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© 2003 sage publications London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi vol 3(1) 67–81 DOI: 10.1177/ 1468797603040531
‘The tug of danger with the magnetism of mystery’
Descents into ‘the comprehensive, poetic-sensuous appeal of caves’1
Sarah G. Cant
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
abstract This article focuses on the leisure pursuit of caving and those who participate in caving (cavers), to explore how some cavers have constructed caving as a pursuit that is highly sensuous, disrupting conventional constructions of the ‘heroic’ ﬁgure of caver. The article locates the practice of caving within a broader context of outdoor recreation, identifying how caving has been constructed culturally, highlighting dominant ideas about heroic physical pursuit and underground adventure. However, the physical geography of rock and spaces affects how a human body may encounter and experience caves, shaping sensuous and intimate underground knowledges, and caver subjectivities; sometimes revealed in creative and highly evocative ways. The article examines work by David Heap and Ian Chandler that demonstrates ‘a love of caving’; they articulate ideas of intimacy and relations between humans and environments through literature and sculpture, challenging dominant stereotypes, suggesting very particular physical, embodied, emotional and thoughtful geographies. keywords adventure caving embodied-sensuous experiences intimacy leisure outdoors physical sculpture subjectivities
The Rift Traverse I’ve set the body in motion with a sway and conﬁdent notion The rift is blacker below and its depth considers go-slow Three from four connections each on precarious sections Momentum thwarts the gravity as ﬁngers ﬁnd a nip cavity Friction impersonates a hold this is no time to drop, I’m told 67
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A widening reaches apart a cross, muscles extend with decreasing loss Here’s a restriction to slope in decline to squeeze in suspension, that’s ﬁne It’s easy along with rhythm and style taking height away all the while The ﬂoor develops in the chemical light and a lasting step stomps in delight. (Ellis, 1998: 9)
Ellis’ poem presents an evocative account of a cave explorer, illustrating beautifully the rhythmic motion of a human body as it makes contacts within and moves through a space that is more widely appreciated above ground in physical geography, the rift.This poem relishes bodily actions of muscles ﬂexing and extended limbs moving through darkness, side-to-sideways movements, carefully negotiating an underground rock face, constructing a precarious space informed by an intimate knowledge of caves and embodied experiences of caving. The poem also draws attention to the ways in which a human experience of caves is connected to a physical geography of holes in the ground.The physical geography of rock and spaces affects how a human body may encounter and experience caves, shaping sensuous and intimate underground knowledges. As a speciﬁc kind of space within which human leisure sometimes takes place, caves provide a space within which ‘the physical’ may be explored multiply. This article focuses on the leisure pursuit of caving, a type of outdoor recreation that involves venturing underground into some of the darker recesses within the natural environment – the exploration of caves (e.g. Bedford, 1985; Lyon, 1983). Those who participate in caving are known as cavers. Caving involves a series of very particular physical encounters within a speciﬁc kind of dark space that is unlike any above ground. Recent studies of leisure have sought to address individuals’ embodied experiences and geographies (e.g. Carter, 2001; Crouch, 1999; Macnaghten and Urry, 2001), and drawing on a wider context of outdoors leisure (Matless, 1998; Morris, 2001; Taylor, 1997), this article examines cavers’ accounts of cave exploration to explore how some cavers have constructed caving as a pursuit that is highly sensuous, disrupting conventional constructions of the ‘heroic’ ﬁgure of caver. Caves are hidden places; we learn of them as cavers return to the surface, translating and narrating their explorations vividly through stories and images. Many of these accounts suggest ‘tough’ masculinities and an underground heroics over nature – a nature that is frequently feminized, bound within traditions of bodies and earth (e.g. Merchant, 1980).2 They describe an extreme environment and the bodily discomfort their pursuit often leads them through, but amidst such constructions of masculinist heroics, are more diverse, personal subjectivities. David Heap suggests that such relationships between cavers and their love of caving are best described as ‘intimate’. For Heap this relationship is
