The Pick - Fissure

May 19, 2011


Yorkshire Dales

Louise Ann Wilson, formerly part of the creative team wilson+wilson, creates intense site-specific performances. Earlier examples of her work have taken small audiences through an out-of-hours department store in Watford, along the North Yorkshire coastline and across the city of Sheffield.

Her latest project was inspired by the death of her 29-year-old sister Denise from a brain tumour in 2001.

"I wanted to create a work about what it is like to lose someone," she explains, "the experience of her becoming really unwell, and then being left behind as a sister. There was a sudden transformation of my life, which was normal, happy and successful, and then I suddenly received a telephone call about Denise having neurosurgery."

Fissure draws on this personal background without representing it directly. It lasts from Friday evening until Sunday noon (20-22 May) and, says Wilson, takes the form of "a walking performance in the Yorkshire Dales, the landscape in which my sister and I grew up. The splitting I felt when separated from her through death led me to look for places where the land is fissured: caves, limestone pavements, scars and shattered rocks."

As well as assembling an artistic team for Fissure, Wilson spoke to her late sister's neuropsychologist, a geologist and a brain imager, and began to make links between their fields of expertise.

"I described the use of imaging to assist neurosurgeons," says Chris Clark, reader in imaging and biophysics at University College London's Institute of Child Health. "MRI reveals the architecture of the brain by looking at the way water moves around inside it. The same techniques are also used by scientists looking at the movement of water in rocks and porous media."

Such analogies proved fascinating to Wilson: "Just as the cartographer provides a caver or walker with maps of the land, so a neuroimager provides a surgeon with maps of where to venture and what to avoid during an operation. The scalloping marks in caves formed by water passing through also look like the brain."

On 21 May, the audience of 150 people will be divided into groups and taken on an 11-mile walk through varied scenery, where they will get a chance to meet the scientists and witness performances by singers and dancers at different staging posts. (The texts to be performed were supplied by poet Elizabeth Burns and set to music by Jocelyn Pook, with choreography by Nigel Stewart, a specialist in environmental dance.) Yet their journey will also trace the path of rivers going down to the sea in a process that continually renews itself.

The result is what Wilson calls "a fragmented narrative explored in different locations", which intertwines stories of dying, grieving and the cycle of life.

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