This summer I and my partner Stella Darby took ‘Flight of the Monarchs’ on the road. It’s an immersive audiovisual installation inspired by the incredible 3,000 mile journey that the Monarch butterfly takes each year from Canada to Mexico, finding warmer climes during the winter in order to roost. There have been several theories as to how these tiny creatures navigate, including magnetism and celestial mapping. The most recent research shows that they have an in-built sun compass and chronometer which allows them to migrate in swarms of millions. Amazingly, they fly to the same roosts each year, often to the exact same trees. Their children make the journey back north in the spring, and their great-grandchildren return to Mexico the following year. In Mexican tradition, there is a belief that the butterflies are the souls of the dead, returning to visit each year.
I recorded video and sound footage at the El Rosario reserve in Michoacan in 2015, trying to capture the beauty of these delicate butterflies and their surroundings. Video footage from Manuel Zirate is also featured in the top panel, and video editing was done by Jessica Rodriguez. The sound for the installation is comprised of three elements: Field recordings which capture the rushing sound of millions of tiny wings (as well as one or two tourists); a specially commissioned poem from Mexican poet Rolando Rodriguez (La Marcha de las Mariposas); and a recording of an improvisation session between myself (flute, ocarina), and musicians David Blink (hang), and John Sanders (accordion) which we conducted in the open air in Michaocan (this has been processed to create a dreamlike quality, reflecting the words of Rolando’s poetry).
In recent years, the Monarchs’ numbers have declined steeply. Several factors may be causing this: logging of their roosting grounds, crop spraying, and climate change.
The installation is set up to resemble a hide in the forest from which the viewer can look out at these beautiful creatures.
Just before the tour, Verity Sharp featured the soundtrack to the installation on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction. So thanks to her for spreading the word!
Our first port of call was the Eden Project. After an adventurous journey which involved a wheel completely falling off our trailer, and several friends coming to our rescue, we set-up in the Education Hub for 5 days, with over 10,000 visitors, and some lovely comments in our visitors book. The presentation was part of the Balance/UnBalance Conference, hosted by Plymouth University.
We then went straight to Shambala and set-up outside in the woods. I think this was my favourite presentation of the work, transporting people from the woods in the English countryside to the forests of Mexico.
And finally, we had a great weekend at the Musicport world music festival in Whitby, sharing our wonder of the Monarch butterflies.
Short documentary clip from the first showing at the Amy Johnson Festival in Hull:
4 screen render with better quality sound: