Monday, September 28, 2020

‘Invisible Octopus’ - the demands of a creative mind

Dear friends and family

I truly hope this finds you well in this peculiar year. Who could have predicted the challenges we all had to face? For me not a lot changed due to Covid-19, and yet many changes are happening, including the direction of my creative work.

‘Time’ by Corina Duyn

The demands of my creative mind

The restrictions on movements enforced on many were for me not a result of the pandemic but due to an increased level of illness. However, as has been apparent throughout this now 22 year ‘adventure’ of life with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) my creative mind demands its wishes to be fulfilled. No matter what state my body is in. Most of the time this is a blessing. At times it is a challenge. Even peacefully looking at the birds outside my window manages to infiltrate my creative mind. All experiences culminating in the ‘Invisible Octopus’ project and ‘Ribbon of Light’ exhibition.

All things puppet 

After facilitating the ‘Life Outside the Box’ puppet project (2014/5) I was invited by Dr. Emma Fisher to share my experiences at the first ‘Broken Puppet Symposium on Puppetry, Disability & Health (UCC, 2017). There I entered the astonishing world of all things puppet. Since that time I delved further into using puppetry as a personal exploration of illness and disability through research as well as making new work. I have been given amazing opportunities to lecture in Ireland, UK and via Skype (now Zoom) in Brazil and Chile. What an honour.

Last year during a spell in hospital I communicated with Emma, who has a PhD in Puppetry and Disability if she would guide me exploring more accessible directions in my work.

Invisible Octopus 

We were successful in our application for the Arts & Disability Connect mentoring Award 2019. For me it was the start of an incredible journey. Although the aim was to write a script for a puppet film using my existing puppets, I learned an awful lot more. It turned into the most profound exploration of life with M.E. I have ever experienced. There was no hiding. It was raw. It was beautiful. And continues to be. (See: Invisible Octopus links to articles )

The word ‘shadow’ uttered during the first mentoring meeting triggered a the memory of a story I had written a few years ago: ‘living in the shadows of an Invisible Octopus’. In a vert short time Octopus became the metaphor for M.E. ... M.E. as Invisible Octopus/acting as puppeteer/ keeping me upright/ or making me stumble at will/ inflicting pain/challenging my brain/ its crushing weight taking my breath away ...

A year ago I had no idea how much this one word ‘shadow’ would be profoundly influential on my creative direction. 

Shadow puppetry

Yes Emma suggested using shadow puppetry as an element in my proposed film. She introduced me to its various possibilities. Yes I did very much enjoy playing with images on an overhead projector. Loved it so much that I sourced a projector for myself. But puppetry for me was still my puppets and the fabric octopus I had created (with help). The projector remained an obstructing in my study. I hadn’t realised the full force of this incredible and accessible art form until very recently.

A few months ago I finally started cutting paper images I wanted to play around with on the projector. Lying in my recliner I cut various tiny paper-me’s, as well as my wheelchair, the tree in my garden, and a huge variety of birds. Hands, houses, anything of interest was made into a potential shadow puppetry image. The fun! I was having so much fun with this work. And I could do this without having to ask and accept help.

I shared the early explorations on my Facebook Art Page  and they were received with so many astonishing positive and encouraging comments. From friends and stranger, from people with no prior experience of shadow puppetry to professional practitioners. Wow! 

I hit a nerve with these images. Both for myself and for thousands of others. Wow.

‘Invisible Octopus’ Poem

Over the months I created images depicting my life: the good, the bad, the challenging, and the beautiful. I also edited the poem under the guidance of poet Dolores Ronayne. This poem was initially written to function as narration for the film script. The film was not going to be made as intended. I simply couldn’t do it. Even with help it was an impossible task beyond my body and mental capabilities.  But the poem could work as a stand alone piece....

Working on it and sharing abstracts I realised the poem had power. In combination with a selection of shadow images it became a force beyond any of my previous work. In an unintended twist I created a short  Invisible Octopus Video-poem I had a voice recording of my poem - I had 12 images chosen for the exhibition - and suddenly, in ten minutes I had a video poem...

It took persuasion from friends to release it into the world. As I really had wanted to make this a perfect animated poem one day. But had struggled to do so. This could take a year, or more. The poem - the Octopus - wasn’t going to wait for that.

And I came to accept that the way this 2.12 minute film came about is a much more realistic representation of my reality. My life isn’t polished and perfect. It is raw and challenging. I am immensely grateful for the worldwide responses it received and continues to receive. 


Last year I was offered an exhibition at the Blackwater Valley Arts Centre to highlight the power of art during illness. I accepted. But since have tried various times to cancel this opportunity. (Deep sigh while I write this). I had suggested a few months ago to offer it to fellow artist Anna Moore who also creates from the experience of illness. Done! But she suggested to do a shared show. ‘Ok.’

I thought it to be a great idea and felt there was little for me to do. I was wrong. An exhibition still requires me to write, and think, and sort, and plan, and do more than I really am capable of doing. For all the help I ask, buy and receive, nobody can be my brain... 

What a learning curve. 

Thinking about the exhibition brought a huge sense of unease. After a lot of scribbling about it in my private dairy, I realised that most of this unease was because I had to create an exhibition in a world I was no longer part of...


Alien world 

The world beyond my home and garden is a place I now so rarely inhibit. I am pretty much housebound. The world I am comfortable in and can navigate is that inside my home with the support of my carers/PA, and in cyberspace which I can visit in my own time. Having to think about the practicalities of an exhibition in a town half an hour away from here, in a space I have never seen, became something my brain could not comprehend. No matter how much my co-exhibitor does, there are still decisions I had to make. The logistic eluded me.

I had anticipated to just show older work based on Into the Light. Easy.  But people were commenting on how they would one day like to see an exhibition of my shadow images...  So I followed through on that. But, to be able to make my simple imagery taken on my phone suitable for printing required work I could no longer do. I decided to employ the skills of graphic designer Red Heaven Design. But even with that I still needed to make decisions on what, how, where, text, scale, quantity, etc etc etc. 

Together we created a limited edition of 100 accordion/concertina style poem booklets, a limited edition of 12,  A4 prints - to be shown framed at the exhibition, and available as unframed prints from my website. As well as a series of A5 postcards also from the same 12 images, with poem abstracts at the back. There will also be a large A1 print of the poem at the show. The poem publication was supported by an Artlinks Bursary.

The final visual edits were shared with me while I was very ill in bed. All a very surreal experience. 

Last exhibition of my work 

So, I have decided and gratefully accepted that this is my last involvement (at this scale) in an exhibition in a public space. I can not do this. Although you might say: ‘You did it’. Indeed. But it is all more that I can chew at present. I accept that my world is changing. I am ok with that. It is a simpler world in which I am comfortable. Because I feel this my last exhibition, I wanted my work to be shown in the best possible way.

I joked to a friend the other day ‘if people want to own a piece of my work they better buy something soon as this is the last exhibition’. He thought it to be a good tagline.

So, if you like to own my work please visit our exhibition in Fermoy, Co. Cork which is on from the 4th October till the 29th November, or visit the webpage for further details:  Ribbon of Light Exhibition

I do hope to see the work on display for myself before the first hour of opening. This is made possible by the kindness of my amazing carer/PA and a dear friend. If I get there we will make a little film. 

Full circle

A few days ago these words escaped my mind and mouth: “with Invisible Octopus my work is now complete.”

I can with all certainty say that this does not mean I will stop creating - I can’t - but all my 22 years of creative work to explore and explain my life with M.E. culminated to this very moment. I will continue to share my creative explorations via social media platforms, for sure.

