Nana Francisca Schottländer Blog

20th December 2019

‘The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present.
[…] In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not a a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or satiric futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.’
(Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble – Kaking Kin in the Chthulucene)

Establishing a relation with someone or something changes us. It redefines us, inspires and shapes us. It’s risky business…

Arriving in Sri Lanka was an intense overload of chaos, colors, shapes, people, sounds, humans, plants, water in all its forms – and my own body and mind trying to adjust to it all. It took time, effort and curiosity to create meaningful relations.

Early on, the question became how to make myself available for transformative encounters. How to invite them and trust trust them across cultures and the predefined expectations of our different positions as local and foreigner. It was challenging and confusing. Often I wanted to become as invisible as possible, to just blend in with people and plants, to escape my foreignness. 

I started relating to the natural entities around me, like mangrove flowers and pods, nuts I found in the beach, leaves, roots, rocks. This was my first step towards establishing more intimate contact with locals. Non-human locals.

In Sri Lanka there is a deep affinity with nature. Initiating my work I discovered that my curiosity and appreciation of growths and beings united me with the people here to bring us, momentarily, beyond the transactional nature of me looking like a tourist and the locals trying to find ways to get by. It was a relief to find shared ground beyond that set of roles.

Shared explorations brought us together in moments of curiosity and appreciation and we could meet. Human to human – and human to other-than-human.

Being the only artist in residence I could not rely on collaborations with other residents, and I had to find new ways of working. First of all I had to move behind the camera to explore through the lens while at the same time relating bodily to the objects and entities I was exploring. These images became sort of relational portraits. Initially only using my own body as a canvas, but after a while building up friendships that could sustain me asking others to invest their bodies, and also ask them to share with me what they found fascinating/beautiful.

I am used to being in front of the camera and sometimes I struggle with my distinctively feminine body and the connotations this brings to my work. Owning and exploring my own gaze on both my own and other bodies, human and other-than-human, opens a new level in my work and in my ways of relating with the entities, I gaze upon. A feminine, relational gaze.

Being introduced to the film workers Douglas Kahan and Tamara Whittle allowed me to move back in front of the camera again for a bodily journey of exploring relating with natural and manmade environments. The work became a contact improvisation of sorts; putting my own body into moving exchanges with the different environments and allowing that to form a dance between all the elements present. Dancing relation.

In the course of my processes and explorations more and more people have gotten involved; Nilanthe who was sharing his knowledge and curiosity of the garden and jungle with me in very limited english, and who was the first to let me borrow his arm and skin for fotos. Doctor Priyantha Udagedara, visual artist and professor at the University of Visual and Performing Arts Colombo and the 1 year diploma students with whom I went on a mind-blowing field trip to the rainforest of Ritigala. The local print shop owner Saman who was extremely dedicated in helping me edit, compose and print the photos I have done – and who in the course of that became my friend. Douglas and Tamara with whom I did the video journey and had a truly inspiring collaboration. Nalinda who challenged his skills as a traditional woodcarver created beautiful sculptures in Mahogany and Attonia woods based on nuts and seeds that I found on the beach. Tharu who has been teaching me to surf and who agreed to help me explore images of body and rocks with him. My friend Dinith Ashan and mr. Abé at the Eco Village in Dodanduwa which is the most magical place I have seen, and where I spent beautiful, inspirational time and created some of the video. Neil and Maria at Sun Beach in Hikkaduwa, who have been part of the whole process.

If nothing else, the relations that have formed and the ways we have bonded in the course of my work is in itself an eclectic, mosaic-like work of art. The relations are the true work of art. The pieces that came out of this are testaments to that.

A series of photographic inkjet prints documenting intimate bodily encounters between humans, skin and things that grow. Shot in Hikkaduwa, Dodanduwa, Ritigala and Sigeriya with the bodily assistance of Nilanthe, Usha, Emasha, Rushan, Tharu, Frederic and Una.

Printed and edited in collaboration with Saman Samarawickrama Studio, Hikkaduwa

A series of wooden sculptures based on nuts and seeds washed up by the sea. The sculptures are made in local wood types Mahogany and Attonia in collaboration with woodcarver U. D. Nalinda.

The objects examine, in an aestheticized way, the process through which something mundane, washed up, is given new value and meaning through curiosity, appreciation, attention, time and effort which all lend it new significance through relating to it and thus inscribe it in a new story.

A contact improvisation with human- and non-human environments and their inhabitants exploring blending in, standing out and coming together. Filmed on location in Hikkaduwa and Dodanduwa, December 11th, 2019 at Hikkaduwa Beach, Ranjith’s Hut, Salty Swamis, the train tracks, Eco Village and Dodanduwa Beach.
Video: Douglas Kahan and Tamara Whittle – SpaTv Productions
Bodywork: Nana Francisca Schottländer
Edit: Nana Francisca Schottländer

A small video piece unfolding around the body-like rocks of Dodanduwa Point, a human body, the waves and a large piece of semi-transparent, synthetic fabric bought at the fabric market in Colombo. Filmed on iPhone 6 at Dodanduwa Beach, December 2019.
Bodywork: Frederic Collette
Video and edit: Nana Francisca Schottländer 

Sura Medura Arts Residency, Neil Butler, Maria McCavana, Københavns Internationale Teater, UZ Arts, In Situ Network, Ashan Dinith and Eco Village Dodanduwa as well as the staff at Sun Beach Hotel, Hikkaduwa and Soul Villas, Dodanduwa.

18th November 2019

My days here are so full of impressions. And weirdly random. Lacking an ordering principle I am adrift. A foreigner in a foreign landscape.

At Dodanduwa fishery harbour: A full moon dancing ritual where a troupe of dancers whirled for fishing luck, good weather and incoming money for the fishermen from 8 PM to 5 AM. The dancers and the drummers making their way through intricate rhythms and patterns, offering incense, fire and sweat to the gods in exchange for good fishing fortune. The open walled roof had been transformed into a shrine made from palm leaves and trunks, braided, woven, stuck together to form a sacred space for the ritual to take place. It was teeming with spectators: all ages, all sexes, no tourists. But the ritual was not for them. It was for the gods. And they were witnessing it. As were we. All together.

As the evening proceeded and the dancers went through trances, acrobatics, fire-whirling, bantering, clowning, sex-changing and a whole array of different costumes and props, people watching fell asleep in the plastic chairs. First the children and the elderly, but in the course of the evening people slumped over, still impregnating the ritual with their sleeping presence. Offerings of black tea and crackers revived us momentarily. At 4:30 I had to give up and walk along the empty road towards home until I caught a ride.

At the University of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo, making a work presentation and talk. Mainly to students from the department of dance. It made sense to show my work to them. To talk about bodies, moving bodies, other-than-human bodies and how we can dance and choreograph spanning species and modes of existence. Talking to the professor, Udagedara Priyantha, about paradise – the historical, the mythical, the lost. Made me think of paradise re-created. What would that be? What would it take?

I will go to the woods near Sigueriya with him and the painting students for 3 days to work in the forest. In paradise….

My nights by the ocean are dark and sweaty. The sound of the waves penetrating my dreams. Some nights I am scared. The ocean sounds too close, menacing somehow. Other nights I am falling into the constant of it. But I relish in the lush quietness by the lagoon. Here my thoughts come together, I find space to breathe, explore, sense. Unfold. Like all the plants.

I realize that it is as much my own reservation as the expectations of others, that separate me from people here. I find it hard to accept my privilege, what it makes of me here. I am almost ashamed of it. No feeling of entitlement, on the the contrary. Wanting to hide, blend in, disappear in the masses.

I am trying to slide into my encounters, trusting that the people I meet are exactly right. Without knowing yet, what meaning we will create together. Like Sunil and his wife, who want to teach me to cook coconut sambal.

Each person, each encounter represents a road I can travel down. I have to be the one daring to do so. Curiously. Politely. Honestly.

All these threads, thoughts and words.

Skin tone, camouflage, dance, material explorations, exchanges, encounters, fear, curiosity.

I will try to make the words come together.

Gahata poththa wagei (ගහට පොත්ත වගෙයි ) As close to each other as the bark is to the tree trunk. Describes really close friends/people.

11th November 2019

Visiting is not an easy practice; it demands the ability to find others actively interesting, even or especially others most people already claim to know all too completely, to ask questions that one’s interlocutors truly find interesting, to cultivate the wild virtue of curiosity, to retune one’s ability to sense and respond – and to do all this politely! […] Curiosity always leads its practitioners af bit too far off the path, and that way lie stories.

[…this] sort of politeness does the energetic work of holding open the possibility that surprise are in store, that something interesting is about to happen, but only if one cultivates the virtue of letting those one visits intra-actively shape what occurs. They are not who/what we expected to visit, and we are not who/what were anticipated either. Visiting is a subject- and object-making dance, and the choreographer is a trickster. Asking questions comes to mean both asking what another finds intriguing and also how learning to engage that changes everybody in unforeseeable ways.”

(Donna Haraway: ‘Staying With the Trouble – Making Kin in the Chthulucene’)

I’ve been here 4 days now.

Landed in the humid night for a drive through the darkness from Colombo to Dodandura. Dogs sleeping like little hairy mounds by and on the road. People getting up before the break of dawn to get ready for a new day’s work.

Arriving to the villa by the lagoon, going to sleep in my mosquito tent.

The next few days exploring: the banks of the lagoon, the fishermen’s harbor and its rocks with crabs, sea urchins and jumping fish. A fishing boat with a swedish prayer for good luck as a name. Local fishermen having a party, drumming, singing and drinking arrack. Wanting to invite me for dinner, for sailing, for walking.

Walking along the coast and home along the train tracks. Everything so lush. So green. So rich. Local women picking jasmine flowers for Buddha, drying their washing on the rocks by the tracks. Dogs, children…

Hello madam, how are you?

How am I?

Everything is foreign, I even become foreign to myself. My skin color sets me apart. Makes me into something other. I struggle with that. Wanting to blend in, to become invisible and quietly make my way around to explore, see, meet, and exchange. Beyond skin color. And money. Trying to find a meaningful point to work from. Maybe it starts with accepting the foreignness, around me and within me.

I found treasures by the lagoon. Seeds, nuts, flowers, shells. I begin by encountering them, body to body, flesh to flesh – spanning species. Making this an entry point. First contact.

My initial idea for the project here is to learn to sing the sound of the water in 3 different locations and then sing the sound of one place to another – ideally together with 3 or 4 others. There are intellectual thoughts and theories behind my project. Eco- and hydrofeminist approaches to species and connectedness. But as I am the only resident here at this time, I have to find ways of involving locals in the project. I’m not sure it will make sense to them. And then what’s the point…?

I want what I do here, to be of value to others.

What can I do? What can I create, which has value to the people here? How can I ask meaningful questions that makes new sense to both me and the people, I encounter?

All these questions. No answers today.

Hopefully the next weeks will bring me closer – to people and answers.

