Sculptor Frances Davidson designed and produced the ingenious fluid and popcorn-filled snowdomes that were the D+CFilm Awards for this year’s Two Short Nights film festival at the Exeter Phoenix, but how does Dr Caligari feature in her thought process?
Not surprisingly Frances Davidson cites The Cabinet of Dr Caligari when she talks about film – her work is inspired by a long-held fascination with curiosity cabinets from the 16th and 17th century. Combine that with a luthier’s precision and a the moveable mystery of automata and you get the feel for the latest awards for the D+CFilm Awards for Two Short Nights.
But what about those cabinets? Frances told D+CFilm: “The objects within these cabinets were placed in order of their appeal to the imagination and symbolic similarities rather than any scientific or ethnological ones.
“We view these collections as disjointed and nonsensical because of our obsession with segregation and categorisation of art and fields of understanding. Using sculpture and automata making as my medium I produce pseudo collectibles, imbuing them with an invented history, often toy-like but with dark and sinister overtones.”
The craft elements of Frances’ work could come from her luthier father’s workshop and fascination with automata artist Paul Spooner, and it’s a craft that needs to be creative, hard-wearing and as practical as possible (hand-painting popcorn, notwithstanding).
“So many different processes were used in the production of the awards, because of their very nature everything within the glass domes needed to be waterproof and the glass domes themselves, recessed heavily into the bases so as to be shake proof,” said Frances.
“The first thing people do with an award is usually wave it around and that’s what snow domes are for. The original base maquette was carved from wood then repeatedly cast in resin, as were the floorboards, even the popcorn pieces are resin replicas. I initially tried to waterproof and weight real popcorn, but they just turned out to be lead shot with little life preservers on. So I ended up making moulds of five different shaped pieces of popcorn then casting and hand painting them 30 times – fun.”
Inside the domes are different filmic references, from a miniature film strip showing images by Eadweard Muybridge to the clapper board detailing a take from the 1973 adult film The Devil in Miss Jones by Gerard Damiano – they also play Lara’s theme from Dr Zhivago when the little handle is rotated!
Future projects include something with 120 meters of laboratory glass and a propane torch – a coral like circulatory system with a central beating heart and more automata.
“There is nothing quite like watching the faces of people as they interact with your work though, that’s deeply satisfying,” said Frances.
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