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Poses past, part XI – Ghost Bird

18 November 2012

Ghost Bird is probably the most extraordinary and dramatic art project that I’ve had involvement with. Conceived and created by Louise Ann Wilson, it was scheduled to take place over the weekend of 15/16 September 2012 in the Trough of Bowland – a high and remote area of outstanding natural beauty about ten miles south-east of Lancaster. Louise was one of the artists at the Storey Gallery in Lancaster for the life model group event back in July. The essence of her project was:

“Referring to the ghostly grey feathers of the male harrier and the absence this year of nesting pairs in the Trough of Bowland, Ghost Bird celebrates the beauty of the hen harrier and draws attention to their sometimes fragile existence within the North of England. In doing so, the work also becomes a means of reflecting on the journey taken 400 years ago over the Bowland Fells to Lancaster Castle by the Pendle Witches. In this new piece, installations and acts of live performance combined to create a unique walking experience set within a stunning upland landscape.”

Over two days, along with 24 other models, the intention was to take four forty-minute shifts in foetal positions within semi-circular dry stone grouse-shooting butts dotted about on the wild hills while audience members hiked among us. I was in a team of three, with Anne and Janet, rotating between two butts and the hidden base camp. At any given time, two of us would be laying naked and isolated in the butts while the other was back at base, five minutes’ walk away.

This system worked well enough on the Saturday, albeit dreadfully cold when exposed to unforgiving winds. Only once did I overhear a comment from our audience (always unseen). It was during my third shift as I lay curled up and braced against the biting conditions – what sounded like a mature couple conversed as follows:

He: “Over there.”
She: “Yes, there’s one.”
(their footsteps approached and they stood over me in silence for a minute or two)
He: “Shivering with cold.”
She: “It is cold… but bloody effective.”

How gratifying that my body’s natural response only served to enhance the piece.

If participation was tough when it was merely cold on the Saturday, it was nigh impossible when raining on Sunday. Sadly for all concerned, the day had to be abandoned quite early as the safety of participants stood to be at risk. As relieved as I was to escape the harshest weather, I felt desperately sad for Louise and her team who had committed so much time, love and resources to create a vivid and uplifting experience.

For me, the biggest positive was the friendships made over two days, forged in a common experience of art and adversity. These shared moments were undoubtedly testing at the time, but I think we’ll all look back on them fondly as time goes by.


Which way to Ghost Bird? We headed in the direction of Fiendsdale Head.


First encounter with art – a woman laying eggs, each a different pastel hue.


Still a long march ahead to where models would be exposed.


Another many-hued art installation, to contrast with the fragility of eggs.


Life model base camp, before it became a slippery quagmire.


Me, installed within a grouse-shooting butt.

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