• Swan2

    Swandown (film still)

Film

Find out why Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting took a swan pedalo from Hastings to Hackney

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Of all the projects in some way connected to the Olympics, you’d have to go some way to find one more bizarre than Swandown. Artist Andrew Kotting and psychogeographer/writer Iain Sinclair spent four weeks on a swan pedalo travelling 160 miles from Hastings to the Olympic site as a “a dada performance…an artistically riotous response to the corporate spirit dominating london in Olympic Year.”

With the film of their extraordinary adventure released today, we spoke to the pair at a Soho cinema this week. “My wife has heard many completely insane projects but she did say she thought I had gone too far this time,” Iain said. “But it’s the basic thematic structure of The Odyssey, the beginning of modernism – the return home to a home that may or may not be there. It was an important project for me to see if Hackney was still there and what form it took.”

The pair both now live in St Leonards, the neighbouring town to Hastings, but it was more than convenience that made one of England’s most famous towns a good starting point. “The two geographies are intimately connected. The old Hackney of poverty and anarchy has drifted down towards Hastings, whereas Hackney is now a virtual wizard of Oz city of supermalls and surveillance.”

It was the inherent echoes of his east London background that first drew Iain to so-called 1066 Country – “When I first went there a real sense of old Hackney on Sea mix of bohemians, drug survivalists, economic migrants, a glut of teenage mums that had been expelled from places like Hackney, rogue landlords” – and Andrew, who moved from Deptford agrees. “It was wonderfully dishevelled.”

The idea of journeys have both been central to the pair’s previous work, but it was their new hometown that suggested the best mode of transport for this particular quest. Having a few ideas around for a while it was when Andrew was having lunch next to Hasting’s swan pedalo lake that the Eureka moment occurred. “Hastings was home to these unusual characters like Duvet Man and a Marilyn Monroe lookalike who just sort of melted into the landscape and the inner city canal system is populated by strange swans in pairs who haunt the most unlikely parts of London. There’s a strange symbiosis,” Iain explained.

The logistics of the challenge were all part of the fun. “We both like difficulty,” Andrew said. “We have never been comfortable with the comfortable. When you hear people saying you can’t do it because of the tides or the rivers that tightens up the trousers.”

The pedalo was a “great leveller” according to Andrew, bringing together “philosophers, ecologists and madmen.” “There was a ridiculousness to it that drew people in, they could see there was buffoonery afoot. The only drama we had came from our health and safety team until they realised we were going to be ok. We had to invent some, there’s one “w*****s” in the film when we going under a bridge but that was reverse engineered – I added that in in the edit.”

“For an authentic Homeric version I thought we needed someone who hates swans throwing stones at us like a Cyclops from the Isle of Grain,” Iain adds.

“It’s the basic thematic structure of The Odyssey, the beginning of modernism – the return home to a home that may or may not be there.”

Iain Sinclair

They were joined by some guest-pedallers along the way including comedian Stewart Lee, iconic comic book author alan Moore and neuroscientist Dr Mark Lythgoe. Some of the film’s most memorable scenes involve the afternoon Stewart and Alan spent together on the swan.

Andrew said: “Alan Moore is a friend of Iain’s and is completely locked into Northampton and his whole mythology is there so drawing him into London occasionally releases a whole new chain of stuff from him. He has never been on a pedalo, he’s hardly been on the water. Stewart Lee was really drawn to the absurdity of the project.”

They credit producer Lisa Marie Russo for turning what was, and is a great sprawling set of ideas into a film and there’s a book, live talks and an exhibition that go with the project. Andrew spent months editing the footage into a coherent whole, building on the way of working he developed on films like Gallivant.

“It could have become hugely complex but Andrew made the decision to respect a linear continuity, it’s very faithful to the way we pedalled it,” although there are some nicely surreal touches sprinkled throughout the piece.

They’re clearly proud of the final piece though as “ an antidote to the hubris” of the Olympics although one final idea remains unrealised. Andrew’s initial plan that Edith (the pedalo, named after Edith Swan-Neck King Harold’s mistress) would be returned to the Hastings amusement park strapped to a Chinook helicopter with them sitting in their pedalling positions is at this stage unlikely. Andrew said: “I thought after this wonderful event we could have a kind of homecoming, a separate part of the performance.

“If we had some budget or could find someone who has a helicopter then maybe it could still happen…” he says wistfully. Iain’s wife may raise an eyebrow, but don’t put it past these two supreme schemers.

See a whole host of film clips. here

  • Swan5

    Swandown (film still)

  • Swan3

    Swandown (film still)

  • Swan1

    Swandown (film still)

Swandown is out on selected release from today.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Film View Archive

  1. Main

    Creativity can come in all shapes and sizes, and yeah we’ve posted a lot of great stuff this week. A project or painting someone has been working on for years can change your life entirely, as can one photograph or spectacular piece of design. Sometimes, though, it can just be the opening credits of an old cartoon remade with real animals. Thank you then to Disney and their blog Oh My Disney for creating and sharing something so intricate and bonkers it’s blown all art ever made out of the water. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the DuckTales Theme Song With Real Ducks.

  2. Jw2list

    It actually takes a lot of hard work to make something seem effortlessly cool, but it helps if the raw ingredient you’re working with is, well, Jude Law. And your backdrop is the tranquil waters of the British Virgin Islands. This great new short for Johnnie Walker Blue Label opens with two men entering into a wager: if one wants to win the other’s vintage yacht, he’ll have to dance for it.

  3. Main

    Considering New York band Parquet Courts recently announced in an interview that they were staying away from social media and the web because it wasn’t “punk,” it comes as something of a surprise that lo-fi punk master Ty Segall has just released a music video with an accompanying interactive website. I guess this is what happens when you make brilliant, unique music – artists start queuing up to interpret it for you, be it through artwork, remixes or websites.

  4. Main

    Due to their consistent brilliance we tend to drop everything when we hear of a new Metronomy video. Well, today it’s happened again, this time for their new single Month of Sundays. The video was directed by filmmaker Callum Cooper and was shot on a cloudy London day in the Barbican and other famous Brutalist residential buildings in London. Using a clever spinning technique not dissimilar to the skipping rope GoPros of old, Callum followed and shot the band as they strolled around and posed among various dark stairways and openings. Taking one of the UK’s favourite bands and buildings and combining them together to create a simple and utterly compelling music video makes for some of the best watching we’ve had in ages, even if it does make us feel a bit seasick at times. You can read more about it in this interview with him and the band over on Nowness.

  5. Fixlist

    You can’t go wrong with a video set to honky-tonk piano music featuring some fresh-faced youngsters who get to work solving a granny’s sock problem. Designers Dan Jackson and Sophie Both are the “Fixperts” who puzzle over how to help “fix partner” Edna get her socks on in the mornings and come up with a creative solution in this short, jazzy film.

  6. Coslist

    Spectacularly creative Dutch duo Lernert & Sander have made a film for COS, The Sound of COS, in which the artists imitate the sounds clothes make. In their studio they crush salt, open umbrellas, slip on oven mitts and stomp about to create the soundtrack for a fashion video. Meta, eh? The concept is ingenious, because as we’re paying heightened attention to the pop of the button, the zip of the jacket and the jingle of keys in a purse, we’re also paying extra close attention to COS’ Autumn/Winter collection in all its lovely detail.

  7. Madeyoulooklist

    How do traditional creative industries survive alongside the new digital kid on the block? By going back to basics. Made You Look is a documentary about the UK’s DIY graphic arts scene, exploring how creatives, publishers and agencies are sticking with and returning to tactile means of making things. They’re using pens on paper and acrylic paint along with new technology to create works which can be held onto instead of disappearing into the ethereal web.

  8. List

    Thus far I don’t think Keaton Henson has ever released a video that I’ve not been completely captivated by. His William Williamson-directed film for 2012’s Sweetheart, What Have You Done To Us was about as scathingly intense as they come, and the 2013 follow-up, You, turned out to be a total tear-jerker too. So it shouldn’t surprise you that Keaton’s latest video for new track Healah Dancing is pretty heavy-going. From the outset it seems geared up for a violent and emotional climax, but the results are in fact much less predictable – but much more exciting – than that. Enjoy!

  9. List

    Imagine turning up to work in the morning, checking your schedule and realising that the vast majority of your time is going to be spent creating a zombie horse. That’s what the team at Montreal-based Rodeo FX did for Series Four of Game of Thrones, along with creating the slave city of Meereen, the Unsullied Army, a sequence with the White Walkers and most memorably the final (KIND OF SPOILER ALERT!) battle between Stannis’ army and the wildlings.

  10. Main

    WARNING do not watch this if you are afraid of family members dying and then being messily devoured in front of your very eyes by OTHER members of your own family. Seriously, parts of this video were deemed unwatchable by most of the It’s Nice That editorial team, which I think is perhaps why I love it so much.

  11. List

    German design studio Hort prides itself on being an “unconventional working environment” and a “place where work and play can be said in the same sentence.” In this video by Analog Mensch Digital, Hort’s much-loved creator Eike Konig talks about their work and ethos whilst rolling paint and printing a poster. The camera wanders about the studio past leaning bikes and big white desks, scrolling up bookcases and dwelling on the Anthony Burrill posters gracing the walls. Eike is always worth listening to, whether he’s musing on the differences between international and German clients, traditional and digital work and the morals of design. He says: “Visual language is a strong language. We have responsibility in the use of this power.”

  12. List

    Every time a new music video by Us (AKA Chris Barrett and Luke Taylor) is sent round the studio I find myself stubbornly insisting that they can’t possibly have topped their previous efforts, and every single time the London-based directing duo seem to prove me wrong. Their latest creation for British singer-songwriter and producer Labrinth is potentially the finest yet in fact, combining what is becoming their trademark one-shot effect with a brilliantly simple storyline. The video follows Labrinth through the ups and downs of making a record, from TV interviews and squabbling record label execs to shooting videos in flash cars and performing onstage, exposing a side that usually remains concealed. It’s a natural fit for Us’ pared-back aesthetic, where cameras, ladders and extras are all included in the shot. Have they upped the stakes again? We reckon so.

  13. List

    “Can I email you back on Monday? I’m actually in the desert this weekend,” was the reply we got from Tom Gould when we got in touch to see what he was up to a couple of weeks back. It might sound like the filmmaker’s equivalent of the dog eating your homework, but in Tom’s case it’s a wholly credible excuse, and even more so now that we can see the fruits of his labour.