BLOG Ellen Bell

NWR Issue r23

Miranda Whall: Crossed Paths at Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown

There is a new glass door at the entrance to Oriel Davies’ Gallery 1. Though sensor-led it appears to open and close of its own volition. It makes a soft shushing sound, rather like the doors in Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise. It seals the gallery in, shutting out all the usual extraneous noise of ringing telephones, reception chatter and café clatter. And Miranda Whall’s film and audio installation, Crossed Paths, 2018, currently on show in Gallery 1, is made all the more intense for it.

Eight huge white screens line the gallery’s right-hand wall, with eight floor-bound projectors trained on them. A row of undulating wooden benches rest against the opposite wall. Though divided up into a series of eight mini films, Crossed Paths is a lengthy twenty-four minutes. Entitled ‘Crawl 1-8’, these film-lets come with their own commissioned soundtracks.

‘Crawl 8’ is just beginning as I enter. Shush goes the door. I take a seat on the bench and the sensory onslaught commences. Bombarded first by a cacophony of what sounds like electronic drum sticks rattling and clanging, this is swiftly followed by the screens flicking on and off like strobe lights in a rave. What are they showing? I can’t quite make it out. Fingers heavily encased in black waterproof gloves edge their way along tarmac, then a lorry speeds by. I can hear breathing. There are pine needles – lime-green flecks – on the road. All the screens are on now, some showing the same view, others with it upended, sky and road on their side. The music, courtesy of Sam Christie, is pulsating, fast, driven, dangerous. My heartbeat has visibly quickened.

A moment’s blankness, a silence and then ‘Crawl 1’ starts up. Here is a change of pace and landscape. The screens show a misty mountain-side, heavy with wetness. They zoom in on heather, rushes, dank undergrowth. The music is lilting, mysterious. In ‘Crawl 2’ there is sky and the strains of a guitar and maybe a harp. The screens appear to dance. I can hear panting. There’s a flash of red, then something white and woolly.

A man and woman come in to the gallery during ‘Crawl 3’. He sits down next to me while she hovers, still standing, her arms crossed. Abstracted images of grasses rolling and tumbling rush across the screens. The music is urgent, discordant. The woman trails off towards Gallery 2. By ‘Crawl 4’, he has also gone. ‘Crawl 5’ gives a sensation of flying. ‘Crawl 6’ is elegiac. A piano. The gloved-fingers trawl underwater, pebbles are disturbed, oxygen bubbles. Diarmuid Johnson’s flute accompanies ‘Crawl 7’, with its visuals of a mountain-stream cloudy with silt. A voice is groaning now, exhaling with the effort.

I stand before the monitor in Gallery 2 showing Rhys Thwaites Jones’ documentary of the making of Crossed Paths. Do I really want it explained? I put on the headphones. It is good, very good. We see Whall’s crawled journey from above. We hear her talking of her experience of crossing the Cambrian Mountains on her hands and knees – the isolation, the abandonment, the limited immediacy of her view. ‘I was a porter’, she says, ‘carrying this load of footage on my back.’ Unhindered by romantic conditioning, her body ‘saw’ the mountain-scape as it really was.

Crossed Paths is an extraordinary piece of work: the collaborations, the melding of sound and vision are stunning. But I have one gripe.

Did I feel like a sheep? Whall asks herself in Thwaites Jones’ video. Did you need to? I want to ask. That bit of sheepskin bobbing along the top of the frames and then that flicker of the title ‘Woolly Maggot’ at the start of the video. It all just seems a little naff and detracts from the film’s nobler intention and power.

‘Crawling literally transported me,’ says Whall.

Surely that is more than enough?

Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in Aberystwyth.

Rhys Thwaites-Jones’ video, ‘Woolly Maggot’ The video description encapsulates the project thus: During the summer and autumn of 2017, artist Miranda Whall crawled 5.5 miles through the bio-diverse Cambrian Mountains in West Wales wearing a sheep fleece and 14 GoPro cameras. This multi-platform, interdisciplinary project tells the story of a mountain where the narrative is told from the legs, arms, hands, head, back, stomach and mouth of a human/sheep, highlighting that each have shaped the upland landscape we see today and both have a role to play in shaping its future.

This exhibition runs until 13 June. Miranda Whall’s work will be featured, alongside a group of wild swimmer artists, in a profile on women adventurers in Wales by Hannah Engelkamp in an upcoming e-edition of New Welsh Review.

Photo: Hannah Mann.


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