Uncanny Portals And Standing Stones (Children Of The Stones, The Owl Service and Barbara Hepworth) – Part 3.

Part 1. Part 2.

The Eeriness of Landscape Entities.

The final aspect to assess is the natural eeriness created from putting an object within a landscape; here, it is the context of such an action and implications of the aesthetics that is key.  When Hepworth’s work is situated in the landscape, two things can occur.  The first is that the link between the work and the natural inspiration that created it can be made, especially if put next to specific topographical formations as in the Figures In A Landscape film.  The second is that, if potentially observed by a viewer (and this is hypothetical now that her work is both valuable and delicate), that the singular viewing would be an eerie happening in that it implies the unseen presence of another person (i.e. the same relationship that coming into contact with antiquarian objects can sometimes have).

This is perhaps a more obvious trait in the work of Henry Moore than Hepworth simply because he made more large scale work designed and suited for dealing with outside elements such as the weather.  In David Sylvester’s book on Henry Moore for Arts Council England, he suggests that, in Moore’s later work, “the landscape imagery is more deliberately cultivated than before.” (1968, p.37), where the artist has played a strong editorial hand in its evocation.  Moore’s work is separate in some ways because it is usually less abstract; there is humanity, bodies and animism within his work rather than just angles, shapes and shades evoking topology.  But the placement of it within the landscape automatically influences the perception of that landscape as well as channelling it through a specific point and vortex of interest.

In terms of television, this potential towards the eerie is expressed largely for pulp means but it is no less effective in doing so.  Implying the presence of unseen people or characters is, after all, one of fantasy’s and horror’s many tricks within its narrative arsenal.  In Children Of The Stones, this relationship is slightly skewed in that Milbury (and Avebury) are built around the standing stones and therefore remove the potential for the sinister implication of the unseen.  The narrative therefore has to move this horrific eeriness to other elements such as the very characterization of the people living around the stones; it is not the people unseen that Adam Brake and his son must fear but the people very much in plain sight joyfully repeating “Happy day!” in a world without good or bad.

Again, The Owl Service is a better example to look at in terms of this idea as it is the stone that actually breaks the perceptive illusion of lonely isolation by acting as a portal to see the unseen person (see the previous section).  The stone is the object whose presence induces a priori visions of the past, later to be explained through the folkloric elements of Bloddeuwedd; by seeing the stone, the viewer also sees the presence of past people and it is these figures which often haunt Garner’s fiction in particular as well as Folk Horror as a whole.  This begins to surmise the ideas of why stone sculptures were so effective in the 20th century and why standing stones began to invade all sorts of popular culture in the latter half of that century.

In walking these landscapes, there is the potential for a duality of feeling; the simultaneous pleasure of being alone and being reminded that other people have walked the same pathways.  These places have sparked multiple relationships with various walkers and artists, perhaps even in the same vein as Richard Long, where their presence is at first unnerving as the aesthetics of the work evoke some esoterica and the supernatural; humanity as only an inexplicable trace.  But there is positivism within the work as well which is perhaps why, even when used in the eeriest of ways on television (and in film too), there is never a pure malevolence to the stones and the powers they represent; simply a different moral plain where right and wrong are as ambiguous as the level of inhabitation of the places they occupy.


Why do standing stones feature so prominently in esoteric fiction?  This essay has broken down the aesthetics of such a practice into three strands in order to assess the simultaneous success of Hepworth’s sculptures though there are no doubt that there are many more elements to the analysis.  Many of Hepworth’s sculptures imply the polar relation of evoking a landscape indoors, especially in her earlier wooden sculptures.  This is in direct contradiction to the thematic motifs assessed here and is worthy of a separate and detailed investigation.  Yet, more oddly, is how the parallels between the cultural success of Hepworth’s work and examples of pulp popular culture have strong thematic ties.

This essay has been careful to not make any specific claims regarding influence between the works in question as there’s little doubt the connections surmised are of a reception potential rather than a definitive one.  But in spite of this, there is a connecting factor: that of how the landscape manifests in different forms of artwork.  Children Of The Stones and The Owl Service rely on the landscape and its many antiquarian objects to transport, transpose, illuminate and mystify its characters.  While they do this for quite strict narrative outcomes, there’s little doubt that the descriptions could equally apply to many of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures; evoking the uncanny portals to times and places of old.

Adam Scovell

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