Thursday, 20 June 2013

Industrial heritage and faded seaside splendour: Context is everything for Frillip Moolog sculpture photo shoot

Taking my latest large Frillip Moolog beings into the great outdoors and photographing them in specific locations is a plan that brewed slowly. In June 2012 I was commissioned to make Hurgle Lenz and Hooty by Wirksworth Arts Festival and then during the festival in September Hurgle Lenz, Hooty and Mi Wawa spent three weeks inhabiting ancient St Mary’s church in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. It was an eventful three weeks as in the first weekend alone the festival had over 7,500 visitors. Other highlights of the beings’ time there included, an ancient clypping of the church service, a wedding, regular Sunday services and also concert music practices. 

It was unanimously agreed that they looked strangely very ‘right’ in this beautiful and ancient setting. The beings do seem to have an ability to look surprisingly at home in a variety of settings. 

It has been observed that the beings might actually be extensions of my own personality and this is something that may be true. I try to work intuitively when making them and when considering where they might like to be photographed I also keep an open mind; I stop myself from over analysing and listen to my intuition. Where would Hooty like to be, what adventure would Hurgle Lenz like to go on?

I chatted to Kathy Fawcett (Arts Council Visual Arts Relationship Manager- East Midlands) when she visited Wirksworth Festival and I confessed to her that my ambition was to get Hurgle Lenz onto Cleethorpes beach and photograph her/ him (Hurgle Lenz is equally he and she) with donkeys and the pier. And when I explained the very entertaining story I already had of when I got Mi Wawa into a meadow in Lichfield photographed her with the cathedral and cows it became obvious how passionate I was about getting photographs of the other large Frillip Moolog beings en plein air. Over the winter months I started to give life to my plan by sounding it out with more people and I my confidence grew as I realised just how important to me this awkward, madcap idea was. 

As soon as I mentioned including beach donkeys in the photo with Hurgle Lenz people’s ears always pricked up; I mean it is completely common sense to never work with animals and children so why on earth do I even consider these things? 

There is a lot of humour in my work, humour which some people completely get straight away. I was pleased when curator Judith King said that she had laughed out loud when she first saw Mi Wawa with cows and cathedral. Humour is a difficult thing to get right, it has to be taken seriously and Judith realised I was deadly serious. It is an aspect of my practice which needs to be nurtured. 

All the books say that a thing common to most successful business entrepreneurs is that they don’t wait for perfect conditions and they don’t slow down a project by adding extra conditions to it. 

-I could have applied for funding to make this photo shoot happen but instead I decided to use money earned from my art outreach work.
-I could have spent months learning how to use my lovely new camera properly.
-I could have decided that it would only work if I paid for other professionals to be involved.

 But what I did in the end was feel the fear and bite the bullet anyway.

I worked with my two most supportive, creative and reliable people, my teenage children. Bryony and Dom have already lived through the creation of the beings and Dom has already collaborated on my Mi Wawa with cows and cathedral photo shoot. 

No sooner was the date set, van and overnight accommodation booked than the weather forecast changed; rain and gales were forecast but, sod it, we just had to do it! The worst that could happen was that we drove 130 miles each way and sat in a Travelodge looking out at the rain

BUT it was perfect; it was even better than I could have hoped for. Thank you God.

Step one was to scout around Scunthorpe; did I mention that I planned to photograph Hooty with Scunthorpe steelworks in the background? The steelworks are HUGE and have to be experience to be believed. 

As Scunthorpe and Cleethorpes are reasonably close to each other it made sense to use the same journey to get Hooty to Scunthorpe on the same trip as getting Hurgle Lenz to Cleethorpes. Again the realisation that I wanted Hooty photographed with the steelworks in the background was an idea that had brewed over the winter months since last September. 

The security men at Tata steelworks were really nice but they had to ask us to leave.
Because of course we could be terrorists...

I’m glad that I have a strong sense of adventure so as we drove away we tried to stay optimistic and no one mentioned the sense of disappointment that we all felt when we had been turned away from the gates of the steelworks. A quarter of a mile down the road we turned left down a tiny lane signed Ravensthorpe and suddenly we were in a pastoral idyl. 
The scene was timeless, the evening light absolutely perfect there was an overwhelming sense of serenity. 
Bryony, Dom and I were united in our excitement and urgency; this was something that we had to capture and we had to capture it with Hooty in the frame too.

And here she is; Hooty in her perfect pose in the lush green pastures with sheep grazing and the puffing chimneys from the steelworks.

I didn’t anticipate this but it is just so perfect; as perfect as William Williams’ 1777 paintings of Coalbrookdale. I only just remembered these paintings today I but it proves that we do store away these visual memories and they do affect our artistic decisions.

The next day the weather forecast was wrong again, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining! We drove to Cleethorpes and parked on the promenade. I was scared to look - would the donkeys be there?

They were and yes they were willing to pose for my photo shoot. Three donkey rides costs £7.50 and only last for a scant five minutes so I just had to go for it. 

I didn’t capture a perfect shot of Hurgle Lenz with the donkeys but maybe that's because there is a better adventure waiting for her/him. 

It is important for me to actually take the beings on the journey, to go through the physical experience of carrying them, unwrapping them, really having them in the space. I feel the anxiety of a theatrical performance, the response of the unsuspecting audience- the dog walkers in Mi Wawa’s photo shoot, the sheep farmer in Hooty’s photo shoot and all of the people who were on the beach on Hurgle Lenz’s photo shoot. 

All in all it was a great success. I am glad that I took the advice of those successful entrepreneurs; I didn't wait for perfect conditions and huge budget. Instead I worked with my own children (free assistants!) and invested the money that I did have into buying my own camera; a tool which will be continue to be invaluable in the future. 
Thanks so much Bryony Simcox and Dominic Simcox