Andrew Black’s On Clogger Lane, 2023, takes a deep dive into the historic landscape and socioeconomic entanglements of the Washburn Valley in Britain’s rural heartland between Otley and Harrogate in Yorkshire. The hour-long film, which was made as a result of the Glasgow-based artist’s winning the Margaret Tait Award, Scotland’s prestigious moving-image prize, excavates the site’s history, exposing how capitalism has posed an unwavering threat to the land and those that inhabit it. Using interviews and archival footage combined with exquisite atmospheric-landscape shots rooted in the tradition of 1970s folk-horror movies, Black examines how the land can and will pay testament to the violence that’s taken root in its ecology.
The film’s primary setting is the area around a reservoir, a terrain that accommodated hamlets and a church right up until the ’60s, when the valley was flooded and the homes destroyed in order to supply water to the nearby growing metropolis of Leeds. Following the narratives of the land and those that live on it, the film weaves together the histories of witch trials, child labor, farm stock, and the trembling quarries—all sacrificed to the accumulation of capital.
The work is broken into chapters, with headings appearing in hand-scrawled red script. Each headline is a proclamation, perhaps by the reservoir or from the ghosts in its water: UNDER TRANCE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RESERVOIR OR SHE SAW THE DEVIL AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RESERVOIR. In tension with the narratives of the past is another, uncomfortably contemporary one that also haunts the film. The area is now home to Royal Air Force Menwith Hill, an expansive communications ground station consisting of dozens of satellite antenna dishes covered by giant white domes, known locally as “the golf balls,” so unnatural and at odds with their surroundings that they become a rupture on the horizon. The base seems to amplify some constant underlying vibration in the area’s historical landscape, yet Black never lets it dominate—it is just one element in the valley’s multiple complexities. Women-led peace groups have held ongoing protests since the base was opened. These women hold strong to their objection to it and to nurturing the histories of this space, and Black shows clearly how the stories they tell and their continual refusal to let the dominant oppressive narrative prevail sustains the memory of the witch trials whose physical evidence has long been underwater.
In On Clogger Lane Black is showing a history, a painful one, of unacknowledged lives and labor; of places written off; of a land used, consumed, and regurgitated by those who now occupy it. At its core, the film is about class, reminding us that capitalism is not a wholly urban phenomenon but proliferates, too, through our rural idylls. As raw, perhaps dangerous, as his themes may be, Black shows restraint and finds nuance. The film is at times romantic, even nostalgic, but always there is a small shadow, a slight nagging pull, to remind us that we all might one day be at the bottom of the reservoir.