Artists, Suky Best and Rory Hamilton have been collaborating on works exploring cowboy myths for the past twelve months within western films. They have been investigating themes of heroism, romance, loneliness, drama and excitement. The work that has come out of this collaboration has a strong aesthetic flavour; it is hand worked, yet graphically clean. It uses strong stereotypes; while exposing their banality and frailty. Flat clear silhouettes replace the dusty blur of the wild west.
In these works only the hero or his companion (be they horse, tracker or love interest) are transcribed onto the finished image. All extraneous detail is removed. When a cowboy ties up a horse and walks into a building, the horse and rider are boldly drawn; any building only exists in negative when the rider walks behind a column. He defines the world around him.
In 2005 Film and Video Umbrella commissioned Suky Best to make ‘The Return of the Native’ as part of the project ‘Silicon Fen’, which was a series of commissions of digital art. The work itself and the wider project are both accompanied by publications. This was later extended to include species that were once common to the south east.
Selected animations, please contact the artist to see the whole series
Large Copper Butterfly, Lycaena Dispar Dispar. Near Ramsey 2005
Extinct in the UK in 1864. IUCN globally threatened species. Last seen fens 1851. Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum
Norfolk Hawker Dragonfly, Aeshna Isosceles. Tydd St Giles Fen 2005
RDB Endangered. Last seen fens 1980’s. Restricted to Norfolk & Suffolk. Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum
Bearded Tit, Panurus Biarmicus. Whittelsey 2005
RDB UK Amber List. Previously widespread on fens. Hope for breeding pairs to return to Wicken, Woodwalton and Needingworth Quarry. Original specimen image courtesy of RSPB
Wildlife sound: British Library
Black Redstart, Phoenicurus Ochruros. Battersea Park 2005
RDB UK Amber List. Under threat from development of Thames Corridor. With less than 100 pairs nesting in Britain the black redstart is a rarer British breeding bird than the osprey or golden eagle Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum.
Wildlife sound: British Library
Privet Hawk Moth, Sphinx Ligustri. Bermondsey 2005
Previously common, London population now in decline. Depletion due mainly to loss of garden hedges. Original images courtesy of Paul Chesterfield and Jayne Herbert, Cornwall Wildlife
The Fens have always been a managed and constructed landscape; however, contemporary use of the land has exacerbated the loss of the range of flora and fauna. Over the last fifty years in particular, the volume and variety of birds and insects in this part of the country has declined dramatically. In The Return of the Native, Suky Best highlights a small number of wildlife species that were once commonplace in the East Anglian Fenland anThe Fens have always been a managed and constructed landscape; however, contemporary use of the land has exacerbated the loss of the range of flora and fauna. Over the last fifty years in particular, the volume and variety of birds and insects in this part of the country has declined dramatically. In The Return of the Native, Suky Best highlights a small number of wildlife species that were once commonplace in the East Anglian Fenland and whose numbers have diminished. They are now deemed rare, endangered or extinct in the region.
The Return of the Native is a series of six striking digital animations of insects and birds, including a Bearded Tit, a Large Copper Butterfly and two Soldier Flies. Using specimens taken mainly from the natural history collections at Bedford Museum, Best brings the creatures back to life and reintegrates them digitally in a contemporary Fenland location. The animations are presented on miniature screens, which play simultaneously and work to emphasise each specimen’s unique and rare status.
In addition to the animation series there are a number of equally evocative printed works also featuring rare and extinct flora and fauna that have been temporarily returned to their original Fenland home. The scenes depicted in The Return of the Native appear constructed, a deliberate attempt by Best to remind us that the images do not represent reality, but allude to a sad sense of loss.
London species, commissioned for the Pumphouse Gallery London
Fen Species, commissioned for BCA gallery Bedford
Hedgehog, Erinaceus Europaeus. Maida Vale 2005
Species of conservation concern, 40-50% decline in London in last 10 years. Partially protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum
Red Squirrel, Sciurus Vulgaris. Westbourne Park 2005
Extinct in London, last seen Hainault Forest 1950’s. Catastrophic decline and threatened in UK. IUCN RDB3. Specimen courtesy of Horniman Museum
House Sparrow, Passer Domesticus. North Kensington 2005
RDB UK Red List. Over 70% decline in London in last 20 years. Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum
Common frog, Rana Temporaria. Battersea Park 2005
70% decline since WW2. Protected in Britain under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), with respect to sale only. Listed under Annex III of the Bern Convention. Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum
Small lysonic inkjet prints 16 x12 cms
Marsh Fritillary, Eurodryas Aurinia. Tydd St Giles Fen 2005
Priority species protected under Annex II of the EC Habitats Directive; lost from fens pre-war. Restricted to west UK. Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum
Marsh Moth, Athetis Pallustris. Near Sutton Bridge 2005
RDB3 Rare. Last seen fens 1970’s. Specimen courtesy of Bedford Museum.
Greater Horseshoe Bat, Rhinolophus Ferrumequinum. Albert Bridge 2005
Endangered in UK, extinct in London. Last Greater London record, 1953. Specimen courtesy of Horniman Museum
Crucifix Ground Beetle, Panagaeus Cruxmajor. Tydd St Giles Fen 2005
RDB2 Vulnerable. Last seen fens 1970’s. Restricted to Yorkshire. Original specimen image courtesy of Roger Key
The Aims of this project were to make animations that would alleviate stress levels in patients waiting to see doctors or to have treatment. This was achieved in 25% of patient viewers.
A series of 6 three minute, 20 second animations derived from movements of groups of insects, abstracted and simplified against non-representational backgrounds derived from natural environments, placed within healthcare waiting areas to alleviate stress. The animations were made specifically for waiting areas of hospitals; and were made with source material and help from the zoology department of the Natural history museum, and developed with collaborative input from Maggie Chapman a clinical hypnotherapist, and with Dr Cordelia Feuchtwang acting as a consultant during their development. Once completed, the animations played in a forced random order, to prevent anticipation and expectation in the viewer. The project was evaluated via interview and questionnaire at each location.
They were sited in three locations:
Clinic G (phlebotomy) in Outpatients, St Mary’s NHS, London playing during clinic hours for two weeks.
Women’s Outpatients Barts NHS, London, playing during clinics for two weeks
Yatton NHS Family Practice, Yatton Somerset, playing continuously for three weeks.
The staging in each location had to differ due to the constraints of working within a busy hospital or healthcare setting.
Yatton approx 2250 patients (over 3 week period including busy half-term week)
Barts 600 (over 2 weeks)
St Marys 2100 (250 patients attending outpatient appointments per week and 800 patients for blood tests)
Total number of people (excluding staff) who saw project 4950
Background and interests of team members in addition to artist Suky Best.
Maggie Chapman is a lecturer and clinical hypnotherapist. She has worked closely with the British Medical Association and The London Heart Hospital to develop the use of hypnotherapy within conventional medical practice, and is also is a senior lecturer at the London College of Clinical Hypnosis. She helped develop the animations to engage with certain parts of the brain that would help alleviate stress in the viewer. She has had an interest in this for many years. She also developed the evaluation process, designing the questionnaires, collating and analysing their data and setting guidelines for any interviews during evaluation. She is also director of City Minds and is currently running a longditudinal research study in the education sector on the effects of relaxation.
Mandy Holloway of the Zoology Department at the Natural History Museum identified suitable insects, fish and organisms that would make an appropriate starting point for animations of group behaviour. She also explained their behaviour, which informed the conceptual base for abstraction. Mandy Holloway was able to draw on the knowledge and expertise of colleagues in the museum suggesting and arranging fro algae other microbes to be filmed.
Dr Cordelia Feuchtwang a General Practitioner based in North Somerset acted as a consultant during the development stage of the project seeing the work every month or so for an informal discussion. With a broad range of interests she was willing to facilitate the installation of the finished work in her practice.
Suky Best writes:
This was a very successful project for me. I got to work with and develop a way of working with moving images that I hadn’t experienced before, expanding my skills and practice. I also worked with a variety of people from different disciplines, never having worked collaboratively before I found the experience interesting, enriching and on that I want to develop further and in corporate more within my practice as an artist. I also learnt a lot about insect behaviour. This has had a beneficial effect on my practice, whilst researching the insect movements I met with many etymologists and ecologists who gave me time and showed me wasps nests etc. I had a lot of help from the wildfowl and Wetlands trust, at Barnes and at Slimbridge, and from the team at Camley Street Nature Park, London. I am currently working on a series of animations and prints about the depletion of species and dwindling biodiversity in the Fens which will be exhibited at BCA Gallery Bedford April 2005 and the Pumphouse gallery October 2005, with possibilities of other venues.
This project originally came out of my own experience in hospital waiting areas and a personal desire to put something back into a context that had benefited me. I had never put work into a non-gallery setting before or had non-art audiences experience my work.
I am also working on a production grant proposal to the Wellcome Trust, as I want to take this project further. I think that the project needs much more collaboration with the nurses during its development and so I am proposing to make a permanent piece (by permanent I mean for 1-2 years, this is constrained by the limits of the life of the screen used) for the women’s outpatient waiting areas in at Barts hospital which has seasonal changes and incorporates sound. Made specifically with collaboration from the women’s outpatients’ nurses using data gathered initially from them and the patients of that area.
Maggie Chapman writes:
The study consisted of a random sample of 219 individuals over three locations. St Mary’s was a very crowded busy blood clinic, the screen was badly positioned and not able to be seen easily; there was an overall perceived relaxing effect of 20%. St Barts was a larger clinic, less busy than St Mary’s the screen was well positioned there was no increase however in perceived relaxation which remained at 20%. In Yatton a NHS GP’s surgery in Somerset where the DVD was presented on a TV as opposed to a plasma screen as at the other two locations, 51% stated that they experienced an overall relaxing effect.
The favourite screen in all locations was the butterfly screen; the most preferred colour was green in all locations. Suggestions from the feedback were that sound would be helpful and more natural representations would be more relaxing, however many found the screens interesting and were curious as to what they actually were and more generally people felt that the screens were favourable to nothing, though several mentioned the return of the fish tank would be welcome!