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Sponsored / Canvas Ways of Seeing

Ways of Seeing: Rose Pilkington’s hyper-realistic journey from Turner Contemporary to the sea

Film and animation:

Rose Pilkington

Sound design:

Sound Canvas

It’s Nice That has teamed up with Canvas to make a triptych of films which peer inside the walls of three of Britain’s best-loved cultural institutions to turn all your expectations about art galleries upside down. 

Canvas is on a mission to get young people interested in art. Using YouTube as a springboard and rallying support through Facebook and Twitter, Canvas produces and curates video content which promotes artists, exhibitions, events and performances all over the UK.

It’s Nice That harnessed the talents of three rising creative talents — Robert Wallace who is also known as Parallel Teeth, Laurie Rowan and Rose Pilkington — and paired them with Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Fact gallery in Liverpool and Turner Contemporary, Margate. Over the coming weeks, we will be talking to each of the three filmmakers to find out exactly what went on behind the scenes at the three institutions.

When Turner Contemporary describes itself as a “space for everyone to discover different ways of seeing, thinking and learning,” it really means everyone. Although receiving over 350,000 visitors per year, the seafront gallery also attracts the attention of some more unlikely fans. When the doors close behind the final art-fan or member of staff, or before anyone has even arrived, a band of sea creatures seize their opportunity to explore the space. They emerge, one by one, from the cold British sea and slowly slither or float above the sand, making their way up the beach, inside the vacant and still rooms.

Once inside, they take advantage of the usually bustling space. In one room, a stingray-like creature hovers low to the ground, weaving in and out of furniture, its shocking pink body casting an ambient glow on the concrete floor. In another, a bulbous anemone pulsates, shrinking and expanding slowly in mid-air, enjoying the view – a vast expanse of water stretched out in front of it. Once they’ve had their fill, the amphibious, multi-coloured group slowly return to the grey water from which they surfaced. It’s here, thanks to the keen eye (and 3D generation software) of motion designer and digital artist, Rose Pilkington, that we join the organisms on their returning journey.

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When tasked with creating an alternative tour of Turner Contemporary, Rose jumped at the chance “because, in some ways, the building and the space within it really feel like a blank canvas, which is quite the opposite of my work,” she tells It’s Nice That. Turner Contemporary has been a cultural hub in the seaside town of Margate since its opening in April 2011. Designed by renowned London-based architects David Chipperfield, it boasts the largest exhibition space in the South East outside of the capital. A striking structure, the gallery is comprised of several angular white spaces that pierce the skyline in a geometric silhouette, looking out onto Margate’s shoreline. The resulting film is an amalgamation of jarring contrasts, the hyper-realistic and colourful sea creatures completely at odds with the harsh concrete of the gallery walls, both highlighting the beauty in the other.

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Before the shoot day, Rose visited Margate for a recce: “In true seaside fashion, it was a rainy, freezing, foggy day, which was subsequently the case on the day of the shoot,” she recalls. “I quickly realised this sort of weather was so typical of British seaside towns that it almost holds this sort of bleak charm, which definitely lends itself to the feel of the film.” Throughout the two-minute short, the slick, wet ground provides the perfect reflective surface mirroring the creatures idiosyncratic movements.

When developing the characters in her film, Rose was inspired by the gallery’s location by the sea, drawing visual references from organisms in the real world. This process is typical of the designer’s practice which sees her using 3D software to create organic and textural imagery, with colour as the driving force behind everything she makes. “The process of making these sea creatures from referencing, development, texturing to sound design was a complete joy,” Rose explains, “I drew inspiration from real sea organisms; my favourite being the one I called ‘the purple floam egg one’ which was a hybrid between frogspawn and floam slime.” As well as frogspawn and slime, the creatures are a compound of starfish, nudibranchs (sea slugs), coral, anemones and sea foam.

The film has a voyeuristic feel due to a combination of tracking and low angle shots. “I wanted it to feel like you were travelling with these sneaky creatures,” Rose describes. After compiling the first edit of live-action footage, Rose “slowly mapped out from shot to shot what I’d like to go where and how they would sit in the space.” With each shot 3D tracked and carefully lit according to the real light emitted from the footage, the result feels hyper-real due to the shadows cast by each movement.

This hyper-reality is only furthered by the film’s sound design. Created by Sound Canvas it “quite literally brought them to life and added an individual, emotive and playful feeling of character,” Rose remarks, adding “the process was both hilarious and incredibly abstract when it came to trying to articulate a sound in words over email.” From the ambient noises of the beach to the echoey reverberations inside the gallery, the creatures Stanger Things-esque gurgles help situate them in time and space, adding depth to an already accomplished narrative.

From the moment a translucent, purple life form pokes its “head” around the corner of a stairwell, to the moment a bubblegum pink anemone splashes back into the Margate sea, Rose’s film reflects and elevates the structure of Turner Contemporary through a series of juxtapositions. Despite their almost psychedelic colours, the beings are organic and soft, filling the white walls and odd angles of Turner Contemporary fittingly. As the gallery stands out, a monolith against a very British seaside, Rose’s creatures represent the culture and stories that fill it, bringing colour to the wintery-grey skies.

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Canvas is an Arts Council-funded initiative bringing together arts organisations across England with a set of wide-ranging objectives: making arts content more discoverable and engaging; increasing the number of people engaging with the arts; increasing the volume and quality of creative media; and supporting the skills and digital capacity of the arts sector.

Canvas consists of two interrelated projects: the Canvas channel and the Canvas network. The Canvas channel publishes, curates and promotes video across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter with the aim of inspiring 18-35 year olds to explore the world of art. The Canvas network helps arts organisations develop their online video strategy and output through advice, support, training and collaborative projects.