No One Can Own A River

Richard King & Rob St John


No One Can Own A River

No One Can Own A River is a new film work by Richard King & Rob St John.

Inspired by Raymond Williams’ theories of vocabulary and culture, the film examines the themes of King’s book The Lark Ascending to explore received ideas about our national relationship to the countryside.

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‘Nature is perhaps the most complex word in the language’
Raymond Williams ‘Keywords’ (1983)

During research for the book I am currently writing, a history of Wales in the final three decades of the 20th Century, I came across a document prepared by the land reclamation expert D Gwyn Griffiths. Griffiths is something of an unsung hero of the era. His vision for greening the landscape of the former industrial settlements of South East Wales was several decades ahead of its time. Griffiths was one of the first people in a position of authority to suggest that replacing slag heaps, rusting pitheads and abandoned chemical plants with grassland, trees and clean air might be equally restorative to communities as full employment. In the past forty years Griffiths’ replanted Valleys landscapes have flourished, even while their population has suffered economically.

I have also been revisiting Keywords by Raymond Williams, an influential text from the decade in which Griffiths was at his most active. For this new film, the narrative themes of my last book, The Lark Ascending, were placed in the context of Williams’ ideas in order to identify a series of keywords at the heart of the book’s subject matter. Each of these words were subsequently matched with an image from A Welsh Perspective On Land Reclamation On Land In Wales And Elsewhere, a visual document D Gwyn Griffiths had prepared for a lecture on regeneration.

Rob then took these images and projected them into an upland stream near his home in the Trough of Bowland, Lancashire. Under a starry night sky in late Summer, Rob filmed the images as they were projected onto the water. The current of the stream became as significant a character as the words and images. An historic idea of a communal future is experienced amidst the downstream currents of our present. Water bound insects make occasional appearances as the flow of water strengthens and disturbs the projection. In Keywords Williams wrote that nature is ‘perhaps the most complex word in the language’.

This film is the third collaboration between Rob and me. The first was a walk undertaken for the The Lark Ascending; the second, a brace of films commissioned by The Barbican Centre, which included narrations from the book. Each collaboration can be seen as a creative exchange between the landscapes of our homes, in rural Mid Wales and rural Lancashire respectively. Each work is also an examination of how landscape is experienced at first hand and in plain sight, in its visible geography. The latter is a word that would have doubtless stirred Williams’ interest.

This short film is dedicated to D Gwyn Griffiths, who died of Covid19-related symptoms earlier this year.

Richard King, Mid-Wales, 2020.


Richard King‘s books include ‘How Soon Is Now?’, ‘Original Rockers’ and ’The Lark Ascending’. He is currently writing a history of his native Wales during the second half of the Twentieth Century. He is published by Faber & Faber.

Rob St John is an artist and writer based in rural Lancashire. His practice is focused on the blurrings of nature and culture in contemporary landscapes. He works primarily with sound, moving image and installations. His work, usually based on slow, sustained periods of sited fieldwork, has been seen/heard at Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert Museum, The Barbican, The Lighthouse, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, and many others.

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