Artful Dodger Reboot

I started this blog with one of Halford’s flies – No.77, the Artful Dodger. So to end my most recent day in the VR Cave at the Corsham Institute I wanted to do my interpretation of Halford’s original pattern. So here it is, the Artful Dodger Reboot. Anyone want to try this one out on the Test? Neil?

My frictionless fly

Watching videos of fly tying, I’m aware of how tight the feathers and string are tied around the hook. The fly tyer never lets the twine relax, always maintaining tension until the end is fixed, often with a final blob of glue or varnish. Everything is held together by twist upon twist of twine, binding the different elements into a mimetic shape that can then withstand the stresses of being cast onto the water, again and again, before being swallowed by a fish. In VR it couldn’t be more different: nothing is solid, there is no tension, ‘feather’ can pass through metal hook, a twist of twine can float just off the surface of the shank; there is nothing to pull against, to secure to, or to resist your movements. What you have is the idea of a fly, rather than something substantial. So as I continue to ‘draw’ in VR my ideas about what I should do with this strange frictionless medium are constantly evolving. I’m not sure where it is going to lead at the moment. [I lost the metal sheen of the hook along the way. Still trying to figure out a way of keeping that.]

Shank, gape and barb

In the catalogue this Dry Fly Supreme hook is described as having a “standard shank, round bend, wide gape, and a down-eye, all of which makes it “the ideal all purpose dry fly hook”. Well I might as well start here, seeing if I can tie a suitable VR-fly on this virtual hook, ready for the Oakley Beat. The only thing is, Neil, the river keeper, tells me that you are no longer allowed to use hooks with barbs, a modern convention as barbs were allowed in Halford’s days. [Thanks Dan for making this for me.]

Hat on a hat

This will be the first commission in which I use music. I have always steered clear of it in the past: partly because, I think, it can so easily take over; also because it is often used manipulatively as an emotional varnish, providing a smooth reflective surface for your feelings. But this time I want to base the whole installation around a soundtrack; one that doesn’t put a “hat on a hat”, as the film composer Nicholas Britell describes it, where the music simply amplifies what you are already seeing. Instead the music for Surface Tensions will carry its own meaning, a subtext to what you see. With these thoughts in mind, it was great to listen to Only Artists this morning on the way into work: a conversation between actor Tom Hiddleston and the composer for If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell. It was the immersive soundtrack of Beale Street that most impressed me about that film, which I saw last week at our local independent Sherborne Cinema. [Oh, yes, the picture: both Tom and Nicholas’ interest in movie music started with Chariots of Fire.]

Aerial calligraphy

Not strictly to do with the Test, Mottisfont or F.M Halford, but I came across this in my research. I have always thought of casting – the whisking, flipping and laying of the line on the water – as a form of aerial calligraphy, and this sketch captures that idea beautifully. [From the logbook of F.W. Benson, 1936]

The idea of Otter

I’ve been looking into the River Test (quite literally), well stocked with trout, thinking about how it will be impacted by climate change. I then went up to the cafe at Mottisfont and I came across this poster on the walls there. Dating from 1931, it caught my eye as it seemed to encapsulate so much about our paradoxical attitude to nature. It’s a great example of how we appropriate the idea of ‘Nature’ to promote, well, anything really, at the expense of Nature itself; here, the desire to drive out into the countryside at the weekends to be refreshed by some natural scene or other. Little did we suspect at the time, but those fossil fuels had a sting in their exhaust. So, I went to asked Neil, the river keeper, whether there were infact any otters on the Test. He responded by showing me some otter tracks on the Rectory Beat. So at least that part of the poster is real! [Poster courtesy of the Shell Heritage Art Collection.]

The Novice

A virtual dry-fly for a virtual trout. I have been experimenting in VR using Tiltbrush to tie my first fly, or at least my impression of a fly. Then I took at look at some videos by the expert Davie McPhail (as recommenced by the river keeper), only to realise just how many mistakes I have made – starting with the hook being the wrong way round! Room for improvement… [Thank you Marie for all your help, and to the Corsham Institute for your support with the VR.]