Gwlana | Woolgathering: Telling 'Other Stories' of a Welsh Upland Landscape
My research draws architecture into current debate over the future of the Welsh uplands through a ‘poetic biopolitical’ (Rawes et al. 2015) study of the Welsh mountain Pumlumon. Where the tending towards a farming/‘re-wilding’ binary within this debate has been linked to spatial identity (Wynne-Jones et al. 2018), Pumlumon, as borderland and mythic heartland of Wales and host to pioneering landscape regeneration project, Summit to Sea (S2S), holds clear significance. Anticipating a cease in EU farming subsidies following Brexit, and following the Welsh Assembly Goverment’s recent declaration of climate emergency, the timing of my research is critical. My proposed research links and builds upon architectural research at UCL relating to site writing (Rendell 2006, 2018); ecopoetics (Morris 2012); relational architectural ecologies (Rawes 2013); poetic bio-politics (Rawes et al. 2015); ecology, landscape and fiction (Hill 2016); and at KCL, performance-writing (Gotman 2017). Mining ancient links between mountains and telling, and appropriating ‘re-wilding’s’ ‘shifting baselines’ (Pauly 1995), I will explore how an ‘architect-teller’ promotes renegotiation of the farming/‘rewilding’ binary through polypraxic (re)performance of narratives of Pumlumon held within the archives of the National Library of Wales, which lies at the mountain’s feet. Where these narratives suggest distinct, complementary sites, modes and outputs of walking-writing-drawing between ‘twin’ archives of mountain and library, they will inform performances which emphasise architect-archivist, architect-activist and architect-healer in turn. Walking-archiving, walking-commuting, and walking-foraging respectively, I will tell past, mobile-human, and non-human spatial identities, marginalised by current debate over Pumlumon. My more-than-human tellings will ‘become-Welsh’, culminating in a performed and material archif (archive), datganiad (manifesto) and llyfr cyfarwyddyd (book of remedies) of Pumlumon, to be archived at the National Library of Wales.
Post-Brexit, in the context of climate change, the Welsh uplands face multiple losses, and the mountain Pumlumon has become the focus of heated debate between sheep-farming and ‘rewilding’. Seeking to renegotiate binaries in debate over Pumlumon through ‘critical spatial practice’ (Rendell 2003), my research summons Welsh custom gwlana (woolgathering), which transformed upland wastes into products along/across margins of agriculture. Following Le Guin’s (1986) theory that gathering tells ‘the urgently needed other story’ to the ‘hero story’, I ask: How can gwlana tell ‘other stories’ of Pumlumon?
Between fragments of archival evidence, gwlana emerges as a ‘female’ image of resourceful resistance in 19th century Welsh revivalism and wasteful wildness in English rhetoric, revealing politics of loss/identity underpinning narratives of sheep-farming and rewilding today. I draw on Braidotti’s (1994) ‘nomadic subjectivity’, and theories of ‘textility’ (Ingold 2009, Mitchell 2012), to explore how gwlana tells stories that move across and beyond loss/identity. Performatively skirting-spinning-knitting-dyeing-darning, as textile and textual practices, I gather a ‘text-ile’ politics of form and a transdisciplinary ‘gathering methodology’ that draws the humanities and arts into agriculture and ecology.
This practice-led research collaborates with more-than-human communities of Pumlumon through textile-textual practice, walking, talking and workshopping between archive-field, generating ‘textile texts’ – poessays, cinepoems, knitted stockings, dyebook, scrapbook – that reach wider publics through site-specific performances-installations. The 5-part thesis performs-narrates-analyses the transformative agency of skirting-spinning-knitting-dyeing-darning: how, by gathering storied relations between species-times-places-bodies-mind-land, gwlana participates in, and reveals, complexity and ‘radical unbelonging’ on Pumlumon, informing wellbeing and resilience amidst processes of inexorable loss.