Artist and researcher from the North York Moors National Park, UK. Drawing upon my own experiences of childhood trauma, my work explores the societal anxieties and trauma surrounding the ecological crisis, and the Sixth Mass Extinction of life on Earth. Taking the form of animation and moving images, I work directly with nonhuman materials as collaborators in the creation of artworks. For example, I have innovated new animation techniques involving leaves, soil, water, electricity, and more.
I also am the founder of the Northern Sustainable Darkroom, an artist-led research facility that aims to expose the ecology of photographic materials, and develop sustainable alternatives. My own research has focused mostly on the use of animal gelatine, and challenging its use in photography on ethical and environmental grounds. I also am involved in the research of establishing decentralised systems of photographic production, as a method of social empowerment and sustainable transformation. I am currently in the process of opening an artist-led exhibition space that will prioritise marginalised voices – both human and
nonhuman – in Leeds, UK.
Q: WHAT WAS YOUR ROUTE TO YOUR CURRENT ARTISTIC PRACTICE?
I did not study art when I was young (although always had an interest in film) – instead I pursued humanities and attempted a law degree, with an interest in environmental law. However, my mother became severely ill due to mental health difficulties that she had suffered throughout our childhood. Following her hospitalisation, I left my studies to care for her, and began to work with dogs to support us – as I have had a close relationship with dogs my whole life. Spending most of my time with dogs for several years, I feel was a transformative experience in terms of my relationship to the nonhuman world. Although always interested in the nonhuman world, it was here that I gained an affinity for their autonomy and personhood, which would eventually translate into my work and ethical considerations.
From here I began to photograph the dogs, which saw the start of my art making and regular use of a camera. This thenprogressed to capturing the world around me whilst out with the dogs, photographing the landscape and wildlife. Following my mother leaving hospital, I was encouraged to take up formal education again – this time studying Natural History Photography at Falmouth University, under the mentorship of course leader Daro Montag.
Here Daro exposed me to concepts and ideas that gave formation to my own feelings and associations with the nonhuman world. I was able to put a name to the lifelong uncertainty and discomfort I had had towards local traditions of my home – and understand the role that expression through art could have both personally, and on a wider scale. The falsehood that nature is separate from human culture is thoroughly embedded in my home landscape, but not something I had ever identified with. And so during this time I was able to develop these feelings and ideas and incorporate them into my practice. As a result, I became frustrated with conventional forms of photography – particularly in how they idealised the nonhuman world, and supported the false dichotomy I have spoken of. Therefore, I went on to experiment with more tangible works – specifically alternative photo processes, that required an actual, tactile engagement with the nonhuman world – and weren’t totally diluted through a screen.
From there, I continued to feel limited by still imagery, and so progressed to making moving image works. To retain that importance of tactile engagement however, I sought to innovate new methods that involved the nonhuman world as a collaborator. This is following a particular ideal, which sees nonhumans as directly responsible for the production of artworks – whether through their material presence, or other means (as subjects etc.). This is where my practice developed into printing animations by hand, often on natural materials (such as wood, soil, leaves, etc.) – whilst being mindful of the wider sustainability of my production.
As I wanted to make work that gave voice to alternative approaches to ecology, feeling distanced from mainstream representations of nonhuman nature (Planet Earth etc.) – my work thematically dealt with challenging our fundamental belief systems, and how they affect our relation to nature. For example, my film A Guide to British Trees, looked at creation mythology and how it shapes our relationship to the nonhuman world.
Since then, my work has become more focused on ecological trauma, and the societal anxieties influenced by the climate crisis. Following the recent death of my closest friend, I wanted to channel the overlapping emotions of grief and frustration, confusion and resolution – that also exist in my relationship to the ecological crisis. I have continued to develop my tangible animation style – particularly the involvement of natural materials – whilst grounding my themes in concrete concerns. For example, my recent film Here Comes the Wildfire! looked at the threat of wildfires due to habitat destruction, but through the abstract lens of hand-printed animation.
