Rosanne Robertson is:
an artist working with action, environment, video, image, text and sound.
the Founder and Director of Manchester Artists Bonfire.
instigator and studio artist at The Penthouse- a new artist led indeterminate place for experimentation.
an experimental sound/music maker as a solo artist and also as part of band ILL
This is a place of miscellaneous nature and will act as an online collection of activity that surrounds my practice and occupies my days.
My main visual and live art website is www.rosannerobertson.com
Rosanne Robertson is:
This is a journal logging my experiences and thoughts during my one week residency for Wonder[ment] during which I aimed to Unlearn Being Scared of Climbing Trees.
Wonder[ment] Residency 23-30 September 2012
Wonder[ment] event 30 September 12-10pm
How to Unlearn Being Scared of Climbing Trees with tree climb throughout day, conversation followed by screening of video at 7pm on bicycle powered cinema.
__The End of the Beginning
*This blog post was written sat half way up a tree behind Lotte Carlsen’s piece made up of mirrors opposite the tea room during the Wonder[ment] event*
I had not anticipated the effect of sharing the Wonder[ment] trail with others at all. I have never felt such fear as when I got stuck coming back down a tree in front of what felt like hundreds of people [in reality there were only ever 5 people at once max who spotted me]. The fear of embarrassing myself in front of people was overpowering. I had climbed this tree before and I knew it was a little problematic- but I knew I could do it- I had already done it. But this was a new kind of fear. The fear of falling/failing by myself or the risk physical injury was a lot easier to deal with than the the idea of letting others down and the fear of failing in public. There was a huge element of social anxiety involved with these public climbs. I had forgotten just how anxious I can get. I haven’t felt that level of panic since I was a teenager when I felt scared of how people reacted to how I looked- because of not adhering to gender norms with my appearance . This anxiety used to force me to hide away, I embraced fear in order to survive. It was fear that then robbed me of a big section of existence as depression and anxiety riddled years 15 to 23 of my life.
During this difficult descent a couple of families who I had been told had been looking for me earlier in the day to teach their kids how to climb trees came along at this serendipitous moment. The Mother of one of the families said “look that lady is climbing a tree” as another mother said “is it a lady or is it a boy?” and the son said “why is that lady climbing a tree?” just as I was asking myself the same question. This was shortly followed by a photographer for the MEN coming along just as I felt I wanted the tree to sink a hundred miles underground and take me with it. It all felt a bit too much.
The other thing that was magnified whilst climbing in public was the question of usefulness. A number of people have mistaken this piece as a workshop from someone who already knows how to climb trees well. This is absolutely not the case. I don’t find the idea of taking something that I already know I can do and presenting it as socially useful in an art context interesting. As an artist I don’t see my self as a ‘skilled worker’, to many people what I do is useless. However, I can very easily see how people would have thought my piece was a workshop- perhaps the wording of the title was an oversight in the context of a community event. There is part of me that feels bad for not providing a service in this context, what is the use of something if it isn’t constructive? I would have felt worse about not teaching the kids how to climb trees if I didn’t already know that kids can climb trees inherently and are no doubt a damn site better than me at it- this is partly what the project is about. Both me and the little boy both know that he’s done loads of crazy shit his Mam doesn’t know about- he doesn’t need a workshop from an artist to find adventure.
The day got better in terms of me climbing despite the fact that it rained constantly all day. I climbed a few trees and reached quite high. I sat in the rain up trees and watched people walking up and down the trail- with their eyes forward, to the side, or down- and never UP! I whistled like a bird as I climbed trying to coax a glance- but not one came for the rest of the whole day. Climbing and whistling like a bird felt surreal, I had gone a bit delusional from tiredness and being soaked for so long and it all started feeling a bit trippy. Again, in this moment I just enjoyed it and took in the view- although this time I wasn’t among the birds, I was one.
