Digital artist Elliott Flanagan has been working with our archive as part of the Spot On Digital Commission 2020. As progress on his film reaches the halfway stage, he shares with us a new blog entry talking about the work he has undertaken and how he has found making art in the new climate brought on by lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Above: A film still from Elliott’s work on the Spot On Digital Commission 2020
In 2020 a lot can happen in a matter of days. During the short period in March between applying for and being awarded the commission the whole world irrecoverably changed due to coronavirus. Lockdown was imposed and as a result day-to-day living greatly reduced in scope. We were sent indoors and for months our horizons did not stretch much beyond our domestic interiors. Although restrictions have begun to be relaxed we are still at ransom to the disease. Our usual customs, normalities and freedoms have become representative of a former life pre virus. My initial plans for the project would have to change to reflect the times.
Chosen by the artist from the archive: Is There Anybody Out There? at Kirkland and Catterall Memorial Hall, 2000.
From the archive I have chosen a photograph to be a central component in my work. Taken in 2000 it is from Is There Anybody Out There? at Kirkland and Catterall Memorial Hall. The performance was the story of a charlatan whose clairvoyant show toured rural England during World War I, preying on the desperate and grieving relatives of fallen soldiers. The photo documents the moment of a curtain call and its grateful response from an audience. To me it is a moving depiction that makes you feel like you’re there. The dark outline of cheering heads and clapping hands set against the burnt orange light saturating the stage. Reflections captured in a gramophone stage prop nearby. Windows furnished with curtain pleats that display a homely print, the floral kind reminiscent of visits to see grandparents.
For me the image is the essence of what Spot On as an arts organisation is all about, crystallising rural touring via its representation of community and the intimacy of village hall venues. Initially I planned to film on location in the village, speaking to locals, cast, and facilitators to hear their stories and document their recollections. However with lockdown and travel restrictions in full force at the commencement of the project, to film and interview people this way was impossible. The project would have to be worked on exclusively from home.
In collaboration with Spot On l have accessed photographs and additional material from the archive. Images have been scanned and emailed to me, an old VHS tape of rare footage from the performance received via good old-fashioned post and converted to digital. Through this connection I have learnt intimate knowledge of the history, context and people, which has benefited me in getting in touch with key protagonists. This has lead to conducting interviews via Zoom. This was a bit unusual at first but with more experience and as people began to accept it as the new way of life it has become a key tool for the project. My questions were driven by my research into rural touring and an interest in community that is a central tenet in my work.
A book focused on British rural touring schemes, A Wider Horizon (2015) by Francois Matarasso has helped shape my understanding of the subject. In particular I was taken by his descriptions of rural touring as “an art of closeness” in its “shared memories” between community and artists, “a dialogue between the artist performers and the place.” To me this is particularly evocative in the context of the world we are living in today. Opportunities to join together, gather and commune in an intimate setting have been cut off. As a result we have been experiencing isolation and a sense of loss. Community has become magnified and even more of a precious thing.
The project has manifested and naturally evolved during this time and the filming I have done reflects that. At the height of lockdown I filmed during my permitted hour of daily exercise outdoors. In Burnley I am surrounded by countryside ripe to explore. These walks took on a greater sense of contemplation and perspective. As fewer people, cars and noise populated towns and cities, the power of nature and its recovery anticipated cherry blossom and the arrival of spring. I looked much harder than before at plants, trees, scenery and vistas, this intensity and its revelations a by-product of the new conditions in which we coexisted. In the footage I have found its bucolic scenes a celebration of the rural and in its solitude a longing for community.
The first half of the work on this project has been about gathering, doing research, conducting interviews, writing, and amassing film footage and sound recordings. The remainder of my time will be spent editing now. It is in this phase that surprises present themselves, and new themes and different perspectives emerge as the true identity of the work really begins to come together.
Keep up to date with Elliott Flanagan and the project on his website and Instagram feed:
Elliott’s final piece will premiere this Autumn.