Simon Lee & Algis Kizys

Simon Lee

Born in UK

Lives and works in New York, USA


Algis Kizys

Born in USA

Lives and works in New York, USA

Curator: Denise Carvalho


Where is the Black Beast? is a 34 minute film based on CROW – The Life and Songs of the Crow by the poet Ted Hughes.


Where is the Black Beast? begins with Lineage, a poem that abridges The Book of Genesis into 21 lines and from which the protagonist Crow emerges.


A journey begins that takes us from Oedipus’ familial catastrophe to Crow’s mad battle with the sun.  Deaf to all but his own cries of importance the film finally returns Crow to his roots  --


Trembling featherless elbows in the nest’s filth


Where is the Black Beast? is made from hundreds of amateur snapshots into a visual narrative in collaboration with hundreds of anonymous photographers that realizes the intensity of Hughes’ poetry in cinematic form. Where is the Black Beast? uses field recordings, time shifts, original sound tracks with commissioned readings in tandem with existing compositions in a constant negotiation between sound, picture, poetry and spoken voice.


Statement – Simon Lee. 


I first read Crow: The Life and Songs of the Crow, by Ted Hughes, at sixteen. The visceral darkness of the imagery, set in a familiar landscape, resonated deeply with my own dark view of the world. I saw Crow as a story of a civilization with an impending apocalypse, mythologized through twentieth century imagery.


Rich visual images saturate the poetry, and their rhythm and mechanics begged to be translated into film:


And when the seamonster surfaced and stared at the rowboat


Somehow his eyes failed to click


Leonard Baskin’s drawings, published to accompany the first edition of Hughes’ text, are superb depictions of an obdurate crow fixed solidly to the ground, part overgrown chick waiting to be fed, part malevolent muscled bird brain—hubris reigns. The drawings are not illustrations for the poetry, but the original visual inspiration for Hughes’ poetry. Baskin’s image of the obdurate crow has stayed with me, and the synergistic relationship between image and text in this first edition continues to fascinate me. I wanted to translate those dark, eerie metaphors and phrases back to a visual language, this time using the conventions of cinema.


I had been collecting anonymous photos, with a view toward making a film, for years. Discarded images, found in junk shops, antique stores and estate sales littered my studio. Slowly, I realized that these images were transforming into Where is the Black Beast? Making this film would be a collaboration with hundreds of anonymous photographers, butting images of past lives up against Hughes’ poetry; moments that are snapped, shown, touched, cherished (perhaps) and finally discarded.


The creative process was painstaking. Each photo was treated as a film frame and then strung together into a series of storyboards. Eventually, ten distinct “chapters” emerged, combining the unnamed figures in the photos with the primeval angst reflected in Hughes’ poems.


The piece is a collaboration with Algis Kizys, the musician and composer.  By chance we discovered a mutual passion for Hughes’ poetry and in particular CROW.  Over several months the idea emerged that we could attempt to make a film based on this set of poems.  It took about 2 years  --  each throwing the other an idea and then back and forth  --  eventually a form unfolded  --  in Algis’ words ‘a dance’.  Throughout this process our intention and hope was that we would not tread on the toes of Hughes’ poetry, but that we would and could learn to cinematicaly ‘dance’ with him.  We hope we have.




Simon Lee &  Algis Kizys, Where is the Black Beast?, video installation,  2010

Simon Lee &  Algis Kizys, Where is the Black Beast?, video installation,  2010