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intimate because he knows caves well. He has caved in ‘all conditions of weather [and] in many different states of mind’ and ‘always wants to go back’ (Heap, 1964: 9). Intimacy is a wonderfully suggestive and evocative word to describe relations between humans and caves: closely acquainted, familiar, secret, innermost, deep. But ideas of intimacy may disrupt ideas of ‘toughness’. Combined with cavers’ individual subjectivities, intimacy suggests complex sensuous relations underground. In this article, I explore some of the intimate spatialities of caving, connecting multiple ideas of ‘physical’. I focus upon the sensual delights of caving that reveal engagement of the whole-body in the deliberate human activity of cave exploration; and I explore a poetics of caving that ﬂux between human geographies of exploration and encounter, and physical geographies of space within rock: limestone, water and calcite. Accounts of caving reveal relational understandings of bodies and environments that dwell on the human-ness of a subterranean physical geography. I begin by locating the practice of caving within a broader context of outdoor recreation, and then turn to look at how caving has been constructed culturally, focusing on ‘the tug of danger’ to identify a particularly dominant idea about heroic physical pursuit and underground adventure.This physical pursuit is then placed within the physical environment of caves; however, as different ideas of the physical begin to overlap,‘dominant’ ideas are disrupted as individual caver subjectivities begin to emerge. Such subjectivities are sometimes revealed in creative and highly evocative ways, and I focus on the work of two cavers who articulate ideas of intimacy and relations between humans and environments through literature and sculpture. They challenge masculinist stereotypes of cavers as insensitive explorers with little time for the expression of poetics. David Heap and Ian Chandler demonstrate ‘a love of caving’, suggesting very particular physical, embodied, emotional and thoughtful geographies. Their personal experiences of caving are revealed through the words and sculptures they have created to express ‘the comprehensive, poetic-sensuous appeal of caves’ (Heap, 1964: 7).
Caving and outdoor recreation
Caving, the sport of exploring caves, emerged as a popular (albeit minority) leisure pursuit in Britain towards the end of the 19th century. During this period, groups of interested individuals began to organize themselves into clubs and societies with the aim of enjoying organized outdoor recreation; early clubs encouraged members to participate in a full outdoor life, combining caving with ‘kindred’ activities such as mountaineering, climbing and rambling (Yorkshire Rambling Club, 1899). Caving was also incorporated within a broader sphere of adventure, heroic masculinities and exploration (e.g. Martel, 1896; and see Mangan and Walvin, 1987).At a time when Victorian ‘adventurers’ were complaining that places such as the French Alps were becoming
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increasingly crowded with other climbers and tourists, caves were promoted as the perfect local replacement for mountains,
Many persons complain that European mountains are exhausted, so far as exercise and sport are concerned. But let them change this wish to ascend to a wish to descend, and many years will elapse before they have exhausted their own ‘dark playground’ of Great Britain. (Martel, 1896: 121)
At ﬁrst, caving clubs were based in the main cave regions of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Somerset and South Wales (i.e. the areas with Carboniferous Limestone geology, the rock within which British caves are located). During the course of the 20th century, caving clubs were formed in cities such as Birmingham and London (distant from the caves) and in many British universities, with visits to caves taking place at weekends and holidays, and today there are caving clubs in most areas of Britain. Like many other outdoor pursuits, caving was increasingly identiﬁed as a hobby that allowed the city-dweller to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday urban life and reconnect with ‘nature’ (Macnaghten and Urry, 2001). Caving was an activity that allowed the individual to ‘renew’ themselves through healthy exercise within ‘nature’ (Travis, 1935), perhaps by ‘shaking off the conventions of civilization to wallow in mud, squeeze through impossibly small holes and to swing out into some dark abyss’ (Ryan and Mason, 1938). But whilst caving was (and is) often referred to as ‘mountaineering reversed’, caving draws upon a slightly different set of embodied-sensuous and aesthetic experiences to its kindred sport of climbing, that relate directly to physical spaces unlike any found above ground. These experiences are incorporated in the construction of caving as adventurous.
‘The tug of danger’
As an ‘outdoors pursuit’ that takes place under-the-ground, caving is often perceived a bizarre activity by non-participants. Some aspects can make non-cavers shudder with claustrophobic apprehension and a fear of ‘extreme nature’: restricted spaces, ‘bottomless’ depths, fast-ﬂowing water, and ‘weird-looking’ subterranean forms (otherwise known as stalagmites, stalactites and ﬂowstone). However, the apprehensive dimensions for non-cavers are precisely those in which cavers ﬁnd adventure. By seeking adventure through encounters within a natural environment, cavers may be considered part of a far wider leisurely engagement with ‘nature’. In this context, there are many who participate in outdoor leisure pursuits and push their bodies to ‘do very unusual things, to go to peripheral spaces, to place themselves in marginal situations, to exert themselves in exceptional ways, to undergo peak experiences, or to use a concatenation of the senses beyond the normal’ (Macnaghten and Urry, 2001: 2). The most widely recognized examples of such ‘extreme’ embodied experiences are those of mountaineering (McDonald, 2002) and adventure tourism (Cloke and Perkins, 1998).
