Blog: Emily Nicholl reflects on Jerwood Fellowship - part 1

16 September 2021

Waves slowly ripple onto a sandy beach under a grey blue cloudy sky. It’s probably cold out. One wave crashes slightly more than the others, its white foam creating spray and movement.
Waves slowly ripple onto a sandy beach under a grey blue cloudy sky. It’s probably cold out. One wave crashes slightly more than the others, its white foam creating spray and movement.

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I sit as I have done many times in an evening surrounded by the voice of crows and the movement of trees in my peripheral vision to the side of the computer screen. The wind blows through waves along the branches, the crows making their communal decision of where to rest that night, neighbours bins banging down the steps, a fading light making tracks across the hill. Aware of the soundtrack and the visual cues which have become part of a daily experience of my small landscape this past year. A small boxy flat next to a park, noisy close neighbours, the lives of the others, views and green space.  I have tracked the sunlight as it moves and disappears along the wall from spring to winter to summer. The kind of view which tells us what time of year it is, the kind of light which tells us what time of day it is. I wrote in the first months of the lockdown ‘We live in a sea of green. A submarine in the sky’.


This fellowship has been a time of thinking, considering, listening, learning, decluttering, resisting, unpicking, challenging, beginning, responding.

When I came to the research, it was not expected that we find ourselves in the pandemic environment as we have done. My initial thoughts around our varying relationships to landscape and finding something which might border gardening with outdoor education, adventure sports with live performance, or something in between which considers what a theatrical experience could bring versus simply spending time outdoors, seemed throughout the year ever more relevant. As the experience of the pandemic shone such a bright light on inequity in general, it emphasised the importance of access to green space or land, whilst highlighting the specific inequities of accessing, living near to, having ownership of or having a sense of belonging to that green space.

When I came to the fellowship, it was with the desire to learn about working in a way which was inclusive, would consider a whole variety of ways people experience the world, would be a making process which started by putting the audience at its heart. I also wanted to consider the political for young audiences, perhaps nudging where this boundary lies whilst investigating what is appropriate.

I’m discovering that sensory work seems to perhaps intrinsically be political, whilst also being purely experiential and cultural. In a way it’s not allowed to be apolitical, is it? It centres access, putting it at the beginning of a process and aims to dismantle assumptions or hierarchies. It’s about collaborating as, with and centring disabled artists, communities and people. It listens to ‘nothing about us, without us’ and uses the social model of disability developed by disabled people which recognises that it’s the barriers in society which are disabling, from physical barriers to disabling attitudes or expectations. It collaborates, responds and is in constant dialogue. Within this political work, are there ways in which to include questions of more political nature on other topics which are relevant to this audience of young people?

As things have shifted and changed multiple times I have been extremely aware of the impact this time will have had and still be having on disabled young people and on their families, teachers, schools, carers. We go through this time in a way which seems to place the economy before people, which expects a lot without offering support, which has widened the gap so brightly between those comfortable and those who are faced with more hardship. This year has forced many to slow down, but others have been forced to keep going in extremely difficult circumstances, in a variety of situations.

Time given to volunteering, to community, to support, to conversation, to learning. To worrying, to hoping, to panicking, to disappointment that we are not in fact revolutionising the way we are with each other in society, and that the powers of elitism and the colonial capitalist state are very much still alive. 

Time given to a strange sometimes uncomfortable permission to talk about and also simultaneously realise, how much my own history of chronic illness has impacted my identity and experiences in work and life. I don’t think I fully was even aware, until last year. I cried in acknowledgement of experience whilst reading articles written by chronically ill people and I have not said it out loud very often. With a relationship to a body which wildly fluctuates between extremely able bodied or ill, this year has also been about destabilising the ableism I hold, aimed at others and at myself. This includes unpicking my own privilege or positionality within this experience alongside making work for a young disabled audience when I do not identify as disabled and nor do I have children.

These thoughts and the experience from/of the pandemic have run so much alongside this research period that it is hard to unpick what is what sometimes. It feels even more important that the learning gained from this fellowship expand in to other parts of my daily life, artistic practice, and processes, behaviours and priorities.  I continued over this year, as so many have, to consider the overlapping roles of artist, citizen, neighbour, friend. Sometimes wondering whether the research for this fellowship was actually as much about changing my own perspectives and growing into the ‘how’ of a practice, as it was working towards live performance.

Image 1: At dusk and under a grey blue light, the tips of faraway mountains are softened by wisps of mist and cloud

Image 2: The same image, but the photograph has been taken with purposeful movement. Clouds and edges are blurring with a sense of movement from right to left. Wispy clouds whizz by.

Research for the seed idea for performance I came to the fellowship with, has moved between writing, dancing, filming the wind in landscapes, photography, conversations, reading, listening, walking, moving, aiming to consider a wide and diverse range of thought around our varying relationships to landscape, ecology or the natural world from the political to the sensory and all that is overlapping. I also aimed to disrupt hierarchies, in many senses of the word, of the senses and of ‘accepted’ behaviours or movements. Laying the vertical onto its side. Laying down with it, at its different parts. Seeing where we grow and what we grow from, what we must tend, where we must listen and where we must lead. Learning from those who do this already. Questioning things like working from the audio/hearing/sound first to create show/visuals/choreography, rather than visuals first and audio describe after? Wondering what else makes choreographies other than creating for visual interest in performance? A second blog will explain these reflections more. 

Image 1: A close up image of brown grass poking through snow and frost taken from close to the ground. The grass is lit by the sun and it and the snow sparkles. In the distance more grass continues off into the distance.

Image 2: This image has been taken with purposeful movement in the camera. It looks like a landscape blurring by out of a fast window and all edges are soft. The lower half is off green fields, then sea, then mountainous islands in the background under a white blue sky at dusk.