‘Wellow’ Sally Waterman

Sat 16 October Sat 16 October, 2021

Saturday 24th July – Saturday 14th August

‘Wellow’ by Sally Waterman

The experimental film, ‘Wellow’ (2020) dwells upon place, ancestry, mortality and religion, triggered by the redevelopment of the artist’s late Grandfather’s Baptist chapel in the rural village on the Isle of Wight.  

Drawing upon T.S Eliot’s poem, ‘Four Quartets’ (1935-1942), correlations are made between the temporality of human life, the changing seasons and her ancestor’s connection to the local landscape. This autobiographical work considers the role of faith within her mother’s family and the generational differences in their religious practices and attitudes.  

A sense of loss – of the building, of traditions, of heritage and of community is inherent, as the artist gathers and reflects upon the memories and artefacts that are left behind. The self-reflexive exchanges between the artist and her mother, recorded during the coronavirus outbreak, not only allows the recollection of past experience, as well as the forgotten aspects to emerge, but also reveals the construction of the filmmaking process itself. 

www.sallywaterman.com / @watermansally  / www.familytiesnetwork.wordpress.com / www.vimeo.com/sallywaterman

The following long read article gives insight into Sally’s career development, creative practice and thought processes behind the Clayden gallery ‘Wellow’ film work.

QA Please can you tell us a little about yourself and your practice? 

SW I create autobiographical photographic and video narratives that explore memory, place and familial relationships. My interdisciplinary arts practice and research is concerned with the adaptation of literature into a form of self-representation, drawing upon writers such as Henry James, Derek Jarman, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf.

I re-invent the source material through a kind of fragmentary re-scripting exercise, seeking associations with certain images, themes, characters or concepts to communicate sometimes difficult, yet universal experiences of illness, conflict, loss and separation. The chosen literary text functions as a mechanism for the re-imagining of memory, often through interventions with the family album to consider notions of identity, home and belonging.

My practice-based PhD research in Media & Photography at the University of Plymouth, supervised by Professor Liz Wells; ‘Visualising The Waste Land: Discovering a Praxis of Adaptation’, (2004-2010), used T.S Eliot’s 1922 poem as an explorative text to examine my interpretative methods, culminating in a collection of photographic and video installations. Through the employment of constructed narratives, metaphorical landscapes and performative re-enactments, the Waste Land project became an attempt to work through the marital breakdown and divorce of my parents.

My growing interest in literature and photography was instigated during A’ Level study at Ryde High School in the early 1990s, where I was taught by inspiring English teachers, Jill Green and Paul McAndrew and Art teachers, Pauline Bennet-Rice, Chris Vann and Mr. Thompson. They created a really supportive environment and encouraged me to apply for a combined degree in English Literature and Art at the University of Plymouth.

QA How, if at all, has the Isle of Wight influenced your practice and progression as a creative professional?

SW I have visited the island regularly to visit my mother since I left to go to university when I was eighteen years old. The Isle of Wight landscape has informed a number of projects over the years. I had been influenced by the Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron and was fortunate to exhibit my MA project, ‘The Waves’, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater in 1996 after graduating from Goldsmiths College. Woolf was the great niece of Cameron and I created a series of image/text photographs contrasting island seascapes with London landmarks.

The Isle of Wight has served as the location for many projects since, including Firestone Copse for the ‘Forest Fears’ photographs in 2000, and Appuldurcombe House for the ‘Turn of the Screw’ slide projection in 2001. More recently, two videos from my ‘Translucence’ series (2011-2014), which drew upon Derek Jarman’s writing and Donna McKevitt’s musical score, were shot on the Isle of Wight. ‘February’ (2011) comprises of forty still images of the passing seascape from my catamaran journey to attend the funeral of a family friend in a poetic moving image piece about my confrontation with loss. ‘Wisdom’ (2013), is a stop-frame animation sequence that uses digital snapshots taken over a three year period from Easter 2010 to Easter 2013, documenting everyday rituals, key events and places visited, including the Isle of Wight.