Many, many thanks to all of you for continuing to join me on this incredible unplanned journey. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Shadow animation practitioners

As my explorations into all things shadow puppetry and silhouette art continues, I asked Emma Windsor (from Puppet place, who created the amazing podcast from our conversation about ‘Invisible Octopus’) if she would have any information on making a light-box for use in animation.
The obvious first choice is the art of Lotte Reiniger.  My question led us both on an exciting creative journey of discovery. To make sure this research won’t go to ‘waste’, here are the links and Emma’s thoughts behind it.

Thanks Emma!

Lotte Reiniger animating two cut-out figures
Credit: BFI National Archive
See great article

All following text is by Emma Windsor, forwarded to me by messenger.

Looking into shadow animation is really interesting as it could be considered as a window into the history of the moving image itself!  Grand statement to make I know, but shadow puppet animation is perhaps the oldest forms of moving image.  Shadow puppet theatre likely originated in Central Asia-China or in India in the 1st millennium BCE, and could be considered a direct prelude to cinema due to use of light and projection to create images, alongside live music, dialogue from the puppeteers and of course a gripping storyline.  However, it wasn’t until the advent of film in the early twentieth century that shadow animation as we understand it today was born.

One of the earliest and best known pioneering artist in shadow animation is Lotte Reiniger, who began making stop motion shadow cut out films in 1918, and whose works continue to delight audiences and influence artists.  Notable artists have also experimented with related techniques such as sand-on-glass, or have taken cut-out animation to extraordinary places by pushing the boundaries of the available technology or just being rather, well, silly.  Today, cut-out continues to be used both traditionally and digitally –with digital cut-out being one of the most widespread techniques in creating animation in the industry.

Shadow animation over lightbox 

I have a look for videos that might be helpful with regards to shadow animation over lightbox.  There's not a great deal specifically on that topic, as you say, which is surprising in some respects, but here are a few links that might be useful/interesting:

  • The Art of Lotte Reiniger Documentary: This was the first thing that sprung to mind when you asked about shadow work as she is probably the most well known artist in this field, and was an incredibly skilled practitioner.  You may have already seen this, but if not then it's a real gem of a documentary.  There are clips on YouTube, but I have found the full length version on Dailymotion.  Her use of her best dinning table made me smile a lot!
  • Excerpt from a Masterclass with Caroline Leaf Not paper cut-out, but same principle working with sand on glass.  Caroline Leaf is another female role model for me, working in paint & sand on glass, and also experimenting with scratching directly onto film stock.  I found this interesting as you can watch her process as she's doing it.
  • I then thought it terms of process, that looking at cut-out animation in general might be useful, as even though it's not shadow based work, the basic process is of course the same.  First artist that sprang to mind is Yuri Norstein, in particular 'The Hedgehog & The Fog' (1975) which is an incredible film technically and has a number of silhouette (or near silhouette) sequences in it.
  • There's another masterclass on YouTube with Norstein demonstrating some of the techniques.  I haven't watched all of that yet (and it is quite long, plus he's working through a translator but it is v. interesting).
  • Then I thought about a short documentary I'd seen with a young Terry Gilliam, which is good fun to watch. I think what I appreciate about Gilliam's early work - other than the visual surrealism) is his approach to movement.  Quite basic sometimes, but I think that adds to the humour. I also appreciate his willingness to use what's around him.
  • And (finally) I came across this short from a contemporary paper based animator who I didn't know about before, Brandon Ray, which I thought might be useful as he talks about his set-up with rostrum and multiplane about halfway through

Emma Windsor,  Puppet Place, Bristol, UK 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Interpreting the art of Corina Duyn

Over the past few months I had the fortune to have my creative work interpreted by fellow artists, writers, and a musician: Michael Harding, Nuala O’Conner, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy,  Emma Windsor and Jeroen Niesten. As well having my work highlighted in an 'Meet the Artist’ interview on Arts & Disability Ireland, and Instagram takeover of their page.

One of my Shadow images reflecting on Life with M.E.

