Investigating the life of things across space and time

Northland and the Lays

‘In medieval geographies, Northland is a distant place located beyond the borders of the known world. It is variously agreed that it may be an island in the northern hemisphere, and that on the island lives a secretive colony of people called ‘the Lays’, half-creatures of tortured souls and lost dreams. Each is the only one of its kind...’

so begins the encyclopaedic entry for Northland…
Drawings, etchings, embroideries, animation, sculptural objects, texts
by Sarah Gillett

Northland and the Lays

Northland is my personal world-building project. It is my ongoing visual scrapbook, a constantly evolving collection of artefacts, an exposed archive of my process and practice documentation.

Northland and the Lays explores the landscape of the imagination. By appropriating fragments of myth and folklore, tales and traditions from family histories, cautionary tales, science fiction and material from antique reference books, Northland is a place to explore desire, fantasy and the unknown. In journeying there, new possibilities for adventure and discovery open up.

My initial experience of this world was through my drawings of the intricate studies of the inhabitants of Northland, the Lays.

I looked at the gestures and faces of people in allegorical scenes, painted by Renaissance Masters and other history painters, including Cignaroli, Bartoleme Esteban Murillo and John Hamilton Mortimer and in these saw an awakening of rapture, anguish and understanding. 

The characters in these allegorical paintings were in moments of transfiguration, being visited upon by something greater than themselves. The experience changed them entirely.

I combined these expressions with drawings from 19th century bronze sculptures and created the Lays – rapt, fearful, uncertain; caught in private moments of epiphany or transformation.

Each of the Lays has his or her own story to tell and are watched over by the island’s guardian, Miss Ethel Grimbaldeston, an enigmatic, stern seamstress who lives with her bachelor brother, Albert, who is the island’s registrar. Between them, they have the measure of the island’s people…

I come back to these stories and the wider landscape of Northland in drawing, printmaking, sculpture, animation, correspondence and professed ‘found objects’, both genuine and constructed, to build a framework for a body of work which challenges the line between fiction and fact.

Works in Northland and the Lays

More from Northland and the Lays

Nin: Pencil drawing of a bird woman with a long neck, her wings flapping as though she has just landed

Nin (2008-2012)

For Nin, poor Nin. For Nin neither.

So much for you to hear and fear, that owl hoot and dog bark is not for you. Come out from under your wing soft down. You are needed.

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Cloud chorus: flower shape in green and yellow

Cloud chorus (2010)

A collage audio piece recorded live on my phone at a gathering in a flat in Hackney. I handed out sections of a landscape poem that I had written to the group of women who had assembled and we sat on the floor in a circle.

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Salt: Lines and patches of embroidery against a pale brown linen background, reminiscent of a set of ruins in a destroyed landscape. A figure with a beak as big as its body and that covers its face entirely, tentatively steps across the ground.

Salt (2016)

Salt is mined, extracted and evaporated. Stitching mends holes, fills in blank space. This artwork began life as the back of an unfinished needlepoint and grew into an exploration of geology and archeology.

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