Wednesday 10 November 2021

Handel opera for moths: artist Redell Olsen's collaboration with scientists and singers on 2020-21 DARE Prize commission

Redell Olsen: Weather, Whether Radar

Poet, writer and visual artist Redell Olsen was announced as the winner of the 2020-21 DARE Art Prize in June last year.  Awarded by the University of Leeds and Opera North, in association with the National Science and Media Museum and The Tetley, Leeds, the prize is a £15,000 award for artists and scientists to collaborate on new approaches to the creative process. For the past year Olsen has worked with scientists at the University and singers and music staff at Opera North, producing artworks ranging from collage and poetry to film and music. She has collaborated with scientists from the BioDAR unit at the University of Leeds, and though the pandemic prevented planned fieldwork,  virtual access to objects in the Science Museum Group Collection in Bradford helped broaden the scope of her work.

Now the fruits of this collaboration are available online. Redell Olsen‘s DARE Art Prize commission Weather, Whether Radar: Plume of the Volants, which can now be experienced online at Scientists as the BioDAR unit use discarded data from weather radar to monitor insect biodiversity. The ‘plumes’ of insects that sometimes register on radar were at first dismissed as ‘noise’, being of no meteorological use, but the BioDAR initiative is finding new ways to map and identify insect abundance and diversity as distinct from the weather. Olsen's work revolves around discarded material: knowledge or culture that can be reused in different and unforeseen ways. 

Many of the pieces employ an imaginative interpretation of scientific language, or conversely, a contemporary reclamation of historic texts or cultural artefacts. Her reworking of an aria from Handel's Acis and Galatea proposes an ‘inter-species opera’, the artist reimagines the character of the cyclops Polyphemus as the polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus). Informed by current climate and environmental crises, as well as Virginia Woolf's essay The Death of The Moth, Olsen’s new libretto is performed by the Chorus of Opera North and bass-baritone Matthew Stiff. 

Other works responding to the Science Group Collection available to view online include a poem inspired by a photograph of Hollywood actor and inventor Hedy Lamarr, and a fictional account of an encounter at a museum in which an 18th century wax vanitas is displayed.

Redell Olsen comments, "Throughout this strange year of remote sensing and distanced collaboration I have been attempting to situate my work somewhere between artistic, poetic and scientific research, a context which seems ever more important given the latest indications of planetary climate crisis."

Redell Olsen's DARE Art Prize commission is available at the online studio, she has also produced a limited edition book. Further information from the Opera North website

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