It is a true honour to have others share their vision on my work related to M.E. Aside from this I am also being asked to give talks about my work - Like in Chile in May and for an international course in July, and also privately via Zoom. Through all of this I remain part of the outside world, while rarely making an actual appearance outside my gate.

Thank you all.

* Reflections on ME through Puppetry:

Image of podcast

In February I had a long Skype conversation with Emma Windsor from Puppet Place in Bristol about my work on ‘Invisible Octopus’.  Due to Covid-19 the resulting podcast didn’t come about until May. 

Around the same time Arts & Disability Ireland invited me to showcase my work on their website under the ‘Meet the Artist’ series.  They also invited me to take over their Instagram account for 3 days - 12 posts to share my work, and thoughts behind it.

A friend from my primary school in Holland, Jeroen Niesten created a piece of guitar music to an abstract of my edited ‘Invisible Octopus’ Poem. He sang my words. Oh my goodness.

  • Click HERE for the (25 minute) podcast created by Emma Windsor of Puppet Place.

  • See HERE to read the ‘Meet the Artist’ Profile on Arts & Disability Ireland
  • See HERE , and the following 12 posts on Arts & Disability Instagram page
  • See HERE for the music and voice by Jeroen Niesten (1.5 min) ‘Short Flight’ with my lyrics and shadow images.

12 posts on Arts & Disability Instagram page
Artist takeover

Shadow image by Corina Duyn
Attacked by ‘Invisible Octopus’
Still from video Image ©  Corina Duyn 2020

* Reflections on ME through poetry

As part of this year’s ME Awareness Day in May, organised by ME Advocates Ireland  which for obvious reasons can only proceed online, weI asked three Irish writers to reflect on my poems from Into the Light  

Michael Harding, Sr.Stan and Nuala O’Connor reflected on my writing and life life with M.E., the Covid-19 situation and hoping to ‘not be left behind’ after life turns to some normality for the majority of people.

  • Click HERE for a short  5 minute compilation video with contributions by Michael Harding, Sr. Stan and Nuala O’Connor.
    • For individual recording, please see links below the images

Michael Harding on ME Awareness Day

Writer and Poet Nuala O’Connor

Click HERE for some very thoughtful reflections on ME and Corina’s poetry by visionary, 
and author Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy (Sr. Stan)

Friday, July 10, 2020

From paper design to wood laser cuts

 Click HERE to watch (2 minute) video on Vimeo 

I have the pleasure to work with my nephew Adrian Duyn on the images for my shadow puppetry project. The paper birds, tree, wheelchair, and images of me, are fragile in their paper form. I asked Adrian to make some of them out of wood, cut with his CO2 laser engraver/cutter machine. See his description below on the process involved, and watch the 2 minute video HERE . The wooden pieces are easier for me to pick up, and are much more sturdy. We were both amazed and delighted the very fine detail of my designs were possible with this technology.

Of course this laser cutting and engraving is not just for imagery for shadow puppetry. Contact Adrian at for enquiries on what is required to submit your designs for laser cut pieces. 

Process of laser cutting/ engraving

By Adrian Duyn. Contact: 
Laser cutting in progress (still from video

Having received the various black and white contrast scans, I digitally image trace the outlined profiles, making sure to include even the smallest of details. I then transfer the new files to the editing software on the computer, which is attached to the C02 laser engraver/ cutter machine, to make final adjustments and confirm the sizes required. 
A CO2 engraver/ cutter uses a water cooled - gas filled tube and various mirrors. The mirrors focus and guide the high power laser beam onto one specific spot. From there the laser beam bounced around in different directions across the machine by angled mirrors, focusing down on the machine bed.
For Corina Duyn’s shadow images I selected a 3mm wooden sheet material for the cutting. It would be structurally sound once cut into the required shapes. Placing the material flat onto the engraver machine bed, I then focused the distance of the laser beam to achieve a pin point accurate cut.
The machine has two main functions – engraving and cutting. Engraving is the process of taking off a minimum top layer of the materials, with the machine making numerous passes to achieve this. Cutting is a constant beam of laser following shapes or lines. Many different effects can be reached by altering the two main inputs - power and speed. 
Once a test run is complete, I start the cutting. The engraver software chooses which pieces to cut and in what sequence, moving from area to area to allow the recently cut pieces to cool down as not to distort the material. 
Once complete, I simply lift and shake the sheet material and the individual pieces fall out. 
Fascinating to see these pieces coming to life in Corina’s work, with stunning result. A pleasure to be a small part of it. 

