Jennie Pedley

L’âme et une plume

The tightrope

The tightrope
Stills from animation, black powder on perspex, 2005


Anubis, stills from animation, 2005


Mechanism, still from animation, 2005

The soul and a pigeon feather

In the old stables assigned to me as my studio, I find a variety of bizarre equipment, including a heavy old iron weighing machine, which reminds me of one I recently used at a London hospital. I am twenty-five weeks pregnant and I immediately climb onto the platform of the machine to check the level of my ever advancing weight. I slide the brass marker along the measuring rod until the two brass pointers like bird bills come to face each other. The dusty mechanism works perfectly, telling me my weight in kilos which means little to me. Hermine tells me that the machine was used to weigh sacks of wheat by her great grandfather who traded grain in Paris. I also find a large black Victorian perambulator used by her forebears, reminiscent of the one in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, rolling out of control down an impossibly long flight of steps. The object scares me, so I settle down to draw it. The function of another object that I discovered in the stables is not immediately obvious to me. It is a ten foot steel cable pulled taut on a frame a couple of feet off the ground. Apparently it is a tightrope originally used in an Earls Court bed-sit by an American woman as a substitute for psychotherapy.

I spend the first few days drawing the strange weighing machine, then I find two more historical models in the kitchen. The kitchen scales are of the style invented in the seventeenth century by Gilles Personne and named after his birthplace, the nearby village of Roberval. The dishes move up and down on rods, with a horizontal beam between them. An elegant upright pointer sways to show you when the scales are level. The breeze entering the big open doors of the studio causes the two battered brass pans to move gently up and down. The final model is a pendular style scale, with a see-saw action and a hook at either end, like the scales of justice, but without the dishes. In order to animate the movement of the scales, I draw them on semi-transparent architect’s film. I make separate drawings of the parts that move independently of one another. I animate these on a piece of Perspex balanced between the table and a shelf in my bedroom with a bedside light underneath and my tripod on top. I started moving and photographing the pieces without a clear plan of what would happen next. I wonder what the scales should be weighing and search the grounds for inspiration, fluffy feathers, falling lime seeds, the pram, the château itself.

On July the seventh, just before a formal lunch with a local government arts funding visitor, I hear that my home town of London has been bombed. I buy Le Figaro the next day. The headlines announce “Londres a basculé dans la tragédie”. “Basculer” is a new word for me, meaning to overbalance. On my return to Sacy, after a few days in London, I draw myself as Anubis, the Egyptian jackal-headed god who weighs the soul against the feather of Maat symbolising justice, order and truth. I consider portraying the weighing of souls against a selection of dove and pigeon feathers.

The château is full of young American gardening volunteers. I suggest that they might like to learn to walk the tightrope. One of them, Erin, is keen. I photograph and video her attempts to balance. On my laptop computer, I have a wealth of images of her body struggling to maintain equilibrium. I make a long sequence of traced silhouettes in order to analyse the subtleties of her reactions - reactions which are altered in many of my young physiotherapy patients, who have conditions such as Cerebral Palsy. Seen from behind, Erin tilts to the left and right. As her trunk elongates on one side to correct the tilt of her body, she raises a limb to maintain balance, demonstrating what are known as “righting” and “equilibrium” reactions. Slowed down these corrections are beautiful to watch.

Last year I made an animation with black powder on glass of a young disabled man falling from a treatment couch. Now I put the powder on my improvised animation table and push it around with a paintbrush to create the balancing figure. Each time I move the figure I take a photograph. After several hours of work I compile the images on the computer to find the tightrope walker balancing herself for a few seconds. I look at the crowd of tightrope walking figures in profile. They show a slightly crouched figure approaching something very carefully.

Jennie Pedley

Previous Work

Memory Island

Installation view of “Memory Island: a pre-Renaissance virtual environment”
exhibited at Camden Arts Centre, 2004

Jennie Pedley E-mail Web Selected Projects / One-Person Exhibitions

Paintings in Hospitals

- commissioned animation, collaborating with young patients at Whipps Cross Hospital.


, Cultural Olympiad - shadow theatre collaborations on canal boats in the midlands with Breath of Fresh Air and Ignite, culminating in an exhibition.

Thunder and Coal

- musical, Nonesuch Theatre Company, development at Battersea Arts Centre; animations, design and making for final production, Little Angel Theatre, London.

Wellcome Trust Outreach Project

- shadow tableaux for a Zine publication and the Wellcome Midsummer Picnic. Artist In Residence, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Dental and Maxillofacial Department - shadow theatre workshops culminating in permanent art installation.
Natural History Museum - lecture and shadow workshop at the Participation and Performance Event for staff. Wellcome Collection Youth Co-Production Seminar - shadow theatre workshop on body image at Wellcome Trust, London. Cultural Olympiad, Derbyshire - shadow performance with primary schools and animation commission

Shadows and Steam

, projected inside a limekiln at Millers Dale nature reserve, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. A Breath of Fresh Air project with Ignite. Cultural Olympiad, Nottinghamshire - shadow performance with primary schools, shown at Idle Valley Nature Reserve, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. A Breath of Fresh Air project with Ignite. National Trust, Calke Abbey stables - permanent installation of artworks, shadow theatre set, silhouettes, training and drop-in family performance. Olympic Commission for Haringey - the history of the Olympics with Belmont Infant School for a touring exhibition in 2012.

