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The public call out for the inaugural CIRCA x Dazed Class of 2021 initiative asked audiences to submit a 2.5 minute film in response to the theme ‘Communion’ set by interdisciplinary artist and lecturer, Angel Rose. After receiving 2,000 applications, we are proud to present the 30 finalists who will each receive access to the Dazed Space and have their work exhibited as part of the CIRCA programme, appearing across public screens in London, Tokyo and Seoul this September.

Expanding on their commitment to help support the talent of tomorrow, CIRCA and Dazed appointed a community of jurors including Cauleen Smith, Frank Lebon, Hugo Comte, Simone Rocha, Dexter Navy, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Michele Lamy to select their top 5 submissions. From this, one lucky finalist will be selected by world renowned performance artist Marina Abramović to receive the #CIRCAECONOMY cash prize of £30,000.

With public art spaces diminishing, investment in arts education being cut and artist communities at risk, this joint initiative aims to empower the next generation of artists working in moving-image by platforming new voices and points of view from local communities on a global level, giving them unrivalled media exposure and the tools to help kick start their careers.

I am an independent artist from the North York Moors, UK, working with moving image and photography to explore our anxieties around the ecological crisis and the mass extinction of life. I abstract and manipulates my own experiences of childhood trauma to understand the wider societal trauma of the climate crisis - particularly within my own generation. In doing so, I adapt traditional analogue processes into animation - as well as innovating new animation techniques. For example, this submitted piece is printed entirely by hand using the cyanotype process - a sustainable photographic print process. I also utilise natural materials, such as animations on wood, leaves, and soil - to create a material link between the work and the natural world.

At present, I am residing in Leeds, where I run the Northern Sustainable Darkroom - an initiative aiming to green various aspects of the analogue photo process, whilst providing opportunities for other artists interested in making their practice more sustainable.

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.

By combining footage of human activity, birds, and climate change - this video is a cross-species communion, depicted to 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, and weather sound samples.

In creating the video’s unique 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.

How did you become an artist and what was your route to your current 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 then progressed 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 throughly 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.

What inspires you to make your work?

I am inspired to make work by my own relationship to nonhumans, the existential crisis of ecological collapse, and the communities engaged around the world in resisting collapse. My own relationship to the nonhuman world was one born out of escape and solace, from a childhood beset by my mother’s mental health difficulties. In communicating with the dogs we lived with, and the wider nonhuman world – I was able to find comfort when often isolated and alone.

This affinity to the nonhuman world then developed into a greater concern, as I aged and became aware of the various injustices involved within the wider ecological crisis. For me, I sought to use art as a tool to voice my concerns – as opposed to trying to mould an already existing practice around a current issue. As I only started making work in my mid-20s, I saw art as a means of expression that I lacked in other areas of my life.

Since then, I have become more engaged in communities with similar goals, and have been motivated to make work and organise programs to platform other artists. I have become particularly interested in the wider ecology of artistic materials, their environmental impact, and socio-political histories.

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 in 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 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.

Would you consider your practice to have a positive social impact, and if so in what way?

I think it is difficult to quantify the direct social impact that experimental moving image has on my community, but I will try! Of course, all of my work foregrounds the environmental crisis, and the humans and nonhumans affected – and so in that way, I at least aim for it to have a positive social impact. For example, my film about wildfires was shown in Australia due to the direct relationship with their recent experience of wildfires. In this, we can see some cross-national collaboration on social issues through artistic practice.

However, I would say the main impact it has is in allowing me to facilitate my further, more socially engaged projects – such as the Northern Sustainable Darkroom. By using our own artistic profiles, we are managing to launch projects that can have a positive impact on the community around us. For example, we are launching the first ‘Darkroom Garden’ residency project. This will invite a select group of people to cultivate plants to be used directly in sustainable photographic processes, and contribute to the expansion of our research. Beyond that, we are hoping to directly involve the local community, through talks and workshops, including disadvantaged young people at MAP charity.
Furthermore, as I mentioned, I am in the process of launching a long-term workshop project, centred around ecological film. This will hopefully be an international effort, which will see us engage with various global communities and give them the resources to make films about their own experiences, and relationship to the natural world. The group in Colombia I mentioned, as well as a group of Fukushima disaster survivors, amongst others, will hopefully benefit from this initiative.

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 familiarly ‘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.

Has your work been recognised by any public bodies or organisations in the past?

My work has been exhibited in various sites – both within a film festival and gallery context. I won the Wild Film Fest Innovation Award in 2017, and was recently selected as a Finalist at Oniros Festival. Otherwise, no.

How would the #CIRCAECONOMY 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.

What would you do with the money?

If awarded the prize, beyond my own immediate needs (rent, etc!) I would invest it in facilitating three main goals. Firstly, would be the development of the Northern Sustainable Darkroom, and the long-term goal of establishing an alternative to mainstream photographic production. Within this, I hope to expand an area for moving-image based practices. For example, through this fund, I would be able to put a portion aside to offer a small funded residency program with a moving image focus, or purchase some of the various materials we still require for the darkroom to function. It would also help me continue to establish a permanent exhibition space in Leeds, associated to the darkroom. This space aims to exclusively exhibit ecological works, from a diverse portfolio of international artists. Even a small amount of this prize would help facilitate this goal, through the covering of rent for the space for example.

Beyond the darkroom, it would help in bringing to fruition the community-focused moving image workshops I have mentioned. Specifically, in giving me the freedom to focus on the development and curation of a rounded programme of speakers and contributors to adequately support the communities involved in creating films. The fund could also contribute to a better material development of the project, in terms of facilities and materials we provide to those participating.

Finally, from the perspective of my own practice – it would allow me to develop a larger moving image project I have had in mind, expanding on the idea of birds and their relationship to the ecological crisis. Through this fund, I would be able to afford the kind of production I have in mind to produce an experimental-style documentary, documenting ecologist Ben Porter’s work with bird conservation and the threats that they face.

If you are awarded the #CIRCAECONOMY prize, how might this affect your community?

I may have answered that above! But to reiterate, I think through receiving the prize money, I would be able to focus my efforts on the various community arts initiatives I have mentioned, as well as continuing to champion sustainability and give voice to the human and nonhuman communities affected. I want people to be able to engage with the nonhuman world in a meaningful way, and give them opportunities that perhaps I did not have as a child – and was only exposed to in later life. As we continue to face the challenges and uncertainties of the ecological crisis – it is important that spaces exist where we can navigate these emotions and difficulties. Through the prize supporting the various community efforts I have mentioned, as well as my own practice, I hope I would be able to give such space, and affect some worthwhile and lasting change.