DAN SHIPSIDES - Touchstone Press release




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Press release:


Echo Valley / A Guiding Dilemma

Dan Shipsides

Opening Saturday 17 th May 7.30 - 10 pm

Gallery times Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 5 pm .

Patrick Street , Derry , BT48 7EL
Telephone +44 (0)28 7130 8080 Fax: 028 7136 4055

Touchtone test piece
is an exploratory art project based around climbing with a blind person.

Artworks, Echo Valley and A Guiding Dilemma, made through this activity are exhibited at the Void Gallery, Derry . 20 th May to 20 th June.


“I have no sight at all - so I didn't have any fear climbing – it probably helps not to have any idea of what 20metres looks like from above. As long as it feels safe I enjoy the climbing and I don't have any fear - it doesn't come into my mind. The only time I'm scared of heights is in my dreams.”

Over the last fifteen years Dan Shipsides has developed an art practice which uses climbing to think creatively about the spaces around us - in particular landscape spaces and ideas about what landscape is or could be.

Over the last few years he's been taking John, a blind man from Derry , climbing regularly. This activity has been aimed at thinking how to capture or describe something of this landscape experience. One approach to achieve this was by attaching tiny micro cameras to John's fingers, backpack and feet in order to record “finger tip” footage of his climbing. The cameras used were a mixture of low to mid grade monochromatic and colour lenses depending on encumbrance in terms of where they are placed. This produced an interesting grade range of video footage - some clear and wide framed and some close-up and abstracted by varying light levels.

The approach is based on the idea that, whilst sight is crucial to making it easier, climbing isn't primarily about sight. It's as much about movement and physicality.

Landscape as a cultural idea is very visually based. This project set out to conceive of a visual landscape which avoids some of the organizing principals of sight and to seek to visualize a tactile relationship between the body and its environment.

Echo Valley
is a multi screen video installation which presents John climbing Little Bootie (Grade S / 4). It screens in real time (32mins long) and contains close-up otherworldly footage from John's fingers and feet - seeking out holds as well as wider footage from cameras on his backpack giving a sense of the body's vertical height, balance and movement.

A Guiding Dilemma consists of video works, text and photography which include the wider aspects of the activity; conversations and the fun, human stuff.


The climbing took place indoors at St. Colmcilles in Derry, outdoors locally in Donegal and on trips further a field, including a 6 day trip to Costa Blanca where we climbed at Echo Valley , Sella and Sierra de Toix.

“Indoors, it was fascinating to see how John was climbing at a high technical level because he didn't use the easier options that a sighted novice climber would have sought out and used. Philosophically and practically this might translate to other experiences, as John described, ‘… It's about using the clues you do get - as best you can. It doesn't mean you have superhuman skills. We're all the same we just get more or less clues – it's about how you use them.'”

As the project progressed the aims changed as it was realized that the original aims about the cameras “forming” the landscape through John's searching physical climbing activity alone didn't reflect the whole experience picture.

‘…early on in the project, as the whole activity became more personalized and human, I realized that this was too narrow an approach which treated John almost as if he was a paint brush. We realized was that the landscape was as much about how John and I interacted (and his friend Gerard and guide dog Voss), and what our activity was in these places as much as it was about the ‘finger-tip' footage.'

To reflect this, other methodologies also shifted and wider contextual material started to be included. It also led to an ethical shift which concerned whether or not to give guiding information to John as he climbed - because until then guiding communication during the climbing had generally not been allowed - with the problematical aim of keeping John's climbing experience “pure”. This shift allowed them to explore and include the wider scope or reality of the project – including how they negotiated logistical and conceptual issues and the fun, social and problematic aspects.

These issues seem to chart underlying and wider debates around art and landscape such as; What is landscape?, How does it relate to actual experience? and Whose landscape is it?

The project aims to develop new ways of thinking about landscape based on the experiential. It seeks to develop methodologies based around complex and engaged processes and find ways to present different aspects of landscape or spatial narratives.


‘As an artist it gave me a process of generating new material and ideas. But also John was able to do something new to quite an extensive level. But it's important for me to say the project wasn't about giving a blind person access to climbing (John would have done that if he wanted anyway) but that the project was about finding new ways of working and reflecting this experience as landscape.'

This project was funded by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) under its Landscape and Environment programme and supported by the University of Ulster Art & Design Research Institute.

Opening Saturday 17 th May 7.30 - 10 pm

Gallery times Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 5 pm .

Patrick Street , Derry , BT48 7EL
Telephone +44 (0)28 7130 8080 Fax: 028 7136 4055


Link back to Void exhibition

Link back to Touchtopne intro page