Coming of Age: The Art and Science of Aging

- shadow film installation for exhibition at the Great North Museum, Newcastle Upon Tyne, commissioned by Institute of Ageing and Health, Newcastle University. Supported by Arts Council England and the Wellcome Trust.

Unfolding Exercise

- silhouette portraits of hospital staff / patients, exploring personal histories of exercise, exhibition tour of: Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals, Guys Hospital, University College Hospital, and Haringey’s Original Gallery. Supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Mini Shadow Theatre

- a product

a beautiful whimsy

, inspired by historical exercise manuals from the Wellcome Library, London.

Silhouette Journeys

- permanent installation at Royal Brompton Hospital inspired by meetings with patients with cystic fibrosis. Exhibition toured hospitals in Sweden. Supported by Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.


, Royal London Hospital, London - Vital Arts, following research on history of exercise. Supported by the Wellcome Trust.

The soul and the feather

, residency and exhibition, Château de Sacy. British Council Travel Award.

Memory Island: a pre-Renaissance virtual environment

- an exhibition of animations and virtual reality at Camden Arts Centre, London. The exhibition allowed the public to explore the perceptions and life-stories of six people with neurological impairments. It was the culmination of a three-year off-site residency with Camden Arts Centre.

Remake the Street

- Animation and architecture project with Kingsgate Primary School and The Architecture Foundation.

Vale Town

- a virtual environment created from the drawings of disabled teenagers. Technical support from Professor Roy Kalawsky, Head of the Advanced Virtual Reality Research Laboratory, Loughborough University.

Bed Time Stories

- Exhibition of a journey through a virtual environment, inspired by tapestries in the Cluny Museum, Paris: Galleries der Gergenwert, Weisbaden, Germany, and the Colville Place Gallery, London. Selected Group Exhibitions

Coming of Age - The art and science of Ageing

, Commissioned film installation

a is for ageing

; tours to GV Gallery, London

Made in Sacy

, 12 Star Gallery, London

Coming of Age: The Art and Science of Aging

- shadow film installation for exhibition at the Great North Museum, Newcastle Upon Tyne, commissioned by Institute of Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, supported by Arts Council England and the Wellcome Trust.

Around Town

animation -

Arcade III

, Touring UK and Soviet Union
Digital exhibition, New Greenham Arts

Whitechapel Open

, Whitechapel Gallery, London Digital exhibition, Caligama Gallery, Barcelona, Spain Daniel Arnaud Gallery, London
1998 and 1999

Art Futures

, Royal Festival Hall, London

Show Girls

, various public sites, Sheffield
1994, 1996 and 1998
Open Studios, various Space studios, Hackney, London

BP Portrait Award Exhibition

, National Portrait Gallery, London

Artists of Promise

, Bonhams, London

Laing Landscape Competition

, Bristol

Art for Sale, The Guardian

, Whiteleys, London Shadow performance

Beneath the Surface

- commissioned by Frog Life, performed at various nature reserves, Heritage Lottery funded


- devised and performed with Zsuzsa Kohan, The George Tavern, Camden Head Theatre, London. Music by Victoria Hume and Quinta

Life Lines

- created alongside Silhouette Journeys, performed at Royal Brompton Hospital and Jacksons Lane’s Secret Theatre, with Zsusa Kohan, music by Victoria Hume Awards and Funding

People Award

from the Welcome Trust - to research

History of Exercise

towards and exhibition and artist book
Support for work with Camden Arts Centre:

Moose Foundation Award


Sciart Production Award


Sciart Research Award

to work with a psychologist and anthropologist,

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Research Award


Juliet Gomperts Memorial Award

for residency in Italy and

Janet Konstram Travel Award

to visit the frescoes of Giotto
Nominated for a

Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award

Support for Vale Town:

Learning Award

from National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to explore how virtual environments can be used in art and in education.

Arts & Technology Partnerships


London Arts


Year of the Artist Award


National Children’s Art Award for Vale Town

Arts Council England,

Individual Artist Award


Coming of Age

- Exhibition Catalogue ed. Lucy Jenkins

The soul and the feather

- Exhibition catalogue, Château de Sacy

Memory Island: a pre-Renaissance virtual environment

- edited by Heather Galbraith, Camden Arts Centre

Jennie Pedley

- File Note 06 essay by Edwina Ashton, Camden Arts Centre

Navigating Memories in Experiment: Conversations in Art and Science

- editors: Bergit Arrends & Davina Thackara, Wellcome Trust Education
MA Fine Art Printmaking, Camberwell College of Art
BA Hons Fine Art, Bristol Polytechnic
Foundation in Art & Design, Middlesex Polytechnic
Bsc Hons Physiotherapy, North East London Polytechnic