Father and son team Gawain Morrison and Dylan McCaughtry will bring an ancient Celtic language to life with a massive construction across Belfast’s Writer’s Square for this weekend’s Culture Night Belfast.
Having worked on music videos, short films and art projects they are now preparing for their most ambitious project to date, with fellow designer Neil Beattie.
Visitors to Writers’ Square will wander around massive tree-like structures, learn about the Druidic Ogham language, and interact via a QR code trail telling the story of this part of Celtic history that goes back to pre-Roman days.
Having worked together on projects since Dylan was 14, it was natural for both to take on the Ogham Grove installation and have a special touch for Gawain.
“It’s lovely because as we both get older, we have other lives going on,” he said.
“We’ve got things that take up our time and so the time you get to spend together and do things is very important. Getting him to do something like this is creating a memory.”
It helps that both are on the same page creatively.
“We get along and we’re quite similar in our mindset,” explained Dylan.
“It can be a bit challenging in that I’d be more in the construction side of things and he’s in creative management, so it’s marrying the two things. There were different things we were able to achieve in bringing this vision about.”
The Ogham Grove structure represents a different Culture Night experience, as the weekend has been re-structured due to Covid-19 restrictions.
For Gawain the idea of a city garden was an exciting prospect.
“The brief itself for this years’ Culture Night was very open in terms of where you could go with it, but something to do with the site’s specific structure,” he explained.
“People will be able to take it in and be part of.
“The fact that it was all themed around the city garden and the trees and some of the other things they’ve got coming down the line from planting a million trees and sustainability, all fitted with what we wanted to do and what we thought we could achieve.”
With such an ambitious project Gawain knew his son had the skills to help bring it to life.
“For the last ten years, Dylan has been working in film and TV and working on major shows like Game of Thrones and Derry Girls,” he said, adding: “He has worked across all manner of departments, from armoury, to set design, to costume, to tents and flags and everything in between.
“He has an incredible breadth of skills across the creation process using different materials and knows how to make temporary structures look and sound for people to be able to engage in, work around and be operating safely.”
With sustainability part of the brief every aspect of the construction is from reclaimed or upcycled materials that will be reused or repurposed afterwards, even the screws.
“A lot of the construction will be made out of pallets for the large alphabet section,” said Dylan.
“The reason behind that is because they are multi-use, they’re structurally sound and once we’re done with them, they can go back into the distribution system.
“The rest of the wood...the majority of it is reclaimed wood, stuff that has been used before and was just going to be thrown out, so we’re giving it that last little use of life before it goes on to its next use.”
There are no parental tensions as Gawain and Dylan have worked on ambitious tasks together before, such as the music video for the multi-instrumental hit artist BeardyMan.
“It’s totally fine working with Dylan,” said Gawain. “We don’t live together so he gets to close the door and walk away from me.”
Dylan is thankful to be working with his dad on Ogham Grove after the months of lockdown and restrictions.
“We got to spend more time together, which we haven’t been able to do in the last few years. It was great to hang out.”
And, as his dad says he also reminds him to take a break from the intensity of the project.
“He’s quite good at telling me to stop,” said Dylan.
“We don’t stop thinking about what we have to do but it’s nice that he can tell me to switch off.”
The working relationship goes back to when Dylan was still at school.
“I was about fourteen years of age and dad was producing short films,” he said.
“He would have brought me in to teach me stuff. I was an extra pair of hands. He was always encouraging and forcing me to get stuck in even when sometimes I didn’t want to.”
Gawain explained why they decided to use the Ogham alphabet as the touchstone for the mammoth installation.
“It was one of the first writing systems created by Druids to pass on knowledge,” he said. “It also harmonised with everything.
“It harmonises with trees, your environment, it makes sure that you’re living within your means, you’re living sustainably and it also then was the formation of the poetry, the music, the creative and the arts, all of this woven together is what made for a very healthy, fascinating lifestyle.”
Translating it into a 21st Century installation will involve lighting and music and for Dylan that fits into his recent work.
“My work in the film and TV industry such as recently on Netflix’s School of Good and Evil, means I’ve been able to pick up through set making, building, prop making, construction, using different materials and finding different uses for different materials for the outcome of Ogham Grove.
“Each element signifies a different tree and different types of wood with its own attributes be that through magic, or spirituality or even the aesthetical nature of them.
“These will all be laser etched, you’ll be able to scan the QR code of them, you’ll be able to be involved in this learning process of the Ogham alphabet.”
Prior to the pandemic, Culture Night had been one of Belfast’s largest free events, a cultural celebration that attracted almost 90,000 local, national and international visitors to the Cathedral Quarter and Belfast city centre.
The impact of COVID led Susan Picken, Director of Culture Night and Cathedral Quarter Trust to a major review of the event.
“We had the last big physical event back in 2019, with CN and Culture Day, which was really successful with huge crowds,” Susan explained.
“It got really big and almost overwhelming, but people loved it.
“Then obviously COVID happened and that really made us think a lot about the events and what we were going to be able to do and think about how the event had evolved over time and was it still doing what we wanted it to do for culture in the area.”
Having seen the concept from the initial proposal, through to Neil Beattie’s 3-D models she is confident that Gawain, Dylan and Neil will deliver something to live long in memories
“It’s a mammoth installation with light and sound,” she added.
“It’s going to be amazing, spectacular. Nothing like what people of Belfast have seen before or what people expect from Culture Night. It’s the one big idea that we’re really excited about.”
This year’s Culture Night Belfast is supported by Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland, Tourism NI, Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Translink.
To keep up to date with all the CNB Presents The Ogham Grove updates go to culturenightbelfast.com or follow #CNB21 on social media.