Anthem Artist Notes
A project by Beth Derbyshire in collaboration with Ulrike Haage
Artist notes on the background to making Anthem
“Our relationship to landscape and nature has always been explored through the Arts. Today, as many systems change around us, be those physical, social or political, we need more than ever to understand our connection to each other and to the environment.
Beth Derbyshire, 2007
I first thought of Anthem in 2001 whilst undertaking research at the Glasgow Centre for Political Song, and later walking along the Scottish/English border and coastline.
I had been researching the Anthems of the British Isles for a work I was developing with a deaf choir which explored collective voice and political song. I felt that these Anthems didn't represent current notions of citizenship and wanted to make a new visual and aural 'anthem' that explored current ideas of citizenship and our cultural relationship to landscape by meshing together the lyrics of the existing anthems. When filming the Scottish/English border engulfed in fog mist I was struck by the idea of blurred borders and nationalities. This was compounded by the fact that the boundary of the British Isles fluctuates with the tide and that the coast is a place of departures and arrivals.
Anthem has been seven years in the making, and is a work that has evolved through true collaboration and conversations with a range of people that I have encountered along the way, from shepherds to park keepers, to artistic colleagues.
In 2007 and I met David Buckland and had a pivotal conversation about climate change and migration patterns. We realised that there was a synergy between my line of enquiry and the Cape Farewell creative mission. We discussed the fact that while Anthem was concerned with nation and borders, our borders are useless in the face of weather crisis. At this point I decided to make a piece that would explore ideas of land, place and nation. I felt this was a way of reflecting upon our cultural and historical relationship to landscape, which is vital given current political and environmental issues.
Following my meeting with David, I was invited to join the 2007 Cape Farewell expedition to the High Arctic. I sailed with a crew of 20 artists and scientists, manning shifts through force nine storms and ice into previously unchartered seas. The boat we sailed was the 100 year old schooner Noorderlicht, from Svalbard to the east Coast of Greenland, to the north coast of Iceland. I recorded the following in my blog:
"We zipped up, buttoned up and clipped on for ice watch as we encountered lumpy unpredictable seas, variable cold winds and small bombs of ice, a pretty scary ice symphony played out against the hull. I didn't feel that my organs were my own with my body in perpetual motion."
Beth Derbyshire, 2007
During the voyage I encountered extremes of the weather and immediate danger in a ways that climate change may put upon us. I recorded:
"The arctic is the most sensitive place on the planet to measure climate change as it is made largely of ice. As we started our voyage out of Svalbard we stopped in a moraine strewn Fjord which should have been covered in ice and snow. The Arctic is one of our last wildernesses, fast becoming a wasteland. The mountains newly exposed by the melt ironically looked like rusting wrecks. The ice-bergs that surround the ship, carcasses of their former glory. We endured nine days at sea as the ice had locked and shut Greenland. It shouldn't be here now, it should be much further north. Our turbulent journey around the ice to get into Greenland in itself a chilling illustration of the advance of climate change."
One of the last pieces of news we heard before departure on the voyage was that the Canadians and Russians were arguing over who had the right to the Northern seas through proof of ownership of the continental shelf. Hans Island was also under dispute between the Danes and the Canadians.
On board I find a book The place names of Svalbard. Svalbard (the furthest point north with human occupancy) comprises of all the islands and groups of islands of which Norway acquired sovereignty by treaty in 1920. Three hundred years of exploration (from all over the word) and maps drawn under harsh conditions in many different languages resulted in many places having more than one name. This leads to utter confusion. The introduction goes on to explain, "We had no model to work with. For no other country in the world has been the area of operation of so many nations, and no other country has been so frequently visited and thus exploited and has remained a no mans land during such a long era as Svalbard. Therefore no legitimate authority ever took care of the place names." The purpose of the book was to establish the final place names of the region. They could be anything from the name of the person that discovered the place, to names of sentiment, or names associated with the local environment.
As the schooner made slow progress towards Greenland I wrote:
"It strikes me as we roll on towards oblivion with nations claiming land under the ice and politicians performing PR stunts on islands in dispute that we too have no model to work from. One thing is for sure that we will have to find a common language from which to tackle the most important issue of our time. Staking claims on “land” is futile in the face of our dramatically changing weather system."
"I am here to make a film, part of a trilogy of musical films that explore ideas around nationality by making notional anthems that are both aural and visual. Migration due to climate change has already begun and will continue to accelerate. I wanted to explore my exploration of these ideas in the arctic, a place without borders, a kind of no mans land or is it? I can see from the amount of cameras on the boat that we are rapacious in our appetite for the Arctic, as am I. I realised as I am filming the sublime that I am kind of shooting an ad. The Arctic has become a product and more so as it is increasingly contested site."
I was able to capture footage of extraordinary but diminishing beauty on the Cape Farewell voyage. As part of the Anthem trilogy, the Arctic film I have made may become a geographical and historical document, providing a window through which to see our last great wilderness as it disappears.
The trilogy begins with Evocations, shot in Grosmorne Park, Canada. this first film pictures the rocks and tablelands of Newfoundland, some of the oldest rocks in the world, and in a sense the foundations of the earth. From Evocations the trilogy moves to Nuna, an Inuit word meaning earth. Nuna offers images of the Arctic, slipped ice from the North Pole, glacial fronts, the seas surface and as slivers of film open up to reveal the icy landscape, it is as though one were looking at the world for the first time. The third film, Anthem, presents murky British border-scapes, the delineations of which are dissolved in the mist and the rain, in effect erasing divisions between the countries which make up the UK.
The trilogy's libretto, begins with sounds that are half words and gradually a language that belongs to Anthem alone evolves. With Nuna, part two, the libretto encompasses phrases such as 'land of the light', giving a sense of a world before naming of countries and claiming of land has taken place. For the third film, the libretto borrows from the national Anthems of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England reconfiguring the words to offer new meaning and encouraging a re-appraisal of how nationality has become defined.
We live in an era when many nations are becoming increasingly fractured and one that has witnessed the development of new states and countries. The equation of nationalism and identity is a worldwide issue and a dynamic that is constantly changing as a result of human migration, something that is part of our global cultural heritage especially as our climate is changing. This would suggest we live in a time in which we need to re-address our perceptions of nationality and citizenship, perhaps by challenging and updating the values we associate with these subjects. Anthem takes these ideas as its cue by inviting us to consider these timely observations through powerful symbolism.
The presentation of Anthem at Eden in the Mediterranean biome is exciting to me. Eden is, in a sense, an international library of plants and an iconic platform from which to launch the work. It is a place that celebrates our connection with landscape, but climate change threatens the loss of plant species. Placing Anthem at Eden, a film trilogy that in part documents a disappearing landscape provides a combined experience, the historical legacy of foreign and disintegrating landscapes.
Beth Derbyshire, 2009
View the following PDF to read more about story of Anthem, artist notes and biographies.
Read more about story of Anthem ›
Anthem is a project that has been made possible by a number of partners. Beth Derbyshire would like to thank the following major partners: Eric Franck, Arts Council England, Eden Project and Cape Farewell. Also, Tate Britain & AHRC, Lichfield Festival, The Rooms, Alexandra and Hope Thompson, FACT and the University of Central England.