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.
Mary Phan | 31 January 2022
I only had two wisdom teeth, two vestigial bones taken root horizontally in my bottom jaw. I tried so hard to numb the pain with ibuprofen, tylenol, weed, incredibly irresponsible online shopping, and the knowledge that humanity has caused irreversible climate damage and will likely soon be consumed by fire. But there is something about oral pain that cuts viscerally into your existence. Even if you repeat the mantra “I don’t have dental insurance” ad nauseum and try to spend your energy doing something productive like ignoring collections blowing up your phone, the pulsating, almost rhythmic sensations of these teeth trying to force their way in really takes over your life.
I asked my mother what people in Vietnam with this sort of toothache did – it’s not like people have dental insurance there either. She said they live with the pain, going about their days to make a living, sometimes taking a break to moan in agony. They live like this until the pain stops or they have it yanked out by some local who does that sort of thing. So, I tried to dull my pain by wallowing in the guilt that so many immigrant children feel, which is a guilt heavily reinforced by refugee parents, that if they hadn’t come over and worked so hard, that you’d probably be begging on the streets for scraps, pooping out parasites, and having to feed ten children with two cups of rice. I’d like to think my guilt has an even greater depth, as my family are not only immigrants, but also Catholic, and I studied art at university (which is probably why I don’t have dental insurance in the first place, but I digress).
It is such a marvel that every day our cells are dying and recycling, like we are phoenixes in a sense. Evolution occurs every second. I read the other day that eventually we may lose our pinky toes to the processes of evolution, and that more people are being born without wisdom teeth at all. I guess I am half evolved, as I never had my top pair of wisdom teeth in the first place, but it seems the bottom two decided to be extra difficult to make up for it. “Horizontally impacted” is what the dentist said, which means they are trapped under the bone, sideways, and may grow into my back molars and absolutely wreck them. As much as creative types can romanticize pain and suffering to a certain degree, oral pain really isn’t as sexy as getting shot by an ex-lover or subsisting off a diet of nicotine and craft coffee (or gas station coffee, depending on what type of creative you are). An ear-splitting toothache is a level of horrendous that sits on the borderline of existential pain. Though I do wonder what kind of yearning we would have for times of yore, if we lived in a world with no pinky toes. So perhaps this twenty-first century experience of insurance-less toothache is but a small morsel of humanity’s pain before we simply do not have any more wisdom teeth, and will probably romanticize them much like we do dusty Victorian orphans’ faces or wild west saloon wenches.
I did end up getting those teeth pulled by a very kind oral surgeon whose practice consists mainly of people who pay him in cash installments. I knew he was a good one the moment I went to pick up his prescriptions for the surgery and there were no opioids. This was a man that cared about people. His office was in a building with a strip-mall feel to it, which if you know what kind of feel I’m talking about, you probably just grimaced a little bit. His office played top ‘70s hits and I drifted off into twilight anesthesia bliss to the dulcet crooning of Norman Connors’ 1976 hit, You are My Starship. I remember coming into consciousness at the taste of iodine all over my tongue, and cheeks full of gauze. I look up at the doctor and his nurse and ask, muffled and drunkenly, holding out my hands like I’m receiving communion, “Can I keep the teeth?”
Mary Phan | 06 December 2021
A Stream-of-Consciousness Reaction to The White Pube
My friend told me about White Pube as we walked through Frieze London. I thought your name was so clever, somehow so, so relevant in a way that is difficult to put into words. Who doesn’t love a couple gals, working to dismantle the system. Hell yes, sisters!
Wow, I thought. Perhaps the White Pube is worth re-downloading my deleted Instagram app.
Oh wait, no––is anything worth re-engaging with that soul sucking black hole? Life is so much better without the mindless scrolling, the endless echo chamber, but maybe this is something that actually resounds. Let’s just google white pube and see what comes up. Okay, first hit, very cool, retro website...links to all the socials of course. Okay, let’s just use the browser instagram and see what’s up.
