Stirring Up The Ghosts

The Power of Water; watermill ‘camera obscura’ at Loggerheads Country Park, November 2021

We, in our hubristic fashion, adjudge ourselves a successful species. But consider this; we are doing a good job of destroying ourselves (and much else) after just 300,000 years of existence and only 50-65,000 years since we evolved what is termed ‘behavioural modernity’. The hyaena was present in the landscape of the Clwydians for over 600,000 years (and it’s still with us today, albeit elsewhere). The cave lion was here for well over 550,000 years. If continuity, pure and simple, is the primary success criteria for a species – as it must be – then the hyaena and cave lion are, as things stand, twice as successful as Homo sapiens. So, we need to get over ourselves a bit.

Being confronted by the physical remains of these and other indigenous species – and, importantly, being given the space to process what they mean to us – can help with with this. They’re a good head shrinker and bring necessary perspective through fostering senses of wonder and resonance rather than didactic finger-wagging.

The activity we undertook in the first phase of Cri’r Gylfinir in the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB over the last three months of 2021 was all about such context setting; for an enquiry concerning the shape of our future relationship with the ‘more than human’ world (that is to say – anthropocentrically speaking – with the diminishing biodiversity on which we are utterly dependent). It was about blowing minds, recalibrating and hopefully instilling a little humility. And it was an exercise in the art of the possible; in challenging preconceived notions, demonstrating that;

• You can encounter artworks outside the art gallery – indeed they often find powerful resonances in being thus liberated and joined to diverse contexts.
• Artistic and scientific ‘silo’ thinking is so twentieth century.
• You can present animation in the landscape, under the stars (it always feels a wee bit naughty…)
• You can animate 12,000 year old reindeer bones (and even older hyaena teeth…)
• You can turn a listed watermill into a 3D cinema.
• You can make a pastry hyaena as a pie topping.
• Rangers are fantastically capable, insightful and willing art technicians (adios white gloves…)

The exhibition in the Oriel, the Udfil app in the landscape of Loggerheads Country Park and the ‘beacon’ projections in and around the watermill co-existed in symbiosis. Each brought meaning and processing space to the other.

The sci-art collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Royal Holloway University London functioned in such a way as to shatter boundaries and hierarchies.

And quite possibly the most exciting part of it all was the collaboration with local producers; “you’ve made artworks of the food!” observed animated animator Seán Vicary…

We were really delighted with the response and the connections the events fostered – particularly the Ysgol Bryn Coch staff posse who have since come to Loggerheads for INSET training with the Udfil app – and the ideas and possibilities that emerged through so many lively conversations.

As well as functioning as a forum, the arts reach the parts of our humanity which lie beyond logic, the linear and the empirically measured; speaking to the greater part of what we are at our core. Accordingly the film The Power of Water (at the top of this page), which is part document but also an attempt to capture the essence of the event, gives the best sense of what took place. But for those of you who are too busy doing IMPORTANT THINGS, who are anxious to check their Facebook accounts, or have unquenchable scrolling habits (and associated focus issues) here are some pictures…

The Ark; a shrine and a reliquary…
… containing the bones and teeth of Ice Age animals from the Clwydians including lynx and hyaena…
…which are brought to life through the magic of animation within the watermill (in the background)
…and further considered in ‘Y Lab’ (in the background on the right) where are to be found cave palaeontologist Professor Danielle Schreve (Royal Holloway, University of London) and archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Walker (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales).
The watermill cinema comes to life…
Cave explorer and naturalist John Blore contemplates the animated 12,500 year old reindeer bones he excavated on Bryn Alyn…
…and the Mesolithic lynx bones from the same location which gave Lynx Cave its name.

Inside the watermill cinema the mortal remains of mountain hare, mammoth, reindeer and cave lion – all present in the Clwydians for far longer than humans – are reanimated…

…whilst in Y Lab (along with the ark ‘shrine’, specially constructed for the project so as to be portable) Professor Schreve and Dr. Walker represent the continuum of scientific exploration. Research relating to the bones of animals and the information the fossils yield is shedding light on the impacts of abrupt climate change on mammalian species. Note bottle of Cwrw Billy (Hafod Brewery collaboration – see below) as aid to research contemplation.

…and in a second device, Professor Schreve is able to view a projection of her own mind as part of The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine. The bones of small mammals from species such as the mountain hare are as important to research as those of the ‘glamour’ species…

The second ‘re-animation machine’ presenting The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine

The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine charts the role of cave palaeontology in the evolution of our understanding of climate and environmental change from the mythology of the Old Testament to contemporary research.

Who needs a bucket of popcorn when you can have hyaena-powered pies from Swan’s Farm Shop

…or a gallon of cola when you can meditate on a hyaena-powered winter warmer from the Hafod Brewery which also functions as a zoetrope.

Ghosts in the machine; the watermill mechanism as zoetrope. Stills from The Power Of Water (movie at the top of the page). The water of the hills that powers the mill runs through the bones of the cave beasts – and our own bones and blood…

And last – but absolutely not least – if you want to get it done ask a ranger. Ed and Saul facilitate adjustments to the hull of the ark (necessitated by lockdown storage-related oak shrinkage). Just one of myriad contributions from the Clwydian Range AONB team which made it all tick along sweetly…

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