“Edgelands is a word that refers to the edges of towns and cities that are neither urban nor rural; transitional, undeveloped or developing areas such as the land surrounding power stations, scrublands, wastelands, semi-derelict areas, semi-industrial areas and so forth.
These are often the places where society creates, stores, repairs, discards, forgets about and disposes of the things it physically needs and they can also be starkly aesthetically neglected, though in contrast and in part because of that neglect or overlooking can also become something of a haven for nature and wildlife.”
(Above: photograph by Veloelectroindustrial.)
“Marion Shoard was the first person to use the term “edgelands” to describe these areas in her Edglands essay from 2002, where she eloquently describes and defines them and considers how they are often overlooked by society:
“Britain’s towns and cities do not usually sit cheek by jowl with its countryside, as we often casually assume. Between urban and rural stands a kind of landscape quite different from either. Often vast in area, though hardly noticed, it is characterised by rubbish tips and warehouses, superstores and derelict industrial plant,office parks and gypsy encampments, golf courses, allotments and fragmented, frequently scruffy, farmland. All these heterogeneous elements are arranged in an unruly and often apparently chaotic fashion against a background of unkempt wasteland frequently swathed in riotous growths of colourful plants, both native and exotic… Huge numbers of people now spend much of their time living, working or moving within or through it. Yet for most of us, most of the time, this mysterious no man’s land passes unnoticed: in our imaginations, as opposed to our actual lives, it barely exists… As we ash past its seemingly meaningless contours in train, car or bus we somehow fail to register it on our retinas.””
“In a continuum from Marion Shoard’s observations, an extensive body of literature and creative work exists which has focused on these hinterlands. One of the early and most renowned documents or celebrations of such overlooked, often unloved parts of our world was Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside book, originally published in 1973 (and reissued in 2010 by Little Toller Books, who specialise in work which takes in a gentle flipside of rural, pastoral and landscape concerns).”
“The Unofficial Countryside records Richard Mabey’s explorations and wanderings through edgeland areas and the natural world, which has made a home in places that had previously often been considered inauspicious for plants and wildlife such as inner city car parks, gravel pits and rubbish tips.
Rather than being purely a natural history document, within the book he also proposes another way of seeing and experiencing nature during our daily lives, whether wild flowers glimpsed from a commuter train, fox cubs playing on a motorway fringe or a kestrel hawking above a public park.”
“Edgelands – Journeys into England’s True Wilderness is a 2012 book by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts and is a literary, poetic exploration of such areas, in which the authors document their travels, personal memories and connections to these transitional landscapes, taking in along the way childhood dens, container ports, wastelands, ruins, mines and the endpoints for society’s automobiles.”
“In a more audiovisual manner the film, music and photography project by Karl Hyde and Kieran Evans’ Edgeland/The Outer Edges presents a psychogeographic expressive, creative and documentary wandering through what feel like semi-uncharted lands and lives, ones which are overlooked, strewn with debris and contain a faded battered beauty amongst the mixture of nature and pylons.”
“Edward Chell’s 2013 Soft Estate also makes use of multiple forms, including a book, traditional gallery exhibiting and what are effectively returning to their source installations. It takes as its subject matter such edgeland places when they are found at the side of motorways.
The phrase soft estate refers to the description given by the UK Highways Agency to the natural habitat that the motorways and trunk roads it manages occupy; an often unstopped-on hinterland that most of us only view as a high-speed blur from the corner of our eyes as we travel past these autobahn edgelands.”
“Soft Estate interacts with and documents these verges and landscapes, sometimes in a quite literal sense as some of the work is printed using road dust from such places, other work uses (presumably) engine oil, features plant life illustrations from these verges laser etched onto brightly chromed exhaust pipes or uses the same materials and colours as road signs.”
“In (Edward Chell’s) paintings of the tubing which protects sapling trees (many millions of which have been planted on such lands), the mind’s eye sees them rather as gravestones…
Indeed there is a ghostly, spectral quality to these paintings; they have a hauntological aspect in that although they are created in contemporary times, they also seem like documents of modernity’s future and past.”
“Intriguingly, some of Edward Chell’s work has been installed in Little Chefs, which are British roadside family cafes/restaurants.
For many British children, these provided a first taste of what are now regarded as American-style burgers and fries…
On now-rare sightings of Little Chefs, they feel like endangered species: a quaint remnant of times gone by before the ubiquity of transnational chains and the utilitarian installations of motorway service stations.
It brings a smile to think of Edward Chell’s work in them, which seems like an apposite, humorous coming together of cultures.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 18 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.