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Contemporary Art Practice (MA)

Teän Roberts

Teän Roberts (b.1988) is a multimedia artist working between the Isles of Scilly and London.  

They are interested in speculative fiction as a creative realm for constructing divergent, abundant, inventive futures. Futures we can hatch into to transform - first: ourselves, and next: the world.

With focus on the mythic, alien, archetypal, and alternative realities, their work is concerned with shaping transformation through imaginative ritual. They use photography, film, writing and sculpture to create artefacts and records from these ritual events.

Recent showcases of their work include photographs exhibited as part of We Are Floating in Space, the spring exhibition at Newlyn Gallery and the Exchange; an interactive installation shown as part of Tate Lates March 2023 at Tate Modern; and a fifteen minute ritual performance-art piece in performance night Fleshy Wisdoms at The Steamship Project Space in East London. 

Water splashes at twilight, poured between clifftop rock pools.

I work in photography, writing, moving image and sculpture. Between this lattice of elements, stories brew and coagulate : new myths of deep futures and far pasts. This work probes edge-lands, portals, thresholds, membranes, and explores contrasts between celestial, cerebral, illusory airiness and grounded, boggy, physical, terrestriality.

My work begins with a place. I find places where the veil to the imaginary feels thin and I can play with the images that leak through. I follow these threads down different pathways with words, fabric, fibres, paints and my own body to uncover artefacts from/for the other dimension that I am attempting to reach - clues to the story that is trying to form.

Then - when the light is right - the act of photographing or filming can open up a portal between these worlds. These acts become ritualised form me: working with/in the transcendent magic of natural light I can slip through this portal and submerge entirely into a visionary alternate reality - to experience what it feels like to exist in another paradigm.

When I return through the portal, I bring part of that experience back with me, a body memory infused with mystery, that I can call upon when needed. These myth-drenched memories orientate me towards ways of being that resist and contradict our constrictive earthling conditioning. The resulting images become relics and records of this experience, dragged back from other realms to help map a more hopeful path.

The cultist prepares for a pilgrimage in a mottled pink coracle. This small, round boat, resembling a shell, cocoon or alien space craft acts as a sacred vessel for their transformative voyage. Mimicking the journey of Santa Warna and the migration patterns of eels, the cultist trusts their future to the tide, surrendering to the transformation present in the mystery beyond the horizon of what is known, certain, safe and small.

In this body of work ~ The Way of the Eel ~ I have been researching localised traditional anomalies from the Isles of Scilly. I explore how mythic material can be used as tool, not only for personal development, but also collectively. Myths can be imagined into - stretched, broadened, inflated, deepened - to help us envision ways of treading new paths that diverge from our current societal trajectory and instead wind into a brighter, kinder, less individualistic future. 

“Just as fungi originally taught plants how to root into the soil, so myths teach us how to root into relation with our ecological and social ecosystems. They narrativeize a deep understanding of our connection to more-than-human time scales” - Sophie Strand 

The Isles of Scilly are a remote archipelago of islands twenty-eight miles off the coast or Cornwall, where highly place-specific myths and traditions have evolved. Santa Warna is a celtic saint, who drifted to the Isles of Scilly in a coracle from Ireland to become the patron saint of shipwrecks. Making offerings at her holy well, islanders would pray that shipwrecks would not happen, but if they must happen, could they come to Scilly so that we might benefit from the pilotage and salvage. 

On the islands, the fresh water supply is precious and precarious, so there was a tradition (still practiced in some households) of placing a live eel inside the water tanks to keep the water fresh. Once captured, the eels would go into a kind of fugue state where they have been known to live up to eighty years, surviving by eating any contaminants that fell in the tank, and so keeping the water safe (if - admittedly - gross) for human consumption.

“Myth is a made thing, not a found thing” - Angela Carter

These two stories present a very localised and specialised attitude to survival, one where the precarious nature of existence creates a reality where we welcome shipwrecks onto our shores and eels into our wells - both things that, under normal circumstances, would be unthinkable. 

I used these two mythic artefacts as the foundation to create a cult ~ The Way of the Eel ~ because, like shipwrecks and eels, cults also have a sinister reputation that we would typically avoid. A singular cultist interprets the mythic information blossoming from their surroundings, to create their own specified religious practice. The resulting belief system suggests a method for cultivating agency for ourselves, by generating our own mythology and using that as a map for a self-determined life.

A naked person floats beside a backlit fibreglass coracle at twilight
Folded iridescent fabric dyed like the dawn sky
Sea thrift flowers in warm afternoon light
A nude person lies curled in a pink  semi translucent coracle at the edge of the sea.
A pink fibreglass bowl brims with lichen.
Iridescent fabric like the dawn sky
Bring Me Your Hands was an interactive performance that took place as part of Fleshy Wisdoms performance night at The Steamship Project Space in June 2023. In this piece I embodied the Eel Way Cultist and invited the audience to perform ablutions in an intimate initiation rite for The Way of the Eel. I washed their hands for them in a pink shell vessel filled with holy lichenised water, while this audio track played.
A backlit pink coracle floats on dark water in front of looming rocks

Every saint must have a miracle. Santa Warna’s miracle was that she travelled from Ireland to the Isles of Scilly in a coracle, a small round boat, large enough for one person, traditionally made from animal hide stretched over willow. To make the cultist’s coracle I took a 3D scan of a rock pool that had been carved out of the granite clifftop by thousands of years of rainfall and weathering. I made a mould from this scan and cast it in fibreglass - a typical boat-building material used locally in Scilly - to make a coracle that is simultaneously able to travel over the sea, and hold the familiar shape of the earth of my home.