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Cecil Cullingford claims that caving appeals to the ‘innate human love of adventure’ (Cullingford, 1964). Whilst recognizing that ‘the spirit of adventure is a deplorably hackneyed phrase’, David Heap suggests that for cavers ‘it stands for something real: danger, fear, romance, curiosity, physical exaltation are important components’ (Heap, 1964: 22). Such adventure is seductive and almost tangible; it draws on ideas of extreme experiences, yet, as I suggested above, there is something slightly different about caving (compared with forms of leisure above ground).The construction and experience of the cave environment is key: the adventures of caving take place in darkness (but this is usually a half-dark, shadowy light from cavers’ cap-lamps).The engagement with darkness is a deﬁning aspect of cave exploration – conquering fears of the dark and encountering the un-see-able dark spaces that lie beyond the horizon-like circle of light thrown by a cap-lamp. The engagement with darkness can also play ‘tricks’ on the body,
We turn off our headlamps to experience the ‘ultimate darkness’ that the underworld affords. Jamie explains that the human eye adjusts to the absence of light in three stages. First, you see random ﬂashes of white light as your retina tries to adapt, then colours join the ﬁreworks. The last and most enjoyable stage is hallucination. Wave your hand in front of your face and, although there’s no light to enable your eye to detect an image, your brain pretends to see your swaying hand. It’s the visual equivalent of feeling your ears ringing. (Paton-Walsh, 1999)
There is no natural light underground, and this ‘fact of nature’ is combined with the physical dimensions of caves, shifting senses of enclosure and space, to construct a unique cave environment. Deep pitches (vertical passages) that (sometimes) require much strength to climb a ﬂexible ladder many metres long; low passages may require an individual to move ‘out ﬂat’ to squeeze their body through; narrow ledges above chasms, along which is a tricky traverse (or fall to depths).The inherent sense of danger within this environment is complimented by the construction of a particular body that can encounter and survive such challenging spaces. This testing of bodies, strength and nerves, combined with the male pre-dominance of the sport, have historically, become bound up with constructions of a macho, heroic ﬁgure who can endure almost anything underground:
Deep inside a cave, man [sic] is in a distinctly alien environment. Often he is crawling or even swimming through bitterly cold water whose sole purpose seems to be to suck every last iota of warmth from his body. The rock around him is hard and unyielding, and has a habit of suddenly disappearing from underfoot at some sheer plummet. (Bedford, 1985: 26)
Whilst mountaineers have ‘the view from the top’ as a reward for their efforts, cavers’ rewards are less aesthetic, more practical and curious.The top of a mountain really is the top, all there is to that speciﬁc mountain, but the end of a cave passage may not be ‘it’. A cave passage may simply be blocked – by silt or fallen rocks – and with a bit of help from cavers (digging away the debris), more
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cave can be discovered. What appears to be the end, is not always the end, underground. This thirst for discovery combined with the range of ‘extreme’ experiences develops the construction of an ‘heroic’ ﬁgure that seeks the sensations who is not (too) adversely affected, but is instead rewarded with the ‘thrill of setting foot where no man [sic] has trod before.You enter a new passage, and yours is the ﬁrst light ever to reach those walls’ (Gemmel and Myers, 1952: 119). Paradoxically, whilst the rough physicality of moving through caves does provide a heightened awareness of the body and senses, the soft, ﬂeshy-ness and subjectivities of embodied experience are rarely acknowledged; instead representations of caving experiences are framed in terms of endurance and depths reached, as very matter-of-fact:
There is no comfort where we go, only wet clothes and hard rock till the last man is safely out and we know our work is done. (Derbyshire Pennine Club, 1935)
Caving experiences are framed afterwards, above ground, when telling the tales about the trials and ordeals of underground adventure. The dominant framing of caving identity is through appeals to the endurance and strength – a familiar version of masculinity (Morin et al., 2001; Wearing, 1998) that is embellished underground to incorporate the added difﬁculty of darkness (despite bodies being clothed and equipped in specialist attire, and caving is usually a social pursuit, rarely practised alone). Whilst such constructions of masculinity are by no means unique to caving, some aspects of physical endurance are, and I now turn to examine the cave itself – the space within which this culture of heroics takes place – and start to trace another kind of physical.
