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.


Material Connections

April 14, 2013


This week’s meetings with Hermione Allsopp (my partner in the Pistols and Pollinators project) took us to St Leonards, Eastbourne and London. We were able to visit each other in our private workspaces – Hermione’s studio and my UCL office – and also to explore one of the areas of artists’ practice in which we are both interested – the organisation of individual objects to form an artwork – as in Hermione’s piece ‘Field of Dreams‘, on show at the Towner in Eastbourne as part of the East Sussex Open 2013 (website banner above).

Accident & Emergence have been tweeting #artistswhousetext as part of #PandP and this is great in highlighting one aspect of the synergies between poets and artists. I’d suggest that work like ‘Field’ is at the nexus of poetry and art in a different way, as it works on the subliminal and subjective meanings of things – what they mean to the artist; what they mean in conjunction with each other; what they mean to each of us who view them. One of the signs that a poem is working well is that it communicates the emotion / ideas of the poet but invites the reader / audience in to tell their own stories. Arrangements like ‘Field’ perform in the same way, and to that extent are poetic – arguably material poems as well as art.

I’m interested in such arrangements as an extension of the cabinets of curiosity phenomenon. There’s a fantastic history of such arrangements, and one of the many half-written articles on my MacBook presents these as a form of extended mind – the concept that the mind is not entirely internal, but exists in the interaction between the human brain and the external world. We see this in the operation of marginalia and, I will argue one day soon in an academic journal, also in the physical arrangement of possessions in cabinets and, in the case of artists working in this area, in their artworks.

Such arrangements are one element of Hermione’s practice, as described publicly in her artist’s statement:

I make sculptural work by collecting objects and furniture and re-creating them into new forms or compositions.  My use of discarded domestic objects reflects on the interior, the past and memory.  Through the choice of objects, and the techniques I employ, I intend to explore the boundary between repulsion and attraction and ideas of taste.   As sculpture, these re-done, or un-done-up objects begin to exist as something else and raise questions about the value and material nature of every day objects through display.   It is also my intention to reflect on wider topics related to consumerism, psychological and physical interiors and notions of desire.

One of the ways in which Hermione and I are working together is looking at the arrangement of objects, and we have been fortunate enough to have a proposal accepted for the Institute of Making‘s workshop on Friday:

Material Connections and the Extended Mind
Over tea come and share some of the objects that have caught your attention with artist Hermione Allsopp and Lecturer in Information Studies Anne Welsh. Grab a maximum of 5 objects from the shelves and share your story about why you are drawn to them and how you would like to arrange and rearrange them together.

Members of the Institute are drawn from all over UCL and we are really excited to see what some of them make from the objects in the Materials Library. Our meeting with the Institute this week was wonderful, sharing with us stories behind their collections of tuning forks and spoons; the reasons why a cube of material gives more points of comparison than a traditional swatch; and the way in which a lead bell can be made to ring when frozen. We’re looking forward to hearing stories from workshop participants on Friday.


Image: East Sussex Open banner from Towner website, with Hermione Allsopp’s ‘Field of Dreams’ in foreground right.


Pistols and Pollinators: Getting Involved

April 5, 2013

Inside the AlbertBetween now and mid-May a group of artists and poets brought together by Accident & Emergence and Katrina Naomi are creating work for an exhibition at the Albert 21-16 May 2013.

I’m lucky to be working with artist Hermione Allsopp. At the moment we are exploring different ways to maximise the Albert’s space. Hermione visited the rooms we’ll be using and took some photos so we can start to think ourselves into the environment. It’s really exciting to be working with an artist who has experience creating installations.

It would be really lovely to see some of you at the exhibition, and even lovelier if you would consider contributing as little as £5 towards the running costs. Accidents and Emergence have set up a wefund page with the aim of breaking even.

Whether or not you donate, you can see the list of project participants on the A&E website and follow developments on the project blog.

Happy Friday, everyone!


Image: inside the Albert. Hermione Allsopp, phone snap, used with permission


Pistols and Pollinators 2013

March 8, 2013

Albert This week got off to a busy start, heading over to North London’s Albert Project on Sunday morning for the start of Accident & Emergence’s project Pistols & Pollinators 2013.

