Face.Masks - artist's perspective
Challenged by lockdown and the inability to bring people together in the huge numbers that they see for things like their Winter Droving and their exhibitions and events, Cumbria’s Eden Arts have responded with works that can be experienced through social distancing.
Eden Arts wanted to try to keep things live rather than ‘live on zoom’ or live online in the way that many events and festivals have been forced to operate this year.
“I think that it is important that we keep people feeling that the whole world hasn’t shut down” [Eden Arts Artistic Director Adrian Lochhead speaking recently], “in fact I think that it is even more important for those who already had isolated lives in the first place, I know for example that my learning disabled daughter has really struggled this year”.
Eden Arts work engages with a notion of being useful in society be that to communities, to marginalised people, businesses, economy, high streets; the mantra is always to be useful.
The difficulty has been the ever shifting sands of what is possible in terms of lockdown rules. Eden Arts' response this autumn has been to co-create new works that celebrate local people, works that can be seen in the street or in small groups, or as a trail that you can do over several weeks - taking the opportunity to explore the possibilities created by being forced to work in new ways.
The week’s main event in what would ordinarily be Winter Droving week at half-term is a poignant (and huge) projection event in St Andrew’s churchyard in Penrith. The thirty minute piece directed by Lochhead working with artist Zoe Forster is a collage of words and video images of local people who were nominated by the community for doing things that showed that they cared. The nominations included people who care for the environment, who are local volunteers, shop-keepers who have gone beyond the call, people who work in caring roles, community activists, a five year old girl whose positivity has brought people together in her neighbourhood.
“These people are ‘ordinary’” [says Adrian] “and what they do seems ordinary and normal to them, but collectively they are what keeps communities going, without them we would be quite empty and grim. I felt that I wanted to put them up big and allow people to contemplate them, that it is on a church is significant, the work is spiritual, people as something to believe in, to have faith in”.
“When making this piece I recalled being at a seminar at the Royal College of Art last year on the great Bill Viola and his work, his deification of the humble, the ordinary, that definitely served as inspiration to me”.
Cumbrian artist Zoe Forster was commissioned to work with Eden Arts on the piece – now called Face.Masks - Zoe had been one of the finalists in 2019 Young Cumbrian Artist of the Year - organised by Eden Arts to promote young contemporary artists.
[Zoe] “I’ve recently been intrigued in moving portraits, a film, but a photograph. An image of what could be a statue, or even a still frame until the person being filmed cracks a smile, blinks or even hugs their partner. I like to think, being a normal person who happens to have a nack for capturing a moment through a lens that the people being filmed/photographed can feel more at ease. And that the experience isn’t just “taking” an image, but giving something back to the subject – a conversation between the person photographing and the person being photographed.
Until Face.Masks I had never filmed ordinary people within a professional setting, one which undoubtedly felt alien to most. My work is primarily filming people within their own environments so having to narrate and engage in a space like this took a lot more energy, compensating for the nervousness I felt off many eager but tense individuals, helping them feel at ease.”
Joining Adrian and Zoe has been Nick Greenall. Nick is an artist who works across mediums, often using digital and moving image and comes from a career working in film and television. He is interested in personal and social narratives informed by environmental and societal change. He has worked on many projects that involve communities as participants.
[final word from Nick] "It's always exciting to work with Eden Arts to support emerging artists in a meaningful way and find an audience for their work."
The new work was projected on to St Andrew’s Church in Penrith between 28th October and 31st October
The event also featured The Faery Trail by Lucas Chih-Peng Kao a Taiwanese Filmmaker/Director based in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Faery Trail is a site specific installation, an re-imagination of faery tale creatures in a contemporary world. Inspired by the fantasy artwork of Arthur Rackham, early cinema exploration by the Lumière Brothers and Thomas Eddison, and responding to the absence of non-white bodies in the history of art and faery tales, The Faery Trails will create a magical site-specific experience reinterpreting traditional western folklore through a globalised lens.