The Giants head at Heligan was constructed in about 3 weeks. The head was built around the upturned rootball of a fallen tree; the roots bound the clay together. We mixed local clay with water to make it sticky, then plastered it over the rootball adding extra support (a metal stake) for the nose, and green sycamore twigs spiked bud-first (to prevent rooting) into the face to pin the whole thing together. The green skin is a plant called “mind-your-own-business” or Helxine soleirolii, which grows as an invasive weed here in Cornwall. We propagated it in seed trays, then pinned them like turves over the face. It needed a lot of watering and misting to establish. The hair is crocosmia, a garden escape, that also grows like a weed – it flowers orange in July, so he gains a spectacular halo! His eyebrows were originally black lily turf (Ophiopogon nigrescens) but it was crowded out by the helxine. The eyes are mosaic made with china and glass found in the old rubbish dump below Heligan Manor, the blue is mainly old Milk of Magnesia bottles. The ear was originally made of clay, but didn’t survive the first winter, so we remade it adding cement to the clay. (We had to leave a little hole for the earth bees to get in and out!) In 2012 we gave him a complete facelift as the roots that had originally supported his features had rotted away. He now has a galvanised steel frame for his eyes and nose.
The second sculpture is a 5 metre long sleeping mudmaid. We didn’t finish her according to plan; she was supposed to have a fishy tail – a mermaid taking a nap up the valley from Mevagissey. But Candy Smit coined the name Mudmaid and so that’s who she became. There was no sympathetic rootball in this glade, so we made an armature for her from spare pieces of tanalised timber, left over from making the Jungle boardwalk. Windbreak netting was stapled over this frame, before covering with the clay mix. We mixed a little straw and cement into the clay to help it stick, and covered the whole thing in hessian scrim. The head and hand have a stronger mix of cement in them. Pioneer plants and algae made her their home initially followed by ivy on her body and moss on her face. We did plant some wood sedge for her hair, which produces strange brown, feathery flowers, but that has since been overtaken by the ubiquitous montbretia. In 2012 we remade her hand in hypertufa (equal parts of sand, peat, vermiculite and cement) because frost and feet had destroyed some fingers, and we shored up the timber frame inside her.
Both Mudmaid and Giant are in partial shade, which allowed the plants to establish without constant watering. I don’t think I would describe them as truly permanent; they have weathered and changed over time, and will continue to do so, without a more active maintenance regime. But that is part of their charm…
Eve in the Apple Orchard at the Eden Project was a city girl by comparison. Smoothly covered with the turf used for golf courses, she sat in full sun, and so had a complete irrigation system fitted. She had a massive skeleton of treated timber (you can see this very clearly in some of the aerial shots in Tim Smit’s book) built up with hessian bags containing Eden’s special soil and water-retentive gel. Her hair was Stipa tenuissima. She had to be regularly clipped, so was a bit more labour-intensive than the other two. The side of her face pointing
towards the ground was mirror mosaic on a resin base. She was removed in 2005 to make way for re-landscaping (she had rather unfortunately ended up in the middle of the landtrain turning circle!). In 2009 she was re-instated in Myth and Folklore in a reclining position. She is in quite deep shade here, so rather than turfing her we decided to encourage moss to grow. This will take some time, while the cement in the mud mix weathers. We used the original mirror mosaic face, making up the other half with hypertufa, a mix of peat and cement.
We made ‘Tara’ a big green dreaming girl for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2006. She was Alan Titchmarsh’s favourite exhibit.
In February 2007 we made a huge female head – ‘Ardhi’, (Swahili for ‘Earth’ and ‘Mother’) – in the highlands of Kenya, as part of the Laikipia Earth Festival. She was made out of red Rift Valley mud and elephant poo!
With the exception of Ardhi the technique has changed and become more sophisticated. Now we tend to make a galvanised steel armature, following the final form as closely as possible. This makes for a more durable structure and has the added benefit that it can be constructed at our own workshops, then shipped to site for installation.
There are two lovely children’s books that use the Giant and the Mudmaid as their inspiration –
ISBN 0-9549256-1-0 ‘The Mudmaid’ Sandra Horn, Karen Popham 2005
ISBN 0-9549256-2-9 ‘The Giant: A Heligan Adventure’S Horn, K Popham 2006
The Mudmaid features in ‘Living Sculpture’ by Paul Cooper ISBN 1-84000-370-7 and in ‘Landscapes of Desire’ by Catherine Tuck ISBN 0-7509-2939-1
The short version
In no particular order Pete is an artist, rigger, rower and scientist. He ran away to art school and Kneehigh Theatre when he discovered that the chaos and magic of art also required a degree of focus and discipline and he was good at chaotic discipline. Since then he has built things all over the world, competed in international rowing events wearing just a pair of speedos, featured in a Discovery documentary on ancient Philippine rice terraces, sailed across the Arctic, snowboarded into a crevasse and hung out with a whole bunch of Polar Bears.
