March 2021

Sense of Here – and the reality of complexity


it can be tempting to seek direction in memory and hope
but these make half-truths of place, skirt around the present


our paths pass through light and shade, trailing loss and gain
and bring us face to face, again and again, with a thought that laps
like the insistent return of the sea:


the whole of life is in our hands



Throughout this fellowship programme there are two things that have inspired our work: the challenge of working with qualitative data, and complexity – no one system can exist without others, and a change in any one area always has a knock-on effect.

Over the past few years, as part of this programme, we’ve learnt a great deal from scientists specialising in particular areas – be it soil, water, climate or biodiversity. We’ve also had lengthy chats with analysts and modellers. Underpinning everything, though, is the reality that things are complex. As Gordon Blair once said to us, ‘You can’t understand something as intricate and interconnected as the natural environment without looking at it through 101 lenses. There are so many disastrous unintended consequences when working with the natural environment and that partially comes through looking at it through 2 or 3 lenses rather than 101 lenses.’


in our hands canvas on a riverbed


As artists in residence we are curious not just about individual issues and the fascinating insights gained by going into great detail, but also about the meeting point between methods, knowledge-sets and data. And we wanted to embrace the challenge of talking about human elements: emotions, value systems and decisions.

We shaped our own research project around this mix of individual environmental issues, emotional and behavioural factors, and the meeting points between them all. For a year our time was divided between interviewing specialists in specific areas (including trees, water, soil, wellbeing and economics) and long periods of walking in the Cumbrian landscape. Each month we placed a ‘poem canvas’ in the open landscape, each time with different words on it, and used this as a poetic provocation for conversations and debates. We also created an online survey to collect a new data set reflecting people’s relationship to this and other special landscapes.


Camping on the fells


Our project, called ‘Sense of Here’, aimed to enquire into the knowing and feeling of place; it also drew on the question of just how big ‘here’ is, and where different ‘here’s overlap and impact one another.

Covid-19 derailed a lot but we were able to create an exhibition of photographs, poetry and installations that was open for a short while in autumn 2019. We also put together a film that explains our process and talks about complexity and the less easily quantifiable but fundamental factors that are motivations for action, and relationships between people. Alongside up-to-date and better integrated data, it is these that will play a part in how practical changes are made. While we need data, data on its own cannot make decisions – it is people who do this.

So, in the absence of being able to visit a physical exhibition or be together in a room for a proper showing, here is a link to a film that combines an exhibition tour with the Sense of Here film, shot on location high in the fells beyond Grasmere.

Sense of Here film and virtual exhibition tour:


This is just one of our outputs. You’ll see from the film that we worked with Vatsala to produce visualisations from the Data of the Heart survey, and with Vatsala and Stephen Mander to find poetry in a computer’s interpretation of the data … more on that in a later blog.

Harriet & Rob Fraser, March 2021


Find out more about Sense of Here: