Illuminating the Border – Critique

Yesterday we talked through the ‘illuminating the border’ installation as part of a group critique.

The first interesting note was how  people moved through the space. As we were a group of 10 or more, this put the installation under pressure.  Could people experience anything with so many interruptions.  It was great to see that people moved with relative ease and it created a thoughtful atmosphere.


The effect of shadow and reflection as backdrop and point of interest in its own right was interesting, The installation was added to by the interruption – this may be a really important point for development.  If I want the installation to be truly interactive, then it must ‘work’ better if people are in it.

There were those who were reluctant to enter. Noise was an issue – sound levels have to be right.  I thought of the idea of a warm whisper with louder interventions as a way of thinking about how the sound can attract people.



One colleague remarked the mirrors, he thought they worked much better with the installation, particularly in the interaction with the projection – where the stretched and distorted image broke across the mirror, which then reflected another part of the installation, really caught the eye. This, of course, was always changing, leading to viewers moving their heads to see themselves in the film landscapes, and seeing those landscapes change.


The smaller square mirrors, placed on the fabric and in direct line of the projection also changed the projection.  The square mirror helped, because it fitted the square nature of the projection, like a collaged image within the projection – this effect was emphasised when the projection against the muslin and gauze caused the images to repeat and overlap making a displaced image collage.



Installing with projection

The ‘first Draft’ installation can be seen on this video

Setting up an installation using two types of looped video.  One displayed on a flat screen, the other by projection.


1st set up –  the projector placed next to the flat screen so that the images were opposite each other – using an informal screen of muslin. The films are different in  nature so there are contrasts with the method of display.


The reverse view shows the projection through the porous screen of hung muslin.


This set up also allowed the projection to spill and stretch onto the side wall.


Double layer of muslin doubles, but weakens the images. the laptop screen and flat screen TV adding to the multiple image.


Finally, inserting a mirror into the installation – pinned onto the muslin, distorts and breaks the images further.


The  installation develops the theme of the Border project and incorporates some work completed earlier.

The ‘first Draft’ installation can be seen on this video

Border Stories video edit

The second film I have completed for the installation this week is a re – edit and an extension of some footage shot along the river Tyne at Bardon Mill. It includes varying sound, cutting in and out emphasising the moving water, when the sound drops, the river appears to slow. I have added extra footage recorded at strange stack of stones, the remains of the Roman bridge ramp at Corbridge – I photographed them before in the mist emerging from their past.  In all cases the camera is still and the images are fixed with movement created but cutting from view to view and with the movement of water or leaves against the stones.  There are two border songs read as poems chosen for their relevance to the idea of river and history as border, separation and barrier, written about here. The voice for Water of Tyne is Karen Sikora, my colleague at Northumbria and for Border Ballad the voice is my sister in law Susan Pym, a exiled Scot living in London.

Border Ballad

The film is being made for forthcoming trial installation. I want some sound – so  I am using two complimentary border folk songs.  The first, Waters of Tyne,  I ‘collected’ from Hexham Library – recorded in this post.  I need a compliment from the Scottish tradition.

The Border songs and ballads have a romantic veneer.  Romance in terms of the emotions portrayed but also a minor glorification of the historical violence of the border.  This was codified in the first half of the 19th century –  ‘Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first to attach cultural-historical significance to the border ballads.’

Scott repurposed marching songs and made up some of the ballads to contribute to his purpose of Scottish cultural creation.

I need  Scottish and English readers now.

Border Ballad by Sir Walter Scott

Arch, march, Ettrick and Teviotdale,
Why the deil dinna ye march forward in order!
March, march, Eskdale and Liddesdale,
All the Blue Bonnets are bound for the Border.
Many a banner spread,
Flutters above your head,
Many a crest that is famous in story.
Mount and make ready then,
Sons of the mountain glen,
Fight for the Queen and our old Scottish glory.

Come from the hills where your hirsels are grazing,
Come from the glen of the buck and the roe;
Come to the crag where the beacon is blazing,
Come with the buckler, the lance, and the bow.
Trumpets are sounding,
War-steeds are bounding,
Stand to your arms, then, and march in good order;
England shall many a day
Tell of the bloody fray,
When the Blue Bonnets came over the Border.

Ovingham Cabins


I walked past the cabins at Ovingham, they are like little frontier cabins cut out of the forest and domesticated by neat borders, planted flowers, and sense of small plots of private property.

The soft focus of the hand held Ensign camera, this time using blue biased Fuji colour film, produced a nostalgic feeling. Time lost through colour inaccuracy – this was hand developed in the University dark room….


I also shot a black and white film of a single cabin just up a separate track away from the main group:

Complete with its own pizza oven in the woods



Colour film

In the University to develop new colour films in the dark room.  The process is controlled mechanical and machined – the results organic.  The negatives are full of unknown colours when they shine from the light box

scans reveal a colour nostalgia, as if from a previous time and place.

box brownie-1

The red of the bucket is mixed in the 1970’s – the whole is a en elegant iPhone filter…..except it is the real thing!

box brownie-4

box brownie-3

The last is a bit more on theme – a shot of the ‘new boundary’ bisecting the river walk path, a new border brought to being for no clear reason.

box brownie-5

Water of Tyne


Waters of Tyne, is a folk song  I ‘collected’ from Hexham Library – recorded at the Sage Gateshead below – I found a wonderful leather-bound book called ‘Songs and Ballads of Northern England.  This is an original, old and widely owned song describes the separation of two lovers by the Tyne.  Border ballads are often about physical separation.  This Tyne as emotional division and barrier has  many various versions – Kate Rusby’s Bring me a boat – is the same theme but rendered differently.

The new fence

Recorded on film, some images of a new imposition in our landscape.  This new fence has no real explanation, dividing a field for no clear reason.  There are still no stock to control or different crops to separate and no obvious change in ownership.  The fence cuts through the landscape, cuts paths, creates a slowing, restricts movement, perhaps innocently and without real damage, but it is a possessive act by persons unknown. Defining and restricting space like the photographs of Lee Friedlander.


Dark Mirror experiment 1

The ‘dark mirror’ is an idea or concept that has grabbed me.  Dark Mirror-9

This is a self portrait reflected in a iPad screen, working as a mirror, the outline is darkened, but otherwise the image is as faithful as a domestic mirror.  The dark glass is a two way reflector – its hidden light within is a gateway to digital spaces,  its shiny black surface reflects the space of the world around, and the user in their surroundings.

I took the iPad out into the landscape to work as a ‘dark mirror displacement’ similar to the way that the mirror was used in previous experiments with mirror photography.

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The image loses focus and structure through some distortion, it is a darker, bluer tones, but generally keeps the effect of the landscape in a dull watery gloom, sometimes the light is more intense where the iPad/mirror is placed against darker backgrounds.

In all of the cases the scene is staged, the position and rationale for the iPad in the landscape is unexplained, but not really intriguing. There is a brief moment of realisation that the image on the screen is a reflection – but this is not really captivating.