Usually, at Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Festival, the May Queen makes her way around the hill, visiting and ‘awakening’ performance groups representing the classical elements – Air, Earth, Water and Fire. In 2011, it happened that nobody put themselves forward to run a group for the element of Air. It is notoriously the hardest element to represent through the medium of dance and costume anyway, what with it being invisible. For Beltane 2009 I had been in an Air performance group myself, which was a lot of fun, but .
For this year I volunteered to try something a bit different, and do an Air Point without any performers at all. Instead I decided to create a sculptural installation – a sort of giant horizontal dreamcatcher, spiralling down in a tornado shape in the middle.
So I took a bunch of super-thick withies that I’d found dumped in the street one time, made a great big circle out of them, twisted around and held in place with wire and string.
Then I took an enormously long strip of white cotton, about a centimetre wide,
from the Beltane stores. With help and tuition from Emmie Creighton-Offord, I set about wrapping it around the ring of withies, making soft knots as I went. These are barely knots at all, just the string looped back around itself after it goes around the frame, but as long as they are in tension they stay in place well. This technique would serve me extremely well later, when I came to make Hati the giant wolf puppet.
The basic pattern is that shared by dreamcatchers everywhere, but to give it a spiral twist I made sure that each knot was over to one side, rather than in the middle between two knots of the outer ring. To allow it to pull down in the middle, I made sure the line was slacker and slacker as I approached the centre.
Emmie contributed a normal-scale dreamcatcher to hang from it, and so did Sacha Harrison, one of the White Women assigned to the element of Air, with added decorations. I extended the spirals of the main net beyond its bottom with a sort of converging double-helix, and hung one of the dreamcatchers from the centre.
My main role at that year’s festival was as one of the official photographers, so I had the opportunity to capture this image of the installation at the moment of the May Queen’s blessing.
Unfortunately, while I was off speed-editing my pictures from the night, a pair of drunken punters stumbled into the sculpture and destroyed it. Still, my mother taught me at an early age about the concept of ‘art for the gods’, which is always destined to be destroyed, and it is hard to imagine a more apt example.