Selfie with leaves


Jamie Wardrop Blog

SURA MEDURA – Blog 3 – Love to Sri Lanka

April 28, 2019

Startled shadow of the fruit bat
swooping dowm
imprinted on the Dammissara Road
arrests me on the cycle home 
past the Buddha statue 
the velvet firmament
dusky blue and brass gold stars
rustling undergrowth
where dogs sleep on the road
stars poke through the canopy of breadfruit
and I halt and pay attention to this sizzling magic 
nocturnal crispness 

Sri Lanka at peace now in knowing 
I can leave having seen you
under this sky 
showing me in layered ways
your response to a full life
the full moon topped up heart
pulled back a curtain
to the rhythm of this land 
ancient ancient ancient people
working together interlocking 

I can feel the bass of the sea
and the rain that woke up the tree frogs


I have been back in Scotland for a month now. The Scottish and Sri Lankan environment might as well exist on two different parallel planes, both are alive but in apparently opposite ways, moods and tones…

The final showing at the end of the residency was a really useful push to present a summation of ideas as they stood at that point. I finally got to see what my fellow artists had been cooking up in their individual projects. We were lucky in the group to have so many complimentary interests.  Together we collaboarated on songs sung out on Sue’s boat. Our harmonies rolling out across the lagoon and competing with the storm that threatened to come in and shut down the gig. 

I was more than happy to go to Sri Lanka and for it to work away subtly and not so subtly on my imagination. And that it did! I wanted to find ideas that I could bring back and continue to work on. There are things about the culture, history and ecology that Scotland needs to know about. Questions have been answered and curiosity has been awakened. 

I have material for experimental film/documentary, concepts for audio visual installations, and music/songs that I am continuing to develop..ideas that keep burning and turning over in my mind. And something bigger – an installation and interactive performance that draws together my experience of  Sri Lanka and in the mediums that I want to experiment with.  

I am very grateful to have these concrete things even if there is more digging and contemplation to do. I have the gritty but welcome challenge now of how to realise them back home.

The joy of Sura Medura is you get that chance to see how you operate outside of your everyday circumstances – what fires up the imagination and what conditions set you free. In the interviews and research trips it was great for me to see what happens when you put the feelers out and reach out to people. And what happens when you open up to a new culture in general with the artists innate perspective. This gives me great faith in following up on this approach in the future. There are tools, attitudes and techniques that are going to stay with me.  

It is hard to imagine a more beautiful place. I feel in the two months I only got a tiny sense of the full richness and depth of the culture. I was touched by the generosity, friendliness and the hopeful spirit of the people. 

I feel such sorrow for Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday attacks.  I am in complete solidarity with you as you struggle with this wound. 

It feels vital now to keep the relationship going with the country, to keep the learning alive, to stay in touch with friends there. 

Sri Lanka I love you. I will return.

Thank you to the people for welcoming me in and making me wiser. I hope someday to repay you for this gift. 

SURA MEDURA – Projecton Experiments 

April 28, 2019

Live drawing on ipad, pico projector direct on to palm and dried leafs @ Sura Medura – March 2019

SURA MEDURA – Beep beep

March 13, 2019

Impro jam with samples from Sri Lankan bus horns and radio


March 13, 2019

I have always wanted to go a rainforest (a boyhood dream) Sinharaja national park was high on my list of Sri Lankan adventures.  If I am going to talk about it in my work I need to understand what it is to stand in one and bear witness. Most of the forests n Scotland have been degraded by human hand ( though there are some notable exceptions!) and this is a place that is under threat from the gradual encroachment of rice paddies, tea plantations and unregulated tourist development. The ecosystem goes right back to Gondwana land – the huge ancient supercontinent. 

I managed to convince my fellow artists to join me.

We were not disappointed. We combined it with a trip to Udawalawa national park. We all left buzzing having seen every kind of plant and animal imaginable – tree crab, owl, viper, elephant, toucan, crocodile, mongoose,  sambhur dear, kangaroo lizard, peacocks, macaque & grey langar monkey, fruit bat, butterfly, 3 kind of giant eagles, leaches, giant spiders, a plant that ants live inside, minute and detailed treecreeper vines in bountiful explosion. The cicadas abruptly turn on and off, in a noisy shower of rain sweeping through the canopy. 

I went out at late at night to record the nights sounds on the edge of the forest after winding up the mysterious roads in a thunder storm:

Because of everything 
It’s breathing, together.
Firefly drop and dip 
Thunder head 
You roar in to the night
Spark and shudder 
Call and response
Fairy light garland flashing under the eaves
Chiming in
A crazy scattering vital rhythm

I have been working late and Sura Medura when there is only me, the security guard and the adopted dog Hadi. It is a bit spooky at night here. I am interested in this fear and reverence for the natural world. Its mystery. Seeing flashes of distant lighting or hearing an odd bird call is a moment of private veneration.

Mocking up what I experienced in the rainforest I have joined some of the recorded and experimental sounds together with some abstract visuals and pointed the projector on to the palm trees, then hooking a bluetooth speaker in the branches. I set this off in a random digital chain that starts to make its own jungle polyrhythm.

The bamboo scaffold that I have been building (not my usual to be construction worker but it has been fun to bind it together with bits of found wood and coconut rope) I hope to place among this projection environment. A sort of fantasy piece of architecture.  

I have been reflecting on how I’d like to develop this space as a sort of discussion tent where people could come in and reflect on climate change that could pop up anywhere. We need spaces like this! A blingey installation on the outside// a space for contemplation and healing on the inside.

On my cycle over I find the leafs of the breadfruit most fascinating. Some are big I can even wear them as a kind of costume.  I have been using the iPad to live draw on to them. Picking out the veins. It reminds me of the lagoons, rivers and irritations channels I have observed here in Sri Lanka.  With projection I can make the leafs vibrate with energy and they become sort of portals in to another dimension. After a few iterations this is beginning to shape up in to an installation.

SURA MEDURA – Road signs

March 08, 2019

I have become pretty obsessed about the road side signs on lamp posts advertising college courses. The colours and designs (often screen printed) – luminous, bright and very cool. 

I am keen on letting them influence visual designs in abstraction and spin them out in to animation and print.

Och I just love them. They are gorgeous. 


February 28, 2019

Experimental 3d design inspired by Kandy and sound

Kandy is situated right in the centre of the mountainous district of Sri Lanka . It is an ancient home for world Buddhism and a centuries old sit of pilgrimage.
I went on Sri Lankan National Day – February 4th with great crowds filtering and pushing through the temple.

I found the whole place very effecting having never been part of such a mass religious ceremony.  The smell of purple lotus flowers held aloft.  People buzzing with the hope of a momentary blessing bestowed from seeing the relic of the Buddha’s tooth in its sacred chamber. There is a deep sense of worship that emanates from the place and wraps you up in it.

In my search for a place to meditate in Sri Lanka I couldn’t work out where people stop to praise. In my initial visits to temples I was surprised to find there is not a a meditation hall. Commonly, there is a stupa, a statue room and at the centre a Bodhi tree (Ficus Religiosa) lined with an octagonal wall (to reflect the Eight Fold Path) topped with gold/brass finials. 
But it was Kandy in the outlying scattered shrines of Hindu and Buddhist origin that I found an ancient Bodhi tree with great steps up to it. An immense ritualistic space with fabric prayers tied to the branches. Peaceful – the anthesis of the rapture of the tooth temple.  
I sat and watched people with their colourful plastic water pots make Puja and pouring to feed the tree. Such curious beautiful forms. Plastic and out of place – I felt compelled to create them in 3d. 

And there, Sri Lankan’s silently blissfully meditating. Here I  found my space. Barefoot and welcome, I entered a trance and I imagined the roots of the tree extending down and hugging the whole of the earth – connecting me, even to rainy Glasgow. I had a vision in my jetlagged state when I arrived of a tree extending roots around an egg but now the egg had morphed in to the earth.  I really need to make an extended animation of this !As I reflected with a friend on whats app at the time: It is great to look at being British from the point of view here. We actually so rarely look within for answers. I now its my job but my culture does prevent this! 
And that is the thing in the West – we are constantly projecting out busying ourselves with an ostentatious show of how well we are doing to try and have a foothold – we neglect the inner life and fail to put down roots. Not that the religious art of Buddhism or Hinduism isn’t showy, it is! But I see now the alignment it attempts to provoke.  
Gathering around and worshiping trees at this time feels very sensible…
If I am to reflect on my true feelings about ecology in Sri Lanka then also why keep my spiritual separate from my art. Is it a British or western thing that spirituality is somehow a weak and unemperical way of looking at things? But it is arguably an ancient spiritual connection to the earth that we need at this time if we are going to understand and repair the damage we are wrecking. 
It is the same for art in general. It is easy for me to get infatuated with the image, the superficial, the surface- to forget the roots that lie behind a creation. Like the buddha imagery it is not there to be idolised it is there to remind, to point within. The great well of infinity the void space that we can access at any time. 

“The Bodhi Tree is the nickname of the species of the tree under which each Buddha awakens. All members of the ficus family lack “heartwood” or the hard inner pith found in most trees. The heart of the Bodhi tree is truly void. “

Pippa Taylor & Jony Easterby Blog

Plants plants plants

Monday, March 11, 2019

The work has begun!
Arriving at Sura Medura and Sunbeach has been a wonderful experience.
We are now in residence with a fabulous group of fellow artists and our wonderful hosts with a wonderful group of locals supporting us, great cooks, gardeners and tuk tuk drivers abound.

It appears we are importing our habits and lives from back home.
A passion for music is now followed closely with investigations of the world of growing in Sri Lanka.

You are struck by the fresh produce all around you – fruits, vegetables and plants of unknown name and origin.
An urge to plant seeds on our arrival is perhaps reminiscent of the spirit of settler mentality, of wanting to see what will grow alongside the need to mirror the landscape of home, put down roots and create a secure space.
In Colombo we sought out seeds to plant from a local seed shop, some familiar names and some not so.
The first day of work also involved an exploration to a seed and plant centre some 20km from Hikkudawa, We discovered a garden centre and an agri supply shop where we could get an overview of plants and propagation kit. We loaded up with seeds, trays and potting compost for our experiments in growing.

The results are spectacular for our usual UK standards with germination happening virtually over night and growth rates beyond expectation.

The journey back from the garden centre was punctuated by visits to cinnamon plantations and an oil processing plant, lotus ponds and quite excitingly –  a mangrove forest.

The mangroves are an incredible and valuable ecological zone, an ecological edge between the sea and the land that have suffered from degradation (shrimp farming and development) and now full protection in Sri Lanka. 

The effects of the Tsunami along the coast was undoubtably affected by their removal as they form a natural  and soft edged protective zone. We decided to collect some seeds  and seedlings to see if we could create a nursery to help the regeneration around the edge of Sura Medura.

In the meantime we are exploring images  drawing symbols and ways of promoting Mangrove love.

We also decided that we might try to establish a Mangrove nursery in order to plant more trees around Sura Medura. In part to help with erosion, but also to help establish more habitat. Seeds were collected along with some young seedlings.
Sadly our attempts have failed due to some fundamental horticultural fuck up. The seedlings disapproved of being transplanted and have now all died.
The seeds are perhaps growing, but the sand and mud in the estuary my not be suitable. There must be a reason why not many are establishing around Sura Medura.

