University of Nottingham

Touchstone test-piece

Project outline

Within Touchstone Test-Piece, Shipsides climbed regularly with John, a blind man. The project aimed to develop ways to capture something of this landscape experience, including attaching micro cameras to John's fingers, backpack and feet so as to record 'finger tip' footage of the climbing.

This project started with the idea that the climber's landscape is not predicated on the priority of sight but on a balance of senses. Climbing in this context expands the tactile and physical experience of landscape whilst also embodying a level of problem solving and creativity and demanding interpersonal partnership, negotiation and co-operation. This research aimed to explore a phenomenological based experience of landscape through rock climbing with a blind person. This enabled the project to develop visual landscapes or spatial narratives that were not predicated on the directing or organising principles of sight.

View of Echo Valley View of Echo Valley 


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 didn't reflect the whole experience and therefore alone was inadequate in addressing the research process and concept.

'…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. Researcher's reflective notes. 

To reflect this, the methodological focus 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 then also the fun, social and problematic aspects. These wider methods became more dialogical and included conversations around their climbing, concepts of landscape and their everyday activity. Climbing in this more expanded understanding forms a useful methodology because it expands the tactile and physical experience of landscape embodying a level of problem solving and creativity within a social dynamic of two people acting together. 

Finally there was a resolving research process that explored how to present this material in a way which was appropriate to the methodological outworking. So through studio based development and through a number of exhibitions, screenings and writings the research underwent several experimental approaches to presenting video and text works in an exhibition format.

'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.' Researcher’' reflective notes.


The project has several artwork based outcomes:

  • Echo Valley (32min, mutli-channel SD video installation). There are two versions of Echo Valley - one utilizes 6 screen and one 4 screens) 
  • Dolerite Solarized Pigmatosis (12min twin channel SD video) 
  • Guiding Dilemma (14min single channel SD video). 
  • Blind Landscape texts (5 texts consisting of 18 A0 size sheets which are wall hung)

These have been widely disseminated, having relevance across fields such as visual arts, geography, blind interest groups and outdoor sports/pursuits.


Ongoing influence

The research outcomes will continue to build a track record of exhibition, presentation and citation as the works are shown and toured nationally and internationally over the coming years.

Since the conclusion of the project, Shipsides has developed new art projects which further focus on rock climbing as a research frame for art and landscape. For example, 'Radical Architecture' (2007) charts social and cultural change through an analysis of rock climbing in the Peak District. Vertical Nature Base (2011) and The Cove (2012), (Legacy Trust funded projects) with Echo Echo Dance Theatre which both developed the collaborative methodologies grounded in Touchstone Test-Piece to look at embodied ways of working in landscape.

Concurrently Dan Shipsides and Neal Beggs formed the collaborative climber / artist duo Shipsides and Beggs Projects which combines the processes of climbing and making art embodying Picasso and Braque’s description of ‘two artists tied to the same rope’.

Touchstone Test-Piece project findings remain available to the wider public on Dan Shipsides' website (still live as of Feb 2014).

Award details

Duration: October 2006 - September 2007 (12 months)

Principal Investigator:
Mr Daniel Shipsides

Higher Education Institution:
Belfast School of Art, University of Ulster


Outputs from the project included a number of artworks as well as publications.



Shipsides, D (2011) Dan Shipsides screenings: Abrons Art Center, New York 2011

Shipsides, D (2009) The Munter Hitch. Two person exhibition, GTG Gallery, Belfast.

Shipsides, D (2008) Echo Valley / A Guiding Dilemma. Solo Exhibition. Void Gallery, Derry-Londonderry.

Shipsides, D (2008) Embedded. Group exhibition. Gimpel Fils Gallery, London.

Shipsides, D (2008). Leap of Faith. Summit Magazine. 52: 52-53. Online PDF file icon

Shipsides, D. (2008). Art of climbing. Summit Magazine. 49: 18-20.


Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071