He recently did a Master’s degree in glaciology to avoid being typecast and will passionately discuss calving fronts and climate change with anyone who will listen.
The long version
Visual artist, maker, rower, rigger and glaciologist, but that’s never really the whole story. A life in motion, right now I’m enjoying masquerading as a survey boat skipper, updating the sea charts. I grew up soaked in seawater, poring over beautiful, old damp charts of Falmouth and the Isles of Scilly on dad’s boat. I hope he’d be proud of me for a small contribution to the things that guided him across the sea. I am also liable to follow my curiosity as an explorer of materials, adventures, environments and beauty. I’m hands-on and tend to work with real things in the actual world. With a salt encrusted childhood, in, on and under the sea, crawling through the Penryn mud, schooled in boats and self-reliance on a leaky, tar-soaked old gaffer by a dad who looked like Cap’n Birdseye’s tatty sibling, I was unlikely to ever end up behind a desk.
As a scientist I have studied ice and its fingerprints in the Arctic and the Himalaya. I’m starting to identify the common threads for my seemingly disparate life experiences. These are, an intense curiosity about the way things and materials work (especially water in all its forms), an appreciation of natural wonder, and a love of travelling as a human. I feel most at home living in a community with normal people, doing extraordinary normal things and finding joy in making friends and connections through shared goals. Sometimes though, it’s just great to play with big expensive toys that I could never possibly afford myself. Icebreakers, cranes, diggers and survey boats do have their place.
Working with Sue we often try to build things out of what is readily to hand. This way we can travel light and look to opportunities of materials, people and resources. Out of love and necessity we connect with our environment, and are consummate skip-dippers and dump-burrowers. Always open to possibilities, we have kneaded elephant shit to bind mud, patched abandoned boats for floating sculptures, employed the Nepali toilet block contractor from next door to help us build the impossible and coaxed Samburu tribesmen to carry a huge paper boat. In this way the work embeds itself in the location, and the location embeds in the work. It’s also scary as hell when you’ve promised to build something huge in three weeks and arrive with a pair of scissors, a Leatherman and a bag full of hope. Somehow things and people always appear (the Nepali toilet contractor) or are found (elephant shit), invented or horse-whispered. This process lends itself to an organic form of engineering where structures grow literally and metaphorically. Designs are often fluid, weights and stresses difficult to calculate. On-the-hoof structural load testing is an important skill and so I like to build things that are strong enough to sit on for a little something at lunchtime. Even if they are six metres high.
I also love to be involved in bigger things with bigger budgets. Glaciology and polar research have opened up incredible opportunities, from snowmobiling the length of Spitsbergen, to hours spent watching a Polar Bear mum and her cubs doofing around on an iceberg, to crossing the Arctic on an icebreaker, to the cascading Aurora Borealis, to intense friendships in cramped Arctic cabins and Himalayan teahouses, to mapping unknown bits of seabed in front of retreating glaciers and working high up in the Himalaya. In this I have been lucky enough to be a co-author in published scientific literature,
Give me a shout if you ever want to read these, as there’s going to be an academic paywall.
Above all, I hope so far, it’s a life well lived.
The Boring Version
Sue is a visual artist, performer, curator and theatre-maker, Landscape Director of WildWorks (www.wildworks.biz) and member of Eden Project International. She has worked with many companies including Welfare State International, Emergency Exit Arts, Walk the Plank Theatre Ship and the National Theatre in London. In 1988 she joined Kneehigh, Cornwall’s international theatre company, serving on their management team from 1994 – 2001 and helping to grow their distinctive style of theatre. From 2000 until 2006 she was Artistic Director for the Eden Project, developing their innovative interpretation strategy, commissioning artists, writers and performers to illuminate Eden’s ideas and messages. With her brother Pete Hill she has made many large-scale carnival images and earth sculptures, including the iconic Mudmaid in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, and the Dreaming Girl for the 4Head Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2006. In 2007 and 2008 they made large-scale installations for the Great Rift Valley Festival in Laikipia – ‘Ardhi’, a huge earth head, and a paper dhow ‘Ark’. In the aftermath of the election violence in Kenya, she worked with Kikuyu and Luo artists to make a series of installations and performance pieces in the RaMoMa Gallery in Nairobi. Sue regularly leads Artist Lock-ins for Arthouse Jersey (https://arthouse.je/), collaborative creativity boot-camps for artists working in very diverse media and with a wide range of experience. She has led project development workshops for the Imperial War Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Trust at Castle Drogo and Dyrham and at Yale for Historic Royal Palaces. She has twice been invited to contribute to the Gatherings organized by the Cornish American Heritage Society. She has travelled widely through her work, with performances, commissions, speaking engagements and seminars in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Malta, France, Kosovo, South Africa, Kenya, India, Egypt, U.S.A., Palestine, Australia, Hong Kong and China. Sue designed, with her partner Bill Mitchell, many WildWorks projects, building a village out of wrecked boats in Malta, a treehouse round a huge eucalyptus tree overlooking the Green Line in Nicosia, and a fishing shanty (that the company lived in during rehearsal and performance) on the quay at Hayle in Cornwall. For ‘Souterrain’ she helped to create the Underworld anew in each location – in a village, a fortress, a department store, a school, the grounds of a hospice, a tin mine and a derelict convent. She led the development of ‘The Enchanted Palace’, the celebrated sequence of installation, interpretation and performance at Kensington Palace and was a member of the core team that created The Passion in Port Talbot with Michael Sheen. She is an Honorary Fellow of Falmouth University and Patron of Scary Little Girls (www.scarylittlegirls.co.uk).
Sue is currently working on projects with Eden Project International and exploring how to give artists creative access to the contents of her partner Bill Mitchell’s extraordinary Attic.
The Personal Story
I was born in Penzance in 1953, and grew up in Redruth. Mum was a radiographer working at Redruth, Tehidy and Barncoose hospitals. Dad was an electrical engineer at SWEB. I went to Trewirgie Primary School, and gained a scholarship to Truro High School. From there I went to drama school – Rose Bruford College in London. (My passion had always been visual art – I drew obsessively from the first moment I could hold a crayon. But it was entirely personal, I never thought it would be something that I would share with others). I worked in all kinds of theatre, from trucking round village schools in Yorkshire with Theatre Centre to working large scale puppets laced with fireworks in Lisbon for Welfare State International. Welfare State made epic site specific events using fire, live music, food, shadow puppets and huge carnival images. I discovered I could make things in 3D. I discovered the joy of working in weather and using real things – water, fire, bread, and stones instead of theatre props.
In 1986 I was lucky enough to be cast in a little touring show that was being made in and for Cornwall; ‘Condurrow’. It was kind of ‘Under-Milkwood-meets-the-Archers-in-Hayle’. It was then that I met Mike Shepherd and Kneehigh. He invited me to work with them, and in 1988 I came home. For 12 years I worked on virtually every show that Kneehigh produced, as either a maker, designer or actor – Peer Gynt, Tregeagle, Ravenheart, Ship of Fools, Scrooge, The Ashmaid, Telling Tales, Figgy Hobbin, The Young Man of Cury, Windfall, Ting Tang… During this time we also developed other strands of work – beautiful community animations like Tom Bawcock’s lantern procession and Mazy Day (the fantastic Golowan Festival grew from a tiny seed of a residency at Alverton School to invigorate their school fete. But that’s another story!). And our first adventures in what has become known as Landscape Theatre happened in the nineties with Ghost Nets, Hell’s Mouth, Nightcrows and Mannel’s Mango. We took audiences out into Cornwall’s spectacular rural, coastal and industrial landscapes, led them through adventures and gave them unforgettable experiences. Pete was a scientist by now, but we kidnapped him to make theatre and art.
Tim Smit was on Kneehigh’s Board of Directors. He always really enjoyed the combination of visual wit and beauty in our work, so he invited us to make some sculpture at Heligan. At that time we were making huge paper and willow carnival imagery – the Beast for Bodmin Riding, a Mermaid for Mevagissey Feast, a giant Surfer for City of Lights. I said ‘Tim, the stuff we make won’t last 20 minutes in the woods at Heligan’. He said ‘I’m sure you’ll think of something…’. Pete and I spent an idyllic summer in the woods and made two pieces; the Giant’s Head, and the Mudmaid. They were constructed from available materials; a rootball from a fallen tree, clay excavated for the foundations of the Tea Rooms, tanalised timber leftovers from the Jungle Boardwalk and lots of plants. It was almost performance sculpture, as both pieces were constructed close to the path, and we had an almost constant narrative of questions and conversation. They inspired a passionate response in visitors and in the press too, photos of them appearing in all the dailies, in National Geographic, and (of all things!) Fortean Times.
And so Pete and I found ourselves with a whole new thread of work – making creatures and goddesses that formed out of their locations and the people who belong there. It has taken us to many extraordinary places; Bhutan, the Rift Valley, Hong Kong, Slovakia, and home to Cornwall too. Our practice has developed since those first days of mixing mud, but we have held on to the belief that we should, as far as possible, work with the materials that come to hand in whatever environment we find ourselves in.