Ulverston / Whitby: After The Event

2 rainy nights, roughly a month apart, at opposite edges of the country; one in Whitby , one in Ulverston.
Crowds have gathered despite the rain; in Ulverston they are here to see the Oss and associated effigies , hear the Harmonica and the Human organs pipe band, and the ostler's bewildered proclamation..
In Whitby a couple of hundred are mustered to march. I was there; it may go down the harbour side I thought, above the Penny Hedge, providing a juxtaposition of dancing illuminated willow and drowned, unseen hazel staves. 
By 6 It didnt look promising; I watched the wind pull on the bin-bag surface  of the harbour water from the dining room of the Jolly Sailors, (Sam Smiths. No mobiles, no screens, no swearing please) ate and went back to the digs to get a coat , returning just in time to miss the parade as it crossed the bridge. 
And then back up Grape Lane it came,  a fleet of tissue and withy lifeboats cresting the shoulders of the kids that made them; pyramids, an abundance of hi-viz, we watched them cross over the bridge and around the old Nat West and back to the square where the plan was to switch  on the Christmas lights.
These are young events,  taking root, growing slowly, acquiring some trappings and jettisoning others , feeling their way to the familiarity and consistency that sits at the heart of tradition.  
      All ritual and ceremony does this, but it takes time (3 iterations  according to my friend the storyteller Ian Douglas) and the thing you can't  graft onto any new attempt at establishing tradition is the dynamic of tradition itself ; the gradual assumption of a format or a protocol or the moment on the way to that point where (say)the church co-opts it, or where the secular reasserts itself; or where the founders -village lads, bored with  mushrooms and horse skulls -walk away and other, sober, hands take it on. 
The work is done over decades;  each slow procession through the streets is a footstep in an incremental procession through time, 
the prism through which tradition is viewed.

Ritual or ceremony  requires  a witness rather than an audience.

But the border between ceremony and performance  blurs over time. Events become public property. The Whitby Horngarth is a good example;  until recently  memory (and memory of memory) was still the sole repository of centuries of activity on the north wall of the harbour.  The Horngarth -the event itself - was annually  reconstructed from the knowledge of those who delivered it. Now, photographs and moving image provide a reference point. With  younger events,evidence is  put into service as an accelerated equivalent to the accumulated layers of experience, protocol and lore  that are characteristic of established practices. 
Get it wrong and your event becomes schlock; the product of other products,  contrived primarily for the purpose of being recording. The balance tilts further towards performance, before the last notes have faded the documentation and re-shaping of the experience of those present has begun.

Fast cuts, filters applied to footage,  lo-performance recording devices can transfer a moment to a desired space between the past and the present, cladding it in the characteristics of other remembered media events and archive material  that inspired it. 
These  are part of a process of circumvention by which the document becomes the product, where attendance and participation are less important than the archived presence of an edited version of the event.

 The cladding of the present in the grain and textures of earlier times betrays an impatience to line up alongside perceived ancestors and classic texts. To achieve the trappings of longevity without the need to endure. To be authenticated by association with the past. It betrays a neurosis; that without foregrounding these associations the Work -In-the -Moment can't be validated.

 Truth To Materials extends to the way we record things. In that Moment...there is no filter at work, no 2-D glasses to wear. Documentation can reflect this; the best of these images capture the undeniable rough edges that still snag these events as they take their  first uncertain self-conscious steps away from the realm of simulacra; we see complicit laughter in the oldest faces and in the youngest a delight in being out after dark and having the run of the place.
Things like that keep things like this happening.

Ulverston Oss Night
Images by Lindsay Ward Photography
Field Video by Jacob Brown

Whitby Lanternnight images by John Hall


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