It’s a really exciting premise – fifteen artists are paired with fifteen poets to create something (anything – the choice is ours) that will be exhibited in May. A&E coordinated the first PandP in 2010, and some of the resulting artwork can be seen on their website.

Sunday’s event was centered around getting to know each other, and at the end of the day our pairs were announced. I’m really pleased to be working with Hermione Allsopp, whose website shows the range of her work. I’m looking forward to having fun, and also to pushing the boundaries of my writing process by being involved from the start of an artwork, as opposed to simply writing from it. Having met everyone on Sunday, I’m also looking forward to seeing what they make. If you’re curious about that too, keep an eye on the Pistols & Pollinators blog and on twitter #PandP (which also includes some tweets about my favourite novel, Pride and Prejudice).

Many thanks to Katrina Naomi and Accident & Emergence for asking me to take part.


Image: Arriving at the Albert on Sunday morning


Edward Gorey Google Doodle

February 22, 2013

Dorey Google Doodle

Quite late in the day to be using Google for the first time, but what a lovely surprise: Google Doodle for the illustrator Edward Gorey. Nice article in the Guardian about it, too.


Book Art Bookshop

December 2, 2012

BooksThe first in an occasional series on book-buying (although I’ll retrospectively tag previous book-buying posts in case you want to click through to them).

On Friday I finally made it along to the Book Art Bookshop, near Old Street tube station, for an event featuring Tom Phillips, the genius behind The Humument. For those not familiar with the history of this altered text, there’s a brief summary on its website, as well as the introduction to the new fifth edition (Thames & Hudson, 2012).

I’ve been meaning to get along to the shop for some time now, but its advertised small size combined with my own self-awareness of my complete absence of a sense of direction, even in parts of London I know well (and Old Street was my local station when I worked at Moorfields, remember), had deterred me from doing so. I’d wanted to go to Nancy Campbell’s event there, but work commitments had prevented me from doing so, and I’m really grateful to Nancy for advertising the Tom Phillips event on her facebook, otherwise, in this busy term, it might have escaped my notice.

What a FABULOUS shop. It is everything a bookshop should be: beautiful, quirky and stuffed to the rafters with a selection of stock that is clearly individually-selected by its owner: the ‘eclecticism’ apparent at first glance was soon revealed to be an external expression of Tanya Peixoto‘s personality, as the stock of every truly specialist shop should be.

In an artistic mix of open and glass-fronted bookcases and laid out on tables nestle a wide range of wares – everything from signed first editions and mass-produced art books to experimental pieces and zines (cave, Wiggly Mittens – only go there with a firm budget imposed on yourself as I did for danger to bank balance lurks within). There’s also a goodly range of “pocket money items” – badges, magnets, stickers etc. – and a range of bags from plain paper, through hand-decorated to printed canvas totes.

The window display is the exhibition space, with, until 31 December, Tom Phillips’ work in residence, and new exhibitions and opportunities to meet artists posted on the shop’s events page. There’s also a facebook page, as well as Tanya’s twitterfeed, and I can’t finish without mentioning the wonderful blog, which first drew my attention to the shop’s existence and which, like the shop, is full of beautiful glimpses of beautiful books and book arts.

If you like small press poetry, zines and / or artist’s books – or, to be honest, if you just like beautiful books in general, and if you have anything from £1 upwards to spend on your collection or gifts for friends, the Book Art Bookshop is the ideal place to shop. The photo at the top of this blog post shows my haul on Friday – a copy of The Humument which Tom Phillips graciously signed “to the UCL bibliography students” (as although it’s my own copy I bought it specifically for teaching); two copies of a Les Coleman print which I can’t describe much here as one is intended as a Christmas gift for a friend; and Stephen Emmerson’s Pharmacopoetics (pill poems to be swallowed with a glass of water), which really is worth a blog post of its own, and which will also be used in teaching (although it is my private copy).

Regular readers know that I rarely take part in #FF (twitter’s ‘Follow Friday’ meme), but I simply had to indulge this week: