A Birdsong in the Hand

Drawing inspiration from 18th-century collectors, Elisabeth Pellathy's latest work explores themes of conservation and preservation. Recently showcased at the ONCA Gallery in Brighton, Visualised Bird Song explores an innovative method of preserving sounds disappearing from our natural world. Matt Iredale caught up with Elisabeth Pellathy to talk translation.

When we hear the sounds of morning birdsong, we seldom think of it as something disappearing – or that it might be possible to hold in our hand – but these thoughts are integral to Elisabeth Pellathy’s new exhibition, Visualised Bird Song. As a professor of New Media at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Pellathy’s art encompasses a variety of techniques, ranging from 3D printing to lithography. As a result of her exhibition at ONCA, Visualised Bird Song is soon to be displayed at Brighton and Hove’s Booth Museum of Natural History. 

Where did the idea for Visualised Bird Song originate?

It originated in two places. Firstly, I was listening to Peter Cusack’s work, Sounds from Dangerous Places. Cusack’s recordings highlight the vibrancy of life - be it human, insect or bird - in politically dangerous or environmentally damaged locations. My second source was Melody Owen. She was about six years ahead of me in graduate school and she makes these beautiful birdsong chandeliers. They are quite large and have a different quality to my work. I was thinking more about 18th-century taxidermy, collection and ‘wonder cabinets’. I wanted to infuse the bird song with this idea of preserving moments in time.

Preserving the ‘disappearing’ has been integral to a lot of your work over the years. Could you tell me more about the issues that you are trying to focus on?

I don’t want to clobber people over the head. The idea that ‘if you use plastic you're the enemy of the environment’ often ends that conversation. What I’m trying to say, hopefully, is that through technology and communication we can be empowered to think about endangered species and the environment more critically. Maybe there will be some animals of which you've never heard, but seeing them on a timeline will show you what’s still there and what’s not. It’s the same with indigenous languages. Maybe not to the daily speaker, but they embody a long history of expectations, sounds and humour. 

The homogenisation of language and culture is an important issue today. Is translation and conversation at the heart of your work then, or is it based in nostalgia?

I love translation. When you do a 3D print the file format is an STL (STereoLithography). This file format was invented by Charles Hull, who created the first SLA machine in 1983, later this file format was patented in 1986 and when that happened it democratised 3D printing as an industry standard, opening up new avenues for everybody. It’s actually made up of hundreds of triangles. So, I took the ready to print STL file and put it back into the software to make the 2D prints.

I have a problem with nostalgia. I have no nostalgic memories for these birds. I’ve heard them, but I’ve never done my own field recordings or seen them. There is a disconnect. I think my work is about forming a connection with something that you would be unable to experience, like in a natural history museum. You look at a cross section of time in the glass cases and are blown away. It’s about the poetic slippage of natural history and art, and forming a dialogue. I think crossing timelines through the discussion of the 18th-century collector of curiosities is more appropriate. At the time, those people were conservationists, leading voices in the categorisation of natural history.

Has your social position as a first generation American influenced your work?

I think this was the catalyst for preserving the rapidly disappearing because both my parents are Hungarian. My parents immigrated to the United States in 1946 and 1951, respectively. My grandfather was actually working for the Hungarian government as a naturalist, categorising mushrooms and wild edible foods. I think that’s where this idea of preservation comes from. People ask why I don’t use my family’s story as a more direct inspiration for my work. I say that’s what has made us, it’s our heritage, but it is not necessarily what I want to dig into with my art. I take the idea of my family and then move it 5 degrees. 

Can you tell me about the ornithological theme that pervades your work?

[She laughs] I’m going to be that crazy bird lady. I try and move my work away from it and I always come back. I went to China for an installation. I had this huge space that I could do whatever I wanted with and I ended up printing birds - 9ft banners of extinct birds! When I drive to work, I think I’m going to do something new, but I just keep coming back to birds. Maybe I could do something on insects; I mean they fly too. But I have a one-track mind. I’m a birdbrain.

Well, the one place birds don’t appear is your collaborative work with Lee Somers, could you tell me more about the SanLun Yishu project?

We were living in China at the time. The SanLun Yishu are three-wheeled vehicles made for short journeys from the store to your home. Funded by BlackRock Arts Foundation, we renovated one, so people could get a free ride and an art exhibition. Inside, we had prints and a video playing. It was a kind of reprieve from the busy Beijing streets, which was the initial catalyst, as it is very hard to find any sense of peace in the city. 

Do you still have the SanLun Yishu?

I wanted it but when we returned from China, our luggage was too heavy. I put everything I could from two years in there, including lots of rocks from the edge of Western Tibet.

Did the SanLun Yishu project influence your later work in any way?

Not really, it was a project that we did and then we went our separate ways. He’s a ceramicist and I’m a digital artist, although he’s my partner we got tired of each other; [she laughs] I mean artistically. I’m sure he would have a much kinder take on that. We’ve collaborated since. We did a show in August of 2016 on landscapes and the environment, which went really well, but artistically we did our separate works and then came together, rather than one big project. Lee and I  have now been invited to participate in another collaborative project with artist Scott Stephens at The Institute for Electronic Arts - a research studio facility within the School of Art and Design, NYSCC, Alfred University, New York.

The homogenisation of language and culture is an important issue today. I mean language literally changes the structure of one’s brain, which is quite a tactile idea. Considering the techniques you have used in many of your works, is there a desire to engage with concepts that are more tactile and tangible?

I think it’s just my training. I’m a professor of New Media, so I teach film and animation, but I used to be a print maker. At heart, I draw. It’s where art started for me, so that tactile experience translates to all of my work. I regularly scratch onto 16mm film and I even do rotoscoping. I think the hand mind aspect is very important to me as an artist, I don’t think it was an intellectual choice. I do a lot of stuff on the computer, but having the result from digital translating to analogue is a beautiful conversation. 

To experience more of Elisabeth Pellathy's beautiful preservations look out for Visualised Bird Song at Brighton and Hove's Booth Museum and explore her website at mothandmountain.com.

A History of Formal Footwear

To celebrate the launch of Loake's exclusive premium range 1880 Export Grade, emulating the way the company first manufactured its fine, handmade shoes more than 130 years ago, Ernest explores a history of the formal shoe.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that no English gentleman's wardrobe is complete without a pair of handcrafted formal shoes from one of the country's traditional shoemakers. Northamptonshire being the spiritual home of the Goodyear welted formal shoe it seemed rather fitting that we explored its history with our friends at Loake. 

Loake has been making fine footwear for five generations and their new range reflects a celebration of the styles and elegant understated designs for which they have become known. Loake's latest limited edition 1880 Export Grade range, sold exclusively offline, offers both Oxford and Derby styles, brogues, semi-brogues, toe-cap and wing-cap designs.

Made by their very best shoemakers, with an unmatched level of precision, all styles in Loake 1880 Export Grade range feature a fitted fiddle-back waist for a more refined and elegant shape. This has the added benefit of providing further arch support whilst feeling lighter and therefore more comfortable in wear. The fitted appearance is complemented by extra fine stitching using a higher number of stitches per inch. Full leather soles are intricately hand-decorated and reveal a hand-painted two-tone stain. The shoes are hand-burnished and finger polished for a deep shine and fitted with premium flat waxed cotton laces.

Buckles and Business

You may have heard your grandfather say ‘never do business with a man in loafers’. The introduction of the lounge suit saw a stark decrease in the number of clothing changes a gentleman was expected to make in one day and with this came a heightened significance on footwear. The loafer was considered a more leisurely shoe as it didn’t require lacing. It could be slipped into, out of formal dress shoes, for increased comfort later in the evening - probably not the best time for negotiating fair business transactions. Neither perhaps was it thought best to wear the buckling Monk shoe. As the name suggests, it was originally a dressier more durable version of the sandals worn by European monks. Rising up the ranks, above the slip on and the buckle, laces were considered the true mark of a gentlemen's formally presented feet. 

Going Full Brogue

Originating from footwear worn in the wilder reaches of the Highlands and Ireland, the brogue was initially punched with holes to allow water to drain away after working in or walking through boggy terrain.

The brogue's punched detailing first created for wear in boggy terrain.

The brogue's punched detailing first created for wear in boggy terrain.

Edwardians popularised the modern brogue and the shoe became a favourite of the Royal family at Balmoral. The Duke of Windsor particularly helped to boost the shoe’s reputation as elegant by wearing full brogues to play golf. During the jazz age, the two-tone style of the brogue was worn by the likes of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire during their dance routines but by the 1930’s brown was the most popular colour for the brogue having become essential wear for the modern gentleman and conventions ‘no brown in town’ and ‘no brown after 5 o’clock’ were being increasingly defied. 

Today, the punching on a brogue is purely decorative but winks back to its rags to riches story. Loake encapsulates the essence of this rising history in Warwick, a sleek wing cap ‘austerity’ design brogue, made using Onyx Black, Smoked Teak or Black Cherry calf leathers, for when you're after the elegance of the brogue without that distinctive punch. 

Warwick, Smoked Teak Semi-brogue, Loake 1880 Export Grade

Warwick, Smoked Teak Semi-brogue, Loake 1880 Export Grade

Semi-brogue

If the shoe has a ‘wing tip’ cap and detailed punching you're going ‘full brogue’ but the term Oxford is normally used when the shoe has a plain toe-cap. The straight toe-cap and other parts of the shoes can be decorated with some punching but this is known as a ‘semi-brogue’ or ‘London brogue’. The Loake 1880 Export Grade Trinity offers a stylish and versatile semi-brogue shoe in an Oxford design, available in striking Onyx Black, Deep Mahogany, and Burnt Pine calf leathers.

Trinity, Deep Mahogany Semi-brogue, Loake 1880 Export Grade

Trinity, Deep Mahogany Semi-brogue, Loake 1880 Export Grade

Straight Laced Oxford

Although the term ‘straight laced’ is thought by some historians to come from the ways different people tied their Oxfords, the style has a flavour of rebellion in its origins. It seems likely the classic English dress shoe originated in Scotland and was originally named after Balmoral Castle (‘Balmorals’ or ‘Bals’) and evolved from a popular style of boot with side slits. Over time the side slit shifted into a side lace that then traversed to the top of the foot. This lighter-weight shoe became popular with students at Oxford University, who rebelled against the more traditional boots of the day opting instead for the Oxford’s sleek silhouette. A lace-up shoe, the eyelet facings are stitched underneath the vamp, with a closed lacing system for an altogether formal finish. Loake’s 1880 Export Grade Hanover is a sophisticated Oxford shoe, available in Onyx Black and Smoked Teak calf leathers, with a classic plain toe cap. 

Hanover, Onyx Black Oxford, Loake 1880 Export Grade

Hanover, Onyx Black Oxford, Loake 1880 Export Grade

The Derby 

Worth waiting for, Loake’s 1880 Export Grade full brogue Derby style shoe, Grosvenor, will be available in Spring 2017. A lace-up shoe, the Derby was popular as a sporting and hunting boot in the 1850s. However, by the turn of the 20th century, it had become regarded as appropriate for wear in town. Slightly more casual than the Oxford due to its open lacing system the Derby is still a formal shoe, make no mistake. The source of this shoe may trace back to the 12th Earl of Derby, a man with unconventional feet, who had difficulty getting into his boots. As a result his bookmaker designed an open lace boot style for greater ease. A Derby, with its open front, allows more adjustment by pulling the laces tighter, which means that it will accommodate a wider range of foot shapes while still presenting that polished formal foot look, effortlessly.

For more of Loake's elegant, sophisticated and classic designs in footwear visit their website at www.loake.co.uk or seek out one of their stores for the exclusive 1880 Export Grade range. 