A physical geography wrapped in scientific discourse details a non-human subterranean realm of caves, emphasizing a natural, fundamental and creative relationship between rocks and water. ‘Subterranean waters seep slowly through the crevices of the buckled and twisted layers of limestone rocks. These cracks develop into fantastically shaped passages’ (Chapman, 1993). Water infused with calcite drips from ceilings to form stalactites and stalagmites. And ‘down there under the earth, it’s completely dark – not even like a moonless night’ (Judson and Champion, 1981: 9). Caver Tony Waltham suggests ‘there is nothing on the surface of the Earth which is at all similar to this world below’ (Waltham, 1974: 7). In physical geography, caves are cavities in rock. But caves are more complex, not simply empty holes within limestone; the cave is a human space. Deﬁnitions of cave centre on the human body:
Cave Any natural cavity in rock underground or leading underground. Frequently restricted to those openings capable of entry by man [sic]. (Cullingford, 1962: 560)
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Suggestively, without cavers there are no caves. A hidden physical geography of caves is unknown without human deﬁnition, explicitly through bodily presences in the ﬁeld; practices of exploration shape caves, through sensing caving bodies. Understanding the cave through the human body complicates a physical geography of ‘natural processes’, but retains literal subterranean spaces, as the caver enters, transforming them into caves.This implies a reﬂexive relationship between bodies and environments. Human geographers have proposed that ‘bodies and environments reproduce each other’ (Woodward, 1998). But asserting that a particular terrain is produced and reinscribed through a particular type of body (and vice versa) is a simplistic and deterministic construction of a body–environment relational geography, albeit part of a romantic tradition of certain bodies being shaped by certain environments. Robyn Longhurst has suggested that body–environment relations comprise a ‘complex feedback relationship’ (Longhurst, 1997), which complicate and multiply constitute both bodies and environments in less-determined and subtler ways. Amongst heroic traditions of cave exploration, caving reveals an array of experiences, meanings and identities that are not simply deterministic, but expressions of how cultures of caving are produced and performed, subjectivities.The relationship between cave and caver is practised – it involves intentions, encounters and particular bodily movements, methods, and equipment – and above all, it centres upon embodied experiences. In this context, cavers’ reﬂexive body–environment relationship is one that engages with space in an embodied way as the caver encounters, knows and makes sense of their environment. But the caver also ‘makes’ their environment. Cave systems are known as the caver’s body moves through the cave, a deﬁning presence constructing an intimate physical geography of spaces, surfaces and sensations as it makes contact with a physical geography. Stuart Aitken has considered such a phenomenology of caving and suggests
A cave passage is learned and remembered by how we negotiate it [. . .] primarily, the climbs, crawls, chimneys, thrutches and squeezes. (Aitken, 1986)
Here, the cave is ‘made sense of ’ directly.The body relates the textures of caves in particular ways, sensual engagement supplements spatial dimensions; relations between cave and body ﬂuctuate between patterns of contact and non-contact as the caver moves through the space of cave:
The texture of the rocks changes continually; they may feel slimy or soapy, or hard and coarse.There is the jab of sharp rock on poorly protected knees in traverses, the rough ﬁrm, reassuring feel of rope ladders, tightly clenched in the hands and hugged into the chest on long exposed pitches. The feel of tackle, of clothes, of rocks, of squelching mud and cool ﬁne sand are all integral parts of pothole exploration. (Heap, 1964: 7)
Calcite is an exception in the embodied cave; cavers rarely describe touching speleothems, features to avoid and ‘behold’ in a visual subterranean realm.‘Those
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who damage stalactite formations ruin the beauty for all who come by afterwards’ (Cullingford, 1951). In everyday life, Leder (1990) suggests our experience is often characterized by ‘the disappearance of the body from our awareness’. This is partly because vision is often elevated above all other senses and because ‘awareness’ of the individual body often happens only when a body ‘touches’ something else, but here it is not the ‘whole’ body that is ‘aware’, only the body-part affected by impact. As an activity practised (in most cases) ‘away from everyday life’, cave exploration is constructed as an experience which is characterized by a rediscovery of the body, a bringing of somatic awareness albeit in very speciﬁc circumstances. The cave is a dark place – there is no light. Caving is enabled through the use of artiﬁcial light, but it is a partial light with shadows and an unknown darkness lying beyond the horizons of vision. The role of vision is important, but cannot be the only sense to be relied on in the engagement with underground landscape. Ivins (1946) writes of distinctions between ‘the tactilemuscular and visual intuitions’. For example, we are aware of objects, lights, and landscapes visually. We see that objects and subjects may move in and out of sight. As we move or our surroundings move and change, lines of vision shift and we can gradually become visually aware, focused on phenomena. In contrast, when vision is denied, so too is a gradual awareness:
When ﬁnding our ways about in completely dark rooms, tactile awareness for practical purposes is not accomplished by a gradual fading in and out of consciousness, but by catastrophic contacts and breaking of contacts. My hand tells me that something is light or heavy, hot or cold, smooth or rough. [. . .] Tactually, things exist in a series of heres in space, but where there are not things, space even thought ‘empty’, continues to exist, because the exploring hand knows that it is in space, even when it is in contact with nothing. (1946: 3–5)
The knowing of caves is visual and tactile–muscular–sensual in an environment that lacks regular features for geographical orientation (a sun, stars or horizon). Finding your way underground is an exercise in reaching and placing limbs in searches for stable rock, room to manoeuvre (in sometimes restricted spaces) and negotiating ways forward and routes to the surface, through the awareness of sounds, smells and touches. Caving is adventurous through presence, movement, rest and encounter. Such experiences suggest intimate human-physical leisurely encounters with caves, in ways that disrupt the construction of dominant masculinities. I now turn to the writing of caver David Heap, who details his love of caves through highly sensual descriptions of his caving experiences – the allure of mystery and darkness within caves.
Writing, caving and poetic-sensuousness: David Heap
David Heap wrote Potholing: Beneath the Northern Pennines when he was in his mid-twenties. By this age he was already an accomplished and experienced
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caver – he started exploring caves and potholes (caves with vertical entrances) at a young age, with friends. Potholing is effectively an autobiography of caving, and charts a young caver’s underground career beginning with ‘easy’ underground explorations and moving on to ‘difﬁcult’ caves and potholes (that are physically more challenging and arduous to explore). Each chapter describes a journey through a speciﬁc cave or pothole. Heap writes with great enthusiasm for the sport of caving and potholing, capturing experiences vividly, creating the spaces and describing the sensations, with a great sensitivity towards the natural environment. His writing celebrates the intimacies of caving – on many levels – from the social camaraderie to the lonelier spaces of a single body descending a long ladder down into the dark. Whilst Heap’s celebration of his sport gestures towards an idea of heroic encounter, his writing of exploration is subtler, paying greater attention to the care and caution that an underground environment may demand. At the same time, throughout Potholing, Heap emphasizes a sensuous appeal of caves, combining a romance of adventure with subterranean aesthetics. He acknowledges the presence of his own body, and describes caves through his own encounters. In Potholing, Heap conveys the spaces of caves powerfully, through ﬁrst hand experience, which is
Captured by frequent references to the raw materials of sensation – sight, sound, smell, movement – which encourage the reader to participate in [the explorers] own synthesis of consciousness and place through the commonest (and most communicative) denominator of all, that of the sensing body. (Foster, 1998: 332)
Heap’s embodied experience of caves and potholes are not static,
For atmosphere changes with natural conditions and human circumstances. It is only partly the beauty of the eye. Not only are the other senses important, but there is always a feeling of mystery and danger, the attraction of uncertainty and of the unknown [. . .]. And always touching everything, is the feeling of cave presence. [Which is] compounded of the power, the dynamism and the harmony of nature, in contrast with the apparent feebleness of a single man [sic]. It is a unity of atmosphere, which may be either hostile or friendly, but which is always digniﬁed and elevating. (Heap, 1964: 3–4)
Connecting humans and environments, Heap celebrates the senses. The visual contrasts of cave size, colour, rock-texture, and decoration, sounds:
The roar of a stream passage [. . .].Well away from the streams, the most striking sound is negative: silence [. . .] yet too much silence is oppressive, and it is comforting change after a while to hear the sound of fellow men. The bite of nailed boot on rock, the jingling of a metal ladder, the human voice. (1964: 5)
