Private Project

Space & Freedom

When Chinese artist Li Yuan-chia left the London art scene for rural Cumbria in 1967, he said he was going in search of ‘Space and Freedom’. He had come to Europe via Bologna in Italy, after being orphaned in Taiwan, following the Chinese Civil War. He had a successful career as an artist in Europe and showed with the Lisson Gallery. But he gave all that up to create, in the tiny rural village of Banks, a lively art centre – the LYC Museum - on Hadrian's Wall. He gave exhibitions to over 350 artists from both home and abroad, some of whom became famous. But for the last few years of his life, after closing the Museum, he was beset with financial and legal problems. His work became increasingly solitary in response to the rural landscape and his personal situation, and he died alone at the age of 56. Finding personal identification with his work and his life, artist filmmaker Helen Petts set out to explore the derelict site where he had built the Museum and the surrounding landscape that inspired his work. Creating an entirely new film from Li's archive footage edited with her own, plus a soundtrack from previously undiscovered archive sound recordings, field recordings of local wildlife and a specially commissioned score by Steve Beresford improvising to the images on prepared piano. Commissioned as an installation by Manchester Art Gallery in 2019, this is a new cinema version. Financially assisted by the Arts Council of England National Lottery Fund and the Li Yuan-chia Foundation.
The original film was a gallery installation. This is the new cinema version.

  • Helen Petts
    Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing, Solo Soprano - a Portrait of Lol Cohill
  • Steve Beresford
    Key Cast
  • Steve Beresford
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    20 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    January 30, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    20,000 GBP
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
    United Kingdom
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    8mm, HD
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Installation version in Speech Acts exhibition, Manchester Art Gallery
    United Kingdom
    April 30, 2019
  • Installation version, Each Modern Gallery, Li Yuan-chia and Responses
Distribution Information
  • Lux Artist's Moving Image
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Helen Petts

Helen Petts was born in rural Yorkshire in the North of England. She studied film at Westminster University and Fine Art at Goldsmiths University. After a career making arts documentaries for British TV she now makes films as an artist. Working with a small camera and travelling a great deal. Her love of filming in mountain regions has taken her to Norway, Nepal and the British Lake District. Her love of free improvisation and other experimental music has led her to collaborate with many musicians, inc. Steve Beresford, Lol Coxhill, Phil Minton, Roger Turner, Adam Bohman and Sylvia Hallett. Her films have been seen in the UK and Internationally both as installations in museums and galleries, and single screenings in film and music festivals. Her films are in the British Film Institute collection of artists' films and are distributed by Lux Artists' Moving Image. She lives between London and North Yorkshire.

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Director Statement

After a life working in mainstream film and TV, I now like making more abstract films in remote rural landscapes, that may have a history, a few ghosts, an atmosphere - and interesting sound. I love editing and creating a montage of sound and images that owes more to the years I devoted to abstract painting, rather than my TV work. I am hugely influenced by the musicians I know and love as both friends and colleagues. They improvise, but with a deep knowledge of complex composition in real time. So rhythm, texture, colour and form are more interesting to me than conventional narrative. I go on walks in remote landscapes and discover my images by chance. I am also interested in making films about people who have not been given the recognition they deserved when alive and I love researching in their archives, and following in their footsteps. But my next film is about a 97 year old botanist - and she is very much alive, and a total rock star!