On the heights commissioned artists, Miriam Austin, Sam Belinfante, Tom Lovelace, and Frances Scott to take part in a two week residency onsite at YSP: to make work in response to the heritage of the Bretton Estate and its surrounding landscape.
Frances Scott’s work, Its soil was a plot she do the tree in different voices, was composed of several connected elements: a 16mm film, sculpture, sound installation and script, and was shown across three sites: the YSP Archive, Bothy Gallery and 19th century Camellia House.
Holly Willats, Curator of On the heights: The project began with you living and working in the Park, where you could access the workshops, library and archive, as well as the estate at all hours. How did you frame your ideas in this time?
We were lucky to stay in the Archway Lodge, which used to be the entrance for the original road through the estate. I spent the first week just walking through the fields, woods, and around the lake, to get a sense of its edges.
I came to the project with a proposal its soil was a plot, to look at how the landscape of West Bretton might contain writing, or how language could be summoned from it. I really wanted to write a score for the site. Much of the land around West Yorkshire was listed as ‘waste’, or ‘shrogges’, in the Domesday survey of 1068, and this really became a central thread. I was interested in what waste implied in production – of sculpture, certainly, but also the surpluses in writing and film, the asides, footnotes, rejected matter produced through editing.
The title changed towards the end of the research, to Its soil was a plot she do the tree in different voices. I was reading T.S Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, 1921, which had originally been titled He Do the Police in Different Voices. I wanted to insert a ‘she’ in there, perhaps myself, and to also acknowledge a multiplicity of voices, as a counter narrative to certain kinds of sculpture-making that have been principally male.
Could you say something about your approach to writing the script?
The script didn’t really exist in the way you might imagine a script would precede a film. Except of course it did exist, but became a collage of discarded material that had contributed to the work; notes, book covers, drawings, film stills, an extract from the Domesday book. It was designed with An Endless Supply, and we had 3,000 copies printed that were available for people to take. The scripts were stacked in the Bothy Gallery using the wedges, or wooden ‘props’, that are usually used for moving large-scale objects or sculpture. There was a perforation that ran along the centre of the print, so it could unfold like an upside down poster, or you could tear it up and turn it into a book of sorts. I liked the idea that it was a script, but coming about in reverse. Rather than pre-empting the film it somehow documented the process of its making.
Did you have a structure in mind when capturing the film and sound, or was it more serendipitous than that?
It was a combination of the two. I often move between these scenarios that are both scored and improvised. A lot of my work happens through the research, the conversations you have with others, and the ‘finds’ you weren’t initially looking for. It’s important to respond to those! It just so happened that whilst we were in residence, the sculpture block was being demolished in Bretton Hall (originally part of Bretton Hall College of Education, which amongst several courses, taught visual arts). I wanted to capture this before it was cleared away. A sculpture of a sculpture maybe, its end matter.
Similarly with the 16mm footage of the sycamore being removed from the upper lake, things happened quite spontaneously. I really got into looking at the dead wood, the fallen trees on the estate, which to my mind were also sculptures. On the day we filmed at the lake, the weather wasn’t so great, some of the chainsaws broke because of the scale of the trunk, and everyone had to down tools for a while. And then the sun shone through clouds in a way that looked like a spotlight, everything was glowing, and so out came the Bolex again! There are limitations to shooting on analogue film, but these encourage a certain kind of focused attention that can be different to digital capture.
The sound isn’t synced in the film, which meant I had a bit more leash with recording the two separately. In some elements, I was more prepared – for instance, recording the voice of Alan MacKenzie, the Sculpture and Estates Manager at Yorkshire Sculpture Park – because of relying of his generosity and his time. On the other hand, I could be more intuitive with something like using the underwater mics, waiting for something to happen. At one point some ducks came past and started trying to eat things near the equipment; then, this weird, submerged world became amplified.
You presented your work across several sites. Why were you drawn to these particular areas of the Park?
The Bothy Gallery was where the group exhibition was due to take place. It’s an 18th century building, and used to be where the gardener or head of estate would live, with an amazing view into the valley beyond. It has interconnecting rooms with windows onto this rolling vista. It’s also a small building, so this felt like an appropriate site for placing the script, as a discrete part of the work.
I was fortunate to receive the Stuart Croft Foundation ‘Moving Image Award’ around the same time, which allowed me to extend the scope of the work. I was able to follow the idea of expanding the film into its constituent parts, so that each element was experienced as a spectre of the other, as something spatial. By that time, the archive felt like a logical home for the work, and had become a bit of a studio for me. It also sits adjacent to the gallery, so there was a connection to the show and it didn’t feel too remote. The film and sculpture – portions of the dead sycamore – were viewed from outside, where the image was back-projected onto a screen that we cut into the mirrored UV filters of the window.
The sound for the piece was installed in the Camellia House, which was the largest glass house of its time. Sound behaves differently in there and the clusters of planting make for a disorienting experience. Just before the install, there had been a storm which damaged part of the building. Considering the size of the glass roof, it was a bit touch-and-go as to whether it could still be used. I often work with a Sound Designer, Chu-Li Shewring, and together we made a 4-channel sound work that extended the sound from the film, and synthesised the readings by Alan with the field recordings and material from the archive. At some point a tree fell, which gave this sense of material collapsing, puncturing the space from above.
What is your favourite memory of working in West Bretton?
Being in the park late at night, when everyone leaves and the gates shut. Eventually, the hum of the M1 recedes too, and you can hear owls calling to each other across the woods. Proper magic!
Frances Scott is an artist whose work considers the narratives and histories that exist at the periphery of the cinematic production and its apparatus, producing films composed of their metonymic fragments. Her recent exhibitions and screenings include 57th New York Film Festival (2019); Close Up Film Centre (2019); The Bower (2018); Tate St Ives (2018); Whitechapel Gallery (2017); Yorkshire Sculpture Park & Art Licks (2017); and Focal Point Gallery (2016). Frances is currently working on a new film commissioned by TACO! (Thamesmead Arts and Culture Office) looking to the work of composer and musician, Wendy Carlos. Her films are distributed by LUX, London.
On the heights was funded by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, and The Ampersand Foundation; the residency was funded by Jerwood Arts. Its soil was a plot she do the tree in different voices was additionally supported by the Stuart Croft Foundation and York Archaeological Trust.