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Lizzie Sykes - The Greeting - Mottisfont

This is quite a spiritual exhibition with a big strand of anti-rationalism. In The Greeting, one of the film pieces by Lizzie Sykes, older dancers from Mind The Gap in Salisbury, co-create this piece with Sykes. They have a spiritual experience moving among the trees in Mottisfont's grounds. Their aging bodies, particularly hands which caress the trunks of the trees, make a connection between the age ofthe wood and the age of the dancers. Light pours in through the canopy of leaves. Lizzie Sykes says of the experience that she captured 'a performative moment'. The dancers called it 'dreamlike'. One of the older male dancers said he was 'transported' and talked of 'spirit of place'.

a dancer caresses a tree - image courtesy Steve Bell

Why was there a strong element of anti-rationalism? Because of communing with nature creating a spiritual experience. Time is always part of time-based media, and there was water running from the font, the bodies' movement in space, light pouring through the fluttering leaves as they dance in the breeze. The sound is really important as well, for creating the dreamlike sequence of the work, with no human voices, and just the sounds of birds and water flowing from the font.

Sykes directs - image courtesy Lizzie Sykes

The Greeting formed the basis for Are You There?- a much longer film with a young dancer. "This film developed themes that originated in The Greeting" says Sykes. The film opens with the dancer 'awakened from her sleep' below a shuttered window at Mottisfont house, with the shutters half open so that light pours into the room. She then dances in front of the shuttered window and appears to sense a spirit entering the room through the window. Again this reminds me of anti-ratiionalism, and the Brontes and particularly Wuthering Heights. There follows a splitscreen sequence filmed at floor level which seems to document the character's confusion at the entrance of the spirit.

still from Are You There?

Then there is a closeup of the dancer holding onto and leaning back over the bannister, where she seems to commune with the spirit. There is a closeup of the dancer who appears to be dancing with the spirit. This is subtly implied however, and not explicit. Back at the window the dancer is possessed by the spirit.

Sykes casts sounds of water bubbling to suggest the presence of the spirit. This etheriality runs through both works and looks at the spiritual like early makers of the moving image in the 19th century. A spirit of place is definitely captured.


*anti-rationalism is a long-term English tradition which questions religion with ranters and gnostics. Both Blake and Emily Bronte are part of that tradition.