Photographer and recent graduate Helen Stead and established composer Stef Conner have been commissioned to create new works inspired by the Factory Night @ Staffordshire Hoard Treasure and Saxon Pilgrimage. The final pieces will be showcased in Potteries Museum and Art Gallery the home of the Staffordshire hoard treasure in Stoke-on-Trent early in 2013.
Composer Stef Conner and artist and photographer Helen Stead will create a visual and sonic installation based on their experiential and educative exploration of ancient human relationships with the natural world, inspired by Rednile’s ‘Saxon Pilgrimage’, which evoked the movements of Anglo-Saxon peoples within the Stoke-on-Trent landscape – where the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered. Their work seeks to stimulate empathetic connections between modern Staffordshire and ancient Mercian communities, as well as provoking reflection on connections between individual human perception and the changing natural landscape. The artists will directly influence each other by continually documenting and sharing their experiences and ideas, lacing an intertwined thread of personal creative processes; while Helen’s work will be primarily based on exploration of the landscape, Stef’s will be drawn from Anglo-Saxon poetic texts containing evocative descriptions of the natural world, through which subjective emotional states are anthropomorphised. There are many Old English poems – often about pilgrimage, journeys, exile and conflict – in which the character of the landscape parallels the mood or thoughts of the text’s subject. In a time when the relationship between man and landscape was much more direct and dangerous, descriptions of raging storms and desolate plains perhaps had an affective power that has dwindled in the modern era – we are now to some extent separated from the forces of nature by our technologies.
Stef will begin work on her composition by crafting a textual structure from an amalgamation of fragments of poems, selected to complement her imaginative response to stories of Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire – particularly in relation to the Staffordshire Hoard – and ‘pilgrimages’ to Saxon sites around Stoke-on-Trent. Aspects of the music and the choice of text will be influenced by Helen’s documentation and description of her journeys through the Staffordshire landscape. Channelling the allurement of the Staffordshire Hoard and Mercian folk stories, Stef will create an atmospheric soundscape that is all at once otherworldly and familiar; ancient and modern. Her melodic material will be drawn from the alliterative, prosodic and accentual character of Old English poems, which are, in themselves, inherently musical; in seventh century England, song, poetry and storytelling were encapsulated by a single concept – ‘Lēoϸsong’, which means both ‘poem’ and ‘song’.
This Saxon-inspired soundscape will be showcased in combination with Helen’s visual presentation at the Potteries Museum, where the Staffordshire Hoard is housed. Helen’s site-specific work will derive from her response to the landscape at Trentham Gardens – following an initial exploration of the area during the Saxon Pilgrimage at the Staffordshire Hoard factory night. Through the use of a motion sensor camera, Helen will explore the notion of journeys, walks and mapping, aiming to uncover details of both the physical and metaphysical environment. By establishing links with ancient Mercian trails, Helen will record these journeys by wearing the camera trap and allowing natural elements of the environment to ‘determine’ what is photographed. By using a motion sensor camera Helen hopes to open up a dialogue to question who exactly is ‘taking’ the photograph and in doing so – blur the boundaries of ‘artist’ and ‘participant’. The possibility of subjective nature and objective human in Helen’s conceptual framework is congruous with the anthropomorphic role of nature in Anglo-Saxon poetry; the landscape itself – where our Mercian counterparts once trod the same paths – is invited to participate in the creation of the artwork, influencing the selection of images through its physical and emotional impact on the artist as well as through occurrences that are undetermined by the artist’s subjective input. Like Stef’s exploration of archaic verses, Helen’s experience of the Staffordshire landscape will be coloured by her exposure to Mercian folklore and the artefacts of the Hoard. As people experience the installation at the Potteries Museum, they will be enticed to wonder how these stories affected the artists’ work – Helen’s decisions about mapping the ancient landscape – what to look at and her perception of the environment; Stef’s emotional response to poetic texts and choices about how to set them… and whether or not there is some residue of ancient human experience within the landscape itself that can be channelled as we allow ourselves to absorb it.