For Spectra’s tenth anniversary this weekend, one creative duo return to Aberdeen’s annual festival of light with a specially commissioned work partly inspired by the city’s relationship with the sea.
Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer, known in the art world as multimedia artists Heinrich and Palmer, first appeared at the late winter event in 2020.
Then, they presented two video pieces at St Nicholas Kirk, the majestic Ship of the Gods and Aerial, which focused on images of migrating birds.
Now, though, Anna and Leon have created a work to be shown at Aberdeen Art Gallery that afterwards is to remain in its permanent collection.
This year’s Spectra will see 30 artists creating spectacular installations across a variety of locations in Aberdeen.
What have Heinrich & Palmer said about Aberdeen and Spectra?
Based in another port city, Portsmouth, where they have brought up a family, the husband-and-wife team have developed a distinctive style since first meeting at Cardiff School of Art in the late eighties.
Since those early days, illumination has become a key part of their practice, evolving from analogue slides to contemporary digital media, Anna explains on a call from their home.
“I’m not sure if magical is the right word, but that ability of light to transform an object or a screen is something we’ve always had a fascination with,” she says. “We don’t want to just show a film.”
They are pleased to be invited back to a city they have come to know well thanks to weeks of research at locations such as the Treasure Hub storage facility.
Anna remembers their first impressions were based on the city’s architecture and its signature building material.
“It was just the glitteriness of Aberdeen, the amazing granite,” she says. “Some of those buildings are so old, but they look incredibly sharp and new.
“That context makes Spectra special – and the location, you have this light descending at a time when it still gets dark quickly.”
Leon adds: “Aberdeen’s been very welcoming. The people at the Hub have been absolutely brilliant. They’re interested in what you do and want to share their stories.”
What is Winds of Change inspired by?
Winds of Change is a large-scale installation that looks at how Aberdeen’s industry has changed over the centuries, from tall ships and granite quarrying, through the oil boom to today’s move to renewable energy.
Though rather than narrate a historic story, the pair tell a more impressionistic tale, based on films of oil rigs in Cromarty Firth and the windfarm off Balmedie Beach.
Running through these are 3D images of objects held by the Hub. Projected on a see-through screen in the museum’s sculpture court, the effect should be impressive.
For Leon, it is important the duo embark on such a project without preconceived ideas, but instead respond to what they find.
“We don’t go in with a plan,” he says. “We like to find things with some inbuilt ambiguity or telling some sort of a story, but coming from leftfield.
He added: “We collect various artifacts, pick up stories and develop a feel for a place. The curators, the people who look after these objects, they know Aberdeen and are full of the tales behind these things.”
Model of Brent Charlie features
Leon mentions a Victorian granite case that once held a clock, that without its timepiece now alludes to the timeless quality of one of the oldest kinds of rock on the planet.
“We think of objects like the clockcase as characters in our films,” he adds.
Leon went on to say: “We collect a lot of footage and a lot of ideas, then it’s all in the editing. We curate it as we’re making the film.”
Also featured in Winds of Change are a scale model of the Elissa, a locally built three-masted barque, and one from the eighties of the Brent Charlie rig used for wind tunnel tests, an artifact that originally stumped the curators, Leon points out.
“They didn’t know what it was, they had to read the text,” he laughs. “And at the time it was important, because people didn’t know how rigs would work in the North Sea.
“Nowadays, people from that industry are starting to adapt to working in windpower. We could never imagine an object making that connection. For us, that’s the sort of thing that makes it quite special.”
Spectra takes place from February 8-11 around Aberdeen, see spectrafestival.com for details