Caitlin Magda Shepherd

"Art belongs not to the active life but to the contemplative life—not to the vita activa but to the vita contemplativa." Nicholas Wolterstorff

Month: March, 2014

A Door into the Dark


Picture this. Windows, wrapped in bin bags and cellophane from the inside. A door opens. It is a small cube, white walls. a map behind you. There is a person there waiting for you. Welcome, take off  your shoes and put your things in the locker. Then you are alone. The door opens and a woman enters, her hair beneath an orange workmans helmet. She is blindfolded and creeps arms agog, forwards with large earphones attached to the helmet. My response is amusement. There is something sci-fi, at odds with our usual humanity, here. Most notably an introduction with a wondering woman, bedecked in strange looking headgear.

Now it is my turn. I put on the helmet. I now have very limited sight. The next door is opened. I am told to follow a rope. I am mostly blind, apart from a hazy blur of light that enters the darkness every now and then. The headgear is close. The goggles squeeze my nose, the headset is tight. It is not without notice. It is not uncomfortable, but you know you are beneath a transmittor helmet, with it you are invaded, without it the experience dissolves. The rope is soft. I hold onto it. Thick and robust. My ears are full of voices about being lost, journeying, birds. I can’t listen to it, the rope is sensuous, a lifeline, a string of music. It is not only posing the offer of survival and connection, but the possibility of choosing to let go. It is not real, it is a symbolic decision. To live holding on, or to live letting go. Where is the middle ground. Can you swing to and fro. Connected and departed? The experience is physical, but conceptual too. I think of mariners hauling ships to the harbor wall, storms whitewalling on the other side of the barricade. The voice from the headphones penetrates, every now and then I hear it, register what is being transmitted. I know I am meant to listen, but I’m enjoying discovering the playfulness of being with limited sight, and invited to move and reach out into what cannot be seen, or anticipated in a very physical way.


The first chapter consists of following an undulating rope around while receiving radio type broadcasts of musings on direct travel and the variations of, especially to do with the behavior of birds. There is also a story from a man who lost his sight. As I move my way through, I take great pleasure from a feeling as if I am gliding. Meanwhile the man describes how beautiful he finds rain, and listening to it instead of seeing it. I love this delicacy. At the same time, I still don’t completely trust the experience, and am unsure as to whether I might be lulled into a false sense of security, only to plummet down a drop, walk over a damp carpet, or be met with a foul olfactory overload. I am excited by prospective thrills. I make a note of this, how to balance exhileration with experiential trust. How to make the participant feel safe, but uncertain. I would like to play with this inexorable tension at some point in Sanctuary.

The next chapter; the end of the rope. It’s time to let go. I feel like a small animal, offered a wide unknown tundra. Maybe there is a ditch ahead. I cannot see. From this point the experience becomes more independent. The broadcast is a man who has been an explorer telling his story. There is an option to sit. The space is suddenly earthy, straw filled, leaves overhead. Someone wants me to think I’m in nature. I listen. I’m sitting in nature on astroturf. I think it’s quite funny, not really nature like at all. The story requests me to sit, I sit somewhere away from the grass. I can feel a door. I like this. Doorway; somehow it feels more of an honest space, plus I am keen to keep moving.  The journey continues, through another 2 / 3 chapters. A traverse into the unknown, fabric dangles from above, the wind blows, I walk uphill. It is exciting. I’m listening to a story of a climber, who danced with death on the edge of a mountain as thick wisps of fog rolled in. He and his friends nearly died. At times he wanted to fall. To plummet. Flirting with the abyss. As I listened to this I am scaling a rock face, on what I think is  a small ledge. I bend down and trace the edge of the rockface to a wooden wall. I feel like I’m oscillating between discovering the fabric of the set, and being given physical versions of the words playing through my ears. I particularly like the description of the warm sun on the rock. I reach up and feel a warm light on the rock, I want it to burn me, again I am cautious. It is warm at exactly the right moment. Some well designed spatial synaesthesia stimulating body and mind.

