documentation from Another Athens exhibition, Interview Room 11

Now that Interview Room 11 is no longer in its gloriously brutal concrete former location at Argyle House in Edinburgh’s West Port, it’s nice to look back and see documentation of what was achieved during its stay.

One of the exhibitions I was invited to be part of, in this case by Nicky Melville, was the 2014 Another Athens exhibition. This film on Vimeo from Suzanne van der Lingen interviews its curators: Nicky Melville, Mirja Koponen and Gerry Smith, and shows visual material from the exhibition.

The ambitious project was pretty global in its reach and included a one day symposium. There was an official pairing with the SNEHTA art space in Athens.

 

My involvement was to provide text pieces, two in collaboration with Colin Herd, two on my own, for display in the space. We were asked to provide an original piece and to respond to a text from one of the Athens writers who were paired with us on the project. The texts were displayed beautifully with pins on two opposite gallery walls. They were unidentified by author, so it was left to the view to play with attributions to Athens or to Edinburgh authors, and they were a variety of sizes, so looked great.

The request for our original pieces was framed in the set of instructions below:

Edinburgh is The Athens of the North. This project will show Another Athens, a composite city constructed from depictions of both Athens and Edinburgh. The composite city will be based upon the memories and personal experiences of its inhabitants.

You should write about an event or situation which says something about your own “Athens”.

The text should fit on one side of A4 paper.

The city should be referred to as Another Athens.

Aside from that, the style and content is up to the writer.

I loved thinking about composite cities, cities of possibility. And in my piece I was also thinking about cities in their different historical moments, with memory and trace as important cues for how we navigate and negotiate them. The project was happening at the time of the Scottish Independence Referendum, so had resonance with large scale imaginings of that sort. I was very engaged with Emily Dickinson’s work at the time, so my piece of writing quotes her only poem to explicitly name Athens. I also went to Greek poet Cavafy for material to work with. I loved his homoerotic poems when I was younger, and I enjoyed mapping personal past erotic experience into this flickering virtual city the project was allowing me to conjure while mapping Cavafy’s geographical concerns about his identity as an Alexandrian Greek onto Edinburgh’s very present politics.

Here’s the piece I compiled in its entirety.

Lad of Athens Iain Morrison

More information can be found about the exhibition here.

 

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The Number Shop: artspace & studios

Spotted on facebook earlier a nice SummerhallTV video of a good artspace close to where I live on Edinburgh’s Southside. Artist Alistair Grant is the self-starter director, and he talks candidly about his motivations and tactics in wresting a pretty extraordinary empty space from the council. It’s the way many great things start!

I’ve enjoyed The Number Shop exhibitions, and it’s a definite plus having interesting spaces for artists to use in Edinburgh (as Alistair says in the video) and even better when they’re five minutes away from where you live….

Here’s the video. I recommend finding them on facebook and trying to get along to one of their openings – welcoming and civilised affairs!

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/121145636″>Alistair Grant : The Number Shop</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/summerhalltv”>arts-news</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Another Athens: exhibition and events

I’m one of the crew of writers and artists who are part of the Another Athens project opening at Forest Centre+. Glad to be active back in the space there, after the 2013 April residency and the Warm Up exhibition last winter.

The exhibition opening is on Friday (6–8pm) but it’s open already from tomorrow 4–7pm. There are online elements coming and a symposium too.

Invitation to the opening is here  and general information about it all is here.

Thanks to the organising forces for getting me involved. A highlight of the process for me so far was making a sound-piece in collaboration with my estimable friend Colin Herd during over an hour’s worth of perfectly mixed business and pleasure. Come hear the results. No trailer this time, you just have to come check it out. Serious.

 

Inspiration from Allen Ginsberg: Sutras

Hello one and all, well, at least one.

I’m writing at the moment, working on a new poem called Birthday Sutra for a reading on the eve of my 35th birthday (which seems a good time to sum) at the Sutton Gallery in Edinburgh. The event is listed here, and starts at 7pm on 21st May, 2014.

Here’s the first para of current Wikipedia article on Sutra, to give an idea of what my poem form might be:
‘A sutra (Sanskritसूत्रPālisuttaArdhamagadhisūya) is an aphorism or a collection of aphorisms in the form of a manual or, more broadly, a text in Hinduismor Buddhism. Literally it means a thread or line that holds things together and is derived from the verbal root siv-, meaning to sew’

The inspiration for my poem is loosely Allen Ginsberg and his oracular ‘sutra’ poems.  Here’s his Wichita Vortex Sutra text, and also a composition version of it with Philip Glass at the piano. May it fire up my imagination to similarly visionary heights!

http://mythofamerica.tumblr.com/post/9068001226/wichita-vortex-sutra

Subject Index: Day 3 (and a bit of overspill!)

