Swandown is a travelogue and odyssey. A poetic film-diary about landscape and culture. It is also an endurance test and pedal-marathon.
In the spirit of Dada and Bas Jan Ader it will be undertaken on board a plastic swan-shaped pedalo resulting in the production of a feature film inspired by both
‘Fitzcarraldo’ (Werner Herzog) and ‘Burden of Dreams’ (Les Blank).
In the summer of 2011 I will pedal from Swan Lake in Hastings to the Angel Islington in London. I will sleep with the Swan and eat with the Swan and each day will bring new encounters. The journey will take over a month; an unbroken 200 miles, into the English Channel, along military canals and rivers, beyond the Thames basin and into the very heart of London via Olympic Territory. It will be filmed as both a documentary and performance piece.
However for the time being I would like to embark on a different journey that prepares me for the enormity of such an undertaking. Therefore I propose to produce a Map, which plots the proposed route that the Swan might take through a series of walks. The project is called Swandown - Ordnance and Surveying.
For Swandown - Ordnance and Surveying I would be accompanied by the Psychogeographer and writer Iain Sinclair and we would collaborate on the production of a Map. As well as a limited edition bespoke artwork the Map would enable us to make clearer our intentions for the film. The mapping would work as a toe-in-the-water-appetite-wetter for the bigger picture. Both projects however might best be described as ‘odyssey into real life documentary’.
The Map might be seen within the context of Ed Ruscha’s Bookwork ‘Every Building on the Sunset Strip’ (1966), which folds out to a magnificent twenty-seven feet. Our Map would also prove unpredictable; full of text and prose and images pertaining to both the walks and the film.
Swandown - Ordnance and Surveying would also explore some of the ideas and themes behind the Film. In the form of an imagined unfolding list:
- The Swan is shaped like the letter S which is the first letter of the word Sport and the last letter of the words Olympics and Paralympics
- The traditions of Swans within culture are significant – Helen of Troy, Zeus and Leda and the Swan, The Queen’s Swan Uppers of the River Thames and of course The Ugly Duckling fable.
- Peddling an awkward plastic swan along the south coast, across Romney Marsh in East Sussex, past Canterbury in Kent and up the River Thames, is an effective a way of connecting with reality.
- Ordnance Survey is the national mapping agency for Great Britain. The name reflects the original military purpose of the organisation in mapping Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. A series of military canals and ditches were dug and the Swan pedalo will attempt to overcome them in a fashion that proved impossible to Napoleon.
- The Map will work as a memory prompt for a sometimes amnesiac modern culture.
- Who remembers Jean-Luc Godard shooting the bizarre climax to his sole English feature film, Sympathy for the Devil, on Camber Sands, or the Boyle Family casting one metre square tracts of the beach at Dungerness, Derek Jarman’s Garden, and the work of great literary figures such as Henry James, Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells and Spike Milligan, all of whom lived en route to London.
- Invitations will be sent out in advance to prospective pedaloees with a connection to a particular leg of the journey. Billy Childish at Chatham Docks, Sean Lock in Surrey Docks and Steven Berkoff in Greenland Docks. Aspirant Olympiads and Para Olympiads might also be invited to pedal the Swan.
- The work might be seen as both a heritage project and a living art project. Participants would be encouraged to share their memories, knowledge, life experiences, cultures and traditions for audiences both young and old.
- Happenstance and encounter would bring us face to face with people met along the way from the hoi-polloi to the hoity-toity, the sporty to the nerdy and from the abled to the dis-abled.
- The Swan pedalo would work as a magnet and catalyst for the narrative, providing theatre, live art and eventually the central character to a feature length film.
- Swandown would celebrate difference by being very different. The absurdity of the quest would mirror both the human spirit and that of sporting endeavour.
- J.C. Cooper wrote ‘The swan combines the two elements of air and water, the swan is the bird of life. It also signifies solitude and retreat and is the bird of the poet; its dying song is the poet’s song.’
- Marc Bolan and T Rex sang a popular song called Ride a White Swan.
- At the end of the journey we propose to transport the pedalo back to Swan Lake in Hastings by suspending it underneath a military helicopter. An invited audience would witness the event and this would conclude the film.
- I have always travelled and many years ago I made a journey around the whole coastline of Great Britain with my grandmother, Gladys and my daughter, Eden. It took almost four months and a feature length film was made from the experience.