‘The Nightmare Room’ is a multi-platform projection work originally commissioned for the 2012 Blinc Digital Arts festival in Conwy.
It uses site-specific material, animation and augmented reality to examine ideas of transformation and the power of myth.
A detailed description of the project with further material can be found here:
The Nightmare Room: Background and Process
The project was commissioned to coincide with the centenary of Alan Turing, who is well known as the cracker of the enigma code and for his groundbreaking work in computing and artificial intelligence. Turing also produced an equally seminal body of work concerned with mathematical biology and pattern formation, specifically morphogenesis and the occurrence of Fibonacci numbers in plant structures. These studies provided the initial direction for the project, and gradually a narrative emerged that I wanted to explore further.
Turing was also an athlete, and after a chance encounter whilst out running he became a regular jogging partner with the young author Alan Garner. Writing in 2011, Garner recalled how Turing obviously ran to think, talking endlessly about mathematics and biology. As they chatted they discovered a shared common experience; both had been traumatised at an early age by the Witch’s transformation scene in Disney’s Snow White. Garner remembers Turing’s obsession with the story, “He used to go over the scene in detail, dwelling on the ambiguity of the apple, red on one side, green on the other, one of which gave death…… We discovered that we had both realized independently that quite often life and death are the same thing, beauty and evil are the same thing.”
In 1952 Turing was found guilty of ‘Gross Indecency’ i.e. homosexual activity, he lost his security clearance and was forced by the state to undergo a years course of hormone ‘treatment’ with synthetic oestrogen. He died two years later from cyanide poisoning, ending his life with a half eaten, possibly poisoned, apple by his bedside.
Garner went on to produce numerous striking works of fiction, rooted in place, myth and language, among them is a modern updating of the Blodeuwedd myth, ‘The Owl Service’.
The original Mabinogion story describes how a bride made of flowers transgresses and is punished through transformation into an owl. In Garner’s work the three protagonists find themselves trapped in a remote Welsh valley and forced to play out roles from the ancient tale.
Central to the plot is a dinner service on which the intricate floral pattern can be seen as either owls or flowers, depending on your viewpoint, the chosen perspective determining destruction or salvation. This duality echoes Turing’s musings on the apple – one half giving life and the other death.
It struck me how reoccurring themes of pattern and transformation seem to wind through the narrative arc of Turing and Garner’s life and work. And in an attempt to make sense of these different ideas I started to combine them in ‘The Nightmare Room.’
I travelled to Llanymawddwy (where the original novel was written and filmed) and gathered materials to work in the studio: audio, photos, video and Meadowsweet from the banks of the river. Inspired by Turings work on phyllotaxis I used a mixture of stop motion and digital animation to breathe life into my found objects. I let shifting patterns evolve, as if mapping out the binding threads that form the narrative fabric of our lives.
The project presented another welcome opportunity for collaboration with Steve Knight, and and for us to build on the Augmented Reality work we had produced in Lament.
We decided to create a number of site-specific AR interventions that would be visible through a smartphone AR browser. Referencing Garner’s and Turing’s joint fascination with Snow White, we built giant ‘virtual’ animated apples, one half green and one half red, all in various states of decay.
These were placed alongside our projection works at Conwy Castle and Conwy Chapel, which let the viewer interact with the AR work whilst simultaneously viewing the projection pieces, so that the two elements combined into one.
Steve has written an excellent summary of the process we went through here:
The project has continued to develop and expand and these ideas will be developed into a new moving image work in 2013