Quay Arts played a crucial role in my early career, and some of the photographs from ‘The Waves’ were selected for a photographic exchange called ‘Similar Differences’, held at the Ostholstein Museum in Eutin, Germany and the Coastal Arts League, Half Moon Bay in California in 1996 and 1997, as well as in the ‘To the Lighthouse’ show at Michael West Gallery in 1999. Curators Philip Cundall, Jo Johnson and Georgia Newman all fully supported my practice and have offered me many opportunities for making and exhibiting work at Quay Arts over the years. In July 1997, I was commissioned to make a series of black and white photographs in response to an exhibition held at Barbara Smith’s private garden, ‘Cassies’ in Billingham, Isle of Wight, where poet, Jenny Hamlett had been in residence. The photographs were later exhibited alongside the poems, sculptures, ceramics and artworks in ‘Garden Gallery’ at the Rope Store Gallery 1998.

In 2002 I was invited to make new work for the ‘Cross Currents’ exhibition in the Michael West Gallery in February 2003, which was a collaboration between island artists and academics from the University of Plymouth’s ‘Land/Water’ research group. ’Journey Home’ 1  was a visual diary of the train journeys I took over a five month period between London Waterloo station and Ryde Pier Head to visit my mother. As a collection of images, each ‘train’ follows a time line, staggered on the wall to illustrate the varying departure and arrival times on a journey that is potentially subject to delay. This photographic series was then made into an artist bookwork featuring six concertina journeys kept within specially made miniature cardboard boxes for TRACE in 2003, and has been acquired by international public institutions and UK universities and private collections. It is currently installed in a vitrine outside the Clayden gallery2  and some editions are available to purchase from the gallery shop.

My solo exhibition, ‘Making Our Mark’ 3  was held in the West Gallery in April 2005. Drawing inspiration from Romantic poet’s such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, I documented my rural walks on the Isle of Wight over the course of a year, photographing the footprints I encountered along the way at places such as Brook Down, Compton Bay, Fort Victoria, Newtown and Bonchurch beach. The sequence of thirty ‘footprint’ photographs, my age at the time of production, were displayed as a meandering walk around the gallery space, with accompanying quotations weaving around each image. Two performative walking videos, ‘Full Circle’ (2005) shot around Carisbrooke castle moat and ‘Higher Ground /Underground’ (2005) shot through Greenwich Park were also displayed on an upturned monitor and as a large scale projection. This show marked an important progression from still to moving image and occurred at the beginning of my practice-based PhD when I was starting to review my past work in terms of my adaptation process. I was able to exhibit a couple of works from my PhD project, ‘Waste Land’ – the ‘PastPresent’ photographs (2005) and the ‘Urban Shadow Walks’ (2006) video projection in ‘Standpoint Open: Diamonds in the Rough’ exhibition in West Gallery in 2012,4  a couple of years after completion.

QA Can you tell us about ‘Wellow’, why and how you went about making this film work?

SW The ‘Wellow’ project (2019-2020) was triggered by the redevelopment of my late Grandfather’s Baptist chapel which closed in September 2017. This was a particularly poignant moment in our family history, since my Grandad had attended the chapel as a boy and then again as an adult until he died. About ten relatives, including my grandparents, great grandparents, great aunts and distant cousins are all buried at Wellow, so the uncertainty of how the site would be developed was very emotive. I had recorded a hymn during the last service on 24th November 2017 and did think about whether this could be a potential future project, but I was already working on ‘Twenty’ project (2017-2018) about my partner’s heart condition at the time.

The original planning application by the Baptist Union was submitted to the Isle of Wight Council in April 2019 and caused a significant amount of distress, due to the insensitive nature of the proposal to build three residential units on the site, including extending over part of the graveyard. After consultation with locals and relatives, including objections from my family, the plans were thankfully rejected in May 2019. A drastically moderated plan to build one residential unit inside the footprint of the existing building was submitted in May 2020 and finally approved in April 2021, held up by the pandemic. The site has now been sold so we look forward to seeing the completed building and hope that the graveyard will be well managed and kept maintained by the Baptist Union custodians based at Colwell.

I took the first photographs in April 2019 just after the first plan was submitted and then returned in August and December to capture the different seasons and the gradual demise of the building. A great deal of the background research for the project was consultation with the family album, sourcing artefacts and interviewing my mother and my aunt about their memories of the chapel and its connection to our family history. Therefore, the aim of this autobiographical work was to consider the role of faith within my mother’s family and the generational differences in their religious practices and attitudes. I wanted to contemplate my ancestry and the importance of this place and its locality to my Grandparents home, amid a sense of loss – of the building, of traditions, of heritage and of community.

