Magnetic North Blog
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That sequence of words is recognizable to many English-speaking people. Most of us will have had a go at saying the famous tonguetwister out loud; enjoyed the slips and stumbles as we try to say it faster and faster. Some of us might have even questioned its origin – who sells seashells by the seashore? (It’s believed to be about Mary Anning, an early 18th Century scientist who collected fossils).
Tonguetwisters are fun. They’re weird and silly. They’re an odd language quirk that seem to appear in languages across the world. Sometimes they have historical roots (like Mary Anning’s seashells); sometimes they can be deliberately constructed to make the speaker say something rude: I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m the pheasant plucker’s son. (I sort of love that side of tonguetwisters too. There’s a cheekiness about them.) And sometimes tonguetwisters are just plain bizarre, full of weird imagery: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? (I don’t know, but now I’m picturing a small rodent throwing piles of sticks into the air…)
So, I had this idea to create an arts project based on international tonguetwisters. Seashells will be a video artwork where I perform a series of non-English tonguetwisters wearing costumes inspired by the imagery in the rhymes. As a musician I’m drawn to the rhythms and tempos that occur in tonguetwisters, and I’m hoping to exploit their musicality even more by not knowing the full language behind the selection of words I’m saying.
I’m currently working at North Edinburgh Arts (NEA) with community participants who have English as a second language. They’re teaching me their favourite tonguetwisters and I’m attempting to learn them. I’m also working in collaboration with brilliant costume designer Ali Brown who’ll design and make the costumes for the video. Ali and I have been attending the Knit ‘n’ Natter group at NEA. We’ve been bonding over knitting needles and creating weird bright pink wooly tongues for one of the costumes. And I’ve been working with people learning tonguetwisters in various languages including Kurdish, Bengali, Arabic and French.
Here’s my favourite tonguetwister that I’ve been taught so far:
Kolikatar Kakoli kakaki kohilo, kaka kaak keno kaka kore? (Bengali)
Kakoli from Kolkata asked her uncle, uncle why do crows make the kaka noise?
You can expect to see me struggling to say that in the Seashells video wearing a fully knitted crow costume!
I'm doing another drop-in session to learn more tongue-twisters on Friday 23rd August at North Edinburgh Arts from 1pm-4pm.
Seashells is funded by the City of Edinburgh Council Culture Service Project Fund in partnership with the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and supported by Magnetic North.
In June 2019, as part of my artist attachment, I was invited to a take part in a three day residency at the Bamff Estate in Perthshire. The focus of the residency was to explore the dynamics between the family of beavers, which had been reintroduced on the estate, the land and us.
Laura Bissell has written up an excellent summary of the residency, which you can read here.
This residency provided a rare opportunity for me to experience a landscape shaped by beavers over a number of days and at different times of day. What at first looked like a really unwieldy landscape was quickly put into context as the work of beavers. This immediately challenged my preconceptions of what a landscape with a keystone species would look like. It looked chaotic. beavers are conspicuous.
What also became apparent, was that despite their relative shyness, they had set up a dynamic in the landscape that both maintained their privacy and security, but also enabled us intruders to watch them. This, I observed was not unlike the performer / audience dynamic, except instead of your two metre clearance, was a pond, and the pros arch and cyc. was a massive Rhododendron.
This was of huge interest to me. This is a dynamic I understand. This is performative.
In response to this, along with colleagues, we filmed ourselves building a dam and ended up showing the film in the main house in Bamff. But rather than just watch the film, the rest of our colleagues had to stand at a distance from the ipad on which we were sharing the film, and view it through binoculars. So it became less about the film, but the act of observing on terms that were not our own. The frustration at not being able to see properly through binoculars, at not being allowed any closer, at the image being an imperfect composition, at not having the usual performer / audience contract honoured.
Another example of us (me) imposing something inherently anthropocentric on another species.
Space/Time is a paid creative retreat for experienced artists from all disciplines that asks the question “How does an artist keep developing?”
It aims to refresh participants through a stimulating examination of creativity. During the residency, we will explore how creativity can be nourished and how artists can continue challenging themselves to develop.
The residency combines facilitated dialogue - built around a series of self-generated questions - with time for individual reflection and work. It is led by Nicholas Bone and Alice McGrath.
The artists taking part are:
Cathy Forde is a writer from Glasgow. She has written many books for children and young adults and her plays have been produced by National Theatre of Scotland, A Play Pie Pint at Oran Mor and by BBC Radio. She also works extensively as a mentor and creative writing tutor.
Daniel Padden is a composer and musician making music and sound for theatre, screen and live performance. His work has included film, orchestral scores, children's theatre, tape collages, vocal improvisation and experimental rock music. He has recently created and co-directed 'WhirlyGig', a theatre piece for families exploring the absurd conventions of musicianship and performance.
Alyson Hallett is an award-winning poet and her latest pamphlet Toots was shortlisted for the Michael Marks and Callum MacDonald Memorial Awards. She has also published fiction and drama and has collaborated with visual artists, musicians, dancers and sculptors. She lives in Somerset and curates The Migration Habits of Stones, a poetry and public art project
Rob Young trained in theatre design, spent 13 years in photographic archives and 20 more as an award-winning writer, working for the UK’s top TV, film and theatre companies. He is currently working on a project about children with chronic, complex pain and his new play opens at Buxton Opera House in January 2020.
Emma Jayne Park
Emma Jayne Park works under the creative handle Cultured Mongrel as a dancer, theatre maker, collaborator and micro-activist. She is obsessed with finding ways to ask better questions. From creating dance with young dancers in rural community spaces to working as a movement director in established mid-scale theatres, her politics always underline her practice with a focus on creating healthy working spaces, questioning hierarchies, collaborative working and aspiring to positive social change. Her research focuses on bridging the gap between ideology and practice, exploring themes including identity, communication, failure, re-authorship and creative ownership.
Sign up to our Artist Development mailing list to be notified when more information is available on the next Space/Time.
Magnetic North wishes to appoint an Artistic Administrator working on a 40% contract (average of 2 days a week, working flexibly according to programme requirements) for an initial 12 month contract. The Artistic Administrator post will particularly focus on the artist development and support element of our work, as well as assisting the Producer and Artistic Director across the whole of the company’s output. The salary is £25,000 per annum pro-rata (£10,000 for a 2 day week) and the job is based at Magnetic North’s office in Edinburgh.
The deadline for applications is 9am on Monday 2 September 2019. Applications received after this time will not be considered. We will let you know by Friday 6 September 2019 whether or not we will be inviting you to attend an interview. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on Friday 13 September 2019. We would like the successful candidate to start work as soon as possible after then.
We are very sad to be waving goodbye to Seona McClintock who has been a fantastic Artistic Administrator for Magnetic North over the last year. We wish her every success in her exciting new role at Eden Court.
To find out more about the job and how to apply, please download the recruitment pack here.