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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‘is 5’: last reading of the year, Sunday 14th December 2014

I’m part of nick-e melville’s line-up of 12 poets reading tomorrow at Main Point Books in Edinburgh’s thrilly West Port area. The West Port Book Festival may have closed its run, but the many bookshops remain open to the good event idea, and this is one of those.

Come and enjoy 5 minutes of me, and of 11 other people for free. 7pm, 77 Bread Street EH3 9AH. Sunday 14 December 2014.

 

is 5 poster

 

Subject Index Day 4: Putting the brakes on Emily Dickinson

I’m going to write up Day 4 of Subject Index in parts.

This final day wound round the houses a little in my ordering of the poems as, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to read all of the remaining poems, I tried to navigate a suitable closing path for the 4-day process of Subject Index. The first part of the day saw me reading for 5 hours, on my own or with Mirja present filming and listening. This took me from Johnson edition number 751 to 972 – slow-goingly, satisfyingly, slightly despairing of not having made it further than the year 1864 of Dickinson’s life.

I stopped for a quick breather and a sandwich across the road at my flat and came back for an evening session which 10 visitors turned up to at various times (I love you energy-giving audients!), and I attempted to execute a reading of the last dated poems in Johnson’s edition. I picked up at poem 1509, having leapt forward sixteen years of Emily’s life to 1881. This was frustrating, as I could sense a big change in the form of what I was reading, and I’d hoped to chart the changes incrementally all the way through her writing life. It was not to be, however, and not just because of the chunk I skipped over in the book, but also because at this end of her writing career, the poems simply aren’t coming as thick and fast, so you don’t get the same illusion of poems appearing at the rate of living. You can’t settle into them either, they’re mostly very short, and because I was mapping them too, I was up and down every thirty seconds to record a number on the board. I read in this way from 1509 through to number 1648, dated 1886, the year of her death.

Then! I realised I still had another half an hour left. I’d misjudged the timings because there were so many short poems in this section. I was frankly unsure what to do with my last half an hour in Emily’s clothes. Well, like in some of her celebrated poetry, the consciousness continued past death and I tentatively read on through 1649, 1650 and 1651 in the ‘undated poems’ section. This was enough to convince me, given what felt like a sudden thickening intensity of the poems’ thought-weave, to go back to where I had left off, at 973, where I remembered that same satisfying feeling, and to read from there onwards until closing time came at Argyle House.

I hoped that it would be enjoyable for those still listening to hear some longer, more wrung poems at the end of the vigil. A relief for me too to be in the middle of her writing life again, strategic decisions past and the course set in that last half hour.  I got as far as poem 1017.

In the next posts I’ll talk a bit more about the poems I read on the last day and what I found. For now, here’s an image of the map I made in its finished (for now) state. I think it looks pleasingly geographical! I had a conversation with Stevie from ForestCentre+ in the pub after about how the map might be given a digital afterlife, allowing people to click through to poems from their position on the map, so I’ll keep you posted if I pull that off at any point.

Emily Dickinson world map of her poems

Subject Index: Day 2

So, Day 2 of Subject Index was yesterday, and I covered poems 342 to 560 in the Johnson Edition. Fewer poems than last week, but I think that was about the performance finding a slower pace, and partly that we hit some of Emily Dickinson’s longest poems in this section, her most productive year, 1862.

There were more poems that gave me pause, and I took the pause, to work out, or try to work out. Some of the poems threw me partly because of a word use which I didn’t know. I’ve been able to look at them in a different light, now at home, thanks to the excellent Emily Dickinson Lexicon which lists definitions from the dictionary she owned and gives a great indication of what she understood by the words she used. The word ‘cypherer’ from poem 545 is now way clearer to me, for example. Other poems I still haven’t figured more for reasons of my own thickness, like 528.  I wonder if it’ll open up to me at some later date but at the moment I’m not sure what ‘Mine’ is! Unless it’s the delirious charter she mentions, though then what’s that? Ah, the joys of reading poetry are here exemplified.