Laser cutting in process (still from video)

Monday, June 22, 2020

A time of creative change

From printed to animated poem...

Shadow puppetry of woman (Corina) sitting under a tree With a bird on her knee, an octopus lurking on the far right, representing illness M.E.
Exploring shadow puppetry

At the start of March I was awarded a bursary from Artlinks to cover the ‘artist fee’ (for 25 hours research and creative time). On completion of the project, which was to edit the Invisible Octopus’ poem with guidance from poet Dolores Ronayne, create illustrations from shadow puppetry, and work with graphic designer David Murphy to publish a very limited edition hard cover poetry book, of which two copies were requested by the arts funding body.

However. Life has changed dramatically since the awarding of the artist fee from Artlinks. Covid-19 disrupted all of our lives. Nothing is as it was. Many people suddenly found themselves housebound. For me this is not a new phenomenon as I have experienced years of being housebound at various degrees during the past two decades of illness. During the past two years this is becoming more prevalent again. One of the changes I see as a result of the pandemic is how the arts is now made more accessible in the virtual world. This is welcome news for people like myself. A very interesting development, of which I like to be a part of.


My 'Invisible Octopus’ project came about from a mentoring opportunity with Dr. Emma Fisher, funded by Arts and Disability Ireland Connect Scheme. Throughout a six month period I explored how to convey the reality of life with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) through puppetry. The aim was to develop a film script for my existing puppets. We also explored more accessible forms of puppetry as I experienced an ever increasing inability to create or hold my marionette puppets. Talking about shadow puppetry brought about the memory of a story I wrote about an invisible octopus. The Octopus became the story for my film. With the help of a PA I created a glove puppet octopus. 
Fabric octopus puppet lying on the chest of a girl puppet in a puppet hospital bed
‘Invisible Octopus’ (M.E.) taking my voice away

The 'Invisible Octopus’ became a poignant way to portray the invisibility to society and medics of the ME community, which is a way is a worldwide community of hermits. We are too often hidden from the world for people to truly understand what our lives are like.

I sadly had to concede towards the end of the mentoring time that making the short film was outside of my present physical ability. What I could develop was the poem I had written instead of dialogue in the film. As shadow puppetry proved to be a very accessible art form for me, I endeavoured to explore this further.

Changing spaces

During the past few months I’ve made the big steps to change my creative spaces. All with the amazing support of my PA and carer, and a bit on the side from friends (within the covid-19 social distancing rules). My garden studio is now a place of rest. And perhaps most significantly, I now have full and easy access to my overhead projector to create the shadow imagery to tell of my challenges, hopes and desires.  
My physical boundaries have closed in even more as I have had some further challenges to my health. Yet at the same time my world has expanded way beyond the boundaries of my home on a different dimension - through the arts! 

During the past month Arts and Disability Ireland published a 'Meet the Artist’ profile on their website. This will be followed by a three day 'Instagram Takeover’ where my work will be highlighted on their page over 12 posts. This will start on Wednesday 24th June. A huge honour. 
Also a podcast (with images) from an interview I had with Emma Windsor from Puppet Place (Bristol-UK) about 'Invisible Octopus’ was released on various social media platforms as well as through their newsletter.
RTE’s Nationwide re-broadcasted the segment (2018) featuring my puppetry work 

Embracing the creative flow

All this exposure and beautiful comments from friends and strangers, as well as having my space adapted for this new phase brought me back to creating, albeit in a yet again altered way. But there is always a way!