Mangrove ‘snorkels’ used for breathing by sub aqua magrove roots
Pippas drawing of Mangrove seeds and seedlings
Mangrove seeds and pods
Mangrove planting experiment. Sadly doomed to failure because of unsuitable soil

Beginnings in Colombo and beyond

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Colombo a city of endless tuktuks, roasting tarmac, honking buses and the occasional oasis of calm.
We decided to spend a few days getting to know the city and being inspired by its urban charm.
On the first day whilst looking for a ride we come across this bizarre site.

A tuk tuk seat cover with the bilingual NRW logo is parked on the side of the road with a smiling driver. This is a sign from the gods that we must use this tuk tuk for all our journeys! Vikramnathan the driver turns out also to be the sweetest and most generous of souls and speaks a fair smattering of English. He is now our guide in Colombo.

We explore the markets and cafes with him and also track down a music shop.We have proposed a two prong approach to the development of our work whilst we are here. The exploration of music and botany/ecology.
Before leaving the UK we started to research violin music in Sri Lanka and came across an ancient musical instrument, the fabled Ravanhatha purportedly the first bowed instrument in history.It is named after Ravana  (meaning roaring in Sinhalese) a devout follower of Shiva who plays the Vena (another Indian instrument) and has ten heads.


We looked to see if we could find a Ravan hattha in but could not find one, so we bought one from India and bought it here with us. The instrument turned out to be pretty hard work as it was so badly set up, but after a lot of faffing around with bits of bone, horse hair and strings its finally starting to sound oaky and pretty playable. It has 15 sympathetic strings that resonate when you play the single  rh horse hair string with a bow.

The Ravan hattha Dinesh playing the Ravan hattha

During our explorations we also tracked down the violinist Dinesh Subasignhe who is a bit of an expert on the Ravanahatha. He invited us to an exciting tour of the Sri Lankan Broadcasting (formally the Celon Broadcasting Corp) buildings and studios where he records a TV show playing  a mix of different genres of music. He has invited us to appear on a world music special where we will improvise together with some of our tunes….we will wait and see how that turns out!
The CBC building is an amazing throwback to the days of colonial broadcasting C1920 replete with corridors full of old recording equipment, big red lights to show the studios are live and an exciting canteen.

We also visit the archive and get a listen to the first ever recording made at the CBC in 1946 – seemly played on a turntable from around the same era. They have hundreds of thousands of recordings in the archive. We may return.

 The first ever recording in Sri Lanka

Anne Milne Blog



There is a train track which runs parallel to the main road through Hikkaduwa, carrying freight and passengers up and down the West coast of the island, and along the southern edge. 

We cycle along by the railway most days, passing by the many homes and small businesses which face the tracks. There are several small stations – Thiranagma, Kumarakanda, and 
Dodanduwa, as well as the larger one at Hikkaduwa.

Small roads cross the tracks from the main road, heading into the jungle and to the many small villages which are located there.
At all of these crossings there are barriers which come down when the trains approach, bells clanging a warning that a train is on its way, although there will always be those who slip under the barrier to cross before the train comes thundering through, or indeed those who cross the line at random places.

Informal railway crossing, Susil, the signal man, Thiranagama Station

Every so often, there sits a small hut, usually adjacent to a train station, and inside that hut sits a man whose job it is to lower the barriers. 
Tune in for another update to learn more about Susil, the signal man.



Coconut groves, mango, cinnamon, pine.Salty air and surging surf.Shifting sands.Bike rides along the railway,Tuk-Tuk horns and racing buses.Baby turtles.

Baby Turtles

Notary office ladies,cabinets crammed with papers.The signal man in his hut, waiting for the sound of trundling train.Bin men, grabbing bags of garbage.Bicycle repair, clothes washing, hat weaving,the hidden workers of Hikkaduwa.

Signal Man

Lion Beer, spicy prawns, fresh coconut relish.Mangosteen.Tuna, tuna, tuna.
Arrack attack!


Sue Hill Blog

COUNTING MY BLESSINGS (and painting them)

July 13, 2019

I have asked myself the same question that I asked the people in Sri Lanka – ‘After the worst thing you could imagine happened to you, when your existence was clouded with grief and loss, what were the moments that called you back towards life?’

I made a list. I counted my blessings, and started to paint them; Pete catching three fish on his birthday, Philly reaching the Canadian border, 2650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail behind her, me and Joanna listening to a nightingale.

Now I am painting again and I can’t stop. I love the activity of it, the physical qualities of the paints, some shiny and translucent, others thick, matt, sticky (I’m using acrylics but also household emulsion, the scores of colour test pots that Bill and I accumulated over years). I am painting on pieces of old marquee canvas, complete with stitched seams, ragged edges, stretched out of square by weather and tent poles. Time also becomes stretchy, plastic; it doesn’t behave in its normal predictable fashion. My hand feels clumsy, fingers like a bunch of bananas, inept, out of control – but sometimes the very accidents that they produce please me. 

I am excruciatingly nervous, shy and embarrassed about the results. They seem naïve, child-like, sentimental, old-fashioned. I find the bright colours irresistible, and am compulsively drawn to a dramatic sky or the punchiness of a silhouette. The images are narrative, reminding me of stained glass windows in churches or the illustrative posters we had in primary school (‘The Escape from Bethlehem’, ‘Modern Transport’…). But most of all they remind me of the Ladybird books of my childhood. I’m not embarrassed to claim them as an influence. When Bill and I met we combined our collections of snowdomes and Ladybird books. I particularly loved the ones illustrated by John Berry. He seemed fascinated by the way that light falls on human skin and clothing. He painted people in action, in their natural habitat, making things, mining, fishing, working machinery. You can see concentration in their faces, skill in their hands, effort in their bodies. If only I could paint like him…

‘The Pottery Makers’ illustrated by John Berry
‘The Pottery Makers’ illustrated by John Berry

Here are six paintings that start to count my blessings, with the stories that inspired them…

Three Birthday Fish

September 1st, the last sparkly day of summer, my brother Pete’s birthday. Pete and Philly have camped on the beach at Porthchapel. I bring them grapes from the vine that Joanna gave me, and champagne for breakfast. Pete catches three fish, one each.

Funeral of a Beloved Dog

My sister’s crazy dog, Stu, sickens and dies. He’s been a challenging companion – naughty, disobedient, noisy. But he is sorely mourned. We make a beautiful ceremony for him.

Wedding in the Rain

This is our first joyful family wedding. Bill and I married at the last, but quietly, five weeks before he died. There was little joy in it – except a sweet primrose posy from my next door neighbours, who witnessed the ceremony. My niece Jessie marries her navy officer Matt, given away by Eric her dad, in happy drenching rain.

Horse Paddling

Nicky invites me to ride the horses with her to Tremayne Quay. A still, perfect afternoon, the river is glassy. With a little encouragement, the horses wade in and stand, snorting gently, snuffling the water.

Listening to the Nightingale

It is just over a year since Bill died. Joanna and I go to a secret location in Kent to meet Sam Lee and walk with him into the night-time forest to hear the nightingales sing. We walk in silence for an hour and a half. Finally we find one, a virtuoso singer. He sings, we listen. Sam sings, the nightingale listens. A magical call-and-response and then duet ensues. Trance-like we feel ourselves dissolve into the forest.

Jowan Watering

I share the allotment with my sister Di. It is a great consolation. After Bill died it was the only thing that allowed me to think about the future. You plant seeds in the confidence that with time they will germinate, grow, bear fruit, become food. Jowan loves the allotment. He is another little piece of the future, Di’s first grandchild. He especially loves the hose.

Three of the paintings are now being exhibited in South Block, the gallery at the Wasps Artists Studios in Glasgow, along with beautiful work by two other Sura Medura artists, Pippa Taylor and Maria McCavana, and photographs of the painted boat, that I worked on with Pippa.


April 3, 2019

There is a resonance, an echo, in the painting of the Sura Medura boats that I hadn’t seen. It was an activity of such blazing similarity that I can’t believe I failed to recognise it. My sister Di reminded me – ‘The last things you painted were Mum’s and Dad’s coffins’.

Betty ‘Barney’ Hill 25.07.1929 – 27.01.2004
Donald Hill 22.06.1925 – 05.03.2004

Early in 2004 Mum died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. Apparently hale and hearty, busy with her plants, her classes and lunches with friends, we hadn’t expected her to be the first to go. Dad had been gently fading in a nursing home for a few years. Every time we had visited he seemed more fragile, papery, scrubbed an unfamiliar pink. Somehow we managed to get him to her funeral, where there was a poignant double leave-taking by their friends. Four weeks to the hour after her funeral he followed her.

Both of their ceremonies were devised by Bill, beautiful rituals, full of poetry and live music. The family painted their coffins. Mum’s was decorated with all the things she loved – children, plants, protest, her hens, Cornwall, dogs, mountains, Godrevy. 

We turned Dad’s coffin into his beloved boat, ‘Ella Speed’, complete with full sailing rig. The mast, bowsprit and gaff meant that it was too big to fit in the usual horrid curtained slot, but sat proudly in the middle of us, so that people touched it as they left the chapel.

The activity of painting the coffins together was sad, funny, calming. Time slowed. We talked about them, mused on what they would have made of our efforts, planned the ceremonies, held each other.

Reflecting on the last six weeks in Sri Lanka it seems to me that I have completed a strange circumnavigation. This was my original proposal for Sura Medura –

‘My mother was of the land. She was a passionate gardener, could strike any cutting, germinate any seed.  As children, my sister and I weren’t interested in plants or gardening, except when the gladioli blossoms might provide ball gowns for our dolls. Then gradually as we grew older we came to gardening too, whether by nature or nurture I’m not sure. My sister earns her living by propagating plants, I use them in my artwork. We share an allotment. We have come to love the investment of time and waiting that plants demand, and the alchemy of water, sun, seeds, manure.

My father had a sailing boat, an old gaff cutter, which took all his resourcefulness and ingenuity to keep afloat. My sister and I were his crew, rowing the dinghy to and fro, pumping bilges, catching breakfast, hauling anchor, climbing the rigging, taking the helm. On a sea trip, over the Channel or across to the Scillies, he would wake me at 6.00am, set me a course to follow and I would have the watch while he slept. If anything should go amiss or if the weather changed I could wake him with a shout. But I never did. Those dawns were very special, privileged, alone with the sea, the wind, the diving gannets, feeling at once very small but also very big, with responsibility for my father, my sister and the boat. I have always been afraid of the sea. 

I will seek to make contact with people of the sea (fishermen, boatbuilders, fish sellers, surfers) and people of the land (growers, farmers, fruit & veg sellers, cooks). I will explore their connection to sea and land, their sense of time and natural cycles. If possible I would like to meet their children/grandchildren too, to understand how these relationships are shifting. I will bring imagery and stories of my parents, my allotment and my experience of the sea, to start these conversations.’