One of my visitors yesterday, Lila Matsumoto, pointed out that lots of the poems being read in the session seemed to speak to the particular set-up of Subject Index. Poems about veils and seclusion, seperateness I think. I took it as confirmation of my instincts in setting the encounter with Dickinson’s poetry in this way. It made me happy to hear the connections being voiced back to me. An example of the poems that I think sparked in the space is the incomparable 365, Dare you see a soul at the white heat, where the poet invites the reader to crouch within the door, presumably hers.

There were other poems that piqued particular interest in various ways. 426 was a surprise with Dickinson appearing to adopt a vernacular voice. 452, using the word negro, struck me after having been at Arika’s excellent events at Tramway in Glasgow last weekend; Freedom is a Constant Struggle was focused on black radical arts and the legacy of black American history was picked back through the centuries. Interesting to think of Dickinson’s life alongside those stories.

I’ve put a couple of pictures from Day 2 down below, thanks Mirja Koponen and Richard Taylor. You’ll see I’ve been experimenting with positioning myself in the space a bit, and my wonderful parents are in a picture too.

And the poem I’ve picked to share in full after Day 2, Johnson number 421, is another that links with the form of my presentation. I enjoyed reading it behind my opaque screen and feeling its perfect fit. Hope to see some of you next week on 29th April. It’s just the 12-2pm session remember.

 
A Charm invests a face
Imperfectly beheld —
The Lady dare not lift her Veil
For fear it be dispelled —

But peers beyond her mesh —
And wishes — and denies —
Lest Interview — annul a want
That Image — satisfies —

 

2nd day web-6

Richard's pic

Day One of Emily Dickinson readings: Subject Index

I’m at the end of day 1 of my Emily Dickinson readings project, reading all the poems in order as they appear in Thomas H. Johnson’s complete edition. Mirja Koponen, of ForestCentre+, has helped me to a title. I’d used an image of the book’s Subject Index and Mirja took these words on the poster to be the title of the piece. I’m glad she solved this for me. The back-up option was the Emily Dick-a-thon….

Reviewing today’s progress, I think I will get through all the poems if I speed up a little or put more hours in. I’ve got to poem 341. As one of my favourites, it felt like a satisfying, if dark, end to the day’s reading. At the pace I went today, another 20 hours should get me to poem 1755, and that’s doable (gulp!).

It took me a little while to get set up this morning, which had some happy moments in itself, such as Mirja giving me a leftover roll of paper from Colin Herd’s TotalKunst installation where she and I had first met.  On my mind, though, was the feeling that I didn’t know, until the door was open and people started to appear on the other side of the glass, exactly how I was going to handle their presence. In the first session, I felt acutely conscious when there was someone on the other side, and although I wasn’t looking at their faces, it threw my action into relief, so that I was thinking about things like whether the way I was holding the pen was pretentious more than I would have liked. It took my reading voice a while to settle too.

The poems are more or less chronological in the Johnson edition, as they are in the more recent Franklin edition,  and I was pleased to be spending time with Dickinson’s earlier poems that I’ve had a tendency to skip over in some sense to ‘get to the good stuff’. Actually, quite early on in the book are poems that I love. 76 was the first appearance of a real old favourite – which appeared in The Rattlebag, popular when I was at school – but I really liked number 26 when I got to it. I noticed that there was plenty of interest in the really early ones. In number 1, dated to the poet’s twentieth year, I was very struck by her line: ‘thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone’, which seemed to hint at an early awareness of her proclivity for separation.

After an afternoon rest between the lunchtime and evening sessions, and some encouraging feedback from ForestCentre+’s Mirja and Ana, I felt more relaxed. One visitor sat for about fifteen minutes on the other side of the glass, which felt comforting by that point.

My fear that I’d be initially flummoxed by many of the poems and not really get what they were about, hasn’t turned out to be so founded. Actually, once my ear was in, I wasn’t feeling caught out by Dickinson’s slippery language use. The map of the poems is coming together in a way which I find interesting. In the context of reading the poems more or less chronologically, I was spotting the development of several lines of thought, which was very satisfying.

