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A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE
A FILMIC STUDY ON THE NATURE OF GRIEF
THE STANZAS + PROGRESS
A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE set out on a year’s cycle of research and development in February 2021 to create the foundation for a sequence of 6 short films (stanzas) to chart a spacious and rhythmic journey through the nature of grief in our times.
As of writing December 2021, all six stanzas (short films) have reached draft stage as planned, (HOLLOW, THRESHOLD, SNOT, SEA, SALT and RAIN ON EARTH) and the project is now in POST PRODUCTION ahead of the UK FILM- SHARE, which will present the films as work-in-progress in March 2022 ahead of full production .
An important part of the creative process follows an unfolding journey through the mirror the earth provides in real time. While ideas seed each stanza, once work begins, the trajectory often takes the work into unexpected corners. Each stanza expresses a distinct 'world' within the journey of grief.
Here follows a breakdown of each stanza's progress - go to the side menu to jump between stanzas.
HOLLOW reached draft stage within for this cycle of R+D in March 2021.
While Spiderflower works with earth-engaged performance research, HOLLOW is the only stanza set within an entirely human-made environment specifically devoid of any natural connection.
Stanza 1 explores the top layer of how we, as a western culture, largely present and deal with grief. Which is, for the most part, to pack it away and limit expression.
Dedicate to where we are disconnect and grief is actively suppressed, HOLLOW journeys into that state of being where tensions polarise, shifting between internalised sorrow and the veneer of held expression.
HOLLOW is - as all stanzas are - complex and holds many layers. The piece reflects on how isolation and separation impact us. It looks to the issue of disconnection, and how this in turn effects our experience and behaviour as human beings through the journey of grief. How, over time, the disconnect environment contributes further to that state of separation and goes on to create an ever depleting spiral.
I wanted the set for HOLLOW to reflect a combination of confinement and stagnation, and found my way to work in an outside alley. The creative process was gruelling, yet rewarding - as hours without sunlight or any contact led to that strange, 'unreal' space that can come with repressed grief finding its way into the piece, allowing us to explore how reality can warp within the emotional and mental state both within the movement and editing process.
THRESHOLD ran from April 1st and completed as draft in late June 2021.
THRESHOLD explores the state within grief where we experience the presence of a loved one after loss, where they are felt - but not seen.
Stanza 2 explores the nature of the threshold (the place between worlds or realities), our relationship with it and how it exists within different time frames (eternal or momentary) in particular relationship to grief.
While HOLLOW belongs to the state of the 'self' or the 'I', THRESHOLD belongs to the sensate realm of 'relationship' and the 'we'.
Venturing into THRESHOLD, I found myself frequently 'lost' and 'wandering'. Emerging from the repressive space of HOLLOW, searching and disorientation played a big part in the real time reflection received.
Now in dialogue with the natural world, the expanse of open space at Loe Bar, Penrose saw THRESHOLD explore edges and moments of tension and transition, as the passage of grief makes its way through a certain 'no-mans-land' in relation to those we have lost and long for.
After HOLLOW, it was huge relief to be on the land, yet wild weather conditions over April and May 2021 delivered some perishing temperatures and extremely high winds making THRESHOLD a tough journey. Nevertheless, the mirrors the natural world delivered put pace to the work, bringing a unique atmosphere and language to the film.
SNOT began July 1st, proving to be an intensely deep stanza reaching first draft in late September, 2021. In all honesty, this stanza could probably roll forever.
SNOT journeys through and beyond the THRESHOLD, into the realms and expression of grief that remain hidden and unexpressed. Stanza 3 specifically explores the unacceptable, grotesque face of sorrow and is anchored in exploring the unknown.
Each stanza marks a moment in the journey of grief that has a clear sign post rooted in the body - be it sensate or biological. As a movement practitioner, my intent is to explore how grief expresses through the physical - rather than 'idea' or 'analysis'.
This is true for SNOT, where I needed place my trust in the momentum of bodily fluids, and how, in grief's journey, if I am to follow beyond the point where its expression is usually shut down, I can continue to chart its natural motion along a course into the unknown.
When we move through HOLLOW and THRESHOLD into actively grieving, the body will, when we cry, produce snot. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. SNOT is obvious and is universal to us all. Something we all do - but is rarely discussed. Fascinating as it is gross - the subject matter evokes a fairly wide spectrum of reaction - from shock and disgust to humour and giggling - a kind of morose curiosity tends to follow whatever the case and people are, on the whole, enraptured.
On a social level - it is outlawed, but it serves an important purpose in the most immediate sense as when we are snotty, we are shedding and clearing our physical system, plus the substance protects us biologically.
Additional, on looking into the dynamics of creation, SNOT as a form of plasma has a vital role to play within the creation cycle as a substance important to life in its formative stages. Dig a little deeper, and you will also find it has an established place in creation myths where it too is honoured as a life-giver, and essential for renewal.
So, it's extremely relevant to open this out as snot is dynamic within the realms of grief. The question; 'what happens within grief when allowed to follow the course it wants and needs to?' leads the way.
SNOT pierces the membrane of what we know around grief to dive into the unseen. Raw and honest, the journey took an unexpected turn and was drawn into new terrain to work in a system of truly ancient caves (for there is the matter that grief as an emotion is indeed ancient). Venturing here opened out such richness, and although accessing the caves had been hard work over an extended duration, it has been well worth staying with the story as it evolved from this place.
Stepping into SNOT, has been revelatory. The magic of the filming process has really come to the fore, resulting in some incredibly interesting cinematography where the eye of the camera has delivered an entirely different perspective to what we may perceive as humans, opening out Snot visually for us as many unexpected nuances within the expression of grief at this depth delivers a storyline that intertwines grief, death, birth, pain yet euphoria - then takes a nose dive both back and forward in time, with particular reference to our relationship with the future, the children to come - and this, the earth our home.
The deeper intelligence that resides within grief, I believe becomes visible and expressed through the story and imagery of this stanza. For SNOT, I did not experience being 'lost' in tracking this stanza as I did with THRESHOLD, but have simply been challenged as heading into the unknown opens up a river that could run eternal with endless layers.
With the greatest thanks to the NATIONAL TRUST for their ongoing support.
In action, the journey into SALT morphed organically and naturally out of SNOT
with R+D taking place between August and October 2021.
SALT was originally intended to work as stanza 4, but as exploration continued, the expression of salt polarised between SEA SALT (salt in its dissolute state) and ROCK SALT (salt in its crystalline state). Each presented a very different choreography, and saw this one point of focus roll from the softness of the underwater worlds of SEA SALT, to the harsh reflections of bone, dry death delivered through ROCK SALT.
Stanza 4 works with SEA SALT - so has been re-titled simply as SEA.
Stanza 5 works with ROCK SALT - so retains the title of SALT.
SEA has been filmed almost entirely underwater. It has been an incredible experience to work with movement inside of weightlessness and freedom of this terrain. For slow cinema, the water world brings a certain timelessness, all movement is slow - in terms of exploring deep time water acts as a magnifying glass where every gesture and emotion behind it is allowed to expand and to travel. Through immersion, the deeper nature of grief where the qualities of tenderness, vulnerability and the need to love found its way into expression.
Through R+D, I keep returning to the importance of ambience and abstract expression as opposed to literalism. My intent through A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE has always been to create a vehicle where there is enough space for the audience to find a personal resonance inside the piece and so explore echoes of their own story. The ambience of SEA takes us into a world that is both primal and essential.
Inside research, many elements weave at the same time. A further layer follows how sustained dialogue between body, landscape and the journey grief would take us on - unfold as a story. Without *spoilers*, SEA began to open out fascinating windows into where and how dynamics of creation run between, interact with and interchange between past, present and future. SEA delivers us into a story of birth, and here, I think there is a great clue in understanding the nature of grief.
SALT (ROCK SALT) sees us back in the expansive landscape of Loe Bar, beginning development August 2021 to overlap with SNOT and SEA to make the most of good weather, and ran through until October.
As the sun receded I had to stop with both SEA and SALT. I initially felt I would need to return to SALT next summer - but on entering the editing process, yes, this is a stanza of great depth and on the other side of R+D there will be more - but it became clear as the story fell into place - it was in fact, complete.
Sitting as stanza 5, SALT has to be the most labour intensive out of all films. I chose to immerse as completely as I could into the actual substance of salt. Which meant bags and bags of it. Costume in itself took several months of preparation, where I literally embalmed it with saturated salt solution on a daily basis. It's heavy. So with the trek to Loe Bar, donning this and then working with that same level of saturation for hair and make-up. . . . takes a long time. But, we are working in slow cinema and deep time, so in that respect - is only a blink of an eye. Patience.
My ultimate focus was to inhabit the element of salt as deeply as I possibly could, and remain in dialogue for sustained periods of time. This being said, Spiderflower's approach comes with 'usual and constant challenges', which I have to navigate every time I go out onto the land. So. The weather is always one. Ordinarily, I will work with what is, and ordinarily I roll with the changes (here in Cornwall it will spin on a sixpence) - for SALT however, I specifically needed hot, dry conditions as the massive amounts of salt I am sitting beneath will simply melt away with the rain. Doing this in the UK is risky, but thankfully August, September and October delivered some very hot sun.
Once there, and in dialogue - SALT began to speak a distinct language. It was one that I didn't expect. The land delivered the most direct, challenging and starkest mirrors that I have ever experienced within this work.
Stanza 5 delivered itself through a synchronicity that was both breathtakingly beautiful, at the same time as exposing gut wrenching mirrors of bone, dry death, decay and the cruelty of human nature. Within this, SALT tells the story of how we ostracise grief. It also speaks strongly about belonging.
SALT has been a game changer in terms of how the films flow together in an arc, and has in turn informed RAIN ON EARTH, now sitting as stanza 6.
RAIN ON EARTH
RAIN ON EARTH, sits as stanza 6. In reality, it is an in-depth exploration around a simple, yet powerful sequence that took place last summer
from July through to September 2020.
Stanza 6 is the bravest of stanzas in terms of working with slow cinema and deep time.
It bears simple witness to the human form, the landscape and time passing.
We are offered a mirror. What do we see?
For this stanza, I expected lots of mud, rain and leaves . . .as the title suggests. But.
RAIN ON EARTH has delivered us to a place where there is - none - not a drop of it.
It is our (unexpected) ending.
It offers a full stop. Yet. There is no full stop.
Ultimately, the ending has to leave with the audience.
On a technical level, this sequence offered great lessons around how time moves through the landscape and the human relationship to (and perception of) that. Although the choreography for RAIN ON EARTH is startlingly simple, it was the hardest to get right and I had to come back to it again and again - until the movement score (and the weather) were meticulously in sync.
It is my hope is RAIN ON EARTH will provide a place of reflection and contemplation, and will work to open out a discussion that goes beyond the screen.
Go here for details of the UK FILM-SHARE:
BOOK OF POETRY
All scenes are initially written in poetics. As story translates into imagery, vast swathes of poetry have to be cut during edits. Original text is being preserved in a 'Book of Poetry' to offer a window into initial translations of dialogue between body and earth.
THE CENTRE FOR EARTH-ENGAGED PERFORMANCE RESEARCH
Is building alongside the project, ready to launch in a basic on-line format alongside the films.