I’m not normally someone who has time for the easy contention that Emily Dickinson was obsessed by death, but I have to say I was feeling a little swamped by all the death/dead/dying poems in this particular stretch. There was a real sense of the walls closing in.

I read from 561 to 750, and perhaps the strongest sense I had was of ED trying to make sense of her (to what extent self-chosen?) isolation.

Poem 640 felt very key. It was long for her, 12 stanzas. In a series of skewed reasonings, she outlines what is almost a manifesto for living alone, without a loved one. It’s reminiscent of Donne’s metaphyisical conceits, it recalls courtly love sonnets too in its cool restraint. The ending points up a self-cannibalising attitude which frightened me in its resolve to subsist on: ‘that white sustenance – Despair –’.

Hard on its heels in the Johnson edition, poem 642 extends the theme by imagining a way of  isolating herself from emotionally unsustainable interactions even further by divorcing oneself from oneself – an idea which crops up in several of the poems in this period, often to striking repetitious effect. This poem has one of those striking first lines that can send you back and forth from the index of first lines in frenzies of glutting: ‘Me from Myself – to banish – ‘.

So Day 3 was an intense day. Also there were lots of bodily images of arteries, sinew and blood, like in the poem on Autumn, 656. Things got pretty dark.

Sometimes Emily’s voice surprises you in its directness. In 614 I found myself meeting her unexpected full stare in the lines, ‘Many Things – are fruitless – / ‘Tis a Baffling Earth –’

The day’s readings were also heightened by the literally chill wind blowing through the Forest Centre Plus space, with its door propped open in the hope of visitors. It was the first time I had read to a completely empty foyer at times: a very different experience of aloneness. The plastic sheets veiling my interview booth were flapping around in a veritable gale, so the visitors on the other side would have been seeing a series of new angles on my physical presence as the sheets flapped up to reveal them.

I may have looked white and ghostly but fighting the persistent death in this stretch were poems presenting a relentless resurfacing of life. There was a gaspingly visceral one about nearly drowning three times, 598. And in 646, she very strikingly seems nearly to talk herself out of solitude, in what feels like a keenly felt struggle between the temptation to allow herself ‘bliss’ and the opposing sense that it’s ‘beyond her limit to conceive’. I love the last wistful lines, floating with their sense of unrealised social or romantic possibility ‘ What Plenty – it would be – / Had all my Life but been Mistake / Just rectified – in Thee’.

Just Wow.

There are some interesting poems concerning events contemporary to her life. We remember in 596 that she is living through the American Civil War. The poet as chronicler is not an aspect of Emily Dickinson that’s very present in the popular imagination.

I have a tranche of new words learned too: thill, thew, attar and dimities. Thank you Emily Dickinson Lexicon. I got more confident too in words that she uses in a certain way which had confused me before: ‘pod’ I gather means ‘bud’, but weirdly, in a secondary definition, also means ‘grave’ or ‘sepulcher’ which might explain a fondness ED has for using it.

And dotted about this section there were some stellar Emily Dickinson famous favourites which gave succour to me when I got to them. The ones you know well appear like footholds in a reading of this sort, helping you out just when your head’s starting to swim with the vertigo of the experience.  Poem 569,  ‘I reckon – when I count at all – / First – Poets –Then the Sun –’ and poem 585 about the steam train, had this effect. I had a new awareness now in the context of reading through all the poems that this steam train one resonates with others showing her keen interest in science. Poem 630 is one of these, expounding on electricity. The poem compares electricity’s presence in thunder storms and it’s tamed use in telegraph wires. So Emily can present surprises in the breadth and erudition of her reference.

I’m going to end this post by sharing the poem I stopped at, Johnson number 750 because it seemed to offer a shaft of hope out of the death fog. It feels much more balanced, calmer, than the self-denying conviction in the likes of the un-nerving 640 I mentioned earlier in the post. If you trust Johnson’s chronology, 750 was written the year after 640, so I’m hoping that things might be a bit less beclouded in the next stage of readings. Enjoy it’s assured linking of the natural processes observed in the growth of plants to an imputed unconscious development of the human.

Growth of Man — like Growth of Nature —
Gravitates within —
Atmosphere, and Sun endorse it —
But it stir — alone —

Each — its difficult Ideal
Must achieve — Itself —
Through the solitary prowess
Of a Silent Life —

Effort — is the sole condition —
Patience of Itself —
Patience of opposing forces —
And intact Belief —

Looking on — is the Department
Of its Audience —
But Transaction — is assisted
By no Countenance —

Note on Subject Index from Luke Allan

We’re halfway through my attempt to read all of Emily Dickinson’s poems at Forest Centre Plus. Tomorrow, Monday 29th April,  there’s just one open session from 12-2pm. Hope some of you can make it.

I got this generous response from Luke Allan via facebook after last Monday’s reading. Am hoping he doesn’t mind my sharing it here.  Thank you Mr Allan.

