Sisters merge their lives in art, film

IAN COLLINS Two sisters are now filling a beacon north Norfolk church with a sensory feast of pictures, sounds and moving images. Ian Collins hails a pair of artistic pioneers.


All around the walls of Salthouse Church there now hang paintings of colourful tumult - merging and moving as if by magic into a film in the darkened interior of the tower.

By turns poignant and poetic - beautiful, beguiling, bewildering - the multi-media show is the work of two Cromer-based sisters, artist Anna-Lise Horsley and film-maker Siri Susanna Taylor.

The 2sis project - complete with sound installation and Drawing the Invisible workshops - is a feast of creativity and a hard-won celebration of life.

Abstracted pictures in brilliant acrylic, with added dashes of gloss and glitter, hint at what might be seen in x-rays, medical textbooks and microscopes, or deep in some fathomless ocean.

They then flow into the Bubblebabble movie where, with added shadows and reflections, they are distilled into a shared response to the elements of water through a concentrated montage of filmed and painted images.

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As you will have gathered by now, the lives and inspiring stories of these two siblings and kindred spirits have been dramatically out of the ordinary.

Siri Susanna says: "We are half Norwegian and our collaborations somehow seem to take the journey back to our roots, to the island of our childhood summers surrounded by water and mountains.

"We return again and again to the strong influences of nature, wilderness and open spaces, exploring an underwater world . . . and freedom."

For Anna-Lise, a working artist for the past 30 years, the intervening voyage of discovery has taken her to different countries and continents, homes, studios and clinics.

She says: "In 1980 my husband and I moved to New York to pursue our careers as painters. We converted a loft for studio and living space, and then I became pregnant - giving birth to our son, Joe.

"He was subsequently diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy, and we were forced to move back to London when unable to afford treatment in the US.

"But we found the medical provision in Britain appalling."

So they moved again - this time to Hungary, so that Joe could attend the controversial Peto Institute for Motor Disordered Children in Budapest.

The first British family to use the Peto clinic, they stayed for nine years, experiencing vibrant and turbulent times as Hungary finally broke free from Soviet-imposed communism.

In 1994, with Joe now 14, they returned to England, with Anna-Lise building her artistic career in the limited spaces of life as a full-time carer.

That period lasted for a decade, until Joe's death two years ago.

"He was a wonderfully positive person," says Anna-Lise.

"He left me with his philosophy of life - which was to live every minute to the full."

Now she paints seven days a week - either in a Cromer attic, with a view over church tower and North Sea, or in an old stone house in the wilds of rural France surrounded by "the buzzing of insects, birdsong and silence".

Siri Susanna's multi-layered career has been focused on the camera. As a student she produced hand-drawn animation and was one of the first to shoot videos in London streets.

She helped to restore the silent classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Metropolis, also producing new soundtracks.

Her first montage film to be broadcast on TV was praised by David Puttnam for "virtuoso editing" and her later projects have included profiles of painters John Hoyland, Gillian Ayres and Adrian Berg and a portrait of Dadaist Kurt Schwitters during an early period in Norway.

Ranging from straight documentaries to strange installations, Siri Susanna's work shows a fascination with the whole process - and endless possibilities - of independent film-making.

Although now filling a church, the two sisters have projected their shared pursuits onto an even larger screen.

Two years ago they caused astonishment when their collaborative piece, Pool, was projected onto Cromer Pier as part of the Artlights project for Commissions East.

"There was a very positive reaction from the public, particularly children, and many people found this a way in to the paintings," says Anna-Lise.

Until September 3, from 10am until 5pm daily, the way in to the strikingly-contemporary pictures - and the sounds and the moving images - is through an ancient church door.

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