An then there is the change to rest. To relax even. I prefer sitting on the floor, and am guided to an upright position. The surface is very soft. Tactile, downy, stroking. The music is delicate. There is an invitation to listen. The story is told by a man who was an architect, and became mentally ill, eventually becoming sectioned. His dad would say, they’ve arrested you. The man liked to walk to Heathrow, 25 miles a night, and spend the night waiting or resting on the terminal benches. He would go out when she got home. I lay there tipped, back into gravitational inversion, tilted from vertical to horizontal. It is exciting. I wonder what it is like to find relief and solace in walking through the night to hang out at the airport. I make a note of the pleasure of being stimulated in a way that invites reflection as well as consumption. We are part of the story, not separate to it. Our stories merge into the ecology of the multi sensory set.  Sometime the familiar is too close, claustrophobic, repatitive. Anywhere better than here. I am lying down, music. Instruction to get up and follow the rope to the door. The rope is hairy, soft, ferret down. It feels long. I wonder, how long to the door. I’m having a lot of fun interacting with a narrative set that invites a much richer embodiement of moment and meaning. I don’t really want to go. Id happily be set loose to wonder the streets with the orange helmet on, and see what happens to the familiar. A camera on the top of the helmet, filming the publics reaction would be a pretty good documentation, into taking the dark into the public domain.

Thank you Anagram for a body and thought provoking narrative journey into the dark and beyond.


Photo shootin in the belly of the beast

Yesterday and today I have been in Manor House on the location scout for the Common Threads photoshoot. Here are afew bits of inspiration. It’s going to be very step foot steppa, dance based. Oh yeah. AND the excellent Matt Barton is gunna shoot it!





Mystery, dawn and death

The incidental dog

The incidental dog

We came through winter, the air thick, mist rising. I thought it would last forever, that shadows would never pass but only loiter set at one angle indefinitely. Spring has come. The strange time, when worms reveal themselves in writhing jumbles, the soil starts to dry and crack and life comes storming back with a vengence. It’s as if the clocks broke, and suddenly, late at night some trickster ran around reinstalling batteries. Tick tock, tick tock, the rootstock. At the same time, potency of life, the guts of existance hovers. Death is here. Knocking at my window. I don’t deny it, I look at the tawny veiny hand, tracing cracks in the window frame as I drink my tea in the morning. The breeze brings a closeness, everything so fragile. Robust. We die. Don’t we all turn into soil again. Heaving writhing worm soil. No one vanishes, just our form changes. But we are used to seeking out familiar forms. There is something supremely comforting about it. And I will miss you, mysterious and comforting familiarity, when you my dear are gone.

Nan Goldin shoots the wolf

Nan Goldin shoots the wolf

The clearest thoughts often come in the morning. Really early, when I should already be asleep. I lie there pretending that I’m going to sleep, and bam! The switch turns and all these visions come in. At the moment, I’m channeling a lot of ideas and sensations, textural, spatial, embodied, sonic, that I want to feature in the final exhibit of Stories to Wear // Sanctuary. I want the space to be rich, all consuming, disorientating, a place that leaves you lying on the earth. Returning back to stone, dust, dirt and the seed. Quite how it will come together, I’m yet unsure. It has to be organic, without constraint, no preconception. Simply listening to the idea; sanctuary in the natural world, and my and other people’s associations.

A man fishing

A resting man

Stories to Wear // Sanctuary

Stories to Wear // Sanctuary is  a story led investigation into stories of sanctuary found in the natural world. It culminates in an immersive multi sensory journey that will connect small groups of people with stories of sanctuary through a pop up interactive experience. It is currently an unknown, but will be something along the lines of an interworn gartent (half garment half tent) and  a hands on meadow flower planting practices. This project is funded by the Arts Council, and last week I found out that GROW WILD have also awarded funds to the project. Good news. Heres a dress tent, an installation by artist Robin Lasser.


Dress Tent

This week sees the confirmation of dates with a range of tour partners, including the Tagore Festival, Bristol green week and St Werburghs Farm. Full list of dates and booking options to follow soon! The tour will take place between June – October 2014, and will primarily focus on bringing pop up stories of Sactuary to  towns accross the South West. It has also been a week of coordinating interviews with a range of single mothers, elderly people and the wider public. These interviews are to gather stories of sancutary and ideas surrounding sanctuary and nature, from a diverse group of community voices. Interviews start this weekend and will continue until 1st April. All interviews will be uploaded to soundcloud, and then used to create live soundscape, played within the interworn gartent.

The next few weeks are dedicated to envisioning a basic sensory landscape, that will form the basis of the interactive stories to wear // sanctuary installation. Part of the process is about responding to themes and specific stories that emerge through the interviewing process. However, there is also a tone and architectural / planting element that will accommodate the stories that will be embedded on the fabric and play through the whole space. I have started to pull together some collages in my sketchbook, which is a starting point for developing a mood and tone that will create an ambience within the inter worn gartent, afew images are below.

Video / Body / Pressure

Video / Body / Pressure

Matt Collinshaw // Desire // Dreams

Matt Collinshaw // Desire // Dreams