My intention was to row back to some core inspiration, before Bill, before theatre even, to find again my connection with nature and an innocent, more playful response to it. I didn’t expect my course of inquiry to be about grief and loss, that Bill would be so profoundly present for me. The application of tropic heat, startling beauty, tragic personal stories, the constant sound of pounding surf, little stings of homesickness, all serve to peel you like a mangosteen, leaving you tender to unexpected new/old ideas. I abandoned my original proposal, left Mum and Dad behind in Cornwall and set off to listen to stories from people who had survived the Tsunami or other personal loss, to understand and record their journeys back through grief towards life, perhaps in some way finding a mirror for my own experience.

How curious it is that all of these themes have somehow found their way back into the work, no matter what my intentions were. Boats, grief, coffins, painting as a way of soothing grief, boats as a metaphor for change/death/transformation, naive images of the sweet everyday as a counterbalance to the howling chaos of loss. Pete and I have often made boats – in Africa, on the banks of the Thames, on fire in a quarry, in the palm of a sea god. I launched 65 tiny wax boats on the Thames for Bill, one for each year of his life. There is something in the archetype of ‘boat’ that summons our dreams and accepts many layers of meaning and ambiguity. Good poetry.

When Bill died there was one word that kept circling when I tried to identify what I was feeling – ‘unmoored’. After Sri Lanka I still don’t know what my destination might be. But I think I might have a new direction of travel…

THE STORIES – a Big Fish, a Baby Turtle, Champa’s Shop, Dogs and Cats, Waiting for the Peacock

March 26, 2019

Waiting for the Peacock

Mangalika’s favourite sound is the voice of the peacock who visits her garden early in the morning and at dusk. It seems impossible that he can fly, but Mangalika assures us that he can, his magnificent, iridescent tail streaming behind him.

The Big Fish

I dreamed this image, an impossibly huge fish being embraced by the fisherman who caught it. The following week I went to the early morning fish market and saw two vast swordfish being carried in from the boats, suspended on poles, plus an enormous manta ray. Nobody was hugging them though, too spiny.

Champa’s Shop

Champa’s shop is a feast of colour, inside and out. Piles of saris teeter against the walls, garments in a wild range of fabrics and styles hang from the rails. She can make anything out of textile – a copy of a much-loved-and-worn dress, a carry-case for a ravanahatha (Sri Lankan musical instrument, played by Pippa), an emergency white skirt for a funeral, a tailored top from a scratchy sketch. Her life has had its challenges of bereavement and chronic illness, she lost her original shop and sewing machines in the Tsunami, but her energy and enthusiasm for her craft is undiminished.

Dogs and Cats

Pushpa loves her pets, they are wonderful company. We meet many Sri Lankans who have animals as part of their families. This is Dilka, beloved member of Susila’s family. We have a dog at Sura Medura – Kadi is the monkey dog (that’s his job, not his ancestry, to keep the monkeys away from the house). 

The Baby Turtle

On our first night in Hikkaduwa we saw tiny turtles hatching from the beach and crawling to the sea. The Turtle Hatchery in Peraliya rescues eggs that would otherwise be sold to eat. The going rate for a turtle’s egg is 4 or 5 rupees, but the Hatchery pays 20 rupees per head. The family that set up this conservation project paid a heavy price during the Tsunami; mother, sisters and children dying in the flood. They are remembered at the entrance to the Turtle Hatchery, which is now run by the two surviving brothers.

THE STORIES – a Garden, a Bicycle, the Fish Market, Granny Arioti, Surf and Wedding Cake

March 21, 2019

Granny Arioti

Arioti is 73, has five children and thirteen grandchildren. Her husband died in a bike accident. When the first tsunami wave came she ran, there was no husband to save her. She lives alone in Peraliya and is very happy. She adores her family, who all want her to move in with them, but she loves her independence. If the wave came again, she says she wouldn’t run this time.

The Coconut Knife and the Bicycle

Chandra was selling his catch near the Peraliya road when the first wave came and swept away his stall. He managed to grab his bike and tried to ride it away through the rising waters. Failing to do that, he attempted to carry it on his back, but in the end had to abandon it to the flood. He lost everything, couldn’t even find the location of his house, the wave had swept it clean away. Eventually he bought a knife so that he could collect coconuts and sell them. Then a kind European bought him a bicycle to help his business. Now he goes lobster fishing on a friend’s boat. But he still needs the bike – the houses that were built after the wave are all inland. Nobody is allowed to build next to the sea any more.

The Fish Market

The Tsunami decimated the fishing fleet. No boats meant no fish, no work for fishermen, net menders, fish sellers. The local community set up a project, with some international help, to rebuild the fishing boats. The painted catamaran is made from two hulls left over from that project. Now the Dodanduwa and Hikkaduwa Fish Markets see an astonishing range of fish landed; tuna, barracuda, squid, manta ray, swordfish, mullet, snapper, grouper.

The Garden

Naleni, Pushpa and Aruni love their gardens. Aruni describes how magical it is to rise early and spend time with her plants, watering them and caring for them. When we walk past Naleni’s shop she brings us anthurium flowers – huge white, fleshy, single petals.

Hikkaduwa Surf

Surfing has transformed Hikkaduwa over the last thirty years, turning it from a quiet fishing village into a honeypot destination for chilly Northerners seeking warm seas, lively surf and hospitable people. The surfing community were in the front line of recovery after the tsunami, focussing attention, raising funds, donating vital equipment.

Sweet Marriage

Mangalika shows us the photo album from her daughter’s wedding. It is lavish, glamorous, poetic. I am particularly caught by one series of images. The groom holds a sweet cake to his bride’s lips and the bride returns the gesture for her new husband. It is a beautiful reminder of the generosity required to keep the sweetness in a long partnership.

THE STORIES – A Wedding, a Fridge, a Sandcastle and a Little Finger

March 18, 2019

Eight stories are now painted on one side of the catamaran, and eight more half-finished on the other, each one nestled between mangroves. Here are a few of them…

The Big Wedding

Aruni fell in love when she was sixteen. Both sets of parents disapproved, especially the boy’s family. She dreamed of a wonderful wedding, but it was not possible. She and her husband were cut off from both families; they had to live with her uncle. After three years she had a baby girl. The families began to relent. Two more children arrived and the families were re-united. The babies heal everything. When Lakmali the eldest daughter marries, Aruni makes sure she has the most splendid wedding – six pageboys, six bridesmaids, hundreds of guests, a dream of a dress. All the grandparents come to the wedding. (And now Ruwan and Lakmali have two delicious little boys of their own).

The New Fridge

At first Ari and her son think that the water tank in the hotel next door has burst, there is water everywhere and people are shouting. Then they understand it is the sea. They run inside the house but it fills up like a tank. Her son breaks a window to let the water out. Now the second wave comes. By a miracle they survive. But her shop has gone – fridge, stock, everything. They live on food aid for a while, until a German couple buy her a new fridge. She can start her business again. Now she says she is more relaxed about material things, she gives alms, just keeps what she needs. Ari is always laughing, tells a good joke, her mobile is constantly buzzing and beeping with messages from her many friends.

The Little Finger

Lilani had three lovely boy children. But she always longed for a girl. The fourth pregnancy was a baby girl. Born by caesarean section, she was tiny. She is now 21 years old, a teacher. Lilani remembers her daughter’s baby hand gripping her little finger as she walked.

Jack’s Castle

Neil was in his home in Hikkaduwa when the Tsunami came and demolished much of the town. He lost friends and witnessed at first hand the catastrophe that befell his community. He played a key part in the project to rebuild the fishing fleet. Every day, just before sunset, Neil and his son Jack head down the beach with a shovel and a toy bulldozer. Together they make a mountain fortress out of sand at the edge of the surf. They wait for the sea to sweep it away. 


Between the story images Pippa has painted mangroves…

On the inner sides of the two hulls she has painted beautiful wave forms…

Pippa – ‘I wanted the wave to be quite wild and scary, but also beautiful’

More stories in the next blog…


March 9, 2019

When I came to Sri Lanka I thought I would be scanning a new horizon, that my focus would be new materials, new processes, fresh thinking. Inevitably perhaps, Bill has come with me on this journey (and he’s very welcome here). Most surprising for me is that I have returned to my very first mark-making.

As a child I drew incessantly, from the moment I could first hold a crayon. Mum was a radiographer; each X-ray film was sleeved in bright yellow paper and cream card, so my sister and I had a limitless supply. It was our favourite kind of play.

(…apart from playing with puppies of course)

Drawings of imagined foreign lands, animals strange and familiar, horses, horses, horses. Later, fantasy clothing, scenes of violence, people kissing. I took O and A Level Art. It was both a delight and a refuge. I was allowed out of school on my own to sit in the local museum and draw stuffed owls, geological specimens, the Egyptian mummy.

And then I stopped.

Theatre consumed me – firstly performance, then later, making things. In my work with my brother, making giant figurative sculpture, I have used drawing from time to time as the means of communicating an idea. But I haven’t drawn for simple joy for over forty years.

Drawing for Shalowan, Hong Kong commission 2018

I have been thinking about Bill and the paths I have walked since he died. I have been watching the nature of my grief, the rhythm of it, the unpredictable timing and force of its assaults, the physical effects of it (I find it very hard to sing without weeping, no matter what the song). I thought I would never be happy again. 

And then, little by little, new shoots emerge. My beautiful niece married in pouring rain to her navy officer. Swimming horses in the sea at Marazion. Unearthing pale new potatoes with Di at our allotment. Jowan meeting his first donkey. A wild and windy cliff walk with Pete and Tom. Elation, hilarity, wonder, delight in the sweetness of the everyday. I have marked these as punctuation marks in the sentences of my sadness.

In so many ways, individually and collectively, Sri Lankans are expert in grief. The long years of civil war and the cataclysm of the Tsunami are deeply embedded in the narrative here. I was interested in how a community might make its way through the aftermath of such losses to find life again. So in the last weeks I have been having conversations with people who survived the wave, but lost friends, family members, livelihoods, homes. And also people who have suffered less dramatic but still life-changing losses and reversals. I have been drawing their stories, not so much what happened on the day, but more the moments in the following months and years when they felt they could imagine a happier future, a less clouded horizon.

Mangalika’s friends

And re-discovering drawing is giving me playful joy and a kind of peace.

Now I will paint these images onto the two hulls, themselves signifiers of the possibility of renewal, built by the community after the wave. I am joined in this project by the wonderful Pippa Taylor, among whose many talents is botanical drawing. She will paint the tangle of mangroves that will frame the little scenes. Mangroves protect the coast from erosion and can mitigate the effects of storm waves and tsunami. We are both well out of our respective comfort zones in this endeavour, but excited by the scale and craziness of the task. 

