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Artist in Residence: Cheryl L'Hirondelle

For the last three weeks, Canadian singer and sound artist Cheryl L’Hirondelle has been spending time at the Horniman as an artist in residence. Her work culminates tonight in a performance at the Roxy Bar and Screen at 
128–132 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1LB.

Cheryl has visited the Horniman several times over the last few weeks, focusing on gardens and musical instrument collection. As an artist with indigenous North American (Cree/Metis) and European ancestry, she’s been keen to identify instruments crafted by Native peoples in North America.

On one visit to the museum, she sang to drums and rattles in the Music Gallery and also examined items in the special studies collection, sharing her knowledge of musical and ceremonial practices with the Keeper of Instruments, Margaret Birley.

Since the early 1980s, Cheryl has created, performed and presented work in a variety of forms, including music, storytelling, performance art, theatre, video and net.art, at venues across Canada and beyond. She often follows a practice of indigenous ‘sonic mapping’, or singing land and objects as a way of locating herself in the environment.

"From the Sami Peoples of Scandinavia to the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia to Native Peoples of North America, we have used our voices to sing and engage and ground ourselves. By adding new and old technology and sharing the experience publicly, I am doing what my ancestors have always done by adapting and using materials as tools for survival." - Cheryl L'Hirondelle

Her visit is part of a research project running at Royal Holloway, University of London, led by theatre studies professor, Helen Gilbert. The project explores contemporary indigenous performance in different parts of the world and one of its aims is to make connections with museums in Europe that hold artifacts from indigenous communities elsewhere.

Cheryl’s work with us culminates today, 2 May, in a performance/presentation inspired by her encounter with the museum titled ‘Sing Land: SongMark and other Indigenous Illuminations’. The event begins at 8pm at the Roxy Bar and Screen at 
128–132 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1LB (next to Sainsbury’s) and will end with a walk to the south end of the Millennium Bridge and the raising of a tipi made of light beams.

Joining Cheryl for the performance is special guest Cree singer and storyteller Joseph Naytowhow. All welcome. Admission free.

This event is produced by the ‘Indigeneity in the Contemporary World’ project team and funded by the European Research Council.

Horniman Inspiration - Jeremy Page

Critically acclaimed author Jeremy Page tells us about his latest novel and its connection to our Natural History Collection.

The Collector of Lost Things is a compelling historical novel of obsession, passion and ghosts, set in the mysterious frozen Arctic, and filled with characters who are not what they seem. At the centre of the story is a creature represented in the Horniman's own Natural History Gallery, the extinct Great Auk.

The story in 'The Collector of Lost Things' is that of a man, a naturalist and collector, who travels to the Arctic in search of the Great Auk, a year after the bird has become extinct.

The demise of the great auk was startling. Unable to fly, without fear of man, with rich edible flesh and fine feathers perfect for pillows, this bird’s attributes were the perfect storm for extinction. Gradually, they disappeared from Scandinavia, then Canada, then Greenland. The last British Great Auk was killed on St Kilda. By the beginning of the 1840s, there were only a few dozen birds left, living on rocks off Iceland.

As collectors and museums became aware that these birds would soon disappear entirely, there began a race to obtain specimens. The price upon the heads and upon their eggs of Great Auks became astronomical. The last two were killed on 3 July 1844.

  • Great Auk model, model of a great auk, a large black and white bird
    , model of a great auk, a large black and white bird

The Great Auk displayed in the Horniman is not a taxidermy specimen, but a model, made largely from the feathers of other birds. It is evidence of just how rare these birds become, and how quickly: to obtain a real specimen was almost impossible.

You can find the Great Auk model at the front of the Natural History Gallery, in a display highlighting some of the most startling extinctions in recent history.

Read more from Jeremy Page on his latest work at the Little Brown Books website.

Horniman Inspiration - Jessica Light

Jessica Light is one of the last working trimming weavers left in England. Here she tells us all about how the Horniman has inspired her work.

I'm a frequent Horniman visitor (it's one of my favourite museums) and I always come away inspired, whether it's from one of the exhibitions or the static galleries. I'm inspired in so many ways: designs, colours, materials, even processes and techniques, as well as the more esoteric, abstract and surreal qualities of the exhibits. 

  • Mask from African Worlds, Photo by Jessica Light
    , Photo by Jessica Light

I've always been fascinated by tribal and indigenous art and it is a constant theme that runs through a lot of my work, but I like to mix up my references as I think it produces something different and I don't like to be too literal.

The Horniman was a particularly important source for my Bexley Collection, which is an amalgamation of Art Deco motifs and time spent in African Worlds. I was in this instance especially inspired by the masks and graphic patterns: the tag-line for the range was '30s mock-Tudor meets African witch doctor'. The pale mint, sage, peach and coral are pure Deco colours, whereas the use of paper and raffia gave the products a tribal element.

I think so many people now just Google for their references, but I think there is no substitute for actually seeing and connecting with things first hand as you may be inspired by the whole object or a tiny detail triggers an idea. It gives you a physical and a creative relationship with what you are seeing that can be translated into your own work.

  • Masks on display in African Worlds, Photo by Jessica Light
    , Photo by Jessica Light

Visit Jessica’s website to read more about her work and explore her other collections.

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