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Emplacing, re-imaging and transforming ‘missing’ life-events: a feminine sublime approach to the creation of socially engaged scenography in site-specific walking-performance in rural landscapes

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Unpublished
  • Louise Ann Wilson
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Publication date2017
Number of pages260
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The aim of this practice-as-research project is to contribute to the emerging field of ‘socially engaged scenography’ through the creation of site-specific walking-performance pursued in tandem with theoretical inquiry giving particular emphasis to notions of pilgrimage for rites of passage. These notions are however, reframed and reworked through the lens of the concept of the feminine sublime, which allows me to work with notions of transformation in such a way that is non prescriptive and open-ended.

The practical elements of the thesis embraced two specifically designed site-specific landscape walking-performances. The underlying subject matter of those performances was biological childlessness-by-circumstance and the ‘missing’ life-event of biological motherhood. The Gathering (2014) revealed the day-to-day and seasonal workings of Hafod y Llan, an upland sheep farm in Snowdonia, Wales. It was evolved through an extended period of research at the farm. In the performance the reproductive cycles of the ewes became a metaphor for human fertility and infertility, biological and non-biological motherhood and other pathways to, and types of, mothering and parenting. Warnscale: A Land Mark Walk Reflecting On Infertility and Childlessness (Warnscale) (2015-on-going), is a self-guided walking-performance specific to the Warnscale fells in Cumbria that is mediated through a published multi-layered walking-guide/art-book and aimed at women who are biologically childless-by-circumstance.

This practice-as-research project proposes that by emplacing ‘missing’ life-events, for which traditional rites of passage or ceremonies do not exist, into a rural landscape scenographic-led walking-performance can enable participants to reflect upon, re-image and transform, even in the smallest of ways, their relation to and understanding of those ‘missing’ life-events. I argued that this ‘transformation’ is achieved through an applied use of the theoretical concept of the feminine sublime, which I interpreted and evolved into six scenographic principles. I then applied these six principles to the creation and performing of The Gathering and Warnscale, which, I suggest, functioned/function as ‘socially engaged contemporary scenography’.

The six principles were developed through a close study of Dorothy Wordsworth’s (1771-1855) approach to, way of engaging with and writing about landscape (her ‘mode’) documented in her Grasmere Journals (1800-1803). This ‘mode’ can, I suggest, be understood and analysed through the concept of the feminine sublime and offers a counterpoint to the ‘masculine’ or ‘transcendent sublime’, which was dominant in the Early Romantic period in which she, and some of her female contemporaries who also informed the principles, were writing. This ‘mode’ parallels my scenographic-led process. To be clear: the concept of the feminine sublime is not about the female gender but a sensibility that manifests as a way of engaging with, walking through, or dwelling in and observing the landscape.

My written thesis reveals that the performances had personal (for participants) and wider social effects in relation to the underlying subject matter of biological childlessness-by-circumstance. This is evidenced in the way they enabled individuals to transform positively their personal experiences of that ‘missing’ life-event and in their contribution to the growing networks of communication about this social issue, which carries the potential for social and cultural change, in matters relating to the underlying subject.

Bibliographic note

Louise Ann Wilson has over twenty five years experience working as a scenographer, site-specific performance maker, theatre designer and researcher with a national and international profile. She is the Artistic Director of Louise Ann Wilson Company Ltd (LAW Co) and creates socially engaged scenography in the form of site-specific performance and sited-walks in rural locations that seek to emplace, re-image and transform ‘missing’, challenging or unmarked life-events. Recent productions include: • Mulliontide (2016), a coastal walk from Poldhu Cove to Mullion Cove in Cornwall. This work evolved in collaboration with local residents that notices the effects of tide and time, acknowledges deep feelings for place and recognises the challenges of change – personal and topographical; • Warnscale: A Land Mark Walk Reflecting On Infertility and Childlessness (Warnscale) (2015-ongoing), a self-guided walking-performance and published walking-guide/artist book specific to the Warnscale fells in Cumbria and aimed at women who are biologically childless-by-circumstance; • The Gathering / Yr Helfa (2014) (with National Theatre Wales), a site-specific walking-performance that revealed the seasonal reproductive cycles of the ewes of Hafod y Llan, an upland sheep farm in Snowdonia, Wales; • Ghost Bird (Sept 2012), a silent walk and live-art installation in the Trough of Bowland. Referring to the ghostly grey feathers of the male hen harrier and their increasing absence, due to persecution, the work became a means of reflecting on the persecuted Pendle Witches; • Fissure (May 2011), a three-day walking performance in the Yorkshire Dales about the death, aged 29, of my sister due to a brain tumour, and the grief caused by her loss; • Still Life (Sept 2008, rev.2009) and Jack Scout (Sept 2010) both co-productions with Sap Dance in response to two locations on Morecambe Bay, Lancashire. From 1998–2008 Louise Ann Wilson was the Co-Artistic Director of wilson+wilson makers of site-specific performance whose works include: • Mulgrave (2005) a four-mile journey into Mulgrave Woods on the North Yorkshire coast; • News from the Seventh Floor (2003), a journey around Clements, after-hours; • Mapping the Edge (2001), which led participants on an epic journey through the city of Sheffield; • House (1998), which transformed two nineteenth-century terraced houses in Huddersfield into an immersive performance that combine theatre, installation, poetry, music and sound. As a theatre designer Louise has designed and directed productions for companies such as the Royal Exchange, Theatre Centre, Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse and The Crucible Theatre. In 2008 I co-directed and designed Salt, a performance installation created in a four-storey derelict salt factory with Theatre Rites for the Ruhr Triennale at the Zollveriene Cokery, Essen, Germany. She has written for publication and is regularly invited, or selected, to present her practice and research at a conferences and symposiums as well as in the press, media and on radio broadcasts. Louise is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has over twenty years experience as a visiting lecturer and associate lecturer in HE at undergraduate and postgraduate level and is regularly invited by universities to give talks and presentations on her practice. She is an External Examiner for the BA Performance Design and Practice Central St Martin’s, UAL, London (2014-17). In 2017 she was awarded a PhD in Theatre Studies from Lancaster Institute of the Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University. https://www.louiseannwilson.com