Tuesday, October 16, 2012


This time last year I met Ryoko Akama a Japanese artist working with sound, we met for coffee in Oxford and discussed the potential of collaborating.
Then one year later Ryoko invited me to work alongside herself and good friend Mariko Satomi who specialises in dance and movement.
So, early morning at the start of august we met at Scammonden Reservoir,  a stunning spot just north of Huddersfield.

Ryoko had brought with her the digital equipment, wires, cables, booms and all manner of sound recording stuff!
Mariko travelled light.
And I had a vehicle full of sticks of varying sizes.

The rain held back for the two days, hoods were only needed for midge protection! and several community groups and local faces appeared out of the woods to participate.
We set about with some simple taster sessions, leading in to the creation of some woven forms that suggested the manipulation and amplification of sound.
These were used and combined with Ryoko's captured sounds from the reservoir and together with Mariko's enchanting energy, an intuitive and somewhat timeless performance unfolded...

The project was supported by Kirklees and Yorkshire Water,  a big thank you to both.
Also thanks to John Polley for the video capturing the event and the photographs taken by Yumiko.

Butterfly Pavilion, MGM Grand.

Just after Christmas this year I received a brief to design and build a willow vine for the interior of a Butterfly Pavilion in Macau, China!
The pavilion is based on R. Buckminster Fuller's fly eye dome patented in 1965 and re-invented for the MGM Grand Hotel.
My Vine was to become part of the habitat, together with nectar rich planting into which the butterfly's could reside.

We set about building in late February, working around the clock to have it completed and shipped by late march.
Andy ArtFabs and I travelled out to Hong Kong and took a boat across to Macau in late April, to unload and assemble the vine.

The time-scale onsite was equally challenging for all, however we were met by the original crew from the Bellagio installation which made the somewhat daunting experience of making the impossible ...Possible.

So with Andy fuelled on lattes and fancy buns we set about our part of the installation. Piece by piece the vine grew and by the 23rd hour and several buns later, we were done!

Once again a tight team of special folk played their part in the creation of these works, Big Thanks to you all.

Here are some images of the vines during installation, then finally a short video of the opening ceremony... I think my invite must have been lost in the post...

Chrysalis getting ready to hatch:

Andy aids the release of the butterflies:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

UK Native Seed Hub at Wakehurst Place.

I was introduced to Kew's plans last year to create a UK native seed hub at their country estate, Wakehurst Place. Having succesfully secured over 10% of the worlds most vunerable plant species within their Millenium Seed Bank and safely stored in underground fridges, their focus is also looking toward our native wildflowers and meadow plants here in the UK. 
Their whole thought process is deeply rooted in conservation. Currently there are some fairly generic wildflower seed mixes available to buy containing seeds from other areas of Europe, so their focus is on our native species.
Kew have decided not only to secure the native seeds within the banks but also to lead the production of these delicate and rare natives, which in turn will educate the larger producers and filter back into our gardens! It's Genius!

The site is directly opposite the seed bank and over a period of years has been restored back to a more natural meadow, a flock of southdown sheep graze this on rotation and an apairy of 6 hives help to pollinate the flowers. Within this are 24 production seed beds, on a monumental scale, which are cared for meticulously by a team of Kew staff.

To link all of this together I have designed a series of sculptural interpretation that creates a trail through the meadow and beds. The site was opened last week and with this persistent wet weather it has been a serious labour of love for all concerned, my boots are nearly dry!
Within these beautiful oak frame buildings are storyboards and explanations behind the work.

The opening event saw a turn out of around 200+. Here is Dawn Austwick from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Keith Datchler from the Grassland Trust both cutting the willow chain with shiny new secateurs under the main entrance feature, which is a 4.5 metre tall sculpture of Red Campion seed heads dispersing their, seed!

Note the solitary white seed to the right of the picture which tells another story of germination and survival rates.

The Campion heads were woven in Whissender willows around a steel frame. The seeds themselves are in boiled Triandra and stripped white.

The view back towards The Millenium Seed Bank.

Next on the journey is a Giant Harebell sculpture, woven in brittany blue on mild steel arching over the gate which leads into the production seed beds.

Directly opposite and leading towards the apairy is one of my favourites, the Wild Carrot flower head. This involved cleaving an oak log, shaping laths with a drawknife, steam bending and also pickling the oak, not to mention the usual steelworks and weaving!
I will be blogging some behind the scenes images and process later.

Wild Carrot flower head - stripped white willow, pickled oak with mild steel.

Taking a wee stroll in between the newly layed hawthorn hedgerow leads you towards the Oxeye Daisy sculpture, which marks the top of the seed beds. The daisy stands 3.5 meters tall and leans over the gateway. It's woven in stripped white willows, flanders red and brown black maul.

Oxeye daisy with Husk sculptures in view.

So right at the very top of the beds we have created a resting place, a picnic stop to enjoy the seed beds in all their glory and the wonderful vista as the landscape drops away.
The sculptures are based on Husk forms. Each component is around 2.8 metres in height and there is a larger 5 metre diameter pod made up of 6 husks and then as if scattered by the wind there are three smaller pods dispersed along the top of the beds.
The husks are woven in a very dark boiled willow around a mild steel frame and create amazing shadows.

Completing the journey will take you back to the oak frame building next to which stands the Pasque flower and seed head woven with flanders, triandra and white willow.

Nestled away in the apex of the oak frame is my first willow writing!

and to the left of this is another oak framed building with woven seed forms on oak laths.

As with all these big projects they rely on certain characters to achieve the deadlines and some of the more challenging logistics. So this seems like a great opportunity to say 'Thank You' to the people involved. Firstly I would like to mention Joanna Wenham and Iain Parkinson from Kew who had the vision in the first instance, they also co-ordinated the whole seed hub project and supported me onsite.
My respect also goes out to Andy Artfabs and Pete Lorimer who produced the larger steel work and translated the maquette's beautifully. Pete Zee and Jo my humble weaverbirds, and finally Peter wood, Nick Castledine and Rory Watson, all of which played a significant role in the production and installation of these incredible pieces.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tree house

With the new workshop space functioning well, it became apparent that a meeting room and sandwich scoffing area was now required.
So we set about weaving one, in our old faithful horse chestnut tree, before it developed its crown this year.

The build took the best part of two days to complete. The timber and the steps were all salvaged from the wood burning pile and the frame created from some stouti-sh osier and woven in a Triandra willow. Scale wise the specification had to be 'Tom sized'! It contains seating for three with plenty of floor space and a pulley system for supplies.

So, on the evening it materialised, I waited until nightfall, then lit the tree with candles.
The kids were the first to lead the way into the darkness, to find what looked from a distance, like a giant glowing nest that had fallen from the sky and landed in our tree!
Hot chocolate awaited them in the glowing egg shaped den to take the chill of the evening and we agreed this was arguably the best den in the village...
...yes of course we let the kids play in there, they just have to book it in, in the diary in-between board meetings and various business luncheons!

Please note the pulley system for raising supplies up into the tree :

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Giants

I was given a tip off by a friend that some Giant puppets were walking the streets of Liverpool. "Puppets,  I said, "Giant!",  I said, then all prior engagements were cancelled. En famille, we are hitting the 'pool!

The puppets are designed, built and performed by The Royale Deluxe Theatre Company based in Nantes, France. Their visit coincided with the 100 years remembrance of the Titanic .

The story played out over a three day event, saw a 50ft man named 'Uncle' surface from the docks, dressed in a full diving suit dragging with him a container, in which he had a letter for his niece.
The little girl giant (30ft) was searching the streets of Liverpool for her uncle awaiting news of her deceased Father, whom had been stowed away on the titanic as it took its plunge to the sea bed.
We caught up with the 'Uncle', about an hour from the centre of the city and followed him through the streets, he was sitting on the mailbox container with a crew over 40 folk dancing on the crane that operated him. A live band blasted out some great tunes behind him. And then the procession drew to a halt, the music stopped.
The crew started organising themselves directed in French over a loud speaker, the giant began to stand and he took his first step...
He walked fast, so fast we were literally chasing him through the crowds to keep up.
The story unfolded over that weekend and the feeling of witnessing something truly exceptional and magical, inspired me to make some willow puppets!
This is 'Legkiker' my first puppet, pre-strung.
He makes use of some old hacksaw blades, wire, hawthorn, sweet chestnut and of course willow.
And.... This is 'Tapgurl'!

Crude and teeny in comparison, but So much fun.
Here is a video of 'Legkiker' in action:

Blood Brothers.

We went to see a play this weekend and were completely spellbound. There were no frills here, no lights, no trickery...  Just human folk, acting out 'real' life. The experience affected me so much that I just had to give it a mention, here, publicly.

Our local theatre, The Concordia in Hinckley, has a reputation of delivering shows to a ridiculously high level, when you consider nearly every aspect of it is ran voluntary. That said I am not a big fan of musicals, my family are deeply rooted within the theatre and as a wee little Tom I have been to tread the boards myself. 

I was tipped off by my mum about this play and as she attempted to describe it to me, she was lost for words... this is highly unusual! However, she then went on to inform me that it was possibly the strongest group of actors that she had seen in one play... Geesus that's strong I thought, none of my family are in it!

The New Theatre Players presented, Willy Russell's 'Blood Brothers', produced by Joanne Holt, with a very small cast of enormous talent. The play thankfully was brought back by public demand to be shown last Saturday in Broughton Astley and we were blessed with tickets, to what was another 'Sell Out' performance.

Now having sat down to share this with you, I realise why my mum had struggled how to best describe the play, as when I connect to the raw emotions of Saturday nights experience, I'm welling up now, and its not just me! The audience were in pieces and as for the clean up after, it must have been messy, wading through tear-sodden tissues and hankies.
So instead I will take this opportunity to Congratulate all involved, to say Thank you and Bloody Well Done!