Monday, 24 October 2011

Beginnings, Endings and Broken Records.

Sheepwoman first appeared in public on April 1st 2009 at the request of artists Rachel Barberesi and Suusanna Round who were showing work simultaneously in Oxford and Paris, they wanted to connect the two exhibitions via a web link and invited my brother, an artist resident in Paris, and I to make a nonverbal connection between the two cities.  At the time I was working intensively with my dreams as a source of imagery and inspiration.  I asked for a dream image that might shed some insight as to how my brother and I might interact.  In the dream I found myself in Devon where I met a special herd of sheep who had once lived on Dartmoor.  These beautiful creatures stood on their hind legs and wore golden clothes.  One gentle sheep in particular steadily looked me in the eye for a long time.  I bounced out of bed in the morning and drew an image of the sheep naming her “Sheepwoman”.   

Having decided to make a sheep mask I remembered that my brother had made work with a donkey mask that had passed down two generations from my mother’s side of the family.  Great Auntie Margaret was a portrait artist, puppet maker, sculptor and potter, she was involved in early experiments in television.  At Christmas she wrote plays for my mother and her siblings to perform, the donkey mask simply constructed from stiffened painted fabric was made for one such occasion.  The idea of a sheep and donkey communicating non-verbally through a wall and between countries appealed to my brother and I.   

Not having made a mask before it took me a week to design and construct.  I made a structure from garden wire with horns attached.  The horns had been in my possession for years after my friend found them when he was walking in the Scottish Highlands, now I had a use for them.  

I made a dress of goatskins bought from the local market from a man named Barry.  The facial characteristics were based on drawings of "Baby" my friend Michael East's pet ram.  

"If you want to speak to me, speak to me through the wall"          

Recalling the dream again I saw an image of my brother and I walk across a golden Devon landscape as we think about our performance.  We decide to do something violent and go to see the work of an artist who makes auto-destructive art.  The artist we meet is smashing up vinyl records, because they are obsolete, and slicing big old leisure batteries in half.

Although I could make no sense of it I thought I would just trust and follow the dream.  I bought some old records by Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow and Limahl.  I found a little hacksaw.  I put my sheep mask, my goatskin dress, my song sheet, records and saw in a red bag ready for our piece of live art entitled "If you want to speak to me speak to me through the wall".  

An image of Charlie in his donkey mask and sharp suit was projected onto the wall behind me  via a video skype link and vice versa, creating a mirroring effect and a slight audio feedback.  Charlie and I were both challenged by restricted vision, performing to a live audience and to a camera linking the two spaces by projecting an image of each other onto the respective back walls of OVADA in Oxford and La Gallerie in Paris.  

My brother did some dance moves and sang Michael Jackson's "I wanna rock with you", I responded singing the next lyrics "all night" and dancing in response.  I sang Stevie Wonder's "Lately" repeating the word "goodbye" and I broke the records, whilst my brother danced, fell over, stood up and fell down some stairs.

After our short projected interplay my dad who had been sitting in the audience in Oxford approached me and said, 
"Have I ever told you about the time I was a young curate in the 1960's?
"No" I replied.
"I was running a youth club and on one occasion I decided to buy some records to smash up and we spent the evening breaking records".
"Why did you do that?" I asked.
"I've no idea" he replied.

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