Q: CAN YOU IDENTIFY ANY ELEMENTS OF YOUR COMMUNITY OR COLLABORATORS THAT HAVE HAD A STRONG INFLUENCE?
Of course! As I have mentioned previously, I am influenced by the wider biotic community, in particular the nonhuman world as collaborators in the creation of art works. I feel that if we are to move beyond the historic traditions that dominate industrial society’s destructive relationship with nature, then it is essential that we attribute personhood to the world beyond the human.
But beyond those more abstract considerations, I am currently influenced by the work we are doing with the Northern Sustainable Darkroom, and the various people involved. Not only are the people in our community constantly innovating, researching and educating with alternative methods to toxic photographic practices – but they are also advocating for an awareness of environmental justice and political empowerment, through the content of photography. For example, one of our coordinators Alice Cazenave is researching the use of silver in photography, it’s environmental impact, and it’s colonial history tied to slavery. This community, together with the common purpose of affecting change in the arts and beyond, is a constant source of influence for me as my practice continues to develop into adulthood.
Additionally, I am influenced by the work of those on the ground – dealing with these issues directly. For example, I recently spoke to an ecologist who is working with bird conservation, and the decline of birds due to climate change and other ecological issues. Equally, in my local area there is a charity that rescues animals from slaughter – at great personal cost. And I am also having productive discussions on launching a workshop project for an organisation in Colombia that helps women who have been domestically abused, in healing through nature. All of this direct work with ecology inspires me to continue to make work, and aim to give voice and an international platform to those who may not have one.
Q: HOW IS YOUR PROJECT TIED TO THE CIRCA X DAZED CLASS OF 20:21 THEME OF ‘COMMUNION’?
My project Birds in the Sixth Mass Extinction is a reflection on birds and their relationship to the climate crisis, as well as their symbolic value in our culture. As symbols of peace, freedom, and liberation – they are conversely threatened with population collapse and extinction due to industrial activity. Birds are also something that I have had a long personal relationship with, as they are slaughtered en-masse in my home landscape during each shooting season, which greatly impacts the ecosystem.
By combining footage of industrial activity, birds, climate change, and more – the video depicts the entangled reality of our planet, and the both positive and negative consequences it can have. The entire soundtrack is created using different bird noises, weather sound samples, with some fragments of human voice. In reference to the theme of Communion, this follows my above sentiments, in that it is a cross-species communion.
By blending the footage of the male figure and the birds, as well as other aspects of the nonhuman world – I wanted to show that Communion is not limited to human interaction, but is a constant interplay between the multiple beings (living and nonliving) that inhabit Earth. This is equally reinforced by the bird-noise soundscape, which is a direct attempt at providing them voice where otherwise you would expect familiar ‘human’ sounds.
In creating the video’s unique animation aesthetic, I printed each frame by hand using the cyanotype process. Cyanotype is a photographic process famously used for architect’s blueprints, but popular with analogue photographers and printmakers around the world. It is of low toxicity, printed using UV, and developed in water – and is therefore considered a sustainable process. I used it for this reason, and also due to its material and unpredictable nature – reflecting the themes of the video.
Q: HOW WOULD THE CIRCA PRIZE OF £30,000 IMPACT YOUR FUTURE PRACTICE?
A tough question as I’ve not been exposed to such an amount before! But primarily, it would give me the financial freedom to continue to develop my own practice, as well as focus on the wider community initiatives that I am engaged with via the darkroom or the upcoming project. Since losing my job due to the coronavirus crisis, I have been in and out of work, and have also had to rely on government benefits. So a substantial fund would allow me to concentrate on my practice, and allow me to develop larger projects that I have had in mind but have not had the financial freedom to engage with – living month to month.
With specific reference to my own practice, I would relish the opportunity to develop my alternative animation techniques, and find ways to produce moving image pieces in the most sustainable and low-impact way possible. As we have had traction with our photographic methods, to do so within cinema would hopefully inspire others around the globe to do the same.
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