Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing – Research Day

I’m just heading back up to Scotland after an excellent residency day with the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing at Southampton Uni. One of the many great aspects of my ArtfulScribe residency with John Hansard Gallery is the academic network it opens up to me. Today there was a research day organised by Dr Sarah Hayden around the prompt of ‘Immediacy’, and I thoroughly enjoyed introducing my work and sharing ideas with the academics and practitioners (and the somewhere-in-betweeners) who make up the centre’s community. Woodrow Kernohan and Ronda Gowland-Pryde from the John Hansard Gallery team were also presenting. I’m getting a clear sense of how the gallery benefits from its immersal in the active audience of a large university.

Here’s a link to the programme and then the text of the introduction I gave to my work before showing an Art Talk Notes film poem from last year:

Final Immediacy poster updated A3 January 16th (btw I loved being put in a section called Encounters Immediate and Mediated – thanks Sarah!)

Talking Art Talk Notes

I’m taking the opportunity of this Immediacy day to introduce the project that I’m doing as ArtfulScribe Writer in Residence at John Hansard Gallery over the next 10 months or so. The title I gave for today, Talking Art Talk Notes, refers to the title of the project I pitched in my interview, Art Talk Notes, which is a poem series I started in 2015 from a growing desire to use the writing I was collecting, in the form of notes, from the many art talks I was attending. I had been working in a visual arts organisation in Edinburgh for 5 years and was increasingly keen to draw the strands of my experience in that world together with my practice as a poet.

Through thinking about somatic writing (writers like C.A. Conrad especially and Lee Ann Brown) I started to see the notes I was taking when I was in a talk as not just notes about a talk but a record of embodied experience and one that might be exploitable to form a record of not only my learning/thinking on a given occasion, but also – maybe because I was nosey in my note-taking – as a record of the wider community’s learning, it’s narratives and experience around the same events.

How I connected this project with today’s Research Day title is through the idea of immediacy as presence – as something being the thing that’s immediately in front of you, and which you are grappling with even before you have had the chance to formulate what it is. I conceive of that happening in the trajectory of planning an event, where time compresses between the planning and post-event reflection stages into the actual moments of liveness, and whatever is happening, whatever is contained within that conjunction of time and space is what the event contains, and always will have contained, to be made sense of (foregrounded, countered or erased) in recollection and dissection, after, as they say, the event.

I have started writing the Southampton series of poems sitting in on meetings and background planning chats, and these Art Talk Notes are already skewed, in a way, from the model of my earlier ones, because of being produced currently behind the scenes, in an organisation that’s between venues. There’s a shift therefore onto the sites where discussion is happening, albeit tied to the art content that’s being planned and shown off-site.

At the moment I’m considering whether Art Talk Notes will remain the right title for this Southampton sequence. I wonder what my sequence of texts is ultimately going to rest on, in the sense of being rested upon. It may end up being called Art Notes or Gallery Notes or even John Hansard Gallery Notes.

I’m finding that the strategy of using stream-of-consciousness writing as a tool of interrogation means I am able to move fairly easily with the writing, as a sort of ultrasound with myself as the equipment, into most contexts. But I’m intent on seeing how I can keep a focus for this Southampton project as I was able to do in the earlier series. I think that previous coherence was achieved thanks to the fact there were other unifying factors holding the sequence together for me – namely my own subjective voice, belonging as it did to the networks out of whom these events were flowering; and my ability to choose a discrete path within the notes I was taking as there were plenty of them, indeed there were likely to continue being plenty of them, and I didn’t have to include everything. I had the luxury that this was my life as I was living it at the time that I was writing off of and that I was almost inevitably going to keep living it in smooth grooves, or trajectories that would lead me from one connected place of self-exploratory writing to another. And I would shape and see a personal narrative of my own unfolding alongside the chain of events.

The time I will spend during the residency here will still be marked by the relationships I am making and sustaining with the people around me, including for the first time, the public. I imagine though that they will be less complex than those that arise in a more fully embedded life – as in the earlier sequence. Maybe I’ll be wrong though, and should expect drama!

I’m going to show a short filmpoem from the first sequence of Art Talk Notes to give you an idea of how the work looks. I’m starting to collect footage from Southampton already and am likely to be producing something similar for John Hansard Gallery. Thanks.