Millican Dalton: A Sublime Midlife Crisis
The relevance of a 20th century cave-dweller to environmental aesthetics.
Wednesday, 23 December 2020
At the mouth of the cave at Borrowdale, May 2020. Photograph: Lewis Eaton.
On a swelteringly hot day in the North Western Fells of The Lake District, the gaping mouth of a cave offered itself as a refuge and swallowed us mercifully into its cool damp interior. Caves are otherworldly places. This particular cave, set into the hillside of Castle Crag, allows you to peer out at the gently swaying trees and glimmering daylight of the outside world from a viewing point void of light and sound. The daytrip itself had been to seek refuge in The Lakes; an attempt at replacing the stagnancy of a locked-down city summer with a more welcome, less claustrophobic, kind of tranquillity. We spent a few minutes scrambling around on the siltstone, marvelling at the height of the cave walls and exchanging the obligatory comments about feeling small in big spaces. On leaving, I noticed a large, flat stone covered in scrawlings. At the centre in neat, deeply-etched letters read ‘Don’t Waste Words, Jump to Conclusions’ with dozens of smaller sections of writing surrounding this. Each gave names and dates, with many faded with age and dissolving back into the stone’s surface. It was from a frantic Googling during the car ride home that I came to find out we had happened across a sort-of pilgrimage place for hikers: the cave in which a man had lived out his summers for over forty consecutive years.
In 1904, at the age of thirty-six, Millican Dalton gave up his life as an insurance clerk in London in order to dedicate himself to The Great Outdoors. Having spent part of his childhood in Nenthead, the North Pennines, he found life and work in the capital stifling in comparison. From then on Dalton split his year, spending the summer months in the cave under Castle Crag and winters in a canvas hut in Buckinghamshire. Far from your conventional hermit, Dalton was an active and sociable member of the community. He organised camping excursions for the outdoors novice which included teaching hiking, rock climbing, rafting and how to forage for food. What I found extraordinary for the time was that these excursions didn’t exclude women, with one of Dalton’s advertisements for a mountaineering course stating his views bluntly: “Ladies are welcome to the camp. There is nothing new in ladies camping, the custom being at least 10,000 years old.” This rare indiscriminate approach led to Dalton forging a long-lasting friendship with geologist Mabel Barker, who over the years consistently recommended Dalton’s courses to women students and friends.
Dalton and Barker atop a needle, 1913. The Mable Barker Collection.
The Body as a Vessel
by Francesca Pavone 17 December 2020
Francesca Pavone, Mother - Installation Detail, Plaster Cast
Last year I had the opportunity to explore the concept of the body as a vessel in my Foundation Year final major project at The Royal Drawing School. Despite my recurring interest in the human form, I had never delved into the topic before. While my interest may have stemmed from an innate corporeal instinct, it was the experience of being close to my mother during lockdown that allowed me to observe, encounter, comprehend and contemplate this topic in greater depth. In this precious window of time, I saw my mother not only as a person but also as a maternal body that gave birth to me and my two sisters. It was, undoubtedly, a unique and personal journey that I undertook in this project. I now feel connected to my mother in a completely different way by translating the intangible into the tangible and creating a visual vocabulary that reflected us and our bonding.
Drawing upon my mother’s body allowed me to thoroughly explore the concept of the body as a vessel. Alternating between materials and media allowed me to wholly explore motherhood through the art forms of video, photography, sculpture, casts, drawings, paintings and prints that together presented a different impression of my mother and her body. I was particularly interested in how the body serves as a container of human life, or a miracle often overlooked. I was inspired by the tactility and fleshiness of The Venus of Willendorf, John Coplans’ self-portrait photographs exploring his body and Anna Maria Maiolino’s reflection on the interconnections between herself, her mother and her daughter in Por Um Fio.
The final installation of this project encompassed a video I made of my mother’s body depicting her experience of being a daughter, becoming a mother and, finally, losing her mother prematurely. I also created three casts of my mother’s bust to immortalise the act of breastfeeding, cradling and bearing children. One such example is displayed through a sculpture of her three grown daughters’ hands resting on her (now flat) stomach. The installation is a truthful enquiry of motherhood as I interpret it. The video is composed of two parts; the first being extreme close-up shots that methodically map my mother’s body to the extent that it is pushed to abstraction, and the second being audio fragments from my interview with her. I mimicked the fragmented and abstracted shots by stripping down our dialogue to her most essential phrases and remarks. This resulted in a slow unravelling of contemplative images and words. While I am aware that I have attempted to grasp something that is beyond my capabilities, I feel that through the process, my filial bond has grown stronger and I am more sympathetic and grateful towards my mother.