Chicken Run Rolling

In April 2023 our two pet chickens, Arabella and Bravery, were sadly killed by a fox. To mourn their loss, I did a small action with my artwork Encyclopaedia Ball, rolling it out to the site of their run. 

Encyclopaedia Ball is a long-running project to convert a set of 1950s Encyclopaedia Britannicas into a solid papier mache ball, page by page, starting at ‘A’ and working through to ‘Z’. Occasionally, I do actions with the Ball, such as rolling it places to mark milestones in the project. This time, the Ball had reached the article on ‘head hunting’, which was grimly appropriate to contemporaneous events in the chicken coop (which left one chicken headless and the other still in possession of its head, but nevertheless dead). I glued two chicken feathers – evidence of the carnage that had taken place – onto the Ball, either side of the illustration of the famous Assyrian relief of Asshurbanipal’s victory over Elam and beheading of its king. After that I rolled the Ball out to the site of the former chicken run. (I’d already dismantled the fence of the run by this point – we’re not getting any more chickens!) 

I left the Ball in the run for the rest of the day, until it would have been time to lock up the chickens for the night. It was poignant to catch sight of it during the rest of that day – I was pottering about and it kept catching my eye. Its whiteness made it stand out incongruously amidst the spring greenery of the garden, like a giant snowball. In the early evening it drizzled heavily. Later, when I rolled it back into the house, the Ball was damp and filthy with feathers, mud and chicken mess. RIP Arabella and Bravery.

See more about my project on the Encyclopaedia Ball website.


Dress my Head: an Encyclopaedia Ball collaboration with Harriet Russell

This is about a collaboration I did with my friend, the illustrator Harriet Russell. It’s part of my ongoing art project Encyclopaedia Ball, which involves making a solid papier mache ball out of a set of 1950s Encyclopaedia Britannicas, starting with the ‘A’ section and working through all the volumes to ‘Z’. Along the way, milestones are celebrated by parties and collaborations with other artists. When the ball reached ‘H’ for ‘Harriet’ I sent Harriet a page from the encyclopaedia with pictures of headdresses from around the world. She made a series of quirky, surreal drawings/collages using the illustrations, which I animated. 

Harriet’s drawings/collages using the encyclopaedia page on head dresses.

Part of the project is to collaborate with other artists and somehow feed their work into the fabric of the Ball as it progresses. For other collaborations, I’ve stuck drawings and collages made by other artists directly onto the Ball and then covered them up with subsequent layers of papier mache. I’ve had mixed feelings about doing this. On the one hand, this was part of the deal and those artists were happy for me to do that. Their work is part of my work, even though no longer visible. On the other hand, obviously, it’s destructive. I found it very hard covering up Fumio’s drawing and Uli’s collages

For my collaboration with Harriet I thought that I needed to do something better than just stick her artworks onto the Ball. They were too lively somehow, so I decided to animate some of them and then project the resulting film onto the ball. It would be a way of feeding them back into the project without compromising their liveliness. I’ve never made an animation before, so it was an interesting experiment for me, and a lot of fun. I used Photoshop to create the frames and Krita to compile them into a film. It would probably have been easier to use Krita for the whole process, but I wasn’t familiar enough with it. The animation is a bit jerky (12 frames per second) and the pacing isn’t perfect, but it captures the quirkiness of Harriet’s drawings, I think. I’ll definitely make more animations in future.

Animation with Harriet’s drawings/collages

I then projected the animation onto Encyclopaedia Ball and filmed it. I thought I’d have to do it in the dark, or at least in dim light, but actually it was better in full daylight. It was impossible to get an exposure that was perfect for the projection and the background (it looks like I filmed it in the dark, but it was actually quite bright). It looked a lot nicer in reality than on film, but it shows what I did.

Animation projected onto Encyclopaedia Ball.

See more about my project on the Encyclopaedia Ball website.