Tuesday, 13 October 2009

66 trees in the forest

Eleanor went out to Kaunas in 2007 for the last Biennal and had worked up some delicate line drawings of the animals at the museum at the time.

She had also been looking at the traditional paper cut winter decorations that you can see all over Lithuania on the run up to Christmas. They are called Karpiniai and are put up in the windows to cast beautiful shadows and silhouettes. Here is one from the windows of the primary school that is opposite the museum:

When we started working up ideas earlier this year, we had wanted to pick up on some of the translucent qualities of the karpiniai. Eleanor started playing with some of the drawings and putting pinpricks and stitch holes through the pattern to let light through:

We decided to look at putting artificial light in behind these pieces. We built some very simple paper lanterns with the animal images burnt and pinpricked into the surface and a white LED source in the base:

Up until our visit to Kaunas in the summer we thought these 'snow lanterns' would be the basis for the design with drawings of the animals on the faces of the paper. We had put together a visual of these lanterns across the floor of the space with the idea of using these like a broken up screen spread across the floor:

What we quickly realised, however, once we went back to the museum, was that these lanterns, that might be at most 300mm high. would just get lost in the trophy room space. The museum had kindly allowed us to use the whole space and it just felt the piece at this scale might feel a little lost. The animal drawings, whilst very beatiful and delicate, would just not stand out enough with the LED lights on behind and with the light moving around behind them. We were also wondering if this would be a case of 'oh wow but so what' - why did this have to go in the museum or the trophy room, what if anything were we trying to say with these nice drawings or with the moving LED light?

We spent most of the week in Kaunas, working through possibilities in our heads and fretting about what we were trying to create. Luckily we are both expert fretters. The piece wanted to be about the ideas of confinement and longing for escape - emotions that you cannot help but ponder on as you walk around the museum, even though you know this is just an anthropomorhic reflex to the animals in their glass cases. There was also a strong theme about the idefinability of things, of things not always being what they seem - the exhibits are actually hollow fibre glass for one thing, but also how we are seeing Kaunas and Lithuania as visitors and tourists ourselves; We had come with our own assumptions and generalisations, interpreting everything we saw the way we wanted to see it, but aware that this was just another construct that could be way off the mark.

We pared our ideas back and what we ended up with was the very simple symbol of the forest. It is a place of solitude and sanctuary and also of the mystical. In Jungian symbology it is a representation of the conscious and unconscious mind. Like the mind it can also be full of monsters and demons and the unknown. Being English it also represented the dark, enchanting and forbidding forests of Central Europe, the land from whence the the barbarians descended upon Rome, but of which we have so little experience in our decidedly deciduous arable country. The Forest was also the site of some of the terrible murders and atrocities of the second world war and the soviet years - the history of which events particularly resonated for us on our visit to Kaunas.

What we decided to do was bring the forest back in to the museum for the animals. It would be a forest of glowing paper trees, hung from the ceiling and on a large enough scale to create a proper glade. Eleanor started playing with burning effects on tracing paper to create the look of birch bark and we put LED lighting up through these cylinders to see how it looked:

The lighting would transmit up a tube like this for over a metre. These 'trees' could then be hung in the trophy room from the ceiling, each sealed into a perspex tube like the taxidermy exhibits themselves behind their glass cases. We put a visual together to give an ideas of what this would look like:

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