communicate better between these areas? But, above all, why isn’t there a feeling for such a need? Acknowledging my role as an artist-researcher, but also an outsider to the context I was researching, I recalled what American educator Myles Horton once said to Paulo Freire, “My expertise is in knowing not to be an expert.”(1) When working with communities, I consider the locals as the experts of their context, and this was no exception. I felt I had no right to propose anything new, and so, I preferred to find the gaps, support and scale up what already existed locally. This motivated me to contact local foraging expert Pete Compston.

Flying back to rainy Nelson last March, we went on a foraging walk around Victoria Park and the immediate water canal area, under Pete’s guidance.

Image: Foraging Walk, photo by Kristina Borg

After going through foraging etiquette, for the safety of us all – human and non-human, we explored Nettle, Hawthorn, Bramble, Ivy and Cleaver leaves. We also did some crafts, tasted a home baked Nettle cake and prepared some wild tea with the fresh leaves that were collected during the walk.

Images (left to right):

Hapa Zome with leaves collected during the foraging walk

Preparing wild tea with leaves collected during the foraging walk

Wild tea prepared with leaves collected during the walk

Photos: Kristina Borg

As one of the locals shared, “There is lots of inspiration and passion just outside our doorstep and there’s so much we can use.” Indeed, there’s so much we can use, connect and work with, and if you feel like foraging around Nelson’s green and blue spaces, I invite you to download this zine which equips you with the basic tools to manage your way through and explore the area by yourself in your own time.

From my desk back home, as I look out of the window, on this warm but rainy day, I wonder where and how water will continue to guide us.

(1) Helguera, P. (2011). Education for Socially Engaged Art: A materials and techniques handbook. Jorge Pinto Books, p.52.

Kristina Borg is a freelance visual and socially engaged artist, a spacemaker and an art educator/lecturer. In her transdisciplinary research-practice she spends time integrating into specific communities and devotes her attention to relationships between people. In dialogue with the community and/or the place, her work focuses on the co-creation of projects that are situation and context-specific, and involves alternative, experiential processes that relate to socio-political and economic issues in urban-collective spaces - spaces that range from the city to the supermarket, from the walkway to the sea or the field.

Kristina has recently led an artistic community project in collaboration with the University of Malta as part of the European project AMASS - Acting on the Margins: Arts as Social Sculpture, funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. In 2014 Kristina placed first in the 3rd edition of Divergent Thinkers-Malta and in 2020 her collaborative project Nimxu Mixja (Let's take a walk) was awarded Arts Council Malta's Premju għall-Arti (Art Award) as 'Best project in the community' and nominated as 'Best work for young audiences'. Recently her project You Are What You Buy - Reap what you sow has been selected as a finalist for the New European Bauhaus Prizes 2023. She is also a fellow of the Salzburg Global Forum for Cultural Innovators and a member of the international Community Economies Research Network.

Zine by Kristina Borg
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