Delpha’s practice has often used moving image to document performances or create multi-media time based installations. Work has previously been shown all round the UK and Europe.
Recent films echo themes from the performance and publishing project Theatre of the Self. They explore the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, suggesting that we can re-write our stories and move differently across the ‘page’ of experience in order to improve our mental well-being.
Delpha is currently making a series of microfilms about women’s stories. Each film starts with an idiom, a domestic object and are these ‘acted upon’ in a local landscape. They suggest that we can all be ‘makers of self ‘ through narrative re-structuring.
Ironing the sky (3 minutes) 2023, is latest film was made in collaboration with Helen Sargeant, at the Men-an-Tol stones, Cornwall
It features a dark fairy tale-like short story about a woman who is told to see the world as flat and that she is flat and must remain forever so by perpetually ironing the world, her body and the sky. The story uses evident metaphors for devious patriarchal psychologies that control women, ’ flatten’ them and efface their bodies and selfhood. The story contrasts with the landscape in the film in which everything is ‘in the round’; the camera moves round in circles, the lush Cornish countryside and famous Men-an-Tol stones are round and the female body has depth, and shadow.
The film follows themes in previous works such as Swept under the rug (2021) and Like a ship righting itself (2020) that feature stories about women’s lives, based around a domestic object and simply performed actions in local Cornish landscapes. This is a little different as the collaboration with artist Helen Sargeant at her Men-an-Tol Residency in 2023, was unscored and unscripted. We spent one day together at the site, with some random items, including a lampshade, an iron, a big piece of cloth, some children’s ironing boards, and a picnic. We’d never worked together before, but felt something magical happen. Ironing the sky is just one of three films that uses material from improvised performances from that day.
I am passionately interested in surreal juxtapositions between the performed female body, domestic objects and landscape and in re-articulating and promoting alternative visions in which nature offers a feminist space of possibility because it is outside of domestic values and enclosures. ‘Playing’ in specific landscapes, women’s bodies are parodic and subversive, they confront, destabilise and transfigure stereotypical associations of women, and nature. Performance collaborations aim to transcend domestic ‘bounds’ and utilise the magic of encounter and the material symbolism of landscape.
Like a Ship Righting Itself (3.39 mins) made just after the first lockdown in June 2020
The phrase ‘Like a ship righting itself’ is used as a metaphor for mental health and in this short film written and made in Mount’s Bay, Cornwall Delpha explores a story about motherhood and loss. Using a basic narrative structure the spoken story follows simple imagery. Filmed on an iphone by Delpha’s husband Nigel Bispham who also composed and performed the haunting piano music ‘Pythagorian Theory’ that ends the film.
Swept Under the Carpet, (3.5 mins) is a short collaborative art film made with Dr Marianne May.
Filmed in a barley field near St Buryan, Marianne performs the impossible domestic task of sweeping a rug. Marianne tells a personal story about effects of trauma caused by unshared secretsin women’s lives. The simple narrative structure of the film is aimed at exploring the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Juxtaposing interior and landscapes, domestic tropes and nature, films aim to explore women’s lived experience and mental health. Part of a series of short films that are based around narratives of self, Swept Under the Rug is one of a series of simple films whose ideas are based on archival performative films.
More information about Ironing the Sky film:
In addition to painting and film I often write short stories and poetry. This short story is in the style of a fairy tale. As with all fairy and moral tales there is a darker truth.
There’s also a personal story, maybe one that is very familiar to girls who grow up being told lies about who they are and what they must do to be happy. Girls are especially vulnerable to cultural judgements about their bodies and how to control them. They are often taught how they should see and encounter the world, not from their own experience of it. They absorb words that control their senses and block out the contradictions between what they see and understand and what they are told. They are ‘flattened’, unable to voice their own desires, their own dimensionality.
Often these are the women who perform the impossible tasks: jobs, housework and family. They are silenced and flattened in a different way.
The metaphor of ironing is an ironic way of thinking about women’s stories, especially as ironing is a rarer domestic activity nowadays. It aims to reveal devious ideologies in which women are confined and contained. Although there is no happy ending, the very fact of the film being made outside of the home in open spaces near the Men-an-tol stones in Penwith might give a sense of the possibilities of freedom and escape.
Thanks to Helen Sargeant for playing and collaborating in the summer of 2023. She has made ‘sister’ films from our collaboration:
See more films on Delpha’s archive