Upcoming preview screenings of Scintilla:
October 5 – Segedunum, 12 noon – 2pm.
October 6 – Twice Brewed Inn, 6pm – 8pm.
October 7 – Pennington Hotel, Ravenglass, 4pm – 6pm.
October 12 – Carlisle, 12 noon – 2pm.
October 13 – Heddon on the Wall, 6pm – 8pm.
October 14 – Bowness on Solway, 6pm – 8pm.
October 19 – Lanercost, 12 noon – 2pm.
October 20 – Hexham, 12 noon – 2pm.
October 21 – Senhouse, 12 noon – 2pm.
It was a stunningly bright day. The sun glinted on the river, catching itself on the flat faces of grass, outlining the hills across the water in gold. There were men and women in short-sleeves, surprised by the early spring warmth. Elsewhere, mist dandled in the hollows and dips of the landscape. It was bitterly cold and we huddled together, swaddled, to conserve our body heat. It rained a little, just for a moment, but was mainly overcast and reasonably mild.
When an event stretches over some 84 miles and covers cities and farms, heath-land, hills, coast and low-lying marshes, there can never be a defining vision of what took place. There’s never just one story. No-one saw it all.
So it was with Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall. From the earliest days of thinking about the lighting, it was clear that it would be an event made out of a thousand fragments. Even the sovereign eye of the helicopter could not see all the stations of light at the point of ignition. The mythic visual of a line of light across the nation could only be seen by the International Space Station on it’s nightly pass, or by the unknowable eyes of outer space.
The sight of Hadrian’s Wall lit up in an echo of the Roman gesture of defensive integrity had not been seen for 1800 years. I asked myself, how can we see this light now that we could not have seen it then? How can we know this thing that we cannot know? What tools do I have in my artistic arsenal?
Thinking and Seeing
Analysing a thing will not necessarily bring us closer to it. Sometimes imaginative leaps and risks are our only route into an enigma. Hadrian’s Wall as it was is mostly unknowable to us here in the twenty-first century. We have all sorts of relationships with it, as archaeologists, farmers, cohabitants, walkers, guardians and admirers. But we can never truly know it as it was in Roman times, too much is unsure and the world has moved on too far. Mystery always prevails, no matter what our level of familiarity with the sites and sights of its many landscapes.
How we can see the sites of the Wall differently, was a much clearer question to resolve. My practice engages with multi-spectral imaging – collecting imagery both visible and invisible to the human eye – allowing the presentation of a completely new experience of both the lighting and the landscape which enfolds it. Originally developed for astrophysics and space-based imaging, a number of military, archaeological and art historical applications exist, which forms an important context for the development of a work. Investigating the spectral ecology of the Wall using these complex technologies would generate something that has never been seen before and that has only recently become possible.
Collecting and Experiencing
Between January and March, I collected a recordings of points on the Wall using a variety of electromagnetic frequency detectors, infra-red visioning equipment, and standard cinematography techniques (completely unknown before the nineteeth-century). On Illumination day itself, I sent out my bundled-up assistants with their various recording devices across the length of the Wall, whilst I took up position on the Solway Firth.
But then something happened which changed all my carefully thought-out intentions. Nothing had prepared me for the lived collective experience of the Illumination, the feeling of shared action with thousands of participants. The live event generated its own specific magic. This was the pivotal moment- the moment of authenticity- around which the reconstruction of the event could begin.
In the following days I was inundated with images. As I began to sort the images- not only images but sound recordings, videos, texts – it was clear that the real story was not of the ways in which we could see differently to the Romans, but of the ways we could see and seem the same. Rather than a story of technology, it became a story of people who were willing to go out into the dark together and make a symbolic gesture saluting the past.
Reconstructing and Making
In it’s earliest edits, Scintilla (from the Latin for ‘spark’), became a twining of two very distinct and separate channels of imagery. One channel was comprised entirely of still images, the other of moving and abstracted images. There was a soundtrack of electromagnetic data, crackling, whistling and strangely redolent of dolphins calling. It was fascinating, but close to unwatchable, such was the disjointedness between the human and the technological and the running length of close to two hours.
Subsequent editing softened the strangeness of the multi-spectral- as if, in fact, it had been worn away with time – coaxing the visible back out from the invisible. The editing process in which snippets of film 1/24th of a second long are scrutinised demands intensive, repetitive viewing of the kind that seeps into your dreams and catches the rhythms of your breathing. I wanted those rhythms to be evident in the finished work, somewhere between holding one’s breath and the breathing of sleep. Some of those moments needed to be outside time, almost stopped, slowly sliding into the next, like the inexorable race of beacons.
And so something comes to be, with the breath and the light, which is not how you thought it would be when you started. The actions, processes and materials force their own way outside of the plan, into the ether, and in this case on to the screen. Scintilla is the result: made of my memories and yours, my visions and yours, neither documentary nor fiction, neither authentic nor reconstruction, but an attempt to tell a thousand stories at once.