Nature's finest caught on video
Video footage of a cup of tea may not be to everyone’s taste but the close-up image of steam rising in an enticing curl has me transfixed. I’m standing in the Museum of St Albans viewing award-winning video and audio artist Catherine Hieatt’s Blue Sky installation and marvelling at the wonders of the world she depicts.
Each panel features several different pieces of film running concurrently, each depicting cosmic occurrences such as grass moving in the wind, water running over pebbles, a sunlit vapour trail or the trajectory of a comet. The lyrical simplicity with which Catherine presents these shifting images has a calming effect. Her footage also has depth and texture so you can almost smell, touch or feel the works. Rather than just look at them, you have to engage.
“When you’re dealing with natural phenomena, the window is very small to capture them, with the bluebell woods at Batchwood, they are at their best at the end of May and beginning of June. To film the eclipse I had to plan it in detail beforehand, where the camera and tripod would be positioned, set up the angle and pan from where it was coming from to where it was going to.“
But it isn’t always easy to get the right shot.
“I capture tons more footage than I ever use,“ she explains.“This is just the tip of the iceberg. I literally cut the film with a pair of scissors and cut out ten times as much as is seen. I erase stuff immediately because I know what I want and it’s either there or it isn’t. I would still like to re-shoot some things but I can’t because the phenomena is within the moment.
“When Venus was in transit I stayed up until 2am and got up at 4.30am, but it was just cloud – you couldn’t see anything. Thankfully people like Ron Hipschman at the Exploratorium in Hawaii can stream the phenomena, so someone like me in Hertfordshire can watch it via the net. Getting that stream was just fantastic.“
Educated at St Steven’s and Loreto College in St Albans, Catherine went on to have a successful career in theatre design. She furthered her studies in design for theatre, TV, opera and film at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1988. She was nominated for Best Designer of Great Britain by BATA in 1997.
She has since won three awards for her video artwork including The Artist’s & Collector’s Award from University of the Arts, London.
Catherine won the Hertfordshire Open Exhibition which has resulted in this major solo show and she recently graduated with an MA from the London School of Art and Design, Central St Martins. She is currently studying for her PhD, a cross-disciplinary exploration in fine art and astrophysics with the Research Institutes at the University of Hertfordshire and hopes visitors will see the processes at play within her work and that they will agree that art and science need not be mutually exclusive.
“All my work is underpinned by physics,“ she says. “Brownian motion gives us our understanding of what is random and mathematics is drawn from natural phenomena. I want to enthuse young people’s wonder and joy at the universe and get them into physics, maths, chemistry in a way the periodic table doesn’t.“
Catherine also wants to challenge the language of video.
“Why should it be this soap driven EastEnders-type thing? The problem is TV is so pervasive as well as the language of TV, it’s very difficult to get away from that, but it’s not the language I use.
“The beauty around us is just stunning and we haven’t yet fully captured it with video, that’s the move I’m making. It’s a process, it’s like percolating coffee you can’t just have it straight away – it comes when it comes.“
The exhibition is at the University of Hertfordshire Galleries, Museum of St Albans until September 2. Open: Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 2pm-5pm. Details: 01707 284290, firstname.lastname@example.org