The smell of damp limestone contrasts with the scent of damp earth just inside a cave entrance, whilst the taste of water from a cave stream may be ‘lucid and pure’ (1964:7).Through touch, Heap relishes ‘the feeling of wet clothing hanging on the body, oozing, steaming wet’, as ‘particularly satisfying. It gives the idea
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of achievement; it helps to induce a tiredness which is complete and exalting; and at the same time it keeps one awake through animal discomfort’ (1964: 6). Heap reveals an affective ‘conscious embodiment’.The cave is constructed as a particular kind of environment that can affect the body in a multitude of ways. The senses run deeply within the body with an awareness of an emotional subterranean spatiality, as he suggests that
Caves possess [. . .] more than a superﬁcial sensuous appeal; it is something deeper, penetrating beyond the conscious mind into the profound levels of the subconscious. (1964: 4)
Sensations that run deeply into the body, such as fear, excitement and pleasure can shape the spaces of caves; these are the intimate senses that shape caves as sites for adventure, and centre on the speciﬁc nature of the underground environment. In the words of David Hansen:
Darkness is ultimately at the heart of our fear of and fascination with the underworld. Without light there is terror.Yet with terror is the delight of extreme sensation, a form of beauty. (Hansen, 1998: 20)
Heap suggests ‘caving is like good poetry, for it draws on all the senses as much as the emotions’ (1964: 6). More explicitly, Heap combines a physical geography shaped by hydrological history with the presence of caver, to consciously embody and deﬁne cave. For Heap, the emotional spatiality of cave is powerful, particularly those encounters within subterranean stream passages:
When I ﬁrst explored the upper parts of Long Kin Cave as a boy, the sound of the water booming farther ahead had an immense fascination. It was beautiful in its dignity, its power, its remorseless resonance.There are many Yorkshire stream passages like this one. Scalloped ﬁssures seem inseparable from racing streams. This type of cave, especially in ﬂood, is the underworld at its best – not too vast to escape capture by the senses, yet powerful and dynamic. The sound of a roaring stream is among the most exciting music ever created. (1964: 5)
Articulated through complex body-environment relationships between knowing, awareness and danger, such dynamic, powerful yet intimate spatialities construct senses of embodiment that draw upon adrenaline. But whilst the body actively deﬁnes cave spatialities, these encounters do not necessarily construct a deterministic environment–body relationship, as the embodied knowing of caves travels deeper within the body to shape caving subjectivities. I now turn to the creativity of Ian Chandler, who expresses his identity as a caver and embodies his love of caving through the creation of metal relief sculptures of caves that are based on his passion for the physical activity and emotional experiences of cave exploration.
Sculpting, caving and poetic-sensuousness: Ian Chandler
I’ve met Ian Chandler on a number of occasions, and refer here to an interview that took place in July 2000.3 Chandler began exploring caves as a teenager in
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the 1960s, and enjoys the sport of caving – taking part in explorations, the physical bodily challenges, and the sociability of caving. Since the mid-1990s, he has developed his artistic interests through caving. His sculptures are creative expressions of his experiences, emotions and understandings of caves and caving. I asked if any particular aspect of caving or particular encounter with cave inspired him to be creative. Chandler replied that it started simply, experiencing the natural underground environment:
I’m very impressed with the wilderness of caves, and together with the wilderness you have wildness. [. . .] So really it is the aspect of the cave environment ﬁrst of all which really attracts me – I love the cave environment. I could go and sit there for hours and such.
For Chandler, caving encourages self-reﬂection of his identity, both inside and outside the cave. It provides an opportunity to ﬁnd out about himself and develop satisfaction with life, physically and metaphorically, and this element of reﬂection and experience underpins his art. I asked Chandler if he felt his experience of caves and caving had changed since he began sculpting. He replied:
Oh, yes. It has changed. I used to go caving as sport, I used to go caving to express my body and with some people, a crowd of mates or whatever, who are thinking in the same way. But now, it’s made me think far more about caves and their role in the world [. . .] Got far more involved, interested in conservation, [. . .]. I’ve also come to think more of caves as a representation, and to use things as I say about emotions, about life and so on.
