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Art inspired by journeying solo through the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps.  Solo show by Helen Elizabeth Kuumbi, The Cells, Plymouth 2019

Mountains are beautiful and life is confusing 

Memories of a pilgrimage

An aeon of time and a mountain of mass, the sublime beauty of  a landscape unmeasurably vast and I am at its mercy. I went for a drive because I had never seen the alps before

Nature never speaks in foreign tongues. I am alone and a thousand miles from home. As the input of language falls silent my mind runs riot with inner dialogue. The seat of awareness transfers to feet and hands and eyes and lungs. I inhabit the tips of my fingers, the balls of my feet and every muscle fiber in between. Exhilaration, exertion, disconnect and reconnect. 

Colour reverberates around the belly of a canyon that has sliced through an aeon with ineffable cumulative force​.  I have travelled alone for 3,000 miles across five countries. I have spent my time driving, walking, observing or drawing and pushing my physical and psychological endurance to the limit. 

Can I condense the essence of the mountain to exacted, minimal forms? Can I mesh the multiple narratives of the personal and collective experience and the evolution of a  landscape? 

It took a number of days for my mind to become accustomed to not only the solitude but the immediacy of my situation. I detached from past and detached from future and found a present closer than I had known for many years. Through the simplicity of day to day living my perceptual awareness of my close environment grew.


In this mind state  a purer freedom was achieved. A free from the anxieties of social judgement and observation, a free from the longing of belonging, free from the need to justify ones choices and a free from the void of the future. 



Trees dip extended limbs into the river, the water sings in harmony with the unseen bird, life bubbles on.

 The commercial sprawl of out of town colonizes the countryside; acres of none-town anti pedestrian limbo. 

Next I  enter a Van Gogh where the trees are painted and characterful.

More trees, click-happy trees in a sombre palette of burnt umber and hooker green.

Moors but electric fences and barbed wire. Cows don't roam . Deflated and sleep deprived, I am waiting to feel like I'm here. That is all I have to report for today

* ** * 
How do I learn to disconnect? I must conquer the remaining fears which are the eyes and words of disapproval or disagreement, they perceive wrong doing yet my heart is to please. But this is a nothing  fear; what is the consequence?  A judgment by strangers with emotional charge can disrupt and dislodge my sense of peace and words intrude in my mind. So remedy that - it is within your power, it is all happening in a space they cannot enter. Learn to close the door. 


 I am happy and fearless when facing the open land but shy from the people.  Hold fast your own  belief: people will disagree not because you are doing any wrong but because you are being something that they are not  can not be. Use the vacant spaces just as you burn discarded wood and wear a thrown away jumper. You came to be like a fox, a bear, a pigeon, a spider a flea. In that same lottery with no instruction or conditions of contract. You had no say in the drawing of borders or regulation of society. If i do no harm just let me be. 


As I drive on I am overwhelmed by hysterics that take physical forms, a laugh unrestrained and provide animated self commentary;

' what the fuck , what a daft idea, what the fuck are you up to… isn’t it great'

. The sun beats, the perfect blue juxtaposition to the rape-seed yellows, the avenues and blue lines of horizon. Dreaming is a dangerous idea but realising dreams that have been so long in incubation paints creates such highly intense, tangible and lucid sensory experiences that the emotions are overwhelmed. I am on fire. I am in tears. 

The underlying geology, the aeons of creation. The pre-occupations of human social constructs are insignificant here.  I woke up overlooking the valley town, with a vista greater than anyone below me, pine aroma and rugged grass buffered up against the volcanic rocks. I walked, I ran because I could. My hands and face are cold but my body sweating. The mountain sides are unconquered by civilisation and agriculture.  I shall run some more today. 

Mountains, moors, gorges and rivers so stunningly crafted and beautiful, this whole venture is worthwhile regardless of my forward journey. It could end here or go on forever. The valleys widens and lush greens swathes , red roofed huddles of crumbling buildings, a micro climate of heat and sun, dusty fields. Then we rise back into winter. I control the seasons. 

I saw the alps - eyes unclouded, mind excited and body exhausted, so quickly I adjust to sense of scale. 

The mountains are ever presence as the people scuttle underneath oblivious, the senses are easily overwhelmed by the density of stimuli and the frequency of change. Are the tears the only reaction to the odd mix of exhaustion, fear, exhilaration, disbelief, wonder and completeness.  Life delivers more beauty, every moment is a blessing. I have to stay here a little longer because every turn in the road delivers an overwhelming view so real, so sublime , so beautiful that I must just allow myself to catch up. 

Do not fear to tread upon the grass where feet have yet to wear a path. 

Red and yellow sunrises by daily reward. Mist like whispers, ribbons.


I am the most alone  have ever been, the most removed and void of human contact, my phone has not worked the whole way through Switzerland. it was at best an emergency call get-out in France. I thought I'd do wifi in cafes but those places soon represented a threshold I did not want to cross. I will stay an outdoor person. 

I am the most alone I have ever been,   I am the least lonely I have ever been. 


Ultra-perception, I see every pine cone on the forest path, all the way down, outlined and vivid, I do not listen I just hear everything- cracks, rustles, cries, drips – sounds  pulsate from my feet to  the horizon.  Every form is equal and without schema, every sound is merely a shape , a wave and not defined by a probable source. It is a fantastical piece without structure or melodic line, moment by moment harmony. The impressions are whole and complete, the whole projection in a heartbeat and a foot step. I see more than if I were to stop and look as I descend the mountain path, free from conscious direction.

(walking in the mountains without a map) 

I pushed myself to my physical limits and past a  rational sense of danger, walking alone up and up to find the waterfall I saw at first light, it held the dawn.  A temple. A temple at twilight and dawn. 

Crossing the land slide, scattered bodies of pine, matchstick soldiers in the rubble.

Finding my return path cut off I make for a dam whose service road leads me to the pass,  

hitching a lift. Postman Dan. 

There are creatures here. They cross ahead and dissolve. 


I 've lost my bank card. I think that's ok now.  My battery hungry pay as you go  has been near useless with no data, a few text messages that keep bouncing. That's ok too. An excuse. I Am almost out of money, it is reserved for fuel only now. I have enough pasta and oats. 
I sit by a river,  there are polyphonic layers of melody, the distance separating frequencies across the lie of the surface towards the other bank. I  see the river in forms of musical structures. 

Drive, drive drive. German customs ransacked my van on the autobahn and I quit early , shaken. 

One day it will be a story to tell. Get across the border first. 

Fucksake, Drumroll: new challenge: what will run out first time or money?

Tank below empty when I pooled my change and got another seven euros of fuel in, yet to hit the familiar Roscoff road and feigning naivety at the tolls (sorry, shall pay in couple weeks).


Road closure fucked timings, twenty minutes to departure, 40km to go and no fuel. I see the ferry still sat there from the top road I sing and laugh.  I roll on , the last vehicle , 5 minutes after scheduled departure,  have to get someone to meet me with fuel the other end. 

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