Julie Brook: Arts of Place Artist-in-Residence

As part of our celebrations at the close of the first year of Arts of Place, we are delighted to welcome leading land artist Julie Brook as our Artist in Residence. Here, we look over Brook’s career and work.

Brook is a British artist who creates large scale sculpture. She uses a variety of natural materials and incorporates photography and film to combine wild terrains with classical formalism. Drawing from, with, and in the landscape, Brook has lived and worked in the Orkney Islands, on Jura and Mingulay, and in the Libyan desert. She currently lives on the Isle of Skye.

Artist Julie Brook, pictured near her home on Skye. PIC Jane Barlow/TSPL.

Brook travels to and dwells within remote regions, spending time inhabiting the landscape either alone or with local guides. These places are usually quite solitary and inhospitable, from caves in the Hebrides to Libyan deserts. From there she makes art that reconnects us with the natural world, in exciting ways, through sculpture and large-scale drawing. From 1989 Julie Brook has been living and working in remote landscapes in Scotland: Hoy, Orkney (1989); the west coast of Jura (1990-94); on the uninhabited island of Mingulay (1996-2011) in the Outer Hebrides. Recently she has been working in different parts of the desert: in Central and South West Libya (2008-09) travelling with Tuareg guides; Syria (2010); NW Namibia (2011-14) travelling with Himba-Herero guides; Aird Bheag, Hebrides and Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan (2015-2022).

Pigment Drawing, poured. Otjize, NW Namibia.

In the early nineties, Brook moved to the remote island of Jura on the west coast of Scotland to paint and draw. Living beneath a natural stone arch, the solitude became part of her art. While living alone and collecting water and fuel for drinking and cooking, Brook began to build artworks using materials found on the island. So became her Firestack series, where she used rocks to build cairns on the shore, and wood to set fires in them as the tide came in. Eventually, the stacks toppled, and Brook captured the whole process on film.

“Brook’s Firestacks are works that we feel could have been made at any time in the past 5000 years, but they have had their pertinence refreshed by the current focus we are putting on the environment. When the tide comes in her artwork has to make its own case against the elements, just as we, in the age of dawning climate change, might still have to.” – Jonathan McAloon for Elephant Art

Firestack, Autumn: Aird Bheag, outer Hebrides, 2015.

We are extremely excited to host Brook at Arts of Place this summer. On the afternoon of 23rd June, she will be running a practical drawing workshop for Arts of Place writers and readers. This free workshop will be a chance to explore form and emphasis in a different medium. You can read more about the workshop and reserve your place here.

The Harz Journey

Heinrich Heine (1826)

Recommended by Andrew Hodgson

Die Harzreise is an account of a trip from the German town of Göttingen (‘famous for its sausages and university’) into the Harz mountains. You couldn’t want a more entertaining travel companion than Heine, whose voice is by turns sarcastic and lyrical, sentimental and ironic, curious and bored. Along the way are encounters with grotesque tourists, records of hallucinatory dreams, a descent into a coal mine, poems and songs in celebration of the quiet life, an ascent of the Brocken, and passages of unaffected pleasure in nature. The book ends, in a moment typical of its witty self-awareness, with Heine ‘lost in thought’ on top of a rock in the Ilse Valley, almost tumbling into a ravine under the influence of his own giddy delight in the surroundings.

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

Jan Morris

(Faber, 2002)

Recommended by Andrew Hodgson

Jan Morris’s book on Trieste is a lyrical history of the city. It is a description of Trieste and its past; it is also an attempt to work out what Trieste means to Morris, and to understand how one’s relationship with a place changes through time. It shows how to appreciate a place’s sadness, ‘the allure of lost consequence and fading power’. It’s a great book on place because it doesn’t just tell you about a place, but shows you how to enjoy it. The best place to read it is outside a bar off the Piazza Unità d’Italia, sipping a Campari and soda, gazing out into the Adriatic for a glimpse of the ghost of Browning’s Waring.

Storied Ground: Landscape and the Shaping of English National Identity

Paul Readman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018)

Recommended by Catriona Paton

Storied Ground - Paul ReadmanFrom the cliffs of Dover to the industrial city of Manchester, Readman highlights the significance of connections between landscape and heritage in the construction of a modern, popular form of English national identity. This work explores how landscapes are ‘storied’ with countless human histories and memories bound up with place. Through the history, literature and art of the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, Storied Ground traces a varied and widespread engagement with landscapes in English culture. Expanding a marginal, conservative and anti-modern understanding of rural Englishness, Readman demonstrates how a ‘topography’ of English national identity accommodated industrial landscapes and diverse political perspectives in a rapidly urbanising and democratising modern Britain.