My aim for the Artlinks Bursary was to develop the poem and create illustrations from shadow puppetry images. I had requested funding to work with a graphic designer to create the book. The awarded bursary did not cover this cost, nor the printing of the book. Unfortunately, over the past two years working for long periods on computer is no longer an option for me. For the past few months I am using an iPad to do my writing. I am also exploring the use of photography and film editing on this new much more accessible digital aid. It is easier for me to handle, although I realise now, is that it is not quite suitable to design a book. The bursary does cover my artist fee - time to explore my work further. And for this I am hugely grateful.

I started cutting out tiny paper images of myself. I placed them with my earlier cut out paper birds, the tree in my garden, houses, and of course the Octopus. I make ‘collages’ with them on the overhead projector. I added natural materials like leaves and flowers. Some of my images are now cut out of wood by my nephew Adrian via laser cutter. I started to share these explorations on my Facebook page and later on instagram. The responses were phenomenal, even from the serious shadow puppetry practitioners. I was made aware that the intricacies of my designs spoke to so many. One comment: “Shadow puppetry creates and almost simplistic viewing therefor more focus goes into seeing and feeling it. It creates a wealth of atmosphere which is helped by the simple black and white projection. It is a very powerful art form (Fiona Leishman).

For me it has several layers of power. 
I am able to access this art without needing a PA to help me, like I now require with almost every other task. I am able to cut the paper images while lying in my recliner. The projector is set up in such a way that I can access it independently, the images reflected on the opposite wall. Even a few minutes of ‘play’ brings about stunning results. It is a hugely accessible art form.
Also I find that my shadow images are very close to the power of poetry. The less is shown, the stronger the story. It leaves the viewer/reader make up their own interpretation.

An animated poem - a ‘virtual’ book

What I have come to accept in the past few weeks is that this Artist’s time brought about a change in my personal perception of my work and life. I was given the opportunity to explore. And with this came a shift in my work. Coupled with the huge responses to my images (the first post with shadow images was seem by over 6000 people on my facebook page), accepting the decline in me health, as well as observing the shift to a more virtual (art) world, I have decided to publish my poem as a short animation - a virtual book.
This shift means I can do all the work myself. Although I very much love a physical book... a book needs to be designed, printed, launched and sold. With the further health challenges, none of these are options right now. I am rarely able to leave my home. The exhibition in September, which was the date for a launch (as per application) has due to Covid-19 been postponed.
I believe that creating a ‘virtual book’ in the form of shadow animation is following on the strong interest in my recent work, and the way the post-covid world is heading. There is an immediacy in this way of presenting my work and is accessible to many more people than just a few who would have a copy of an actual book.

For me also, having spend a few weeks more or less in bed where my creative brain does not stop, it is wonderful to have a way forward with my art again. It is immensely helpful to have a focus. A focus away from the reality of increasing disability, a focus on fun, on exploring, even if the actual creative time is less than an hour spread out over a whole day. Some part of my day is also used to do further research into all things puppet - disabilty and shadows...
“This work is accessible all round. For me as the creator and for my audience.”
As part of this new departure I have started experimenting with portraying part of the words of the poem onto the projector, and did the first few second of animation. (Lots to learn!) 

I look forward to completing this project over the coming months. Poet Dolores Ronayne will help me with editing the poem over the coming weeks.
Unless the project undergoes an other metamorphosis (always possible... ) I intend to forward two CD’s with the finished animated 'virtual’ poem as well as a printed version of the poem to the funding body. With huge thanks to Artlinks, and ALL of YOU whom have welcomed my new work with such enthusiasm. 
My deepest gratitude for that. To get me back to creating again, embracing change, in life and art.


Supported by Artlinks and Waterford County Council