Survivors’ stories and my drawings in the next blog…


February 26, 2019

There would almost always be a time when we shared how our day had been, no matter where in the world he and I were, or how far apart. What did you see that gave you wonder? Did you hear something that made you sad? Someone who made you angry? Did you find beauty? I’m pretty good with solitude, but the lack of this daily witnessing of one another’s doings and beings is the saddest gap in my life. It’s especially sharp when the days are full of such strangeness, awe, shock and pity as they are here in Sri Lanka. So much to share. 

So. Here are seven things I have wanted to tell Bill…

Baby turtles on the beach at night! And their tiny fin-prints crisscrossing the sand in the morning, marking their tracks to the sea. There are huge efforts made to save as many of these little mites as possible. Locals used to harvest the eggs and eat them or sell them. Now the conservation project buys them for three times the market price, reburies them in protected sand and watches them when they hatch to make sure as many as possible make it to the sea.

Remember how much we loved a big mosquito net?

Check out the architecture of Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lankan architect, proponent of Tropical Modernism ( His work has inspired our beautiful workspace, Sura Medura.

Remember how you got caught in a rip at Godrevy and I thought you were waving (there was a seal) not drowning. The rips here are super-strong. So I’m admiring the waves from the beach and walking to the babies’ beach, sheltered by a reef, to swim. And waiting for the new swimming pool to be completed at Sura Medura (see G. Bawa, above)!

Sexy fruit. Mangosteen! Such a great word and delicious too. Little, sweet, white, bite-able bums…

The imagery in the Buddhist temple on the lagoon is strange and beautiful beyond all expectations. Luminous colours, surreal, puzzling, painted scenes, and a hundred life-size figures depicting the horrors of a sinful life (toothy blue demons, dismembered babies, pits of fire). I think I need to study the paintings, there are clues for my project…

I’m up to my knees in mud again. Happy. The two spare boats, made after the Tsunami, when the fishing fleet was being rebuilt, were full of mud, slime, rainwater, gravel, mangrove seedlings and little creatures. I have re-homed the lot into the lagoon (with the exception of the mangroves, which are being lovingly tended by Jonny and Pippa, two of my fellow artists).

Bill, my best beloved, I miss you every day. I think you would have loved it here…


February 14, 2019

There were two waves. The first hit the coast at Hikkaduwa without warning, stopping the train, washing away shelters and boats. And then the sea vanished towards the horizon, leaving fish flapping on the never-before-revealed sand. People, children, rushed out onto the expanse in wonder, collecting the fish. There are many deeply upsetting images in the Community Tsunami Museum at Peraliya which record the terrible catastrophe that befell Sri Lanka on that day. But the one I find most disturbing is the picture of children running out onto the sand after the first wave…

The second wave arrived half an hour later, five times the height of the first, travelling at 800 kilometres per hour. It tumbled the train, in which many passengers had remained, believing it would offer shelter. Forty thousand people died in Sri Lanka, half a million were made homeless.

At the Eden Project that Christmas we had made a new festival, ‘Time of Gifts’, to celebrate our communities and the drawing together that happens in the dark times. We had made beautiful lantern boats, carrying Hope Ropes, to which people were invited to attach their wishes for the New Year. Before Boxing Day there were plenty of hopes for new bicycles, new computers, new jobs, new romances. After the 26th every single wish was for the people who had had their lives torn apart by the cataclysm around the Indian Ocean. It was so very far from us and our lives. But people wanted to do something, anything, even something as small as a child writing a wish on a label.

Jim Carey had written a beautiful song to accompany the boats. Its chorus went – ‘Let’s raise a glass to those who have gone, And remember them with this song. And when these dark days have gone, A new day will come, a new day will come’

Fifteen years after the Tsunami, the scars are still present everywhere. But human beings are resilient, creative. They make a life, in the face of natural disaster and human cruelty. We have witnessed this over and over again, in Kosovo, in the West Bank, in Cyprus – rebuilding, raising children, making music, cooking feasts. I hope to hear some of these stories over the next few weeks, I’ll post them here…


January 2, 2019

For more than thirty years I have been making art and theatre in the wild, not in theatres or galleries, playing and experimenting with new tools, media and materials – ice, seawater, cake, mud, plants, cranes, horses, distance, boats, twilight, fire.

I am a maker, performer, storyteller, curator and director. I have walked much of this path alongside my partner Bill Mitchell. With Kneehigh and WildWorks we developed landscape theatre, gathered stories from communities and found ways of telling them intimately and at scale.

Bill died on Good Friday 2017, taken by cancer at the peak of his powers.

So now I am discovering who I am without him, finding the process both sad and exhilarating.

I have been invited to Sri Lanka to participate in the Sura Medura Artist Residency programme in February this year, to play, to experiment, to explore new territories, physical, virtual and imaginary. Many, many thanks to Neil Butler, Bettina Linstrum and Mark Denbigh for giving me this opportunity. Watch this space for more posts as the adventure unfolds.

Kathy Hinde Blog


SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

When I arrived in Sri Lanka, I was drawn to the colourful boats at the harbour. I met a fisherman called Pala who invited me to listen to a rock with an echo. We tapped the rock in many places, but couldn’t find the echo. The weather here is very dynamic. The sea is lively, and the harbour is often windy.

I made some instruments that make sound with the wind. A harp made from palm branches and amplified fishing line. Stretched elastic that oscillates in the wind. Bamboo poles with slots that the wind plays like gentle flutes.

When testing my instruments at the harbour, I met a family of fishermen, Lakindu, Malidu, Kalindu and Seerat. Intrigued, they and listened to the wind play the harp created from fishing line.

We went to the rock Pala showed me.  Lakindu told me that the rock used to echo, but not since the Tsunami.  It used to be hollow with an expansive echo, but the huge shifts in sand, rock and other material during the Tsunami filled it up and silenced the echo.

I returned to the silenced rock with Lakindu, Malidu, Dulaj and Tharanga to listen to the wind play the Aeolian instruments I made. Sonifying the weather at the rock that had been silenced by the weather.

We filmed what happened.

Camera by Anne Milne, 
Second camera, sound and editing by Kathy Hinde.
Thanks to Pala for inviting me to listen to the rock 
Thanks to Lakindu, Malidu, Dulaj and Tharanga for playing in the wind, and their family and friends for helping.

Below is a photo of the aeolian instruments used in the film



SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

I continued to work with Mangalika, and also spent some time with her granddaughter Samadi. I had a lovely afternoon with them both creating some more nests from coconut fibre (coir).  I filmed Mangalika’s hands working with the fibre to make twine, whilst Samadi created a small ensemble from fridge magnets and flowers on the front porch. I enjoyed this quiet time crafting and making together. On leaving, I noticed Mangalika’s wood pile, which reminded me of the eagle’s nest. I pointed this out and asked if I could borrow some of the wood to create a nest for the final show at Sura Medura. Mangalika enthusiastically agreed.


For the exhibition at Sura Medura, I displayed the nest Mangalika originally wove, along with more experiments we created together from coir in a window space. Outside, I constructed a larger nest from the wood pile with a light and speaker inside along with three more speakers embedded in coir hung in surrounding coconut palms. I created a soundscape of occasional snippets from the tunes that tuk tuks play when they are selling goods such as fruit, bread, ice-cream. When we first arrived, for a moment, we actually thought the fruit selling tuk tuk tune was a bird… so it seemed quite fitting to make ‘tuk tuk’ bird chirps in the woven nests. Mangalika’s son-in-law is a tuk tuk driver, so this seemed to weave together Mangalika’s whole family.

nest display1_small
nest display6_small
nest display7_small
nest display5_small
nest display4_small
nest display3_small

I’d originally intended to have a video of Manglaika’s hands weaving coir showing inside the larger nest, but due to heavy rain storms happening a few times a day, and the timing of the show at dusk, I decided construct this into a short film this instead.


SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

A day out with Alice, another artist in residence at Sura Medura. We planned a trip following the south coast from Hikkaduwa to Weligama with some specific aims for the day. Alice had located a cotton weaving mill and a tea plantation, whereas I was on a mission to find stilt fishermen. We also had some items to source in Galle for our projects, so we decided the best way to go about all our travels was by tuk tuk, with driver ‘Uncle’ * .

After an unsuccessful search for ‘white mosquito nets’ with ’round hooped tops’ in Galle (for Alice’s project) we headed off to ‘Sooriya Weaving Mill‘ just outside Galle. After a slightly confusing scenario trying to find the place, we pulled up at what seemed to be a private house. Which it was. However, thankfully, the man living there kindly led us through his house and back garden to a pathway through a paddy field, (where we saw a huge snake) and we caught a glimpse of beautiful green swathes of cotton hanging out to dry. From there, we found our way to the mill.

We were warmly invited in by a group of women, all working on the many procedures taking place at the mill. The cotton is imported from India, but the rest of the process all takes place at Sooriya Weaving Mill. The cotton is washed, dyed, spun, threaded onto looms and then woven into fabric which, in turn, is then made into garments such as sarongs and bed linen. It was really inspiring to observe a complete production process from raw cotton, to garment. We met the owner, Chandana, who was extremely welcoming, and gave us a complete guided tour, even inviting Alice to try her hand at the weaving loom.

I was fascinated and captivated by the rhythmic sounds and vibrant colours. Interlacing percussive rhythms of the looms and spinning wheels generated a phasing composition that constantly shifted in dynamics with overlapping paces, all resulting from the process of creating beautiful interwoven fabrics. I was impressed by the regular rhythms of the weavers; their looms demanding physical and energetic handling. I couldn’t help but assimilate the looms to musical instruments. As I explored more, I discovered many ingenious and fascinating mechanisms. Most were operated by hand; the human and machine working together in a way that felt symbiotic, neither one in charge, each giving and attending to the other. I noticed the machines had a certain amount of tolerance,  and ‘looseness’. They are as accurate as they need to be yet with a necessary flexibility in how they function. Nothing is hard edged and over-fixed, meaning they can work well when operated by hand, yet are able to adjust and not break when performing in slightly different scenarios. Later in the residency I returned to Sooriya Weaving Mill to record close up films and sounds using a variety of different microphones – (see later blog post to follow). Below are a few images from this first visit.


*  After referring to our lovely tuk tuk driver as ‘Uncle’ all day, it transpired that his name is actually Newton, his ‘nickname’ is Jonny and there is another tuk tuk driver usually called Uncle. Not sure how this happened, but Newton/Jonny was happy to be called Uncle throughout the day… so he will always be ‘Uncle’ to Alice and I despite the ongoing confusion this inevitably caused during the rest of the residency, (until being resolved on the last day).


SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

Four of us on the residency went away for a 2 day trip in search of a wilder side of Sri Lanka. To the rainforest…

Sinhiraja rain forest is the last area of primary rainforest in Sri lanka and a biodiversity hotspot with many endemic and rare species. Following much deforestation across Sri Lanka, this area is protected and was declared a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988.

It was transformative to enter into such a rich and biodiverse environment. I could sense the vibrancy of life there, it was palpable. We learnt about some extraordinary and unique species, and gained some insight into the incredible complexity of how this ecosystem inter-relates, every species large and small playing a crucial part of this web of life. We even saw a plant that has ants living inside its stems; both plant and insects benefiting from a unique, symbiotic relationship.

I was staggered at just how many different species we saw on our half day. I can’t remember everything… so here is an incomplete list, just a fraction of what coexists there … green pit vipers, scorpions, eagles, tree crabs, monkeys, giant wood spiders, enormous millipedes, green garden lizards, fish owls, leaches (too many!), tree frogs, …  and so many different kinds of trees, vegetation and fungi, complex mosaic’s of root systems intertwined, with enormous twisting vines engulfing trees to create new beautiful structures and forms.

And then there is the sound of Sinhiraja. Symphonies of cicadas who’s almost choral intensity rises and falls in waves accompanied by a sporadic ensemble of frog croaks, intermittent calls from monkeys and a myriad of birdcalls. To be suddenly drenched to the skin by heavy rain made for a full sensory experience – enveloped in the mysterious wonders of the rain forest.

Some photos from Sinhiraja (which translates to Lion Kingdom).

sinhiraja team1small

We also planned an afternoon trip to Udawalawe National Park, which is a large area of mostly grassland with a large reservoir. It’s an important reserve for the protection of elephants and there are also many bird species, along with water buffalo, monkeys, land monitors, mongoose. It is only possible to enter by open-top jeep… some photos…



SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

During our first week we were invited to meet Mangalika, who lives close by and is a long term friend of Neil (who runs the Sura Medura Residency). Mangalika was very welcoming and showed us how she weaves hats out of dried grasses dyed in different colours. It was wonderful to watch her work, she has such a natural and skillful technique. Always a pleasure to watch someone at one with their craft, which I often assimilate with playing a musical instrument. We looked round her place and garden, and it was wonderful to see and hear many birds and insects in the wetlands behind her house. I noticed she had collected 2 weaver bird nests that had fallen from the palm tree at the back of her house. I looked into the palm and there were 4 or 5 more weaver bird nests there. I was touched that Mangalika spent her days weaving hats amongst birds that weave nests.

I returned to visit Mangalika this week, because I wanted to speak to her more about the weaving, and about the birds in her garden. We went for a walk in the marshy land behind her house and saw many birds together. I tried to learn the Sinhala names for them… Myna is Myna and crow is Kaka, nice easy ones to start with. As we returned, I proposed an idea to Mangalika. I asked if she might be able to weave a nest  – like the weaver bird nests she has collected. She laughed a bit at this idea, but we chatted some more, and she agreed to give it a go, so I said I’d commission this special piece of work from her.

I was thinking about Mangalika’s skills, and also observed how her daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter live all together in a small, improvised, self-build place behind Mangalika’s house, with the repaired chair (from my last post). I thought about the resilient way her daughter and family are making things work, clearly without much money by improvising, repairing and adapting to create what they need. I hope to spend some more time here and get to know Mangalika and her family more.

Interestingly the weaver bird is also quite resilient, inventive and skilled. “This clever little bird knows 14 to 18 different types of knots,” says [Siddhesh] Surve, [project assistant at BNHS and organiser of the pan-India survey]. “He uses them to hold his nest together so that it can resist monsoon storms and hold the weight of his mate and their eggs.” The bird also makes small mud pellets to weigh the nest down.



SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

Innovating, adapting, evolving, responding, repairing, creating, improvising, imagineering, … This is what I have been noticing in Sri Lanka.

I have seen many incredibly innovative solutions that deal with the need to adapt to situations, often difficult situations that someone’s livelihood depends on. For example, a solution to not having a fishing boat is to plant and secure a huge stick into the ocean bed and fish from that – amazingly innovative. The fishermen’s boats at the harbour have many improvised additions and personalised adaptations. I loved seeing this chair when visiting Mangalika, a local lady who weaves hats, bags and purses. Lovingly repaired many times, out of necessity; the result being very beautiful, in a humble way.


SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

I was inspired by my visited to the harbour in Dodanduwa – and remembered seeing images of fishermen fishing on ‘stilts’ in Sri Lanka.  More info about the stilt fishermen here


(photo – internet scavenged)

This developed as a fishing technique around the 1940’s following a shortage of fishing equipment after WWII. A ‘stilt’ would be anchored into the sea bed and a fisherman then sits on a crossbar to fish. They need to remain as still and silent as possible, by being high up above the surface of the water, they don’t make a shadow, so the fish don’t sense their presence. An anchored stilt would be passed down from father to son. In the Tsunami, many fishermen’s stilts were destroyed, and not many have been re-instated, so it is now not so common to see. I will try and find some stilt fishermen on the south coast.

Following my ‘rock listening’ excursion at the windy harbour, I decided to build an ‘aeolian’ harp in the style of a fisherman’s stilt by stretching fishing line between 2 hooks in the triangular gap, amplified by a piezo pick-up.  I tried it out at the edge of the lagoon, and to my surprise, it work pretty well!… The wind causes the taut fishing to start oscillating and sounding, just like a guitar or violin string does when plucked or bowed.

More experiments sonifying the wind using elastic and recording the percussive clattering of the palms, also using piezo contact mics.


SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

After more conversations at the fishing harbour, I was greeting by chatty fisherman Pala, who told me it was too rough to go out that afternoon, as a storm was approaching (although it seemed like the majority of boats were still leaving the harbour). He had been in the army, survived the Tsunami, but lost his house and all his belongings. He has been rehoused by the government 3km inland and has survived a lot of hardship. He told me many fishermen have died at sea, but less so nowadays due to better weather warning systems. I found this article online about a storm in 2017 with tragic consequences for some fishermen Dodanduwa, and it seems like it is still a high risk job.

Pala invited me to come to listen to a special rock that had an unusual sound. I wasn’t sure what this would entail, so I followed inquisitively. We walked to the next peninsula and tapped the large rock in many places, but were not able to hear the hollow echo. Apparently it was too windy.  I enjoyed the fact that a fisherman had invited me to share an unusual ‘sonic phenomena’ at the harbour, especially as that is my main area of interest!. I might return and try again. 


SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

Six weeks in Sri Lanka working alongside and in collaboration with 8 other artists in residence. We are staying together at Sun Beach Hotel in Hikkaduwa, and working in a new purpose built residency space in the fishing village of Dodanduwa. 

One of our first experiences together was a visit to the Tsunami Photo Museum and hearing personal accounts from this tragic event on boxing day 2004. The images are highly disturbing, and the personal accounts are equally so. A wave travelling at 800 kmph hit the coastline without warning. Buildings were torn apart, fishing boats were destroyed, a train full of people was tossed upside-down and the tracks ripped up and mangled. In Sri Lanka, 35 thousand people died and half a million lost their homes.  It is extremely sobering to be present and hear such harrowing personal accounts from a survivor. I know there will be more stories to hear about the Tsunami during my stay.

Visiting 15 years later, the fishing village of Dodanduwa is back up and running with a harbour full of boats and a lively fish market. Neil Butler (who runs the Sura Medura residencies) played a large part in fund-raising to head up a scheme to re-build the fishermen’s boats at Dodanduwa. 

In the first few days, I spent some time visiting the fishing harbour to find out more and meet the locals. I was greeted by an attractive mosaic of boats with masts made from tree branches and distinctively colourful paint-jobs. Each boat is a long thin ‘Vallam’ (beak boat) which, on it’s own would be incredibly unstable, so they have an out-rigger for balance. The parts are lashed together with rope, giving them a slightly make-shift appearance.

I chatted to some fishermen. They go out in the afternoon , around 5pm, and fish all through the night to return at 9am with their catch; often as much as 100kg.
My first thoughts were… “ At night?”… “For that long?”… “in an ocean with waves like that?” … “in that boat?” …. seems like a tough and dangerous job.
Fishing at night means the fish can’t see the net in the darkness, and calamari are attracted to light, so can be lured over with a torch.

Jane Pitt Blog

Which sound/s define the here and now of your day to day?

April 5, 2019

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This blog has a main title ‘The pontoon only squeaks at high tide’, it refers directly to the soundscape by my riverside studio in Medway, UK. It’s the working title for a longer term body of work I’ll make with individual women who live by different bodies of water, asking them to identify and describe what sounds define the here and now of their day to day. I’m keen that the work will be outward looking and encompass women from different countries, cultures and types of water environment. It was something I intended to explore during my Sura Medura residency, I thought it had taken a back seat until I realised it had been bubbling along under the surface all the time, just not in the way I had thought it might! Originally I said I’d connect with women in the fishing community but the flow took me away from the sea to the lagoon and paddy instead.

I spent time with Mangalika who lives on a hill that rises @1km inland up the jungle road, featured in the binaural recording I made in Hikkaduwa for my Sura Medura Blog 2. Her tropical garden, full of banana & coconut palms, flowers, vegetables and birds, slopes steeply down to a uncultivated paddy land behind. ‘Paddy’ is essentially a man made wetland ¹. This paddy has grazing cattle tethered along it, with their constant egret companions, and the occasional vegetable plot, in places it’s lumpy to walk on with sudden invisible dips reminiscent of a bog especially after heavy rain.

Over a few visits with Mangalika sharing photos, drinking vanilla tea talking about family, life, friendship and loss we began listening together. We exchanged the unique-nesses in our home soundscapes and which particular sounds describe or define their here and now.

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When I asked Mangalika what her definitive sound of home is she chose a sound I hadn’t yet heard.. the call of peacocks. (aka Indian Pea Fowl ²They roost in the tall palms, fly up on her roof and feed along the paddy. She immediately took me for one of several barefoot walks along the paddy listening for peacocks. This began a search, verging on obsession, that evolved from being a search for Mangalika’s personal sound into involving everyone I met in Hikkaduwa who all gave me tips for where best to hear them call and at what time of day. Some say dawn is best, but not too early or too late, others dusk, Aruni found them in her paddy-side garden at 3pm one day. I followed all the tips and directions, some brought peacocks, they all brought wonders of everyday magic. Walks before sunrise watching the Flying Foxes long slow glide flap to their roosts, a porcupine snuffling across the road into the trees, monks chanting in temples, the volume of layer upon layer of insect and bird dawn choruses, women carrying flowers to shrines, the distinct sound of morning sweeping. Dusk visits to Aruni’s garden and Tuk Tuk rides with Rasika as the light faded were full of shared hushed excitement, exchange of latest sightings with neighbours and conversation about the local topography.

This process of looking for peacocks also began to resolve some ideas I’d had about traveling sound, call and response and how to make live sound performance using a megaphone and Sudu’s TukTuk sound system. I’ll talk about this in the next blog…

peacock dawn_2_print
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¹ It’s estimated that Sri Lanka has possibly the highest number of man-made water bodies in the world with an estimated total of more than 10,000 Wewas (tanks) countrywide. Linked to these tanks are many kilometers of canal systems and thousands of hectares of cultivated and uncultivated paddy fields.

² Peacocks are common and much loved, their numbers are increasing in Sri Lanka. Like in the UK it’s unlucky to bring the feathers inside your home. The Raksha mask theatre culture Kolam Dance includes a Peacock mask meant to bring peace, harmony and prosperity.

Megaphone Dawns

March 9, 2019

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The ceaseless wave energy and sound of the Indian Ocean surf here at Sun Beach, Hikkaduwa can energise and overwhelm the senses. For surfers it is a big draw. 

To face and process all this sensory input I’ve begun a series of dawn performances on the beach looking out to sea. I use a megaphone to amplify my voice in an attempt to meet the volume of the sea;  reading a combination of excerpts borrowed from John Berger – Confabulations *(JB), Moya Cannon – Carrying the Songs *(MC) combined with my own sparser words and breathy wave vocalisations. The texts refer to language, the nature of translation, pre-verbal language, mother tongues, sound, the sea and loss. The text evolves with each iteration, I strip the language back each time as I find my own words and let go of European writers, to explore Sri Lankan poets/ writers in English and slowly phonetically find individual words in Sinhala .  Performing alone in this way is a new method of developing work, for me.  Not a comfortable one to begin with but with repetition it has evolved into a method I will take home and continue.

As the beach wakes up accidental audiences pass through my field of sound. Sometimes the feral cannine posse will show up and settle in for the ‘show’.

sample text:

“True translation is not a binary affair between two languages but a triangular affair. The third point of the triangle being what lay behind the words of the original text before it was written. True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal” (JB)


“A spoken language is a body, a living creature, whose physiognomy is verbal and whose functions are linguistic. And this creatures home is the inarticulate as well as the articulate.” (JB)


“Consider the term Mother Tongue.. [the woman in Ruwan’s Studio asked ‘is English your mother language?’] ..Mother Tongue is our first language, first heard as infants from the mouths of our mothers. Hence the logic of the term.

I mention it now because the creature of the language, which I am trying to describe, is undoubtedly feminine.” (JB)


“Within our mother tongue are all our mother tongues.” (JB)

Mav bhasava

maw bashawa 

Mothers Tongues.

Innate, intimate utterings


“Endlessly repeated,


they are sounds

without a history.

They comfort and disturb the clay part of the heart.” (MC)


“The unexpected tide,

the great wave,

uncontained breasts the rock,

overwhelms the heart, in spring or winter.

Surfacing from a fading language, 

the word comes when needed.

A dark sound surges and ebbs,

its accuracy steadying the heart.

Certain kernels of sound

reverberate like seasoned timber,

unmuted truths of people’s winters,

stirrings of a thousand different springs.

There are small unassailable words

that diminish Ceasars

territories of the voice

that intimate across death and generation

how a secret was imparted –

that first articulation,

when a vowel was caught

between a strong and a tender consonant,

when someone in anguish

made a new and mortal sound

that lived until now,

a testimony

to waves succumbed to

and survived” (‘Taom’ – MC)

Breathe in . . . . . . Breathe out . . . . . .

with the suck and push

the swell and hiss

darkening lines rising

curl and disintegrate

3s 5s 7s

Breathe in . . . . . . Breathe out . . . . . . 

Endless Ocean

Hiss Roar


March 8, 2019

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Walk in a straight line from the Hikkaduwa Sea Side to the Jungle and you’ll pass through at least 6 distinct sound zones which seem to exist in horizontal planes parallel to the sea. Wave energy generated way out in the ocean meeting the reef, rising as surf, darkens, curls & disintegrates as froth in trains of 3s, 5s & 7s. The beach a constant state of flux as sand is pulled back, lifted up, shifted and dumped. The complex roar and hiss sea side overwhelms everything until it’s funnelled through the alleys and corridors of hotels and beach bars to meet the equally unstoppable traffic of the Galle Road. Time it right and your dash across will be rewarded with an uproarious chorus of hooters as you enter the Jungle road, cross the train track and head up to the jungle. Listen to the link to take this binaural walk, best heard with headphones. Perhaps listen while you stroll somewhere, it lasts @25 mins. Occasionally you’ll feel a slight flutter of warm wind in your ears and the brief distorted surprise of a west-east express train. I recorded the day after a huge tropical storm which had washed the roads and paths with more gritty sand than usual so you’ll hear my feet and the feet of passing people as you go.

Hikkaduwa-Dodanduwa earscape

February 19, 2019

Surf-Beach-Road-Rail-Jungle run closely parallel, sounds elide & crash into each other changing rhythm over the day.. all except the ceaseless push, suck, hiss-roar of the Indian Ocean rip-rolling in over the reef too close to the equator to have much differentiation of tide. Hooters rule the road, Truck and Bus BAAHHP-HOHHNNK – trump Tuk Tuk ‘tuuhooT – trumps scooter ‘bah-tuot – trumps cyclist ‘TiiHnG’tiHng – trumps pedestrian. Past these the lagoon and jungle soundscape opens up for voices.

Alice Cooper Blog

Blog 2

To the workers of the Coir factory, Hikkaduwa

It took us a while to find the Coir factory…but that’s ok, I’ve got used to detours here and now call them ‘unexpected small adventures’. I’ve learnt it’s best to try let go of expectations even if this occasionally means not reaching the place you had planned to go.  But today, we got there….eventually.

We – fellow artist Kathy and I- had left the hotel in haste, in a blur of whatsapps and phone calls and conversations I’d not been part of. Our lovely tuk tuk driver was under remote instructions from his cousin Sudu, and almost took us to a coconut oil, not coconut weaving, factory but we managed to persuade him to turn around just before we were completely left Hikkaduwa and made tracks for Colombo. A few more calls to Sudu, some very bad Sinahla on our part, and half a dozen pointers for directions from locals later, we arrived.

Arriving, you could see how you could miss it. The factory was down the end of a small dirt track, at the back of several houses and, from the riverside, almost completely camouflaged by trees.

With no guide, and extremely limited Sinhala, we walked slowly with trepidation down the path. This was a working factory, not a tourist site- it’s not on trip advisor- I checked.

The factory, or operation, was housed in a series of big open sheds, though some of the work also happened outside the shelter. While ‘open’, we were unsure if it were ok we were there. It is not a common situation I’ve come across; an open factory. I think in the UK, in an equivalent situation there would be a mood of suspicion around our attempted entrance. I can just imagine arriving at the Amazon distribution centre in say, Derbyshire, and in no English, but smiles and hello, thank you and please, being silently granted permission to enter, wander around and communicate with the people working there, and with their permission, take a few photographs. I doubt you would get past the car park before a security guard told you to get lost- or ‘email the management, arrange a day, a time, a guide’. But here, things seem more relaxed. Maybe, in this scenario being a woman, a tourist woman, helps; perhaps we pose no threat. Still, I’m aware it’s people’s workplace and I don’t want to be a bother.

But instead of suspicion, our curious faces were met with smiles and demonstrations of the process or machinery we were pondering. It is possible that they thought we were crazy- coming to see a factory when about 200 metres away was a beautiful tourist filled beach with clear blue water and the only sign of a coconut was cut open with a straw poking out the top being drunk under an umbrella at a beach side bar…

We walked a little in and spotted an older man, seated- possibly the foreman or the owner- it wasn’t clear. His bare chest and sarong indicated to me he wasn’t doing the heavy lifting- but I could have been wrong. He was the only person in the place not seeming to be engaged in an obvious activity or process, so we went to see if it was ok we were there and to have a look around. He agreed and so began our sticky beak in earnest.

The reason we came was because Kathy and I are both interested in the weaving process. We had previously visited a cotton weaving mill together. While coconut and not cotton, the process here wasn’t a million miles away, though today was a lot less colourful. An array of different processes were being worked using a series of older looking, but innovative and efficient machines that formed an extension to the skilled work of the workers who’s hands and bodies worked with each machine with the precision and gusto of a musician at her instrument.

The first process and by extension, person to strike me about the place was a woman with a long grey plait and green shirt who hunched over coconut shells and ripped them into quarters, removing the long husks of hair first. It took me to a documentary of First Nations peoples of Canada returning from a beaver hunt, where the frozen beaver fur was smoothly and expertly ripped from the rest of the body; creating a real ripping sound.  Focusing in on the husks, and then to the tearing out the excess inside, she showed incredible strength and efficiency fast all while maintaining the stature of a great aunt. I fingered through my phrasebook and searched for ‘hard work’ wanting to show my ‘impressedness’. I didn’t find it but instead settled on hard- as in ‘difficult’ and said it with an upward questioning inflection and a simultaneous flexing of my right arm muscles. ‘No’ she said with a smile. I know it would be for me- years of Darcy Bussel Pilates videos wouldn’t have prepared me for this hard yakka, as we say back home.

This ripping task she performed in front of two mountains of coconuts. The ones to the back were older, greyer and drier than the greener, glossier ones to the front. Later looking at a photo on my phone, without a context to give it scale, the pile looked like an upsized mound of pistachio nutshells. In actuality, the pile reach up a few metres, tipping the bottom of tree branches.

Moving away from this woman, we went toward a machine that lay dormant- checking in with the woman and the foreman it was ok to do so as we did so. We looked at it frowning, trying to figure out its purpose and mode of operation. The man got up from his seat and slowly walked toward us, placing some quartered husks into the conveyer belt. He then turned on the on switch and Kathy and I watched as the shells vibrated towards, and in to a series of mechanical metal teeth which squished these green boats into bits and went into a wooden sideways drum, bursting out the other end.

The burst out bits of the coconut seemed to be used for two different processes. The pulp of the nuts was swept into a huge mound- taller than the woman tending to it. Piled two metres high it appeared like a lumpy, brown knobbly Munroe- or a hairy creature who settled down for a nap a few thousand years ago….

As we wander around, it doesn’t take long for the wisps of the husks to start making their way in through your nostrils and onto your clothes. It’s the fineness of pollen without the sweet smell, it’s dusty, course, the smell of ropes in a hardware store. I begin to wonder if the women who work here can smell it, or if the material itself has clogged up their nasal passages so much, they no longer can. It gets into my eyes too. Later in the day I find myself scratching my skin on my exposed arms and rubbing my dry eyes. And that\’s me after less than an hour there. I dread to think the effect it’s having on these workers, breathing it in every day. 

The woman who stands beside the Munroe of bits, wears a Germany t-shirt and a big toothy smile. The job we see her perform is scooping the bits into an enormous wire drum, big enough to fit 4 people lying down. It rotates slowly over her head like the inside of a tumble dryer. It acts as a large sieve, separating the clumps, capturing large bits of dirt and letting the mulch through.

To the right of her is an incredibly elegant woman who manages to look so even doing this difficult job. She reminds me of an older Audrey Hepburn who, in her sixties and away from the movies, was a peace ambassador for the UN. In the video footage I recall, she is in a small village in a rural part of Africa, surrounded by children. She isn’t glamorous- no make-up, no special clothes or Ferragamo shoes- but the way she holds herself, like a ballerina, her grey hair in a chignon and broad smile with sparkling eyes. Here in this Coya factory in HIkkaduwa, I think is a woman not dissimilar in such grace. This woman’s role is to feed the machine before her with the soft husks that the other woman had previously ripped from their shells. I notice her pace; constant, measured, necessarily slow. This is a person who knows her tool and how much to give it and in what intervals. I imagine a novice could easily clog it or worse, hurt their hand. She invites Kathy and I to peer through the small funnel which leads to a large slotted wooden drum leaking water. It’s tricky to see and by extension, work out exactly what is happening, but putting two and two together, we find the husks are being washed. Later, before we leave, I observe this woman and the lady in the green shirt, carrying large loads of wet husks on sheets to the large flat area outside the shed. The piles remind me of hair swept up into mounds on the hairdressers cutting floor. 

Further into the factory, is the noisiest section and the only male worker, beside the foreman. These are the machines that turn the dried husk into soft thick spirals, and then into the much thinner, rougher, twine. We watch as he places the husks onto the conveyer belt, layering and bedding it down as he goes. The threads come out the other side of the machine and with the assistance of a spinning drum at the end, are spun into a long sausage. The man knows the timing and is quick to cut the coya as the drum fills up. He loops the coil over his arm and takes it to the next machine where he feeds it once more and it appears as twine out the other side.

Unless we have missed the obvious, we see the final step in the coya journey. Standing beside a former tumble dryer, now a metal drum possibly used for parts, a woman threads what appears as a hexagonal loom and loops the twine into bundles. We go over and speak to her. She has a little English and seems wanting to talk. Later, she lifts up her hand revealing only two fingers, explaining to us by pointing and gestures that she had lost the rest here, in one of the machines. Kathy and I look at her in horror, empathy and shaking of our heads. My suspicions the work is dangerous has come to full fruition. 

We make our way to leave and go back around the factory, making sure to catch each worker in the eye, and hands together, give a smile, bow of the head, ‘istuti’ and an ‘Aboyen’- small thanks for letting us enter their world so openly, but right now it’s the best we can do.

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I head out of the hotel on my bike. It’s a hire- the last one left- and it’s ill-fitting, a man’s bike, a size too big but it will more than do. I wear my shortish, colourful but study cotton dress. I wasn’t to know when I bought it last winter, that its stiff collar would become its prize feature here under the relentless blaze. 

I hoist my leg over the high bar of my bike, as quickly as possibly as there is no graceful way to do it. I wear no helmet- sorry mum- just a straw hat; at least I’m protecting something- it’s hard to shield everything and my skin gets dibs over my brain these days.

I head onto the Galle road and one by one we cross it, almost cheering when we are ‘safe’ to the other side. Here, I’ve re-adopted what I had previously thought of as my Roman approach to road crossing- unless it’s a bus, just walk out with futspa, into the traffic and stare down the drivers as you do.

I cycle as part of a small peloton with two other artists- Kathy and Anne. We are more laden than other tourists – our baskets and racks brimming with tripods, speakers, extension leads and yoga mats. We head down the road and turn off and follow the railway track, past the temples and then back along the Galle road, passing the fish market in Dodandua- the fish already caught bought and sold today but their odours and some knowing crows remain. We cross the bridge over and head left at the Chinese restaurant sign, and onto the quiet leafy path where houses appear in and out of palms and trees. Past the small Buddha statue and the grey dog who guards it, and we are downhill for the home stretch.

The trees above momentarily part and the sun hits us again. It’s baking now- a stupid time of day to cycle I think. I do a mental body scan, see all the skin that’s been exposed during the journey. Did I put sunscreen there? I can almost see freckles form in realtime, cancerous cells introducing themselves to each other. 

As we turn the final bend, ahead of us are some kids play cricket on the road. The other artists are ahead and turn down the hill and out of sight. I slow down and then screech my breaks to come to a stop. I look around and the children have already run over. They are all little boys and one, gesturing to my basket say’s ‘sweets’ – I do a sad face, and show the contents of my boring bag- shaking my head as reveal my papers and laptop case. Not today, sorry.  I’m awkwardly straddling the too big bike as the boys and I meet. I need to get off or keep going. I can’t straddle this bar much longer. 

Looking to the tennis ball in their hand, I ask if I could play cricket with them. With their smiling consent I went to assume a fielding position by the garden wall, assuming, from playing with my own brother, that I would have to earn my place as batter or bowler. But the rules are different here- or maybe cos I’m a guest they are being nice, the quietest boy immediately outstretches his hand and places the ball in mine. OK, we’re on.

Again I find myself entirely inappropriately dressed for the activity. A short dress with old flip flops that twist as I take my run up. Ofcourse as soon as my arm swings up and over to bowl, my dress follows suit. 

For the next forty-five minutes or so, we play and as we do share the language of cricket ‘6’, 4 and out. I learn their boundaries- a six is over the high wall, a 4 the low fence into the ferns- out is the same. I try introducing ‘wides’ with helicopter arms outstretched- I need them for required for my own bowling efforts- but they are not so interested in such nitty gritty- quite right, it doesn’t anything to the game, more about my o. As we play, the families- mums, dads, and other children assemble to watch. I share smiles and laughs with the adults. One of the women invites me for lunch but I politely refuse- I don’t want to impose myself on anyone.

The game continues and I am given the honour of batting. The bat is beautiful lacquered wood the size of my forearm.

Later, I say I must leave and gesture down the hill to go. Again lunch is offered, this time more specific- rice and curry. I relent and say yes.

Our cricket match pauses for lunch break. I was ushered off the street and into the front garden, around the Tuk Tuk and into the cool of the building. I am processed through the house in single file. Mum, dad, daughter- the eldest, boy about 8 then, the boy of 6 and the youngest around 4. In a little while, I’ll learn their names- Dulika, Arosho, Thyomi, Chiara, Malisha and Gimante. We came to a stop in a the middle room where three bikes stood up in the corner; an adult one, a slightly smaller shiny blue mountain bike and a smaller one with training wheels. In the middle of the space was a table, laid out for a queen- the square yellow table was laid with a colourful fruit tablecloth and three bowls of curries, a salad, a bottle of chilled water and a little bowl of water and a large blue napkin. I was instantly overwhelmed and tried to show my gratitude and impressed face and gestures, ‘istutining’ and placing my hand to my heart. I tried to explain I felt like a king or a queen and proceeding to make what would have seemed like an abstract dance, and then in a moment of inspiration, got the napkin- folded in a triangle and placed it on my head in what I was sure looked like a crown. Six people looked back at me perplexed, and then deciding to let it go, I took my seat. Momentarily the mum disappeared and returned with what I could only deduce was a large bib. My King charade hadn’t quite been interpreted as I had hoped.

Residency Line Up Feb – March 2019

FEB – MAR 2019 Residency Line Up

For the 2019 Spring Sura Medura residency, we have invited 9 new artists to make new work, collaborate and be inspired by the beauty, culture, country and people of Sri Lanka.

Sue Hill  Sue is a WILDWORKS founding artist, who was born and educated in Cornwall. She has worked with many companies including Welfare State International, Emergency Exit Arts, Walk the Plank Theatre Ship, and the Royal National Theatre. In 1988 she joined Kneehigh theatre company, serving on their management team from 1994 – 2001 and helping to grow their distinctive style of theatre. From 2000 until 2006 she was Artistic Director for the Eden Project, developing their innovative interpretation strategy, commissioning artists, writers and performers to illuminate Eden’s ideas and messages. With her brother Pete Hill she has made many large-scale carnival images and earth sculptures, including the iconic Mudmaid in the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Imwen Eke Imwen Eke is a digital artist, director and creator. With over twelve years immersive theatre and multidisciplinary arts industry experience which include SHUNT, Punchdrunk and residencies with Blast Theory and Bryony Kimmings. Her practice explores social gaming, digital and live interactive performance combined with contemporary narratives that engage new audiences outside of the conventions of traditional theatre.  She is a LIFT Artist (London International Festival of Theatre) and creates work through her company New Party Rules. She is currently a resident of Pervasive Media Studios where she is developing “Blk Rooms” a new interactive participatory experience.

Pippa Taylor & Jony Easterby  Pippa Taylor is an artist and musician based in mid Wales.A multi instrumentalist playing piano, viola and fiddle. She is also an accomplished woodcarver and painter who has created both public artworks and exhibited internationally. Jony Easterby is an artist, designer, maker, producer, director, performer, a passionate naturalist and plants-man. Using both digital and analogue media, Jony investigates the boundaries between raw elemental materials, sound technology, composition, landscape and architecture.

Kathy Hinde Kathy Hinde’s work grows from a partnership between nature and technology expressed through audio-visual installations and performances that combine sound, sculpture, image and light. Drawing on inspiration from behaviours and phenomena found in the natural world, she creates work that is generative; that evolves; that can be different each time it is experienced. Kathy aims to create work that gives rise to a poetic and reflective experience that enriches an appreciation of the everyday, inviting a heightened awareness of the world around us.

Jane Pitt Jane Pitt is an artist based in Chatham Kent. Her work encompasses a range of disciplines including performance, sound, photography, animation and sculpture. After studying fine art at Brighton University she ran away with the circus where she learned to fuse her talents for performance and creating something from nothing, it is that fusion that forms the basis of her work today. Her work is influenced by live art, circus, illusion, itinerant showmen, magic, theatre, the natural and built environment.

Anne Milne  Anne Milne is an award-winning Scottish filmmaker. Her film María’s Way was nominated for the European Film Award 2010, and won a BAFTA New Talent award as well as playing at numerous international film festivals, and picking up more awards. After being awarded a WorldView Multi Media Grant, she travelled to Nepal to shoot Himalayan Sisters which later won an editing award at the 2011 Underwire Festival. Since then she has been working on a number of commissioned films. Into Deep Space, a short film about the search for exo-planets was shown at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York and Dublin where it was awarded a Special Mention. In recent times she has been producing short documentaries with the Scottish Documentary Institute, the most recent Swan (2016) was nominated for a BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Short film and shortlisted for a Grierson Award. She has also been co-teaching documentary workshops with SDI/British Council in Libya, Pakistan, and Jordan. Anne is currently directing a film, Adventures in Dementia commissioned by STV and produced by Scottish Documentary Institute. It is due to be broadcast in 2019. She is also co-founder of DocKlub.

Jamie Wardrop Jamie is a Glasgow based freelance theatre maker and designer. He trained on the BA Acting Course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He is self-taught in projection, sound, film, composing and 3d animation, as part of the Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival 2019 Jamie created live visuals for Capercaillie, Carlos Núñez and the 20 piece Symphonic Ibiza playing Ibiza dance classics in the McEwan Hall. For the Hogmanay street party, he created a celebratory projection mapped live visuals on to the Bank of Scotland HQ on the mound. Other VJ credits for 2018 include Basement Jaxx, Forth Awards – Usher Hall, Rozalla, Amy MacDonald, Go West and many techno djs as part of his residency at SWG3, Glasgow.

Alice Cooper Alice is an Edinburgh-based theatre maker, actor and clown originally from Sydney, Australia.  She makes work for all ages and is passionate about sustainability and making work that has the environment at its heart. Alice’s show, Waves (‘a miniaturist gem’ The Observer) has been presented extensively including to Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, Auckland Arts Festival and New Zealand International.