Simone Kenyon: 'There's definitely a growing interest in women discussing and celebrating their experiences in the mountains'
- Claire Sawers
- 28 May 2019
Artist and choreographer discusses her new live artwork, inspired by Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain
'There's something about the way Nan Shepherd writes that really stood out to me,' says artist and choreographer Simone Kenyon. 'A few years ago I was working on a project about women and walking so I was reading a lot of nature writing – stuff about hillwalking and mountaineering. Someone recommended The Living Mountain and I'd never read anything like it.' Shepherd wrote it during the Second World War but couldn't get it published, so it lay unread for another thirty years before Aberdeen University Press printed it. Shepherd's description of her walks in the Cairngorm Mountains, a world previously only mapped out by men, is considered a masterpiece, not just of modernist prose, but of feminist nature writing. It's why the face of the English lecturer and keen gardener now looks off into the distance on Scottish five pound notes.
'The Living Mountain was the only female account I'd read of the Cairngorms,' explains Kenyon, 'but it's also written in a very poetic way. She's able to describe walking across a very high plateau in a way that makes it seem very possible. She talks very matter of factly about the dangers of the mountains; she includes all the facts and figures and science, but weaves in passages about her own self development, always coming back to her own bodily experience. Or what she calls, "Walking the flesh transparent".'
After receiving funding from Creative Scotland amongst other places, Kenyon has developed a work inspired by Shepherd's writing and in collaboration with hundreds of women living around the Cairngorms. Into the Mountain, produced by the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, is the culmination of a year-long programme of talks and events. Over three days, groups of ten will be taken on a guided walk into Glenfeshie (an area written about by Shepherd) where they'll watch five female dancers (Jo Hellier, Claricia Parinussa, Caroline Reagh, Keren Smail and Petra Söör) accompanied by music. Artist Hanna Tuulikki's new score will be performed by a choir of women who responded to an open callout for singers, and led by vocalist Lucy Duncombe.
'Hanna specialises in nature and birds so her music – and the women's voices – adds in those ethereal, otherworldly elements from Nan's writing. Hanna, Lucy and the choir have been rehearsing for several months and I think their sounds will bring something mystical and magical.'