I spent the last week of June working high up amongst the rafters of a 14th century chapel on a tiny island in the North Sea, attempting to suspend hundreds of life-size seabird cutouts from the roof. From my perch atop the scaffolding tower I felt something akin to a fairly chaotic puppeteer, as I tied lines to the surrounding beams while the birds swayed about unpredictably below.
It's been two weeks since the my exhibition on the Farne Islands opened to the public and I still haven't written this blog, so I pinched that last paragraph from the guest blog I wrote for Barbour. It's difficult to know where to begin summing up such an enormous and incredible project, but I'll start with the birds.
Somehow I made 120 bird collages in just five weeks, covering about 20 different species which breed on the Farne Islands, from enormous cormorants to tiny swallows. These were then photographed (thank you Holly Booth!) and printed onto gigantic sheets of Foamex, like this:
If you imagine, as I did, that the name Foamex implies some sort of foamy quality, you would be entirely wrong. Cutting out 500-odd birds from 3mm plastic with nothing but a craft knife is no picnic. A HUGE thank you to everyone who came to the rescue and helped me to accomplish this mammoth task in just three weeks. It wasn't long before the birds had taken over the entire ground floor of my parents' house (where I have my studio) and while I escaped to a bird-free home at night, at one point they were clambering over cormorants and razorbills just to get upstairs! This is the plus-side of Foamex, a material so tough and durable, it could be usefully employed to build an assault course.
The other plus-side was that instead of working all on my own up in my studio, muttering to myself and letting the Radio 4 waves wash over me, I had company! It made a lovely change and everything much jollier (and finishing on time much more possible).
Extra thanks also go to lovely Alice Kiteley, who answered my plea on Twitter and drove across Staffordshire on at least four occasions to help me, all the super volunteers at Sudbury Hall, and Jack and Chris, who lent me a fretsaw and so revolutionised the entire bird-cutting-out process! Tina Webster also wrote a lovely blog about the day she drove all the way down from Yorkshire to assist.
Finally, the birds were sorted and packed, and the farm felt like it does after Christmas when the decorations have been taken down. We managed to squeeze them into my tiny car and I drove up to Northumberland to embark upon the hanging.
Unless you're prone to really violent sea-sickness, travelling to work by boat surely can't be beaten. It is utterly wonderful. Although I was slightlyexhausted by the end of the week, I absolutely loved spending so much time on the Farnes and disembarking from the boat in the morning, even to be dive-bombed by dozens of nesting, extremely protective Arctic Terns, was quite magical.
When it came to actually hanging the birds (the wording always sounds a bit odd...), I was brilliantly assisted by Simon Lee, property manager and, most importantly, the person who thought St Cuthbert's chapel would be the perfect venue for a giant collaged avairy. There's a great time-lapse organised by one of the National Trust rangers, which shows the whole flock going up in three days, although we did sneak a few more birds in on the morning of the preview!
I'll be seizing all further opportunities to go back to the Farnes this summer, I had such a wonderful time. The exhibition is open until the 31st October, normal opening times and admission charges apply, more information can be found here.
PS. More VERY EXCITING NEWS TO COME. No idea if I'm supposed to keep it under my (specially adopted for protection from Arctic Terns) hat or not...