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Life on Mars

Life on Mars is a series of pictures showing my daughter Isabel in places that resonate with a historicity that connects to Bath, the West Country and Georgian and Victorian history. The series show how once working environments have receded into the earth on which they were built, how both the topography and infrastructure is inundated with the idea of the rural and the transformative power of imagination to make a place into something it once was not – an adventure playground for a young child to climb, swing and jump in.

The pictures are from Brown's Folly, a former Bath stone quarry in Georgian and Victorian times. There is a network of caves under Brown's Folly where the Ministry of Defence used the caves and mines to store explosives. In the nineties they pulled them out and burned the cordite, then collapsed the biggest of the caves. The valleys and gullies formed both by the mining and the Ministry storage systems have shaped Brown’s Folly into a series of moguls, a place where decaying  explosive casings fill  a valley floor, where exposed stone surfaces from the mining of rock forms dips for rock climbing and rope swinging.  

Other pictures come from a hand-dug BMX track that has become overgrown through bad summers and low use. It sits between the River Avon and the Bath-London Railway. In the background is Grosvenor Place, a terrace of late regency houses which were to form one side of a huge pleasure garden that would form the entrance to Bath from the east. The land on which the jumps track was worked by engineers building Brunel's Great Western Railway in the 19th Century but now it is used  by dogwalkers and as a diversion for children to run around as the snapdragons and brambles that once ruled over the land gradually reclaim it.

The final location is Warleigh Weir, a Victorian weir on the banks of the Bath and Bristol River Avon. There is a quay by the weir which was once a dropping off point for river traffic and grain merchants dropping off supplies to the local mill. Now the land around the weir is farmland which the landowner allows people to use as a picnic spot for river swimming in the local weir.

Different countries have different responses to liminal places. In North America, apparent expanses of space, urban sprawl and box architecture have a different set of planning laws and preconceptions of space than those in Germany or the Netherlands, a country where even the environment is designed.

In the UK, there is a lack of space and a supposed admiration for idealised rural areas. Life on Mars shows the layer histories that make up so many of these rural spaces and the way in which new generations directly experience and understand landscapes in which the past is embedded.