Subterranean is a series of workshops, discussions, cave explorations with the public, large scale drawings and the opportunity to connect with the underworld, the deeps of meaningful spaces.
Entering an underground cavern can have a fundamental effect on those who are not familiar with the environment and can be quite addictive to those who are. The subterranean world is one of the few places on Earth where there are more discoveries to be made.
It is not the urge to see something hitherto unseen that interests me, but the connection that the cave provides with a vast underland of hidden mystery. The experience is alive with potential for sensory perception of a unique sort. The cave is to be experienced through sight, touch, smell, and hearing. Headlamps highlight exactly the spots we want to see and in so doing create labyrinths of intense and confusing darkness.
We not only connect with a place of potential spiritual importance that ancient peoples may have also experienced, but we connect with the very bedrock of the earth. We become closer connected to the sources of power and essential mutability of the Earth, the very thing that creates and sustains us and everything we know.
In centuries past the fashion for nature in the awesome raw, for the sublime, led artists such as John Martin to show underground lands as a terrifying place of devil dwelling evil.
John Martin painting
John Martin, The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah 1832
In much earlier times and in some more recent cultures in the Americas, the dark caverns underneath represented something quite different. On the slopes of Ingleborough, that dominant mountain on the Western Yorkshire Dales skyline, is a cave called Great Douks Cave. The mouth of this cave is in a deep lush sunken glade, reached by a tiny path that winds its way down between saplings, moss and rocks. The cave entrance itself is wide and generous, with a gushing stream flowing out. To enter you must crawl along a raised shelf a couple of feet wide. It’s not a cave of open caverns but of long and twisting easily accessible passage ways.
Entrance to Great Douk Cave, Ann Rutherford
Great Douk Cave is particularly interesting because of its surroundings. Around the cave entrance, and above the deep hollow, is a huge cairn field of scores of Bronze age burial cairns, dating back 2000 years. Excavations have been done, but the casual observer will find it hard to distinguish the cairns deeply covered as they are now with moss and grass. The conclusion can only be that this was a hallowed place where the dead were brought to be buried within the area of the cave entrance. Perhaps they were placed to return to the womb-like underworld that the cave represents. We can only guess, but what an intoxicating notion of the importance of the cave to earlier peoples, that is.
A friend emerged from an underground cavern, covered in mud and wet through, blinking into the sunlight, to declare she's ‘never felt more alive’. Others are frightened by the thought of being in a small enclosed space. For me, an awareness of the weight of rock above me, is both dizzyingly threatening and incredible. My imagination strains to grasp the forces of the Earth's cycles, water and time that have formed the land above and below me.
"It is when we close our eyes that we most readily experience our body as a place: that experience of interiorised darkness is not so different to the darkness of the night sky; the darkness of the body and deep space are a continuum"
Antony Gormley on Cave (sculpture) 2019
Catalogue 2019, Royal Academy of Arts
Lower Long Churn Cave in Sound and Image
Recorded in Lower Long Churn, this is the distant sound of the force of water surging through Diccan Pot, the adjacent pot that now carries the main stream. Headphones are advised.
This is the sound of the derigging of the handline from the rift above the Cheese Press. The recording device is 15 metres away from the site of the sound. This demonstrates the clarity with which sound travels underground.
Hanging Form, Charcoal on paper, June 2020
Image 1, The entrance to Lower Long Churn. There are several caves in the area linking together under the ground
Image 3, This passage heads to Upper Long Churn cave. The water from recent rain is exiting from that cave.
Image 2, The limestone is worn smooth by the feet using this step to enter Borrins Moor Cave
Image 4, The side walls resemble vertebrae
Image 5, The deep pool of Double Shuffle
must be skirted by gripping the rocks above
Image 6, The cave is rigged to safely navigate the rift drop to the Cheese Press.
Image 7, The Cheese Press. A very tight squeeze between two bedding planes of dark limestone. The body must relax and use the feet to shuffle forwards another few inches.