Ditch Vision: Essays on Poetry, Nature and Place

Jeremy Hooker (Awen Publications, 2017)

Recommended by Isabel Galleymore

Ditch Vision: Essays on Poetry, Nature and PlaceThis book provides a useful way to conceptualise the differing scales of British and American landscapes in the context of nature writing from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century. Hooker suggests that many British writers demonstrate ‘ditch vision’ in their portrayals of environments. Rather than grand expanses, this approach studies microcosms of the wild in landscapes otherwise deemed increasingly urban. Hooker takes his lead from Richard Jefferies who in ‘The Pageant of Summer’ finds a ditch overflowing with ‘Green rushes, long and thick … the white pollen of early grasses … hawthorn boughs … briars … buds’ ([1884] 2011: 41–2). The observation leads him to remark, ‘So much greater is this green and common rush than all the Alps’ (ibid.: 43). Hooker applies his concept of ‘ditch vision’ to writers including Edward Thomas, John Cowper Powys and Frances Bellerby.

Frankenstein (1818)

Mary Shelley ed. Marilyn Butler (Oxford, 1993)

Mary Shelley, FrankensteinRecommended by Jimmy Packham

Mary Shelley’s ubiquitous novel might seem like an obvious choice: “not this one again!” But I want to use this novel to gesture towards what I think is one of the most exciting – and what I believe is currently one of the most urgent – strands of landscape and environmental thinking: the ecogothic. Frankenstein straddles the Romantic and gothic traditions, and nowhere more so than in its portrait of the various (the myriad!) landscapes through which Victor and his creation travel. As a representative ecogothic text, the novel departs from the vision of nature generally associated with conventional Romanticism, and asks us to see nature as strange and estranging, unfamiliar and disquieting. More than this, however, this is a book that wants us to think ethically about our engagement with the natural world: the creature (himself a horrifying amalgam of nature and culture) works hard to establish a compassionate ethics, rooted in his experiences of nature and animal life. Frankenstein also reminds us how natural the apparently unnatural monsters that haunt our horror stories truly are: from The Odyssey and Beowulf, through Frankenstein, to more recent fare like Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation (2014) and the Godzilla franchise (1954-present). Indeed, in Godzilla I think we have a contemporary creature that rivals Frankenstein’s monster as the most compelling modern myth to illuminate humanity’s ambivalent relationship with the natural world: Godzilla returns to us at moments of ecological and global crisis, to restore a kind of harmony to the natural world, but does so while wreaking terrible destruction on human civilisation.

The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)

Sarah Orne Jewett ed. Alison Easton (London, 1995)

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed FirsRecommended by Jimmy Packham

Poised on the very edge of the land, the quiet and dilapidated coastal village of Dunnet Landing, Maine and its surrounding geography is the real protagonist at the heart of Sarah Orne Jewett’s collection of sketches – a masterpiece of what has been called “local colour writing”, so-called for the genre’s unassuming but perceptive attention to a very particular locale. I love these brief sketches for the portraits they paint of eccentric townsfolk, the goings-on of their small, out-of-the-way community, the unshowy but knowledgeable relationship between humans and the natural world (such as the tales’ herb woman, Almira Todd); at times, these tales teeter on the allegorical or the mythic, and celebrate the power of storytelling, especially female storytelling, in keeping a community and its histories alive. But we make a mistake, I think, in taking these romantic, nostalgic sketches of a town seemingly out-of-kilter with the chaos and energy of the modern world wholly at face value. There are darker and more radical undercurrents eddying in these waters. The legacy of New England’s profound gothic tradition impinges on Jewett’s world, in the witch-like figure of Almira Todd, for instance. The relationship between women and the landscape looks ahead to the more overtly queer landscape writing of another writer of the US’s eastern seaboard, the poet H.D; and the intertwining here of the paean to a fast-passing way of life and the cosmic resonance of this observation finds its successor in a poem like Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘At the Fishhouses’.

The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place, 1730–1840

John Barrell (Cambridge, 1972)

John Barrell, The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place, 1730–1840 (Cambridge, 1972)Recommended by Jessica Fay

This book gives a lot. It taught me how to recognize and describe the compositional patterns of seventeenth-century landscape painting (which were epitomized in the work of Claude Lorrain), how these patterns became standardized in English landscape art, and how, in turn, they inflected the structures of eighteenth-century topographical poetry. Barrell’s close reading, showing how the syntax of James Thomson’s The Seasons encourages the reader’s eye to move across the page in the way that the eye surveys a landscape painting, reveals how eighteenth-century readers looked at real landscapes. This builds to a foundational study of John Clare’s unique poetic representation of place.