I also discovered some poems I’d never read before and loved, which was definitely a key objective for me. I’m interested to look beyond Dickinson favourites I know already to find other poems which really strike me with fresh first-readings. It’s a total delight that there’s so much still to discover in one of my favourite poets.

Here are some of the day’s pictures. Thank you to my photographer stars, Mirja Koponen, Emily Goodwin and Ana González Chouciño.

IMG_2428

Map Day 1 IM

IMG_2434

Mirja iain res2

Complete poems IM

To conclude, I thought it’d be good to share a poem from the day’s reading. I felt like number 119 might have some advice for the current Tory party!

 

Talk with prudence to a beggar

Of “Potosi” and the mines!

Reverently to the hungry

Of your viands and your wines!

 

Cautious, hint to any captive

You have passed enfranchised feet!

Anecdotes of air in dungeons

Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!

 

 

 

 

Starting to work in the Emily Dickinson space @Forest

…with thanks to Mirja Koponen for helping me out tonight.

Have just realised that Mirja looks spookily like Emily Dickinson in the picture below. Maybe I can make use of this fact!

mirja ed

dickinson booth

mirja looking ed

Iain Morrison residency @ Forest Centre Plus

Basically every part of what’s written below is overexciting me….

In April, I’ve been invited to do a text-based residency at the new Forest Centre Plus space in Edinburgh.

For those who don’t know it, the Forest is a volunteer-run arts collective which used to have its base in an old Methodist Chapel in the centre of Edinburgh. That building was sold by its owners Edinburgh University a year or so ago. The much-loved Forest cafe has more recently found a new home in Tollcross, but space for the previous levels of creative activity was lacking in the new arrangement. Until now, that is!

The Forest have taken over several floors of Argyle House, a modernist 60’s office block opposite, as it happens, my flat. That was one plank of fate lining up to connect me to the new enterprise.

Also Mirja Koponen, Forest committee members and general power-house, saw a performed reading I gave with long-time collaborator Leiza McLeod on the delivery platform at the back of the office building, in 2011. Our reading was of a text Leiza and I produced called This Is Not The Place. We first wrote this in 2008 in Bristol, recording walks we took from each of our homes to a location picked because neither of us had ever been there. In the 2011 performance, we added material describing a walk both of us took from Argyle House to somewhere we’d never been before. So the first walk was a convergence and the second walk, a divergence.

Mirja saw the performance, and it must have stuck in her mind; when she was planning the Forest’s move to the new space, she asked if I’d be interested in doing a performance or something else in there. Apparently I was the only person she knew who’d actually noticed the building beforehand, which I think tells you something about the cleverness of its construction given that it’s 10 stories tall and has 3 wings!

This has come together into a plan, now that the space is up and running. I am looking at doing a few different things in Argyle House over my residency month of April.  I’ll write more about these as they approach but broadly they are:

1) a revisiting of the This Is Not The Place material, possibly making a connection with the inside of the building and the place outside where Leiza and I performed in 2011.

Screen-shot from the facebook page for our 2011 event 'This Is Not The Place'.

Screen-shot from the facebook page for our 2011 event ‘This Is Not The Place’.

Leiza and I reading This Is Not The Place, 2011 at Argyle House

Leiza and I reading This Is Not The Place, 2011 at Argyle House

Above the platform from inside the building

Above the platform from inside the building

2) an attempt to read all of Emily Dickinson’s poems over 4 Mondays. I am having my talented friend, and other Emily, Emily Goodwin adapt a white dress for me to wear during this.

;

3) some sort of poem writing directly onto the walls of the building inside. Using it like a sketchbook is the idea, working to a final draft.

4) Holding a meeting of PiP, the poetry workshop group to which I belong, in Argyle House at some point during April.

I’m really looking forward to this. Forest Centre Plus is currently a very hot new arrival on the Edinburgh arts scene, and I’m grateful to circumstance and Mirja for opening its doors to me. I’ve looked at it for three years, and now I get to play inside.

Doorway