Below the Blanket – Cryptic

April 3, 2020 in awards 2020 blog, featured by mwhiteside

Marking twenty-five years of ‘ravishing the senses’, Cryptic presented Below the Blanket, a series of new artworks installed throughout the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and inspired by one of Scotland’s most extraordinary and unsung natural features as part of the 2019 Edinburgh Festivals.

 

The Flow Country is the world’s largest blanket bog, a vast mass of peat and Sphagnum moss, shot through with hundreds of lochs, that covers 200,000 hectares in Caithness and Sutherland. Home to many rare animals, birds, insects and plants, the peat also acts as a natural store for carbon, helping to manage the effects of the climate crisis.  Altogether, this corner of Scotland holds more than 400 million tonnes of carbon, three times more than is held in all the UK’s woodlands combined.

Under the Creative Direction of Cathie Boyd, artists Kathy Hinde, Luci Holland, Hannah Imlach, Heather Lander, Matthew Olden and composer Malcolm Lindsay made work responding to the Flow Country’s wildlife and soundscape, the gradual process of peat formation, and even the way the blanket bog ‘breathes’ as it expands and contracts.

Visitors to the gardens encountered artworks that were evocative, contemplative and beautiful – and came away enlightened about this unique Scottish landscape.

“A really good way to celebrate helping to save this rare and wonderful landscape.” Jeremy Watson (The Times journalist) on Below the Blanket

The environmental focus of the project not only provided inspiration for the artists but also saw Cryptic as an organisation consider the ways in which we can implement more environmentally friendly working methods at each stage of a project.

This thinking first emerged when planning the artists’ residencies at The Flow Country, a vital part of their development process but one in which a lot of travel was inevitable due to the area’s remote setting. Although flying north to Aberdeen or Inverness would have cut costs and journey times, we booked trains for the Cryptic team, artists and press who visited.

“Magical and transporting, but also truly educational.” Audience Member on Below the Blanket

While on residency, the artists focused on many different research areas. These included: the importance of the water table, levels and water saturation in maintaining a bog environment; the carbon locked in the peat and the sphagnum moss that helps to protect it; and the impact that damage and restoration has had on the delicate ecosystem of The Flow Country. Kathy Hinde led a series of Deep Listening Walks which saw participants dipping hydrophones into the bog pools, listening intently to the life below the water’s surface.

“burrows into our senses through a host of individual works… It was a beautiful & calming experience.” The Herald on Below the Blanket

As well as focusing on their own creative research, the artistic team volunteered with The Flows to the Future Project to restore areas of the peatland by creating manmade bog pools through the damming of drainage ditches. This allowed the team to learn directly from scientists, gaining an understanding of the important elements of this unique landscape which aid in managing the climate crisis. Subsequently, the artists considered practical ways in which their installations could have a minimal carbon footprint. For example, Kathy Hinde chose to run her water based kinetic sculptures using hydro power. We also lit the event with solar powered and battery lights and all the speakers were powered by rechargeable batteries.

The project facilitated close collaborations with scientists and other experts including Dr Neil Bell, Research Scientist in Bryology at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, who worked closely with artist Heather Lander whose delicate painted perspex sculptures revealed the complex structure of Sphagnum Moss. Luci Holland utilised the knowledge and research of Dr. Chris Marshall, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, to explore how human activity affects our environment constantly and often invisibly in her immersive soundscape Hold. Matthew Olden collaborated with Dr. David J.Large from the Faculty of Engineering at the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, whose data was turned into a soundscape in Data Flow. Throughout the year, water levels in the Flow Country rise and fall, and as the bog expands and contracts accordingly it can be said to be ‘breathing’. Scientists and environmentalists studying this process have learned that different parts of the bog breathe differently, depending on the health of the peat. The soundtrack in Data Flow allowed audiences to hear how this ‘breathing’ varies across five areas of the bog, whether waterlogged and healthy, drained and damaged, or restored.

“Olden’s work lets us hear this wonder of nature.” The Herald on Olden’s Data Flow

Being able to utilise the environmental expertise of the project partners including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, was invaluable in the development of the work and informed not only the production of Below the Blanket, but will continue to shape future Cryptic projects. Art is a valuable tool in informing and inspiring change and action in challenging times. Climate crisis and our relationship with the environment and nature continue to be an important focus in the work of the artists featured in Below the Blanket. The touring version of Below the Blanket, Slow Sonic Stroll is a poignant sound walk which will continue this contemplation on art and nature, offering a much-needed departure from fast-paced, everyday life.

 

“It’s captivating music that can stop you in your tracks, as strange and beautiful as the place that inspired it, but there’s a lament-like poignancy to it too.” The Arts Desk on Below the Blanket

Cryptic: Below The Blanket from Cryptic on Vimeo.

 

Below the Blanket Audio: https://soundcloud.com/crypticglasgow/sets/below-the-blanket