The self-reflexive exchanges between my mother and I in ‘Wellow’ (2020) 5+6 were recorded during lockdown and provides the film’s structure, allowing both the remembered and forgotten aspects to emerge, but also reveals the construction of the filmmaking process itself. The series of still images taken from the archive, juxtaposed with photographs of the derelict chapel and the overgrown graveyard operate as a kind of fragmented narrated slide show.

Although I was already familiar with T.S Eliot’s poem, ‘Four Quartets’ (1935-1942), I saw a dance production based on the whole poem choregraphed by Pam Tanowitz and read by actress, Kathleen Chalfont at the Barbican in May 2019, and immediately saw the correlations with the Wellow story. The final extracted quotations from ‘East Coker’ (1940), based upon Eliot’s ancestral village in Somerset and ‘Little Gidding’ (1942), informed by the historic Christian community near Huntingdon, help to illuminate themes of time, life cycles and renewal, creating a multi-layered narrative.

The accompanying video from the series, ‘From our Mothers’ Arms’ (2020) centres upon a telephone conversation between my mother and I, where she reflects upon my last visit from London in March 2020, before the enforced separation. The hymn, ‘Now Thank We All Our God’, from which the film’s title is taken reinforces the Christian belief in creation, resurrection, and eternal love. Broader notions of memory, ageing and family legacy is embodied within the photographic diptychs that capture my mother retreating into the same recognisable rural landscapes of the West Wight, encouraging us to follow in her footsteps in a spiritual journey.

I am very pleased to have been able to exhibit this work at Quay Arts, relatively near to where it was originally filmed and hope that the work resonates with locals, as well as possessing universal appeal in terms of memory, ancestry and shifting religious practices.

QA What’s next for Sally Waterman?

SW The ‘Wellow’ film has just been selected for BIDEODROMO International Experimental Film and Video Festival in Spain in October 2021. I am waiting to hear from other film festivals, so hopefully the work will have more international screenings. I am planning on writing about the ‘Wellow’ project for an academic journal and hope to present it at future conferences, contextualising it in terms of memory, place, autobiography and family history.

I am currently in the idea development stage of my next project. I am thinking of revisiting my semi-autobiographical creative writing undergraduate dissertation from 26 years ago for a new artist film about bullying, mental health and body-image. I wrote an experimental piece about five female stereotypes (a troubled adolescent, housewife, Madonna, femme fatale and a madwoman in the attic) influenced by Charlotte Bronte, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner and Sylvia Plath. I then shot an accompanying set of photographs, staging each character on a deserted beach at Woody Bay, St. Lawrence, which operated as a fantasy space.

I might focus on Alex, the adolescent’s narrative and her/my memories of being bullied as a skinny, underdeveloped tween and her/my anxiety about their own self-image. Since I started my role as a Senior lecturer in Photography/Fashion Photography at University for the Creative Arts, Rochester I have become aware of the prevalence of these issues amongst students. Much has changed in this era of social media, but the concerns still remain the same. This project could become a self-reflexive body of work that recalls and re-stages the past, yet is also in dialogue with the present

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Sally received her MA Image & Communication (Photography), Goldsmiths in 1996 and her practice-based PhD Media and Photography from the University of Plymouth in 2011. Group shows and screenings include ‘Shifting Horizons’, Derby Museum & Art Gallery and Midland Arts Centre, (2000-2001), ‘Forest’, Nottingham Castle Museum, Oriel Davies Gallery, Wolverhampton Gallery and York Art Gallery (2004-2005), ‘What Happens Next?’ Pitzhanger Manor House and Gallery, London (2008), ‘Voyage’, Künstlerhaus, Dortmund, Germany (2013), Berlin Experimental Film Festival (2016), Aesthetica Short Film Festival, York (2017), ‘Journeys with The Waste Land’, Turner Contemporary, Margate (2018), ‘Family Film Project International Film Festival’, Porto, Portugal (2019), ‘MK Calling’, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes (2020) and Video Art Miden, Greece (2021). Her work is held in public collections including The National Art Library at the V&A, London; The School of Art Institute of Chicago and the Yale Center for British Art, New York. She is Senior Lecturer in Fashion Photography and Photography at University for the Creative Arts, Rochester and is the founder of the art research group, Family Ties Network.

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