EXPORT GRADE BOX AND BAGS B RET.jpg

We Remember the Japanese River Otter

Remember back in November when we brought you a tribute to extinct creatures inspired by Remembrance Day for Lost Species. This month ONCA is remembering the Japanese river otter. Volunteer researcher Matthew Stanfield tells us why.

 

Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi) as depicted on a stamp issued in 1974, via StampCommunity.org

Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi) as depicted on a stamp issued in 1974, via StampCommunity.org

 

Generally considered a subspecies of the Eurasian otter, Japanese river otters were plentiful until the mid-nineteenth century. Fur hunting, combined with habitat destruction & degradation during the Meiji period of Japanese history, rendered them vulnerable. In the 1930s, their population crashed. After WWII only a handful of confirmed sightings were made, with the last of these coming in 1979 when a single animal was spotted.

In 1989, a study using preserved genetic material from the Japanese river otter suggested it was distinct enough from the Eurasian otter to be considered a species in its own right. During the 1990s several searches were undertaken in the hope of finding surviving otters. These were unsuccessful and the Japanese river otter was officially declared extinct on 28 August 2012.

 

For a reminder of our featured tribute by Lela Tredwell published on Remembrance Day for Lost Specices click here. For more information on the day and the leading souls behind it follow @lostspeciesday, check out lostspeciesday.org and get involved on Facebook

Get 2017 off to a slow (and adventurous) start

Introducing the Ernest Journal 2017 Slow Adventure Calendar

Plan a whole year of adventure with this A5 clipboard calendar, featuring 12 remarkable images taken for Ernest Journal over the past six issues. 

Each image captures what slow adventure means to us: bedding down in Highland bothies, seeking traces of ancient Norse settlements in South Greenland, re-imagining sunken landscapes on the Isles of Scilly, tracing the origins of Iceland’s Huldufolk and searching for the aurora borealis in North Wales.

The calendar comprises of a clipboard and hook for hanging on the wall, plus 12 sheets of recycled, uncoated paper. At the end of each month, you can cut out the A6 picture postcard and write home to share your adventures. 

2017 Slow Adventure Calendar, £10. Until the end of January 2017, we are also offering a limited edition gift bundle comprising an issue of your choice plus the calendar, for £20.

The (Bristol) Three Peaks Challenge

KEEN’s new Feldberg boot is named after two German peaks: the highest mountain in the Black Forest and a popular urban climb on the outskirts of Frankfurt. This creation of hybrid footwear for outdoor play and urban exploration inspired us to embark on our own urban hiking odyssey. We tasked Ernest designer Monty to take on The (Bristol) Three Peaks Challenge – a made-up urban version of the infamous National Three Peaks Challenge, in which hikers summit Ben Nevis, Scarfell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours. How would Feldberg fare on Bristol’s city heights?  

Words: Johnathan Montelongo
Photos: Alex Jefferis

Like Lisbon and Rome, Bristol is rumoured to be built on seven hills. Discuss this with any of the city’s innumerable cyclists and you could easily double or treble that number. Personally, I’ve always believed that the centre of Bristol is a basin and that all departure routes lead uphill. So this urban landscape, my home city, was the ideal place to road test KEEN’s robust and water resistant new hiking boots, the Feldberg.

The Feldberg Mid WP (£140) is essentially a hybrid hiker – a versatile, European-made boot that is said to perform just as well in the asphalt jungle as on wilderness hill treks. There’s a choice of two colours/materials – a handsome earthy brown nubuck leather or an anthracite grey suede with dashing red laces. Both styles are made with a breathable KEEN.Dry® waterproof membrane, providing reliable protection against the elements, and are identical in terms of fit and comfort.

For this challenge, I laced up the slate grey pair, with an intense pop of postbox red laces, and plotted my route up three of Bristol’s peaks. First, I would scale Park Street (the city’s iconic terraced shopping thoroughfare) to Brandon Hill with its Victorian Cabot Tower. Next, I would ramble across town, dipping under the Bear Pit and striding across Stokes Croft to tackle the short but impossibly steep Nine Tree Hill. Finally, I would test the boots tread on the hidden hillock that rises above St Werburghs in the north east of the city, known locally as the ‘tump’. By the end of the day, I was hoping to capture three unique portraits of a city I love.