Chandler works with metal, a tactile, malleable medium, yet one that permits visualization of both the hardness of rock and the effect of light shining upon water and rock in a solid, structural and textured form.The sculptures are based upon an opened-up view of the cave environment (some could almost be considered as cross-sections of passages). Though simple in form, many pieces of Chandler’s sculpture are dynamic, suggesting a sense of movement as the metal catches light in different ways – an effect that evokes a sense a caver moving through a passageway, cap-lamp picking the way through water-worn spaces. One of his favourite pieces is an impression of the cave Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. As he spoke, he gestured with his hands, making a bowl-like shape: ‘all it is, is just a curve like that . . . open top, full of solder, sitting on a limestone block, and its just a section of the passageway.To me it’s simple, clear, deﬁned, just what it is, that’s it, yep.’ Chandler sketches and takes photographs whilst caving, but rarely uses such material directly when he creates his sculptures. Such ﬁeld practices permit him to develop his knowledge of caves and record experiences, but this knowledge remains in his mind when he begins to sculpt.When he works with the metal, his senses are transmuted from having seen, explored and remembered the cave, his embodied experience of the speciﬁc cave inspires:
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It’s just in me, just within my sculpture, and it comes out this way. [. . .] Whether that is photographically true or not [. . .] . . . when I start the sculpture, I just let the metal and the materials take me.
The sculptures are about water and space, rock and experience:
If you took a cutaway of the cave, it would be something like that, but not necessarily [. . . For example, the one of] August Streamway – if you’ve been there you think perhaps it’s like that, but it’s pure interpretation.
He sometimes uses different materials to capture his experiences of water in sculptural form:
I like to catch the water; I like to do the water. [. . .] I use solder, [. . .] I enjoy the seamlessness, the ﬂow of the solder, and I play around with it still hot to try and make that water better.
Chandler has suggested previously that his ‘sculpture is always an historical reﬂection’ (Chandler, 1999), and I asked him what he meant by this, and how it related to caving:
Because I’ve been there and it’s my emotional impact at that point in time. [. . .] What I’ve felt that particular cave or part of the cave passage, or the cave was trying to tell me, and my experience within it; [. . .] I just let it come out in the metal and the thumping and the creating of it.
His sculptures have a rich geographical theme, dealing with embodiment, effects of space and place, sensuous spatialities and intimate sets of relations between humans and their environments. His work brings together multiple senses of the physical through its direct engagement with the physical form and shaping of caves that he carries through both his embodied memories of caving experiences and in the material making of his sculptures. Through his work, Chandler acknowledges speleology – an understanding of caving that includes cave science – which he regards as fully part of an embodied-sensuous and multiply physical geography of caves, recognizing subjectivities inherent within caving practices and identities:
Speleology is a combination of the physical science and growth of a cave, together with, the interpretations of other people as well and myself in it, cause I take other interpretations hopefully. But the way then that people start to react, and use that cave in all sorts of different reasons and different ways. [. . .] All these different characteristics, so therefore what I’m trying to do, and I never will succeed, but I will try to through my artwork, is to try and represent that. Speleology.
The ‘heroics’ of exploration are subtle here, shaped and formed within metal sculptures.These metal creations emphasize the physicality of the cave environment, hard rock in hard(looking) metal, but they also draw directly on physical experience – the senses, surfaces and encounters with different caves, with different groups of friends and (as Heap has stated with great fondness) ‘in all kinds of weather’.The intimacies of Chandler’s sculptural practices are tied closely to
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the complex feedback relationships between his body and the cave environment, in many ways.
‘The magnetism of mystery’
A while ago, I participated on a caving trip in the Derbyshire Peak District. Throughout the trip, the leader commented on our surroundings, pointing out a fossil strewn ceiling, other geological observations and hydrological explanations. Our ‘sport’ of caving was infused with ‘science’. The ‘speleology’ that Chandler talked about was everywhere. The immense geological presence of limestone surroundings could not be escaped, but it was also sensed as guidance: ‘feel the wave scallops on the surface of rock – this lets you know which way the water ﬂows underground, handy if you need to get out quick!’ My own embodied experience of caves highlighted the multiply physical ways in which humans encounter and deﬁne caves and caving experiences. Cavers understand caves intimately through constructions of physical geography and the activities of leisurely exploration and science – embodied practices that bring humans into close acquaintance with the surfaces, textures and spaces of caves.Whilst there are many ways in which caving is not so unique (as other kinds of outdoor enthusiasts will tell), there are moments when caving experience heightens awareness of the individual and subjective body, that draw away from the (pre)dominant construction of a certain masculinity which is often reproduced simply (Morin et al., 2001).The construction of caving subjectivities is active and complex, as Heap and Chandler each demonstrate. Through their self-awareness and creativity, they engage carefully and critically with caving cultures to explore the natural environment of caves and the intimate array of experiences, relations, and practices that comprise the recreational pursuit of caving. The sensuous appeal of caves, as highlighted by Chandler and Heap, has provided an opportunity to think more broadly about the nature of ‘the physical’, as a human bodily presence within a particular environment, and set of embodied practices that ﬂux between leisure and science (or perhaps even scientiﬁc leisure). A doubly physical geography of bodies and environments, a ﬁeld of relations, contacts, movements and encounters that reveal intimate spatialities (and intimate relations) within the underground humanly-physical geographies of caves, disrupting the stereotypical and conventional narratives of heroic (underground) adventure through the recognition of subjectivities. The pleasures in caving that Heap and Chandler express reveal ‘the magnetism of mystery’ (Heap, 1964) that caves hold for cavers.
