Commissioned by the Hatton Gallery Newcastle for installation alongside Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbarn Wall, Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing explores the later years of Schwitters’ life and work through landscape, collage, sound and walking. Helen Petts travelled to Norway and the Lake District, following Schwitters’ journey into exile from Nazi Germany, filming on location in the places where he also loved to walk. She stayed alone on the uninhabited Norwegian island of Hjertoya, where Schwitters lived in a tiny hut which he made into a “Merzbau”, and Elterwater in the Lake District, where he later created the English Merzbarn. The film explores the two mythologised structures and the landscapes around them.The installation’s title, Throw Them Up and Let Sing, refers to Schwitters’ description of how he worked with his collage materials. In the spirit of Schwitters’ sound poetry, the film features leading experimental musicians Sylvia Hallett, Adam Bohman, Roger Turner and Phil Minton improvising with found objects and vocal sounds, creating a dialogue of sound and image. Petts’ work often involves travel in remote locations, establishing a relationship between the landscape and her own body and its limitations. Her film explores rhythms, textures and surfaces in the landscape, referencing Schwitters’ work from this period and archive photographs. Most of the film was shot on small digital stills cameras, with sound recycled from mainstream feature films Petts’ has also worked on. Petts’ own photographs and diary entries from the artist’s travels formed part of the original gallery installation, but can now be read in ebook form here.
The film was also shown as a gallery installation at the Royal Festival Hall, London, Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal, Trøndelag Centre for Contemporary Art, Trondheim and Møre and Romsdal Art Centre, Molde and was screened during the Schwitters in Britain exhibition at Tate Britain.
“Helen Petts avoids historically fetishising Schwitters, electing instead to compose her film with the same combination of great care and mercurial randomness with which Schwitters made a collage or poem.” David Briers, Art Monthly.