The SCENE is a footpath running alongside the Georgian water gardens, created by John Aislabie, within the National Trust’s Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE (all in varying states of middle age): STEVE (English, organises things in an overly conscientious manner); DEE (Scottish, full of humour, forthright in her opinions); WALLACE (American, appears wryly entertained by her companions); ALISON (English, always smiling, amazing laugh, glories in everything).
As the scene begins, we find the protagonists in mid-conversation:
STEVE: . . . . should have recorded this whole conversation, but do you mind if I just turn this on now? (gesturing at his dictaphone)
DEE: No, we’re not going to say anything.
WALLACE: Yeah, sure, sure.
DEE: No, we’re going home now.
DEE: Appreciation is a category of experience, was what you said –
WALLACE: Well it’s – yeah, yeah.
DEE: And that isn’t about judgement value? … which is quite important to me I think, at this point.
WALLACE: Well there’s judgements made but it’s not a finality of saying, ‘This landscape is good for the following reasons and bad for the following reasons.’ What it’s saying is ‘I am in this landscape –
WALLACE: – and my experience is one of a kind of appreciation which is much more complex than I’d have said, so – ’
DEE: So critical appreciation.
WALLACE: It’s not a sort of stupid, ‘I like it’.
DEE: Yeah, it’s thinking –
WALLACE: No, I actually have to contribute –
DEE: Work out why?
WALLACE: Yeah, I have to contribute to this landscape in terms of my thoughts about it.
STEVE (into dictaphone): We’re talking about the moon ponds.
DEE: Exactly, active appreciation –
WALLACE: Yes, and –
DEE: This is your active participation of an audience, in a way –
WALLACE: This is – yes, and that’s what I do. And there can be very, very divergent, disagreeing forms of appreciation of the same landscape.
DEE: Within the same person?
WALLACE: Within the same person, but it’s – if any of that makes sense?
DEE: It does make a lot of sense.
STEVE: I was struck by something that one of you said a few minutes ago about the greenness –
STEVE: It’s a very calming thing and goes with the placid water and so on, and –
STEVE: The word ‘green’ itself has all these different ramifications with –
DEE: Oh God, please don’t go there.
STEVE: No, no, but like –
DEE: (Laughter) Sorry.
STEVE: No, no, I’m just saying –
DEE: No, no, go there.
STEVE: I’m going there. Yeah, obviously there’s green politics and all that.
DEE: Yeah, deep green.
STEVE: But actually, isn’t there something basically –
STEVE: Some basic phenomenological level where green is soothing.
DEE: Yeah, yeah.
STEVE: And green is –
DEE: That’s why they use it in signs.
STEVE: As opposed to red, which is….
STEVE: Alarming, yeah.
ALISON: Yes, oh, I’m sure people have done –
WALLACE: It’s hard wired.
ALISON: – three million pounds of research about all of that stuff, yes.
STEVE: Yeah, I know, but in terms of what Wallace is talking about, that’s where these things collide, these different notions of green on some level, maybe. That probably is very naïve –
DEE: No, I think that’s a –
ALISON: I think that could very readily be one of loads and loads and loads and loads of threads in there…
DEE: But you would ask yourself whether – this is a silly thing now – but you could say to yourself, ‘Is my appreciation of the colour green because of this hard-wiring into the wild…. you know, our relationship with, going back prehistoric, or…’ – but which comes first? Chicken and egg in a way, isn’t it?
WALLACE: What would it –
DEE: Like is it –
DEE: No, on you go.
WALLACE: What was the phrase yesterday? – “The place –
DEE: Oh, “swamps and thorns”.
WALLACE: ” – is only fit for swamps and thorns.”
STEVE: You mean before they landscaped it?
WALLACE: Yeah. What would this look like if it wasn’t flat grass, but low scrub …?
WALLACE: Even with quite short things, you’d lose the line.
DEE: Yeah, that would upset me.
WALLACE: Would it?
STEVE: You’d lose the…?
DEE: The line.
WALLACE: The clear lines. But it would have a different texture to it.
ALISON: I think we’d respond to it in a very, very, very different way…
DEE: Well it wouldn’t be that space there.
ALISON: … because there’s a whole thing, because well –(to WALLACE) not you – but because we’re British –
ALISON: And the whole business of green and grass, and lawns, and the whole gardening thingamabobby, which I do maintain is very strong in us, as a –
DEE: That wouldn’t be why I would respond but –
ALISON: – a native sort of culture thing.
