Tuesday 10 October 2017

Jabberwock Pt.1: In The Beginning...

The Curiously Long-Winded Tale of the Steampunk Jabberwock!

Or rather, Alice in Rydal Hall, in Ambleside, in the Lake District (also not a catchy a title, I admit)

OK so it has been quite some time since this blog was updated, for the very good reason that I have been busy with photography and art projects, documented through the Ribbon blog.  Some time ago I started putting together a massive series of posts about the Jabberwock sculpture I built, then for one reason or another I never got around to finishing the posts off.  Now, however, here we go...

So here begins a mighty saga… the complete back story of the creation of the sculptures for the Alice in Wonderland show at Rydal; specifically the Jabberwock, the Cheshire Cat, and the Rocking Horse Fly sculpture pieces.  Whereas the Ribbon Art and Photography blog just touched on the ‘making of’ this is going to be a lot more in-depth.  Imagine that the other blog is the standard DVD they rush out immediately after release, and this blog is the Blue-Ray with the exhaustive behind-the-scenes features that only the true nerds watch.  On which nerdy note...

To tell the tale of the Jabberwock Sculpture, it is necessary to tell the tale of some of the people behind it (to plagiarise Douglas Adams...)

Clare, a housemate and friend from Uni days (a slightly-sobering decade or more ago) is now part of an arts group called The Lakes Collective, based around Ambleside, Cumbria, The North.  Every year they hold a big exhibition, and we (the wife and I) have contributed work to several of them down the years, generally small sculpture pieces.  The theme of the 2016 exhibition was work inspired by the two Alice books, Wonderland and Looking Glass.  As soon as it was mentioned to us, some time well in advance of the deadline, 2014 in fact, we were well up for this one, as we both love the Alice books, and enjoy doing small sculpture pieces.

Amy came up with an idea quite quickly, which was to incorporate her love of working with textiles and thus designed a piece featuring the playing cards theme which runs throughout Wonderland.  I, being by natural inclination more of a nerd, and in a discussion with Clare which got a bit out of hand (where enthusiasm top-trumped common sense) ended up wanting to go down a more Steampunk route, with an interpretation of the Jabberwock creature from Looking Glass.

The location for a planned art installation, this corner of the formal gardens at Rydal Hall.

The plan at this point was to install something in these, the flowerbeds by the retaining wall.

So we came away from Ambleside, happy in the knowledge we had another big art project to focus on, and it wasn't until about 3am the next morning I realised that I had talked myself into building a life-sized interpretation of a fictional monster, as seen through the eyes of a Victorian Industrialist.


Still, I was in a job with a couple of weekdays off, so no distractions whilst all my friends and family worked, and I reckoned it would be an enjoyable challenge, having never before worked on such a scale with such a big sculpture piece needing doing.

Of course then we had three foster children move in with us, somewhat unexpectedly (and which is not as precisely like the plot of “Despicable Me” as it might at first sound, nor as funny), which catastrophically reduced free time, funds, and storage space for the project. 

But oh well, what the hell, we needed a ‘big’ brief to work towards after “The Home Is…” project finished, and to distract us a bit from the mind-numbing administrative bureaucracy of the Social Services side of fostering, so we ploughed on regardless.  The show was going to be in April 2016, so we felt a comfortable distance away from it, and thus I planned to work on the piece in a nice, sedate fashion, carefully timetabled, with no last minute rushes or panic.

Ha, haha, ha-haaaa…

And Hast Thou Designed the Jabberwock?

First a bit of background then.  In the context of “Alice's Adventures through the Looking Glass”, young Alice reads a poem about a boy being sent to fight a creature called the Jabberwock.  It is a ‘nonesense’ poem, featuring many made up words, and has somewhat passed into the collective conscience.  From a very nerdy point of view (and I am very much of a nerd), the poem is a direct inspiration for the Vogon Poetry in “Hitch Hikers” which is somehow pleasing.  I wont go into nauseating detail though about the poem as anyone interested can look it up, and this is an art blog, not an English Lit one.  The story about the Jabberwock is thought to have been inspired by the Northumbrian folk-tale, “The Lambton Wyrm” which is also worth looking up, if you want extra credit on your final essay and the exam which will be at the end of this module.

The Jabberwock Monster has been interpreted a number of times over the years, the more famous renderings being the original illustration in the book (a kind of towering dragon-creature), the Terry Gilliam film (practical effect monster based closely on the book illustration) and the Tim Burton film (CGI monster, again inspired by the book).  There have also been Steampunk versions of it done, because nothing is original these days, which also puts me to something of a problem.

I didn’t want to copy what has gone before, and was also somewhat hamstrung by practical concerns such as:

a) Where to Build it
 b) How to Transport it
 c) How to Afford to Build it and Transport it.
d) Where to hide and have a humiliating panic attack about points a-c.

Much of the Steampunk work I’ve done in the past was also with miniatures; in fact the last time I did any ‘large scale’ builds like this was College (excluding specialist builds like the furniture for “The Home Is…”).

The main points though which came through from the poem, which were features I would need to include, were:

It is a bloody big monster which lives in the woods and terrorises the place

“The Jaws that Bite, the Claws that Catch!”

“Eyes of Flame”

“Came Whiffling through the tulgey wood, and Burbled as it came!”

Which suggested to me a large monster which stalked through the trees (rather than flying, despite the wings of the illustration), it had big teeth, sharp claws, fiery eyes, and made a burbling noise (this last rather suiting the Steampunk vibe, suggesting a boiling kettle).

After a few initial sketches and notes, I decided I needed some inspiration, so forthwith before the Tories close it altogether, it was off to the Bradford Industrial Museum for research…

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