Witty, hilarious, radical, relevant, prolific.
Everything an art publication should be.
Admittedly, I am not as hip to the online ecosystem as the other kids, but I recognize greatness when I see it. This is how you craft a B R A N D. This is how you get people excited. The extra-shy introvert in me kneels down to your social, public (pubic?) prowess.
Your ‘ideas for a new art world’ are everything. Six delicious, loud, simple confections I hope everyone will bite into, smother all over their faces, know intimately, angrily, and wishfully.
To comment on a few:
‘004: people across the creative industries need to declare if they have rich parents who helped them get where they are today’
Say it louder for the people in the back (the ones who feel they can’t make it in a structure stacked opaquely against them)!
I look around...I’m at Frieze London..that gallerist’s shoes probably cost more than my rent..oh wait, not a gallerist...an ‘independent curator’ says her perfumed embossed linen business card. I LinkedIn stalk her and it turns out her dad deals antiquities (which is low key sus…). She’s a nice person...I hope she...stands for intersectional justice and doesn’t merely want to protect her structural interests as a wealthy white person amidst a sea (or rather, small pond; sea is for the rest of us, the 1% can fit in a smaller body of water) of people used to flying private, fur coats, Rothkos in the breakfast nook, etc. etc.
‘005: The art world should not replicate the capitalist structures of other industries and instead should set a better example with a horizontal approach to decision making and pay’
HA! Good one. Laughter turns to tears. Cynicism turns to outright depression. I wonder if the art world can do this. We’ve certainly set some questionable examples in the past. We exploit our best artists, our ‘best’ artists exploit us, where do we go from here? What are we to do? We’re just people who probably aren’t great at maths and look at pictures and think about them.
‘006: dear museums, please give back all stolen objects’
I re-download instagram. I hit that follow for the White Pube.
Pictured: Zarina Muhammad, one of the founders of The White Pube. Image: The White Pube.
Mary Phan | 02 November 2021
Do dreams really mean anything? Because Yesterday,
Dominic Phan, Untitled, 1996, oil paint on canvas (Image: courtesy of Mary Phan)
I closed my eyes and I was back in ancestral lands on which I’ve never stepped.
Looking at trees murdered by Agent Orange. Great swaths of earth that will never grow anything again. I wonder if my damn houseplants have been tainted by Agent Orange.
Some relative fell in love with a girl from a town nearby this cursed dirt. His Mother said, “Love someone else, her body is poisoned”. The chances are too high she will die slowly and dreadfully, or your children will (or have already). This conversation happened in 2020.
‘Now, I wasn’t born yesterday!’ or maybe I was. The first in America. The firstborn in this Manifest Destiny, Yeehaw, Ronald McDonald land. A supposedly golden daughter bedecked in gold and jade bracelets, dropped off at school without an ear or tongue for English. This land is my land, this land is your land.
In pre-school I drank chocolate milk, cried, threw up, rode a pink tricycle, never smiled, never napped.
My best friend in school taught me to chew with my mouth closed. I don’t remember how we communicated. Many years later, she voted for Trump and I donated to the ACLU. How ungrateful of me.
‘Introduction to Art History’, where we ‘develop an educational foundation’. I don’t look like Vasari or Winckelmann. I do look like ‘Napalm Girl’. My family looks like the people, or rather, the mangled heaps of bodies, in ‘And Babies’. It seems every artwork to do with Vietnamese people has to contain some rhetoric of violence. Such a shame, because we really are funny people. Maybe more of us should channel the trauma into comedy rather than such pedantic things as painting, photography, or poetry.
Am I assimilated because I love artisan breads and natural wines? Am I erased because I only dream in English? It’s probably easier for me to write a dissertation, than it is for me to speak freely to my Mother.
Yesterday an old woman’s eyes widened as I spoke to her, she exclaimed, “Your English is very good!” Thank you very much, I wouldn’t know!