An update on the Norman McLaren residency and some completed works.
by Jennifer Wicks, Artist in Residence
Having the space and time to research McLaren’s archive and experiment with my work makes me feel very privileged. The in-depth technical notes, letters to and from academics/ technicians/ collaborators – the wealth of material is incredible. These documents demonstrate how Norman McLaren was innovative and experimental. His interests lay in the lived experience; the phenomenology of sound, and image, and the philosophy around perception. He pioneered synthetic sounds – drawing directly onto the soundtrack of the film to create an innovative sort of electronic, optical-graphical music (he essentially produced sound out of drawings and John Cage was known to have played McLaren’s sounds at some of his own New York concerts).
All these elements in McLaren’s work, and his discussions in articles, interviews and letters held in the archive, have been incredibly inspiring. In 1969, Norman McLaren gave an interview with Radio Canada, where he discusses his techniques and aims as a film maker. He talks about the visual translations of music and movement in film being like a “silent orchestra”. I used this as a title for a 16mm stereoscopic film I’ve made on a vintage Bolex camera. Each frame on the film has two separate images; images that sit side-by-side on the normal film frame. In 1951, McLaren was commissioned by the British Film Institute for the Festival of Britain and made two 3D films, ‘ Now is the Time’ and ‘Around is Around’. He also made several stereoscopic drawings, where a pair of images can be viewed through a stereoscope to give the illusion of depth.
In ‘Silent Orchestra’ I used flowers, (colour and form), and rhythm to represent the women that McLaren worked for and alongside, and was inspired and influenced by; Helen Biggar, Evelyn Lambart, Greta Ekman and Mary Ellen Bute. They were some of the first (and few) female experimental filmmakers. Lambert worked with McLaren regularly and both Lambert and Ekman made independent stereoscopic films; Bute created abstract music films and McLaren was employed by Bute to help her with some of her earlier films; McLaren and Biggar worked with each other whilst at Glasgow School of Art and were life-long friends, writing to each other on a regular basis. Most of these letters are kept in the archive here at Stirling.
There is no doubt that McLaren had a brilliant and creative mind, and of course he’s regarded as a ‘pioneer’ but what’s interesting, or rather something that struck me, was the fact that he was supported by a big studio (Film Board of Canada) with technicians at hand, and time and freedom to experiment. He worked with, and alongside, and was employed by several female artists who didn’t/ don’t get the same recognition. That’s not to be disparaging about McLaren but his gender was also his privilege. I hope the film I have made celebrates McLaren but equally acknowledges the women who supported him.
McLaren’s interest in visual translation of music extended to drawings. He created some incredible pastel musical scores and 6 different drawings of musical form. I have frequently used drawing to represent music, and for the residency I created 4 woodcut graphic scores which I have printed on the University’s iconic Columbian Press, part of The Pathfoot Press (founded by Sarah Bromage and Kelsey Jackson Williams in 2016 as a centre for letterpress printing, teaching, and research at the University of Stirling).
The stereo film and woodcuts will be shown alongside other work made during the residency later on this year (2022).