Visitors to Creswell Crags since May have been able to see the new temporary art installation, Drawn to the Water’s Edge from Kidology Arts. A vivid blue hue fills the museum’s gallery space, and atmospheric sounds create an immersive experience. 

Here, we explore this striking work in more depth with the artists, Richard and Amanda Johnson.

The Concept

The idea for this project started with us thinking about those first people who came to Creswell and took shelter here between 50,000 and 13,000 years ago. We realised that they could be thought of as migrants because they travelled to Creswell from Europe, across the land bridge that was where the North Sea now lies. As such, they would have been among the first migrants to the land that is now the UK. This puts Creswell at the very beginning of the UK’s long and rich history of migration – a story that is still unfolding.

But why did they settle at Creswell? It has been suggested that, as well as the shelter from the caves,  the ample supply of fresh water was part of their reason, in an area with a lot of natural springs. So, we wanted to make a work that helped people feel what those first people might have felt when they encountered the gorge for the first time. We imagine they would have slowly walked to the edge of the river and gazed in wonder at the gorge. Was it as they stood there that they started to wonder if this place could become a safe place to stay?

The gorge at Creswell Crags

How the work was made

Amanda Johnson composed the music specially for the project. It features violin played by Amanda and is combined with sounds she recorded at Creswell Crags. The sounds are mainly underwater sounds recorded using a hydrophone.

The paintings, by Richard Johnson, are made in sections by pouring blue paint onto panels coated with clay.

How the work was impacted by the pandemic

The project was due to happen in Spring 2020. Our original application to Arts Council England (ACE) was within 2 weeks of being decided when we were plunged into lockdown and ACE suspended their funding. The project went on hold and ACE reallocated all their available money so that arts organisations like ours could survive the pandemic. ACE have been incredibly supportive and when their funding came back on stream, we re-submitted the application, and it was successful.

The visual art work in situ in the gallery at Creswell Crags

The first lockdown delayed the project, but the second lockdown also had an effect. It meant we couldn’t engage participants in the making of the work as we had planned. The local Polish community, made up of people who originate from a similar part of the world to those first migrants, were very keen to help us make the paintings and the music. Their involvement will now happen as part of a series of extra workshops we are planning.

Why is Creswell Crags special to you and why did you want to work with us?

We find Creswell Crags incredibly inspiring for all sorts of reasons. The place is so spectacular – the white limestone cliffs contrasting with the calm dark water of the lake is always a breath-taking surprise. And the nature at the Crags is so abundant and diverse – the wonderfully old trees of all the different kinds of birds.

And we always feel that countless generations of people, going back to those first people, have been awed by the place in the same way as we are. As an artist I can understand why you’d want to leave your mark here. And people have, from the Ice Age cave artists right through to the makers of the witches’ marks and into modern times – you don’t need to look hard for graffiti carved into the rock.

Then there’s the story of the place – some of the the oldest art in the UK, the first people in the UK, the village that once existed at the Crags, even George Stubbs painted here! Creswell Crags is a fascinating and many-facetted place.

The making of the art work

Who are Kidology Arts? 

Founded in 2012 by composer and musician Amanda Johnson and painter Richard Johnson, Kidology Arts engages people in contemporary art and music. Our ethos is aligned with the model that science suggests will need to be adopted if we are to reverse the effects of climate change: if people build an emotional attachment to the natural world, they will change their behaviours towards it. With this in mind, we work with communities to make ambitious multi-art form installations about issues relating to climate change such as migration and re-wilding. And we run workshops enabling the public to directly experience nature in surprising and unexpected ways.

We have worked with partners including the National Trust, The British Music Collection and the Peak District National Park Authority. Our work has been shown at venues across the UK including Wentworth Woodhouse, Sheffield Cathedral, Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Art and the National Coal Mining Museum. Our work is held in four permanent public collections and in 2018 we were recognised by the Government for our work in former mining villages. In 2019 Amanda was awarded a scholarship by the Finzi Trust to explore how her Romany Gypsy ancestry influences her work.

Drawn to the Water’s Edge can be seen in the gallery at Creswell Crags free of charge until 20 August 2021.