Helen Petts and Albert Pellicer: Breath of Sense



"Breath of Sense" is a film collaboration by visual artist Helen Petts and poet Albert Pellicer. Through images of a wild landscape, bird sounds, flying and whistling the film creates a reflection on the nature of home and intimacy, migration and return.


Created from a poem about love and domestic intimacy by Albert Pellicer, who often explores the performance of his work in the landscape, on the wind and in the air, "Breath of Sense" was written to be performed in English, Spanish and the language of Silbo. It was filmed in spring on La Gomera island by Albert and Helen Petts, who has a fascination for bird song and the pattern of bird migration which is evidenced throughout her films. In "Breath of Sense" she has edited the sounds and images into a creative montage that focuses on the formal qualities of rhythm, texture, form, sonority and landscape within the context of Silbo and the island. The poem is spoken first in English by Albert, then transferred into Spanish and eventually into Silbo by a local "silbador". Other than brief glimpses of Albert "writing" on the sonorous rock of the island, the readers are not seen. The film concentrates on quite abstract images of the island and found sounds, including bird sounds.


Silbo – the whistling language of the Canary Island La Gomera – was brought by the former inhabitants of the island, the guanches, and came about as a way of communicating in the mountains, across ravines and narrow valleys. During Franco's dictatorship it was used by the locals to send secret messages and resist the regime. Silbo is still very much alive on La Gomera. It is influenced by the bird sounds on the island and it is often the case that whistled messages are repeated by blackbirds, becoming part of the eco-poetics of the place.


Helen Petts is an artist film-maker whose work explores rhythm, texture, sound and chance events, both in the landscape and in her long-standing relationship with the free improvisation music community. In her film "Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing" she followed in Kurt Schwitters' footsteps, exploring footpaths, fells and fjords through Norway and the Lake District, with accompanying improvised merz-type sounds. Her work has been shown at the Whitechapel Gallery, the Icon Gallery, Tate Britain and Manchester Art Gallery, among other places, and is distributed by Lux Artists Moving Image.


Albert Pellicer is a poet based in London. He writes, performs and publishes in English, Catalan and Spanish. His poetry explores the margins of text and sound at the evental surface, where the poem takes place. He has published the following books: El Lector de Núvols (The Cloud Reader), a verse novel in Catalan and English; Fennec and Esfinge Colibrí. He is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Kingston University.