I will never forget the experience and will never stop climbing trees again. I have proven myself right and wrong about a lot of things and have hopefully asked some good questions along the way. I have been quite touched by the over all response to the piece and the encouragement I have received. I have loved the childhood stories it has prompted from the people I have spoken to about it and the ‘Faraway Tree’ bedtime story it prompted from my wife.
We all Fail and/or Fly at different times but we must all always try.
I aim to continue trying.
Adventure is important.
THANK YOU FOR READING
*A further investigation into gender and risk will follow and be linked to this blog.
__Lost at the top
I climbed to the top of a tree! Quite a convenient ending to the whole training period you might think, but no I wasn’t expecting it. The result of a good tree and a boost in confidence perhaps spurred on by seeing the end in sight. I actually enjoyed myself today. I thought in a way, this is it and if it isn’t enough it isn’t enough- but I have tried. Once i started just enjoying myself it seemed quite a lot easier. I was obviously able to enjoy myself because of getting over the more troublesome parts in the previous days- I mean I wouldn’t have been able to start the thing as a fun activity- and if I had what would have been the point?
So, the top. I met up with Barney- one of the organisers of Wonder[ment] and was walked through where some of the other activities would be taking place on the trial. I was shown a place where kids would be having a picnic and saw a really good tree just past this spot. Barney left and I started climbing. I felt a new energy today- a sort of adrenaline rush. It was like a lot of anxieties had left me, i don’t know what it was, whether reality was telling me this is it now or what- I don’t yet know. I just climbed. And without thinking about it very much at all I had reached the highest I have done all week- in fact I reached the top of a tree. I haven’t reached the top of a tree all week, usually the branches get too small or I tell myself I have gone far enough and the top remains an unreached goal. Reaching the upper most point of a tree was amazing- birds flapped away and the light flooded through the branches, it really is beautiful. I felt lost. I have felt lost many times during this residency but not in this way.
__A new kind of lost
I really felt a new height, a new view had been achieved. I was among the birds. I saw something I had never seen before. It was the sort of thing I felt disappointed the day before about not achieving. It really made me think about the frame of mind you approach tasks with- like the day before- I felt the weight of expectancy. Today- I felt acceptance- paired with a hyped up sense of adrenaline and something seemed to work. I felt lost in a good way.
It sunk in today also that people are going to be on the Wonder[ment] trail as I go through all of this for another day and instead of feeling daunting it felt kind of comforting. I have had so much positive feedback from people during the process that I feel- I’m not alone. And without sounding hideously sentimental I feel this is the honesty I wanted to bring to this interaction and to the space.
Now that I have started to just enjoy it (there is still fear) I think I will continue to climb trees. Despite my whinging I wouldn’t like to imagine not climbing a tree again- and I certainly won’t leave it another 14 years.
Heres to Wonder[ment] and to the people who will achieve it on Sunday.
__See you there
*things to do: Climb trees in front of people!
__Moving on up
I’m not going to lie, this is bloody difficult but I am getting better and climbing higher. My muscles are really hurting me today- my non existent abs and upper arm muscles are aching. I over came a few hurdles today but fell short at others. One particular tree had me stumped (pardon the pun), I was half way up and it would have taken a real pull up and trusting in one branch to get me up higher which I was dubious about. I got stuck there for a bit before asking Pablo- the film maker who I am working with- whether he thought he would be able to do it. For some reason I thought if he says yes he could do that I would do it. We realised it is the same thing that spurred us on as children- the competition or the showing off or being able to keep up. Anyway I did it- I manoeuvred another way and climbed past the tricky bit. I felt really chuffed with my self.
I realised I had climbed quite high today with out really thinking I had when I was up there. It is strange it becomes kind of disorientating when all you can see is green. Also I have not been looking down that much as when I have I have really started to freeze and panic. Panic is so frustrating. I am quite proud of being able to get as high as I did at times today but also disappointed I couldn’t get up onto the tree I wanted to. This particular tree is going to take a mighty swing and a jump to be able to conquer which I haven’t yet been able to achieve. I practiced on another tree which has a lower down branch and after a lot of thinking I couldn’t do it I thought of what Kate had told me on my first session and then I did it- and it seemed so easy.