‘Deeply impressed by Iain Morrison’s Subject Index, for which he’s reading the complete poems of Emily Dickinson in what looks like a cross between an abandoned trainstation ticketing office and a wartime interrogation booth (and in a sense the text’s being used in both ways) but which I’m told is in fact a defunct Job Centre office. I highly recommend going along for a half an hour or an hour – or more – and just sitting and listening, and indeed watching: catching glimpses of his sleeve or mouth or eye through the window which has been almost completely covered with (I believe) those translucent plastic wallets people in offices use for holding important documents, which actually gives the overall effect of watching someone through the frosted glass of their bathroom window, but from very close up, as if on a ladder. (The bathroom being another suitable correlative for the space – the idea of expulsion, yes, but also the idea of privacy, isolation.) When I got there I found Lila Matsumoto kind of hunched forward on a chair just outside the booth, in her own world, and as I sat down next to her it felt like sitting down next to someone in a hospital waiting area in the dead of night. When she looked up and saw me she said, ‘you can go closer,’ and pointed at the little stool right by the window of the booth, and then said, ‘you should’. It was excitingly awkward to have Ian reading right next to my face but with him unable to recognise me. He had this map on the wall, with words like ‘town’ and ‘woods’ written on in black marker, and then lots of numbers dotted apparently haphazardly around them. When he’d finished the current poem, he stood up and moved over to the wall with the map, and added a number next to one of the words, linking the poem to a location in Dickinson’s life, making his own Morrisonian-Dickinsonian ‘subject index’. The whole thing’s made me realise that my fondness for brief, glimpsey work is balanced by this kind of excitement for the intensely protracted; and Ian’s performance does both things at once, letting the two timescales near and spark. Hope I manage to catch some more of it before it ends on Mon 6th. I think he said he’s up to poem 510 (of c. 1700), so there’s plenty Dickinson left in him.’

Forest performance planning, with help from Richard Taylor

 

Was over the road at Forest Centre Plus tonight, looking at spaces for my Emily Dickinson all-poems readings. My pal, the artist Richard Taylor was helping me check out a former consultation room, complete with security glass, which is looking very promising. The idea would be that the public – that’s you! – could come and listen to me reading the poems from the other side of the glass. Here’s Richard with some additional plastic in front of his face.

Emily space RT

I might look at partially concealing myself as well as being behind the glass, which is why we were messing around with masking. The thought of Emily Dickinson keeping herself sealed in her room, is somewhere behind this idea. There’s a famous story, and I wonder if it’s true, that when her doctor came to examine her in her last illness, she only let him peer around the door from the hallway. I’m intrigued by a possible valency linking the sealedness of Emily D and the locked away parts of this dormant building.

And talking of Richard Taylor, earlier in the day, I enjoyed seeing his art work in a three-person show with Dickie Webb and Claudia de la Peña at Newhaven Station, in Edinburgh. Here’s me loving his work Paint By Leaf. It’s on till Friday if y’all get the chance to catch it.

Iain paint by leaf Richard Taylor

 

 

Steven Cox show

Yo. Was out and about at some of the art openings in Edinburgh tonight. Thought I’d say a word about Steven Cox’s painting show, which is on this weekend only at The Old Ambulance Depot (btw, the old ambulance depot is a great space in a secret courtyard run by a design agency I think. seems to be accessible to art students and early career artists, which makes it doubly valuable).

Steven showed paintings done on small canvases (+one bigger one), which all were more or less brown. But wait! Don’t be fooled into thinking that would be boring – they were great, and because he’d carefully controlled the different processes between each painting, I felt like he achieved a huge variety of expression within what seemed like an impossible constraint. The subtle patterning of paint and organic-seeming change and flow within and between the nicely-spaced-out canvases gave me the feeling of listening to different expressions of the same musical idea, like a book of fugues. I should also say I loved the titles. There was one called ‘Days of Being Wild’ which, when you looked at the brown-ness in front of you seemed incongruous, but then forced your brain to start making a connection between the words and the image. I found myself thinking about black-outs, things your eyes might see if opened in the dark, shapes forming that might be imagined or might be as much as you can see of the real, and also feelings. There’s also the other meaning of ‘wild’ present, as in nature, where the brown makes a more literal sense. It felt pretty rich. I’m lucky – it was also the second great painting show I’d seen that night after Serge Charchoune at The Talbot Rice Gallery.

 

Here are all the titles in Steven’s show for interest. I recommend getting down if you can: 11am-6pm tomorrow, Sunday and Monday.

 

Worlds Apart

Plough

Grounds

A Moveable Feast

The Younger

How Near How Far

Days of Being Wild

Roaming Wild Pastures

The Elder

Where It Belongs

 

Writing them all out just now, they made me think of the poem titles of Edwin Muir, the way they seem to sit in a mythic present, if such a thing is possible. I think the one in this picture might be ‘Roaming Wild Pastures’, but apologies if I’m wrong.