Despite all of human evolution, all our ingenuity, we’re stilled trapped in a perilous position. We live out the solipsistic fantasy of homo sapiens on an incredibly thin crust.

Most of that is a wildly unstable and hazardous rollercoaster of earthquakes, volcanoes and violent oceans. Even the places that seem calm and permanent are nothing of the sort. Look no further than Mam Tor – the shivering mountain – or the ever-collapsing cliffs of the East Yorkshire coast. For almost everyone, ‘adventure’ is not about going beyond the frontiers of survival, but finding a more visceral relationship with the land, water and sky that’s close at hand.

I heard recently that careers advisors tell people not to put ‘I love the outdoors’ on their CV, because it’s dull and indistinct. But no-one really listens to careers advice, do they?

Thankfully, the makers of the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (ShAFF) didn’t. This annual event runs at the Showroom Cinema to tie in with the Outdoor City Weekender on 9-11 March, which also includes the Climbing Works International Festival, the Magnificent Seven cycling race and the Howard Street cycling duel. ShAFF celebrates the fact that people don’t just love the outdoors, they also love making films about it. And watching them. And talking about them over a beer. These are the people who are inspired by our precarious relationship with the Earth’s crust.

What do you see when you look at a landscape? You see what you’re looking for, like those inscrutable fishermen who look at a flat, grey ocean and magically see mackerel. Rock climbers are a unique breed of human. They’re constantly assessing the world around them for how they can climb up, round or over it. I may be too inflexible and too scared to climb, but I know that the surface of a rock is as dynamic as the surface of the sea. Rocks don’t really do small talk, but they’re up for a meaningful discussion. They’ve seen a thing or two.

Climbers and adventurers who also make art are ideal interpreters between the rocks and the likes of me. You will likely have seen drawings and paintings by Tessa Lyons, Katherine Rhodes and Joe Mallia, and if you haven’t, you should. They’re all locally-based and they’re exhibiting at the Workstation as part of ShAFF. Their Meet The Artist session on the Friday evening (9 March) should be one of the weekend’s highlights.

Tessa’s work uses contrasts, often in monochrome, sometimes with the strong colours I associate with cave painting. To my eyes, the rock, water and sky in her art is full of faces deep in thought, benign monsters, and trompe l’oeil perspectives into non-existent rooms. Joe’s paintings transport you to those places in the mountains where the rock, the clouds, the snow and the sunlight are practising their dance moves together. And while many of Katherine’s paintings speak of the shifting wonders of the coast, she has mastered printmaking as the ideal way to make you see the same piece of rock in many ways. Her Stanage Edge series is becoming the definitive study of the Peak District’s most remarkable set of teeth.

After several days spent indoors, in meetings, in a flat town, I’m marooned. Just thinking about art that interprets the mountains makes the adventurer in me open one eye, take a deep breath and start packing the kit bag.

shaff.co.uk
tessalyons.co.uk
alifemakingmistakes.blogspot.co.uk
krhodes.net

Andrew Wood