I saw kate today and told her I wasn’t as STRONG AS BULL as I would like to be and she suggested just drinking loads of orangeade and then taking a running screaming jump at it- which sounds like a good plan.
I am part way between proud and disappointed at the minute- which is a strange place to be. I enjoy telling people about what I have been doing and learning but then when it comes to the action again it is so scary and I feel like hiding way again.
__Must not hide away.
*things to do: Shout STRONG LIKE BULL. Drink orangeade.
__Wussing out__ Dry contemplation
On day 3 I did not climb a tree. It was raining heavily for a second day and I did not want to slip out of a tree. Is this wussing out? I don’t know what is pushing yourself and what is stupidity anymore. I am really confused about caution, it is like the idea of it and how useful it is has been blown apart for me and I no longer know how to think about it.
was a risk taker, he is less of a risk taker as he has got older but it is still there in a glint in his eye somewhere. He wasn’t like some massive daredevil, it was more in the little things. He wouldn’t cross the road where he was supposed to, for example. I used to think he was so cool but I don’t find being ran over cool. There is a fine line between exciting and stupid and I think good things happen in the search for that line. Risk is important, failure is important.
When I was a child my Dad would take my brother and I down to the beach and we would try and run around this big cliff section before the tide got us. We found it so fun, I remember pure excitement. Sometimes the tide did get us and our shoes would get soaked- wet shoes weren’t a big deal when I was little- they didn’t make me grumpy. They do now.
__I must remember how exciting wet shoes used to be.
Thinking about my Dad and the whole risk taking thing made me think of a few things when Kate was talking to me about climbing with her Dad when she was younger. It seems to be the Dads who are the risk takers- the Mams often enforce that something is a risk as they would be the bearer of the consequence- the voice of reason- the ‘telling off’. Which made me think about gender and risk taking. Another thing that made me think of gender was when Kate also talked of the majority of climbers being young men full of testosterone. Is it the testosterone? When I was younger I had all the energy and vigour to do what the boys/lads/young men did but often it was the rules attached to my gender that dictated certain behaviours as a young girl ‘un proper’. This annoyed me so much that when I was young I wanted to be a boy as then I would be allowed to do the things I wanted to without feeling that I wasn’t living up to my role and the expectations of it. Thankfully as I got older I stopped being so upset at disappointing people’s expectations of me as a girl and as a woman I act as I please and am still a woman. There is something interesting about risk and gender that I would like to dig a little deeper with as a piece of research for this project- I will post my findings.
*things to do: Get over the weather. Research further into risk and gender.
__Soggy failure and __one small triumph
On day 2 it rained A LOT. I was hesitant to go to the park in such a down pour but persuaded myself it was a good idea even if it meant just affirming it was too wet to climb. When I got to the trail I was 15 minutes early and therefore by myself for 15 minutes until Pablo arrived.
It felt a lot different in the rain. It was very unlikely anyone else was going to be there, it felt peaceful and private. The smell was really beautiful, drenched vegetation, tree bark, fungus and mud- lots of mud. I walked very quickly up and down the Wonder[ment] trail almost trying to build a better relationship with the space, to know it better. It felt a bit frantic, I felt a bit frantic, I was glad I had came out in the rain- it felt special.
I wanted to keep the same frame of mind once Pablo turned up to film so told him I might just nip off quickly around the place. I want this to be a true and honest investigation- not something staged or predetermined. Obviously there is the fact that i want to foresee being able to climb trees by the end of it but this is not a given.