DEE: I think my response would be more just about the clean lines a bit, which is a more – I think Steve’s right, when I say Charles Jencks, it’s the modernist, it’s the . . . you know.
STEVE: And, and –
DEE: Shall we walk down to that bridge because –
STEVE: Yeah (they begin walking again), and I also think it’s on some level, a few people were being slightly, yesterday, a few people were being slightly snotty. Snotty’s not the word, but like they were the sort of like –
DEE: Well they were!
WALLACE: I was!
STEVE: Well okay, fair enough.
DEE: And then I had to go, ‘I liked it!’
STEVE: (to WALLACE) You described the whole place as Teflon.
ALISON: Did you Wallace?
WALLACE: Yeah, sorry, I did.
STEVE: But I guess –
DEE: I love that!
STEVE: – that to some extent, and I was thinking about this last night, that there’s, especially with performance people – and I know you two (meaning ALISON and WALLACE) don’t classify yourself in those terms necessarily – but that it goes back to that, “Oh, oh, the masses like this kind of thing but we’re sophisticated and we appreciate – ”
DEE: – ruined buildings!
STEVE: Yeah, and there’s a danger that in terms of like – that in looking at a place like this – that we miss the basic thing of the pleasure that people get out of coming here.
DEE: Exactly, Steve, this is the point. Of reclaiming pleasure….
DEE: The aesthetics of pleasure – and where can the politics within that be attached?
STEVE: Right, right.
ALISON: I really support you with that notion, I think it’s terribly important.
DEE: Which is why I wanted to say yesterday –
DEE: ‘I really enjoy this space!’ Which is not to say that you can’t have politics attached to that then.
STEVE: Right, right. And what’s that pleasure about? And again, if you could start to unpick the layers of that a bit… We have complex responses, I suppose, to a place like this.
WALLACE: And I think my responses yesterday –
ALISON: Well –
WALLACE: – which were snotty and Teflony, well one of my first –
DEE: I laughed about that.
WALLACE: – responses to this was – it was un-thought, it was uncritical. It was, ‘Oh God, I hate these lines’.
STEVE: Do we want to head down this way or carry on round this way?
DEE: It might be a bit slippy, what do you think? Which is our path down?
WALLACE: So I’m having this trouble because of what you said.
STEVE: Oh it’s fine, yeah, you can walk down there.
DEE: Okay, going down.
ALISON: I’d like to hear more about that.
STEVE: You’d like to hear more about what, Alison?
ALISON: Why Wallace responded like that yesterday, to being here?
WALLACE: Well I think it’s – I wouldn’t attribute too much to it. It’s that first response, and I know from experience that I don’t actually ‘appreciate’ very well.
ALISON: But is that something to do with where you have come from, I mean literally?
ALISON: The other side of the States, and that sort of a landscape and that sort of a – I mean – that probably sounds very crass, I don’t know –
STEVE: Whereabouts are you from Wallace?
WALLACE: Yeah, we were force-fed wilderness.
ALISON: Boulder, Colorado’s where it’s at, oh yeah, oh yeah –
STEVE: I’ve been there.
ALISON: How many websites do I know that – it all ends up in Boulder?
ALISON: I’ve never been to America.
DEE: Or is it not that you trained in environmental science and that you’re –
WALLACE: I’ve had as much training in performance as I do –
STEVE: Right, right.
WALLACE: – as I do in environmental science.
DEE: But is your response not partly horror –
WALLACE: Yes, it –
DEE: Is it not this horror at what they’ve done and the –
WALLACE: Partly, yeah.
DEE: – control of it and all those things?
DEE: Which is why I felt a bit guilty about not thinking the way you thought. I felt a bit guilty about going, ‘Oh, look what they’ve done to the landscape, isn’t that marvellous?’ (Laughter)
ALISON: I think we need to meet in the middle.
WALLACE: I think what we need – one of my big fights is to say that, yes, okay, you could say this is beautiful. But a landscape which had been – let’s say – managed for wildness …
DEE: Yeah, would be beautiful as well.
WALLACE: There’s a huge effort at seeing what’s beautiful in that –
WALLACE: – for a lot of people. Whereas this is – well it’s more familiar and more immediately saying –
DEE: Right, no, I get that, yeah, that’s interesting –
STEVE: But also, isn’t there something about the basic –
STEVE: – I remember moving down from Scotland to Yorkshire. And okay, Glasgow isn’t the Highlands but you –
DEE: No, but you get there quickly.
STEVE: – you get there quickly enough. And again actually, I can’t help but talk about it in terms of gender. There’s something – Scotland is –
STEVE: Masculine and rugged – and Yorkshire is rolling and feminine –
DEE: It is, it’s the rolling hills.
ALISON: Oh dear.
STEVE: And in some ways, this is simply an extension of Yorkshire, do you know what I mean?
STEVE: Of what we drove through this morning.
ALISON: No Steve, I don’t know what you mean. Sorry. Too many leaps there!
DEE: No, I get you – yeah.
STEVE: It’s insofar that what it’s about is rolling green, this part…
DEE: And the way the landscapes have been – I know you don’t mean literally, you mean the way they’ve been encaptured in culture –
STEVE: Yeah yeah, yeah yeah.
DEE: The cultural gendering of them, in a way?
STEVE: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely – but also that this is a response to the actual, natural – quote unquote – landscape, insofar that there is such a thing. The topography of Yorkshire is very different from the topography of Loch Lomond, you know…?
STEVE: Or Colorado.
STEVE: And there’s something soothing about it. That’s why Emmerdale is set where it is, it’s that kind of –
STEVE: Yeah, exactly, yeah, yeah.
ALISON: Oh, try coming to the south.
STEVE: Right. But look at Jane Austen, you know, everybody coming up to Yorkshire for their aristocratic holidays – it’s why this county is dotted with estates like this. And so people are responding to something in the landscape, that they want to dump their –
DEE: The landed gentry, that’s –
STEVE: – yeah, why are they coming to Yorkshire to dump their estates here, as opposed to anywhere else?
DEE: The mines are here!
ALISON: Because there was always a wealthy – because there was always money to be made here –
DEE: It was cheap here! Wasn’t it the industry – it was the industry of Yorkshire, wasn’t it?
STEVE: Well yeah, but that’s a different thing. If you look at Lancashire, which is dominated by mills and the industrial revolution (okay, that’s later than this, but – ), Lancashire isn’t full of stately homes in the same way that Yorkshire is.
ALISON: No, not so many, no. I take your point now –
DEE: (drawing attention back to the immediate view) But it looks entirely – from this angle it works, in a way …
STEVE: (pressing on regardless) There’s so many around Leeds, so half of them now are in council ownership and they’ve all become parks, and –
WALLACE: (also looking at the view) You know outside the Museum of Modern Art…
WALLACE: The land forms there, are not unlike that.
DEE: No, that’s right, yeah. You can really see this now, in a way I couldn’t see it from the bridge.
ALISON: The banking?
DEE: And now it has its definition. What I wanted to ask was, anyone who is more knowledgeable than me, is to what extent you feel that this particular landscaping has – I know it’s all managed, right, but this is a different type of management than the hill, with the, whatever trees those are … (pointing into the distance, to a gentle incline beyond the water garden…)
DEE: So the parkland. So how much –
ALISON: This is the garden.
STEVE: Yeah, yeah.
DEE: I suppose in a way, that’s why I appreciate it, coming back to the appreciation, because I appreciate that a designer has thought –
DEE: Of the wider landscape. And how these very constructed elements talk to each other. And that’s why I like it!
STEVE: The whole place is incredibly theatrical, but yeah, exactly… and at a given moment, you might have a herd of deer wandering over that part…
DEE: So this leads the eye to that.
ALISON: The deer, I think deer have been in there for centuries and centuries.
WALLACE: Right, so there probably would have been deer.
ALISON: So it would always have had the grazed look…
DEE: (still marvelling at the line of the water garden) It takes your eye to that horizon beautifully…
STEVE: These gardens belonged to Studley Royal House.
STEVE: Which was – way on the other side of that parkland.
STEVE: So they put them here not to be –
ALISON: Oh gosh.
STEVE: – in the vicinity of the house –
DEE: Oh, I hadn’t reckoned on that.
STEVE: – but because this is where the river is. Again, it’s done on the cheap, on top of what’s already here –
DEE: Yeah, so who came here?
STEVE: But also it creates another kind of arcadia, if you like.
ALISON: You would have brought people…
DEE: Oh, they’d be brought here from the house to here?
