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.
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.