Interview with Sean Vicary

We spoke to Sean Vicary during the making of his new film Lament.


What is Lament?

It’s a moving image project that interweaves site specific found objects, animation, poetry and music to explore a personal narrative of loss, longing and belonging in the Welsh borderlands.

I’m interested in how place and language combine to inform our perception of self, and how this affects our wider relationships and Lament draws on my own subjective experience of landscape, specifically the Wales and Shropshire border where I grew up. The creative process is an attempt to represent and navigate this liminal landscape, half remembered upon waking, where dreams, memories and the physical collide.

You've been filming in Shropshire - how do you approach filming - do you know what images you want before you set out in the morning?!

At the start of the project I knew exactly where I wanted to film - specific locations with a certain personal or cultural resonance - but the development of the imagery has been very much a process of exploration, with the ultimate objective to capture a ‘sense of place’.

I’ve made repeated visits to chosen sites, sketching, photographing, note taking and collecting, until I reached a point where I knew roughly what images I required and what time of day I needed to be there to catch the light.

It was very important for me to spend time looking, listening and experiencing the surroundings before filming. I find this phenomenological approach crucial to gaining an understanding of a location, though paradoxically the more time I spent in some places the less I realised I actually understood.

Do you storyboard?

In previous work I have usually moved through the usual production stages: pre-visualisation, storyboarding, animatic etc… but with Lament the approach has been more organic. I have a few scenes mapped out that anchor the piece at certain points, but around them I have left room for experimentation and improvisation. Because I’m responding to a location using found objects it’s important to have the space for these objects to interact with one another and then be able to explore the relationships they suggest.

You're animating and editing - and it's a complex mix of elements - live action, animation, poetry and music.. How do you set about organising those elements? And how's it going?

There is a natural order to the production of the different strands. One of the first things we did was to get the essential parts of the soundtrack in place, both the spoken word and the music. Being able to listen to this while on location was a constant source of inspiration and it also helped inform the overall structure of the work.

After filming all the live action back plates and collecting material for stop motion I’ve returned to my studio in Cardigan to synthesise, animate and edit.

I have a definite ‘painterly’ approach to the final assembly, with all the separate elements ordered like a ‘palette’ to provide the maximum amount of freedom at the compositing stage. I really enjoy that part of the process, it’s where the magic happens!

Just to complicate things, we are also playing with some site specific augmented reality, and are hoping to be able to re-composite some of these virtual assemblages back into the landscape for access via a smartphone.

How does the collaboration with Ceri Rhys Matthews work?

Collaborating with Ceri is a very enjoyable, intuitive process and we have much common ground. We first discussed ideas for the project a few years ago, and it was Ceri who showed me the Canu Heledd, a 7th Century Welsh poem cycle dealing with the fall of the Brythonic Kingdom of Pengwern. He described it as set in the ‘West Midlands’ and once I began reading I found that not only was it set in Shropshire, but it actually referred to the small rural village where I went to school. I think it then became inevitable that we would make the work, starting with the Canu Heledd as our source material.

After talking through ideas and doing some test recordings Ceri assembled, briefed and led a group of musicians in improvisation and the resulting recordings are very evocative. In fact, they were so successful that we are re-assembling the group for a live audio visual performance at the Lament launch in February.

Lament seems to be different kinds of 'between' - there's the borderland of England and Wales, and you're using English and Welsh poetry but past and present too. Are there things that you're exploring that have haunted you, as it were?

Well, it was the death of my father that prompted a return to my childhood home, and that’s reflected in the work, but I think that I have always considered these spaces ‘haunted’.

In trying to give shape to these ghosts, I’ve been digging up skeletons both literally and metaphorically. I’ve just been back to the site to recover the bones of some small animals that I buried there in the spring and I’m hoping to manifest the various ‘genius loci’ through the alchemy of stop motion.

As a child I was always digging, tunnelling and climbing, my world defined by ditch and hedgerow. I had reoccurring topographical dreams where my immediate boundaries and the land beyond were transformed, recognisable but vastly exaggerated in scale, only to wake and find this landscape superimposed on the world.

I’m fascinated how the land has been shaped by generations of interaction with the environment – the enclosure of the commons, how the field names on old tithe maps are echoed in the remains of cottages and broken pipe stems that appear during ploughing, how everything exists simultaneously on different time scales: 8 bee lifespans to one fieldmouse, 40 mouse lifespans to one human, 4 human lifespans to one Oak tree etc.

So if you picture taking a road trip through the overlapping space where these imaginary, historical and physical landscapes combine, then Lament is like a road movie collecting the signposts by which you’d find your way.