ac k nowle dgeme nt I would like to thank Ian Chandler for allowing me to interview him, and Carolina Brook Shrewsbury for introducing me to the SpeleoArt project and artists at the 13e Festival de Spèlèologie en ˆ de France,Villejuif, Paris (27 November 1999). I would Ile
tourist studies 3:1
also like to thank Catherine Nash and Denis Cosgrove for their helpful comments on early versions of this paper, and the audience in the ‘Seductions and Subjectivities’ session at the RGS-IBG annual conference in Belfast (January 2002) for their questions and discussion. The research for this paper was funded by an ESRC Ph.D. studentship (1998–2001) to study ‘cultural geographies of caving’. Finally, thank you to the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG for awarding a travel grant, enabling me to attend the conference in Belfast. note s 1. From Heap (1964). 2. In Britain, caving has been and remains a predominantly male-dominated pursuit; towards the end of the 20th century, one estimate suggested that approximately four-ﬁfths of British cavers were male (Sidaway, 1988: 6). 3. Interview with Ian Chandler, 13 July 2000. Chandler also writes poetry and publishes under the name Ellis. re f e re nce s Aitken, S.C. (1986) ‘A Phenomenology of Caving’, The Canadian Caver 18(2): 26–9. Bedford, B. (1985) Underground Britain: A Guide to the Wild Caves and Show Caves of England, Scotland and Wales. London:Willow Books. Carter, G. (2001) ‘“Domestic Geography” and the Politics of Scottish Landscape in Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain’, Gender, Place and Culture 8(1): 25–36. Chandler, I.E. (1999) Ellis. Pamphlet circulated at the 13e Festival de Speleologie, en Ile de France, Paris, 18 November, p. 2. Chapman, P. (1993) Caves and Cave Life. London: Harper Collins. Cloke, P. and H. Perkins (1998) ‘Cracking the Canyon with the Awesome Foursome: Representations of Adventure in New Zealand’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 16: 185–218. Crouch, D. (ed.) (1999) Leisure/Tourism Geographies: Practices and Geographical Knowledge. London: Routledge. Cullingford, C.H.D. (1951) Exploring Caves. London: Oxford University Press. Cullingford, C.H.D. (ed.) (1962) British Caving: An Introduction to Speleology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul (2nd edition, revised). Cullingford, C.H.D. (1964), ‘Foreword’, pp. v–vii in D. Heap, Potholing: Beneath the Northern Pennines. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Derbyshire Pennine Club (1935) ‘The Club’, Journal of the Derbyshire Pennine Club 1: 39. Ellis, I. (1998) In Sight of Light. Cardiff:Wild Places Publishing. Foster, J. (1998) ‘John Buchan’s “Hesperides”: Landscape Rhetoric and the Aesthetics of Bodily Experience on the South African Highveld, 1901–1903’, Ecumene 5(3): 323–47. Gemmel, A. and J.O. Myers (1952) Underground Adventure. Clapham,Yorkshire: Dalesman Publishing Company, and London: Blandford Press. Hansen, D. (1998) ‘Hole’, Art Monthly Australia 115: 19–23. Heap, D. (1964) Potholing: Beneath the Northern Pennines. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Ivins,W.M. (1946) Art and Geometry: A Study in Space Intuitions. New York: Dover Publications. Judson, D. and A. Champion (1981) Caving and Potholing. London: Granada.
Cant The tug of danger
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