Peak 1: Brandon Hill

After a particularly busy week I was excited to don the Feldbergs, with a thick pair of hiking socks, and put some miles under my feet with our photographer Alex. Having only just recovered from a ruptured ligament in my left ankle, I appreciated the unyielding support these boots provided and the wet cobble-stones leading up to Park Street were no match for the deep tread of the rubber outsole.

Once at the top, we befriended a loft of curious pigeons who, I’m convinced, approved of the high-contrast boot and lace combo. Cabot Tower stands at 105ft (32 m) and was built in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the journey of John Cabot from Bristol to Newfoundland. The narrow, spiral staircase up the middle of Cabot Tower was a doddle thanks to KEEN’s metatomical footbed, which gave sturdy support from toe to heel, and the damp, painted concrete underfoot bore no slip hazard for these feet!

Peak 2: Nine Tree Hill

Nine Tree Hill, which looms above Stokes Croft, has been testing walkers’ lung capacity for the past 2,000 years. The route is believed to date back to Roman times, heading on to Fremantle Road and then on to the port at Sea Mills. At the top you’ll find a hidden piece of Bristol’s history – Prior’s Hill Fort, built to defend the north side of Bristol during the English Civil War (1642-1646). Industrious Edwardians and Victorians built houses along its contours, before the tarmac road and high-rise flats joined the landscape in the last century.

You’re rewarded at the top with a view of Bristol at its edgy, independent best: street art, coffee shops, the painted arches of the Carriageworks, rows of colourful townhouses and wraparound green hills in the distance (all departure routes lead uphill!). I chose this hill partly for the view, but also because it’s a short but straight-up schlep, which forces the body and feet to be at awkward angles for a prolonged period. Other than the deep traction on wet concrete and drainage covers, I felt my ankles (the good one and the recovering one) benefitted from the solid yet flexible, multi-material construction of the boot.

Peak 3: The St Werburghs ‘tump’

As the temperature dropped and the winter light began to fade, we made for our final destination. The official name of this hill is Narroways – site of many a rave, an Ernest team favourite for meteor watching and now a much-loved nature reserve, saved from development in the late 90s. On warm days, you can apparently see slow worms basking on the railway banks and marbled white butterflies flitting amongst the knapweed.

I’d never ventured up the mound (or the ‘tump’, depending on which side of the tracks you’re from) before, so I had no idea of the terrain, gradient or view – a wrap-around 270˚ vista of East Bristol locked in between railway tracks. The short climb involved a handful of surfaces – path, loose gravel, crude steps cut into the hill and squidgy grass – all easy work for the boots, of course, but where they came into their own was once the sun started to set. The temperature continued to drop and the air soon became damp. While the rest of me started to notice, my feet remained toasty and dry. It made me think of all the sludgy hills and mountain streams I’d crossed on country walks, and how I’d really needed a pair of these back then.

I stood on the final peak and surveyed the city I’d just climbed, breathing in the sodium orange glow of the street lights. It had been a long day and I was certainly ready for a pint. Most importantly though, after a good six hours of city walking, my feet and legs still felt ship-shape and Bristol fashion. No mean feat in the city of seven hills.

Feldberg Mid WP, £140

  • A waterproof, breathable membrane

  • Direct inject PU midsole for long-lasting comfort

  • Robust, strong metal eyelets and classic lacing

  • An integrated heel cushion to maximise step-in comfort and shock absorption

  • Optimum grip and durability in the rubber outsole

keenfootwear.com



This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with KEEN. Read more stories from the Ernest x KEEN partnership in our directory.

Look out for our feature on the two styles of Feldberg, coming up in print issue six in January 2017.

Follow KEEN's Feldberg adventures on Instagram using hashtag #feldbergiswhereyoustand