__I aim and I hope
Today was stupid in many ways. I had decided that I would practice pull ups on branches low enough but in the rain this was difficult. it is also difficult because I haven’t been able to magically get stronger over night. I hate not being as strong as I think I am in my head. I couldn’t get a grip on anything and I was soaked through and getting frustrated at myself for not being able to just start swinging through the trees straight away.
Today was brilliant in other ways. It was one of those days that if you were a child you would go home crying because you were fed up and feeling sorry for yourself only to get told off for getting your clothes all dirty and end up feeling even more sorry for yourself. But I’m not a child so I quite enjoyed going home on the bus covered in mud. There was something quite wonderful about remembering that feeling- the feeling of playing out- having fully exhausted yourself or having had enough and wanting to get back to the warmth and your Mam.
__One small leap
is all I wanted to achieve today, I wanted to be able to lift myself up and wrap my legs around a branch in order to get onto a tree to climb. I found a tree that had a low enough branch and looked like it had options for climbing across and also quite high. After a few attempts I bounced with the branch and lifted my legs up- I was hanging from the branch like a sloth before pulling myself up. I felt pretty pleased with myself, had a look around and then slowly and clumsily climbed and slipped up and across the tree in the pouring rain. I got stuck many times thinking whether to push all my weight down on unsteady branches in order to get higher. I got as far as I felt I could and then pushed a little bit more but was still short of where I had seen i wanted to get to before my rational brain said ‘OK quit while your ahead now’. What it should have said was ‘YOU ARE STRONG LIKE BULL’, but that isn’t going to come naturally I am going to have to force it- force myself to shout it. Shouting with abandon and passion is more scary to me than falling out of a wet tree, I can’t believe it has been thrown into the challenge.
*Things to do: Get gloves with grip for when raining and wet. Practice pull ups of climbing frame in park
(Initial climb accompanied and mentored by Kate Armitage) (Photo and video by Pablo Melchor)
__STRONG LIKE BULL
Kate got stuck, she got pysched out, she shouted to her Dad that she couldn’t do it- that she was going to die there. She was stuck there and she was going to die there. The opposite of achieving was/is stopping, failing and dying. Her Dad would shout you are STRONG LIKE BULL and she would have to shout STRONG LIKE BULL, STRONG LIKE BULL. She carried on and reached the top- to the best view she had ever seen. She felt amazement, ecstasy. She felt she had been rewarded with the view for over coming her boundries and fears.
__The impossible and the doable
a) the impossible
I attempted my first tree climb. I felt a bit stupid. One tree- the main tree- was impossible looking. I just picked at the bark, looked at it. I put the toe of my borrowed climbing shoe on the trunk and slipped my foot down the moss to show how impossible it was. More standing and hands on hips action. I tried lifting myself up at the end of the main branch and realised I have almost none of the strength I used to in my upper body. Lifting my whole body off the floor seems completely undoable. How can I build thins strength int he space of a week?
b) the doable
There were some trees opposite the impossible tree that couldn’t have grown more like ladders if they had tried to.
I climbed the first relatively easily and enjoyed being on an unusual level and having a new view. I looked and thought about crossing over sideways to another adjacent part of the tree but it seemed like a leap and I did not dare.
Kate had suggested jumping off from a comfortable height to get more used to the idea of falling. I jumped off from what I thought was a bit higher than I should have- perhaps trying to who off- perhaps trying to challenge myself. I felt like I kind of winded myself when I hit the ground and then my knees hurt a bit. Putting this information together with the fact that I couldn’t do a pull up has made me realise I am completely out of condition and I should look after my body more.
I climbed a second doable tree and went as high as I could until the branches got too small to take my weight. I like this tree as it has partly fallen over and is half growing sideways. It has a fungus growing on it which makes it look hacked to bits. It also has graffiti on it and some one has had a fire right behind it. I feel this tree has had a hard time of it.
But he is still STRONG LIKE BULL
*Things to do for day 2- do pull ups in the hope my arms will become super strong or find other way to get up initial branchless trunk of impossible tree.