Artist, Hilary Powell has spent the last year exploring the landscapes and narratives of Purfleet. She is preparing to present Ring Cycle – an audio visual symphony that transposes an epic cast of gods and mortals into this contemporary Thameside landscape.
Once described as ‘a countryside of mystery and elusive charm’ where aloof and eerie marshes meet docks and refineries Powell’s film and live score reveals Purfleet as a place where beauty and horror combine in the twenty-first century sublime. Inspired by Wagner’s Ring, a cycle of four epic music dramas, Powell brings forth an allegorical saga from the landscape of Purfleet where earth, air, fire and water combine in river reach, refineries, salt marsh and skies.
Powell casts weeping river maidens on Thames concrete barges and exiled gods lumbering from the river mud. Bird watchers and metal detectorists survey a landscape in which children run wild, goddesses knit and fires burn in shopping trolleys. With Canary Wharf an omnipresent reminder of global finance, Powell evokes Wagner’s own critique of unregulated industrial capitalism on the fringes of London just inside the M25.
From her studio amid tanker docks and fenced-off storage depots, Powell has assembled a flotsam and jetsam sound studio of chalk, reeds and scrap metal. Drawing on the tradition of ‘foley’, the use of found materials to create sound effects for radio and TV, Powell takes this typically backstage art and presents it as a live performance. Collaborating with Kieron Maguire of the Cabinet of Living Cinema and involving local sound artists and singers from Thurrock – many of whom perform in the Royal Opera House Thurrock Community Chorus – this live soundtrack recreates the swoosh of wind turbines and the cries of birds, bringing the film to vivid life.
Scouring the landscape of Purfleet, Powell has befriended many local organisations that have contributed to the project. RSPB Rainham Marshes have allowed access and shared expertise, local professional photographer Tony O’Brien has taken the wonderful production stills and High House Production Park, Thurrock Council and many local firms have helped with filming and odd requests. Local historians at High House Community Group and Purfleet Heritage Centre have provided valuable information and the cast of the film was drawn from local callouts for wild things and valkyries.
The launch screening of Ring Cycle, with live score, takes place on Friday 14th July at 6.30pm at High House Production Park. It is presented as a prelude to the Big Screen relay of the opera Turandot organised by Royal Opera House Thurrock and the Backstage Centre.
Hilary Powell is the recipient of the Stephen Cripps’ Studio Award, a major creative development opportunity based at High House Production Park and established in memory of the pyrotechnic sculptor Stephen Cripps’ (1952-1982). Supported by The Henry Moore Foundation, High House Production Park Ltd and Stephen Cripp’s family it forms part of Acme’s Residency and Awards Programme. Ring Cycle is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.