There are SO many ways to work with people of all ages and backgrounds.
Collaboration brings diversity and integrity. It stimulates dialogue, breaks down barriers, generates new ideas, dismantles silos, builds communities and makes everyone feel good. It’s the most rewarding and, I think, valid part of what I do.
Above are the paper cut-out collagraphs that I made to enable the animation of crane flight. These are placed on the body, neck and head (which also make subtle movements as the bird’s spine flexes) in succession to bring the bird to life. Twenty frames (four-fifths of a second) make one flap – but then you can loop it so it flies for ever.
Above and below; children from Stoke St. Gregory Primary School (the village of Stoke St. Gregory adjoins West Sedgemoor, ‘home’ to reintroduced cranes in the Somerset Levels) animate the cut-outs for The Crane Community, the chorus of Echo-Maker. People of all ages from around the Levels brought a paper crane to life in this way – and now (through a collaboration with Dr. Dylan Adams at Cardiff Metropolitan University) children from schools in South Wales have done the same, in celebration of the return of the crane to Wales.
This is an exercise in observation and focus. Once you’ve done it you’ll never look at a flying bird in the same way again. You’ll see the speed of its wing movement, understand how it defies gravity, have a sense of lift and thrust.
Here is the animated flock in The Crane Community assembled through many people participating in this process. The voices are also all local people and volunteers from the Great Crane Project, reading from Aldo Leopold’s Marshland Elegy in the seminal A Sand County Almanac.
I’ve adopted this strategy, of communities coming together to ‘re-animate’ resonant creatures, elsewhere; with Ice Age reindeer, Giant Irish deer, aurochs – and in Dove Holes and Peak Dale the Scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium crenatidens.
Collaboration with a Palaeolithic sculptor
Thirteen thousand years ago, perhaps for cultural reasons or maybe a simple creative impulse, a modern human chose to freeze a moment in the annual cycle of the reindeer migration by carving it in mammoth ivory. In 2013 I brought this bull and cow back to life using paper cut-outs for a piece entitled Time Just Is – and in doing so presented the means for a great many visitors to the British Museum’s blockbuster exhibition Ice Age Art to do the same. In this way, they were able to share a creative moment with their deep time ancestors.
Time Just Is, an evocation of circular time, was the first piece I made specifically for projection through multiple gauze screens:
For an installation of Megaloceros in Langport, Somerset, I worked with students from Huish Academy. In response to the venue, a church with a long aisle, we came up with the idea that these lanterns that would create trails of glowing footprints, thereby connecting the bones of lost species to the projection rig in which they were re-animated.
In The Field
You don’t need a swanky studio to make a soundtrack that has life and truth. Regular collaborator Jim Brook and I like to work in the field – sometimes literally…
For the soundtrack of Echo-Maker we did a session in Level’s farmer Roderick Hector’s fields adjacent to West Sedgemoor RSPB reserve. Here’s Jim and the equally super-talented Tim Hill on manoeuvres…
I also wanted the sound of Roderick’s wigeon decoy whistle in there, so we got him huffing into that. Also (in another sort of huffing) Damon Bridge – who led the crane reintroduction project for the RSPB – lent the bellows of his piano accordion so as to create the sound of air being displaced by the animated crane’s wings as they fly.
Sometimes site-specific discoveries demand impromptu collaboration. Jim and I developed the soundtrack for Megaloceros whilst ‘in residence’ at Plas Glyn y Weddw. Llanbedrog. We discovered that the soft bark of a giant redwood tree next to the café made a perfect percussion instrument for imitating the sound of galloping hooves and paws. To create the sound of a herd on the move we enlisted the help of Gwyn Jones (director) and a group of tradesman who were working on site.
The Mind in the Cave
Creative dialogues and shared process-driven explorations undertaken with scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists (and so on) are a mainstay of my practice.
My on-going dialogue with cave palaeontologist Professor Danielle Schreve – with whom I created The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine – began whilst I was artist in residence at the Wells and Mendip Museum in Somerset. Here I made a flipbook-box – essentially a window on her mind – as part of Playing With Time.
Above are two stills from the flipbook-box The Cave in the Mind of Professor Schreve. The imagery – reflecting her research – features swirling small mammal bones from Gully Cave, many paper cut-out mountain hares and a flickering climate graph showing fluctuations in temperature since the end of the last Ice Age.
Here is Danielle peering into her own mind within the installation in the Balch Room:
Here is what she saw:
And here she is contemplating Gully Cave, the site that she has been excavating for over a decade, perhaps – given this extraordinary labour – a mind-space of myriad connections and meanings as much as a physical one…