STEVE: From the house, yes. “Come to our arcadia, it’s a -”
ALISON: Probably in a terribly stage managed way.
WALLACE: “We could have lunch here.”
ALISON: The 18th century carriage drive and all of that.
DEE: Yeah, so it is utterly theatrical.
ALISON: Completely, completely staged.
WALLACE: Oh, I love it now!
DEE: (pointing across the water garden towards the Grecian edifice opposite) Would there have been tea there? Would you have done anything there?
STEVE: It’s the Temple of Piety.
DEE: Or is it where you go and have a romantic tête-à-tête or –
ALISON: Well –
DEE: – private conversation away from your walking companions?
ALISON: Possibly it got used for that sort of thing. I’m not sure it’s intended.
STEVE: If you look at it, it’s got skull carvings and stuff, but it’s called –
DEE: Has it? I haven’t been over there.
STEVE: – the Temple of Piety.
WALLACE: It’s called Temple of Piety.
STEVE: So although it’s got that classical look, the language around it is a kind of ‘poverty’ kind of language –
DEE: Are those columns stone? Are they stone? Because you know the ones at Fame are not, the ones at Fame are hollow –
STEVE: Oh, I don’t know, I haven’t checked that.
DEE: Which is very interesting.
STEVE: But yeah, this exists in counterpoint with the Temple of Fame, because they’re Fame and Piety –
DEE: Yeah, the Fame one is totally superficial and doesn’t last. It’s got hollow columns.
STEVE: Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, right.
ALISON: I think the 18th century did a huge amount of that.
ALISON: They flung things up in a cheapskate way – because they were just so desperately keen to do it.
DEE: Oh okay, yeah.
STEVE: So you think Dee’s reading too much into it when –
ALISON: Well yeah, that happens an awful lot, that happens an awful lot –
DEE: If those columns are real, then maybe not. If those are real, then maybe the reading’s –
STEVE: Piety has a solidity to it.
DEE: Piety has a solidity at last, it’s not superficial.
ALISON: Don’t read too much into this.
DEE: No, I think you can never read too much into things, that’s the critical enthusiasm!
STEVE: I almost want to line a big audience up –
STEVE: Along this side of canal – like get the bleachers out…
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
STEVE: Okay? Get miked actors on the area in front of the Temple and do –
STEVE: Oedipus, for the sake of argument! (laughter) Using the classical bit at the back but also these big walkways around the ponds. Do you know what I mean? Like –
DEE: Oh, I see, right, yeah, yeah.
STEVE: It has echoes of – it is, yeah, it’s a stage.
WALLACE: I’d put the audience on a barge here, that moves.
DEE: Yeah, oh, lovely, use the water, oh beautiful –
STEVE: (reconsidering his own suggestion, as he sees tourists walking around the ponds, on the area he imagines actors) Although actually, as soon as they start walking round this, I’m like, ‘Get off’.
DEE: Ah right, this is not working for you then, they’re ruining that –
STEVE: No, no, no, get those people off! They’re spoiling it.
DEE: They’re just spoilers!
DEE: (noticing, at her feet, a patch of artificial grass covering a worn section of turf) See, I love that! That’s some sort of postmodern moment, isn’t it? The green grass. But do you love that sort of –
WALLACE: Not really.
DEE: No, you don’t like that? I think it’s remarkable. And the thing is, it does show up the grass as being not so green, doesn’t it? I think that stuff should cover the whole thing maybe!
STEVE: In a way, that would be more truthful –
STEVE: Do you know what I mean? The artifice of AstroTurf is kind of what this place is about, isn’t it? So…
DEE: Put a bit of Velcro on it
ALISON: But you mean – well there’s an interesting thought. If William [Aislabie] had AstroTurf to hand, would he have put down AstroTurf? Well, indeed he might.
STEVE: But actually that is the sort of thought you could bung into a performance! Bit of historical incongruity. (Laughter)
ALISON: Well, yeah, yeah.
DEE: That would be quite a good performance though. I’m not –
STEVE: AstroTurfing the whole place!
DEE: Yeah. Or in the night, putting down AstroTurf and in the morning, do like a performance of lifting the AstroTurf.
STEVE: Yeah, yeah.
DEE: To prompt consciousness of management.
STEVE: (quoting Debord) ‘In a world gone topsy turvy, the true is a moment of the false.’