Woods so Wild ← Visual Arts ← Siobhan Davies Dance

Woods so Wild

Sound installation 
New commission for The Collection


Lucia Joyce was James Joyce’s daughter and she was also his muse. She danced while he wrote and they developed a secret language that only they shared. As she grew up however, she felt overshadowed and the pressures of family life led to a decline in her mental health. Eventually she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was to live out the remainder of her years isolated in an institution in Northampton, England

In her prime Lucia Joyce was taught by dancers like Margaret Morris, Raymond Duncan and Jean Brolin. In the 1920’s while her family lived in Paris, she danced with a group called Les Six de Rythme et Coleur. They were heavily influenced by nature and the group gave their performances titles like Panthere Verte, (Green Panther), Le Jardin Enchante, (The Enchanted Garden) and Les Vignes Sauvages, (The Savage Vines). At the same time Lucia was dancing on the stage in Paris James Joyce was writing about a female character in Finnegans Wake with "wildwood’s eyes and primarose hair" who lives in "the woods so wild", "like some losthappy leaf ". This character is clearly based upon Lucia, whom he had already called his "wonder wild" and the passage is a touching and plaintive ode to a daughter he loved and lost. In this passage James Joyce was clearly inspired by the Elizabethan composer William Byrds’ song Woods so Wild.

Shall I go walk the woods so wild,
Wand’ring, wand’ring here and there,
As I was once full sore beguild,
Alas! for love! I die with woe.

Wearily blows the winter wind,
Wand’ring, wand’ring here and there,
My heart is like a striken hind,
Alas! for love I die with woe.

The melody was extremely popular in the late sixteenth century and a version appeared in the The Dancing Master, 1651-1728: An Illustrated Compendium. In Elizabethan times the woods symbolized a retreat from courtly life and a place of solitude and exile. In Woods so Wild the woods become a place for eroticized banishment; the lover retreats to the woods alone. While James Joyce famously went into exile, choosing to live in mainland Europe throughout his career, it was Lucia Joyce who was banished from the Joyce family. She was seen as a disruption and was sequestered to institutions across Europe and finally to Northampton in the East Midlands where she lived the rest of her life. Susan Philipsz proposed to have two a cappella recordings of Woods So Wild play in the rear garden of the gallery space. The speakers were arranged throughout the space, the sound shifting from one source to another in a spectral tribute to a forgotten dancer.

Woods so Wild is part of: