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Ryan Skelton: Land Swallow
Land Swallow, 2018Courtesy of Ryan Skelton

Artist Ryan Skelton gets down and dirty in the English countryside

In collaboration with director Saskia Dixie and 12 fashion designers, Skelton explores the link between nature and sexuality

Artist Ryan Skelton has exhibited his latest project, Land Swallow, at Asylum Chapel in London. The launch show featured photographs from his upcoming book, as well as a live dance performance and a film presentation in collaboration with director Saskia Dixie. The Chapel's old-world setting provided a fitting backdrop to the project, a transcendental journey which Skelton himself describes as ”an erotic pilgrimage into England's womb.”

Shot in the English countryside, the book is about – in Skelton's own words – ”giving up my sexuality and giving it back to the Earth.” In an interview with Dazed, the artist explains: ”Land Swallow was inspired by a quote from Sally Potter's film adaption of Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando. The scene of the quote shows Tilda Swinton dramatically running in full Victorian attire over a misty winter landscape, falling onto the grass, and proclaiming ‘Nature, Nature, I'm your bride, take me!’”

“No machine or human can create the vast scale of beauty and awe that nature and the natural world can manifest” – Ryan Skelton

Thus inhabiting the spirit of Swinton, Skelton explored how his fervent relationship with the English landscape could be performed on camera. “I was captivated throughout the project into researching photography of the different styles of expressionist dance,” the artist recalls. His resulting portraits are often grainy and somewhat self-detached, as if snapped by a distant voyeur; Skelton himself appears caught in a trance, completely oblivious to the camera's gaze. Rather than encouraging an active relationship with the viewer, these photos portray an artist enthralled in a passionate embrace with nature.

”No machine or human can create the vast scale of beauty and awe that nature and the natural world can manifest,” Skelton muses. ”Whenever anyone says to me ‘What is beauty?’ – instead of thinking of a person or fashion, etc, I immediately think of the colours of a flower, the drama of the sea, the power of a tree.” 

Beginning in June 2017, the artist worked over a period of one year in numerous locations across the English countryside. Each month he commissioned a different fashion designer, all of whom he knew personally beforehand, to create a costume that would showcase a particular season in the English landscape. ”Collaboration is vital,” Skelton asserts. ”It is highly important to me because I feel in order to grow as a person, both in work and life, you must challenge and stimulate others and vice versa.” Consequently, as much as they depict Skelton's sensuousness with the natural world, each of his photographs also records a human correspondence between two artists. As Skelton explains, ”another part of the project was trying to create a portrait of the relationship between me and each of the designers involved.”

Of Skelton's collaboration with director Saskia Dixie, he says, ”I was not aware, before proposing the project to Saskia, that she used to train as a professional ballet dancer for many years. We both therefore bonded over our mutual love of dancing and our interest in various dance practitioners and the world of interdisciplinary working methods that these artists utilise.”

With so many different collaborators, and with the perennially unpredictable English weather as its canvas, Land Swallow is like a work of Process Art, in which the end product is a record of many passionate, fleeting, and candid moments. “Being very intimate with different elements of the earth was at times highly challenging because of weather conditions and the material of various elements of the earth, like mud and cold water,” Ryan recalls. ”But it was a rewarding experience, in which I felt I progressed in pushing myself to another territory I did not envision before that I could go to.”

The fashion designers who worked with Ryan are July: Kate Zelentsova (@ekatzelentsova), August: John Skelton (@skeltonjohn), September: Rene Scheibenbauer (@renescheibenbauer), October: Liam Johnson (@liamrhysjohnson), November: Maisie Pearson (@_maisieidapearson), December: Edwin Mohney (@edwin_mohney), January: Harry Pontrefract, February: Celia Calderon Asensio (@c.calderonasensio), March: Steph Linn (@itlot), April: Alisa Ruzavina (@ruzalisa), May: Joel Quadri (@joel_quadri