Knowing Which Path to Follow

I’ve been thinking a lot about pathways through life recently – the different directions that we all take, for various reasons, through choice or otherwise, the paths these “choices” lead us down, and the way in which our movements influence the people and places that we ‘land’ in.

I’ve been thinking about infrastructure, about man-made routes designed to channel, and more natural routes, many of which become identifiable, and established (in some way, shape, or form) over time… which makes me think about sheep tracks in the moors that carve through the heather, and Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking, 1967.

This got me looking at political maps, and the way in which boundaries have changed (largely through conflict) throughout history. In turn, leading me to think about hostility towards migrant populations. Which set me off thinking about the migratory routes of animals, and the way in which these are so often protected; from frog crossings in roads, and newt conservation areas in construction, to positioning wind turbines in locations avoiding the flight paths of migratory birds. Many UK migratory birds enjoy latitudinal migration, flying north and south between summer and winter ranges; though there are many other types of migration taking place across the globe, such as; circuits of the land and ocean that enable turtles to return to their nests, and altitudinal migration up and down mountains as seen in North American Quails, and also in Copepods, tiny sea crustaceans that migrate up and down the oceans’ water columns… all these animals crossing arbitrary boundaries, just to get by, just to survive, and we help them to do so… because they’re not humans, who we appear to take issue with all too often when they try to do the same!

Interestingly, birds are known to use different visual landmarks, such as mountains or bodies of water, along with using the sun to navigate during daylight and the stars at night for directional purposes.  More amazing still, birds can also use the Earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate, made possible using the magnetic substance magnetite (a substance that has been found in the beaks of different bird species). Magnetite reacts to the Earth’s magnetic field and allows the bird to orientate itself  accordingly.  Although each of these senses plays a big part in the ability of animals to migrate, the most vital factor is genetics.  Migration is instinctive, most migrants’ brains are programmed to tell them to set off on a specific route, in a specific direction, at a given moment of time – totally amazing, and so wonderfully intuitive.

I was watching the Disney film, Moana (based on stories from Polynesian mythology), recently with my nearly three year old daughter, and wondered what she might be thinking as she watched the Polynesian fishermen brave the high waters taking their direction from the stars… which made me think about a small body of artwork that I created recently called Shining Light.

Anyway, having studied lots of migratory maps now, having thought about the way in which animals instinctively navigate paying no attention to political boundaries, I think there’s great beauty in migrational routes, and I’m going to make a body of artwork to highlight that, in an attempt to help others identify this beauty, and the joy and richness that cross-cultural exchanges, and respectful freedom of movement can bring.

p.s. This is a very cool project –