Archive for the ‘Art’ Category


Poetry From Art, Poetry With Art

April 29, 2013
Photo by Pascale Petit of the Tate Modern group working from Ebrahim El-Salahi's 'Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams'. Used with permission

Photo by Pascale Petit of the Tate Modern group working from Ebrahim El-Salahi’s ‘Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams’. Used with permission

One of the reasons I was excited to take part in the Pistols and Pollinators Project was that I work a lot from Art and I saw this as an opportunity to work with an artist. I’ve been really fortunate in being paired with Hermione Allsopp, as we both had exactly the same reaction to the project brief – we wanted to produce something together that was specific to the site of the installation. There are lots of other valid ways to interpret the brief – so it’s lucky that we had a similar attitude.

Over the last few years, as well as reacting to Art in exhibitions and from the web, I’ve attended Pascale Petit’s workshops at Tate Modern. These are extraordinary courses which allow participants to see exhibits after hours in the gallery and to take part in games and exercises Pascale has devised to encourage writing. One of the important skills in writing from Art is to take the piece or a part of it as a jumping off point – the poems that work well access something in the writer’s experience that is triggered by the art. So the finished poem isn’t a description of the art, and doesn’t necessarily represent the ideas the artist intended to convey in their piece.

Poets can agonise over when they should use “after” and when they shouldn’t. When are the images, ideas or structure provided by the artist so integral to the poem that they should be attributed in this way? For me, typical librarian-come-academic, it’s important to cite, but it’s also important not to mislead a reader of a poem. So it’s absolutely vital that my poem ‘Mappa’ (Tate Online Anthology 2012should be “after Alighiero Boetti” because so much of the imagery comes from his work and my experience viewing it for the first time. On the other hand, my poem ‘The Kiss’ (Envoi 160, November 2011, p. 34) contains nothing of Rodin’s artwork, but came out of a workshop exercise in which Pascale asked us to write about an important first kiss. 

Unsurprisingly, I see writing from Art as a kind of marginalia – the artist has created their work and the poet is responding to it, in much the same way that we respond to text in its margins … and then some of the marginalia grows into its own piece of writing, always owing something to its originating text. It’s a conversation in which the artist makes the opening statement and, unless the poem becomes very well-known, they may never be aware of the poet’s response.

In working with Hermione, the conversation is much more fluid and responsive. In the case of the particular piece on which we are working, sometimes one of us is “speaking” and sometimes the other, and we are listening and responding to each other, growing an artwork together. Right now, the work consists of structures in Hermione’s studio and drafts of text on my MacBook. The result will be a shared idea, poetry with Art, not poetry after it.


Image: Tate Poetry group working from art. Photo by Pascale Petit, used with permission.


Materials at the Centre

April 25, 2013

Last Friday, Hermione Allsopp and I had the chance to take part in a workshop at the Institute of Making. Entitled Materials at the Centre, it allowed participants opportunities both to discuss the materials available at the research centre (Institute) and also to discuss how materials are at the centre of their own practice.

I have a long-standing research interest in the materials and, indeed, the materiality of the Book, and it was great to engage with other researchers with related interests and to hear about research centred around different materials. In particular, it was lovely to watch and hear Hermione’s reactions to some of the experiences we encountered, and I asked her if I could interview her for a blog article here.

AW: As a sculptor, what sorts of objects attract your attention to become materials for your artwork?

Field of Dreams. Image used with permission.

Field of Dreams. Image used with permission.

HA: I mostly use objects that I collect from charity shops, often in conjunction with materials from the built environment (materials from interior space), or materials that relate to the constructs of display -so lights, mirrors, display structures etc. The objects I find to work with are things like ornaments and furniture and lampshades (objects from the interior).  This is related to an interest in objects and how they operate in our homes and lives and the value we place on them. My making is a kind of thinking through objects, but I often select objects for their form or material quality.

AW: We took part in three hands-on sessions. What were your take-home ideas from these (so far)?

HA: I was interested in the 3D printing and how it can be used to make dissolvable structures to implant in the body to aid healing and tissue or bone regrowth. Its interesting to see how relatively new technologies start to create possibilities and developments in different areas.  It also opens up dialogues about different ways of making and what it means today.

AW: Did you find out about any new materials, either in the hands-on sessions, the talks, or just looking at the Materials Library?

HA: Yes, I was very interested in Sugru (a self setting rubber), which was mentioned rather than demonstrated. It is a material that has been designed to mend things, a substance that you can sculpt to replace a broken part or solve a problem by making, it has possibilities.

The talk on plastics and their use in art works was very interesting and relevant. I use expanding filler and foam so it was fascinating to see how these things degrade over time and the problems it causes with displaying works. The demo of polyurethane foam was also very exciting as it’s not something i’ve worked with in that form. It started as a gloopy liquid which was stirred vigorously and like the magic porridge pot of children’s stories it began to grown and foam into a lava like foaming mass that cured hard in minutes.

During our first visit to The Library of Materials we saw someone’s experiment with mylar, which we were told is sometimes called “the shiniest aluminium foil in the world” – it’s a polyester film.  As i am currently working with mirrored surfaces and exploring possibilities for our Pistols and Pollinators project installation this was inspiring – the results will be in our piece.

AW: In his summary comments, Philip Ball touched briefly on the difference that working with our hands makes to our understanding of the things we are making. As someone who works conceptually and through making, do you want to share some of your thoughts on this?

Cornucopia Cloud. Image used with permission

Cornucopia Cloud. Image used with permission

HA:Yes, the idea of thinking through things and thinking through making is very important in my work.  My work really develops through process.  The things I work with often have a kind of logical way they fit together. I work both with these logics and against them. The objects I use become elements for making. For example, in Field of Dreams many of the objects are stacked but in a piece like Cornucopia Cloud the objects are arranged and massed together with expanding filler, producing a form that is also a kind of anti-form.  But in both works the materials somewhat dictate the structures and having hands on contact with with the material is everything.  I also think that taking things apart and exposing materials or un-making and remaking is important. Getting your hands on stuff and making does aid understanding of things and the development of concepts or ideas often comes retrospectively.  When I work, I think I am having a kind of dialogue with objects and materials.

AW: Finally, is there anything else that struck you on Friday that you would like to share here?

HA: Just that it is amazing that there is somewhere you can go and find out about things, materials and their properties. The library is a really valuable resource.  I look forward to going to going to the public open events in the future.


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