Start in Southampton

with Markus Bergström’s Guildhall Pavillion. A John Hansard Gallery commission for Summer in the Square (2017)

Starting from about now, I have a temporary alias as ArtfulScribe‘s Writer-In-Residence at John Hansard Gallery in Southampton. There are many reasons why I’m excited to have swung my trajectory in line with this orbiting opportunity (I’m thinking of spacecraft landing on comets here for some reason). Here are a few of them:

I now have the prospect of having a decent chunk of writing time built into my year. This flexibly organisable residency involves me spending up to a month in Southampton split across the year, so can be scheduled around an existing full-time job.

From my initial meetings with the team administering the opportunity I know it’s going to be a genuinely developmental ‘professional development’. I’ve already felt significantly and usefully nudged by my conversations with the Matt West, who runs ArtfulScribe and who has an obvious grasp of ways to engage disparate audiences. I’m looking forward to spending time with poet and academic Sarah Hayden and her colleagues in the English Department at the University of Southampton; the chance to share work in an academic forum as well as a public one means I will be learning on at least two fronts.

This may be a silly reason, but I’m enjoying reopening a connection with the area where I spent my first year after leaving school, as a choral scholar in the Winchester Cathedral Choir. It was enjoyably trippy heading up the road to Evensong at the Cathedral after my interview last year, and trying to connect the person I’ve become in the intervening 20 years with resurfacing memories of those early adult days will be an interesting puzzle.

It’s a chance to tie together my dominant activities – being a poet and working in a visual arts organisation – that in the past have felt like they might be in tension, but increasingly feed content to each other through projects that benefit from a strong dual understanding of writing and art practice. The programme at John Hansard Gallery during the time I am writing there includes a juicy exhibition of work by Gerhard Richter which I’m looking especially forward to thinking and looking along with.

The residency comes with John Hansard’s and ArtfulScribe’s great networks and offers the chance to develop the filmpoem part of my practice. I was successful in pitching an iteration of my Art Talk Notes series for the residency, and have been keen to make more films to accompany these poems from art talks since showing some prototypes early in 2017 at Market Gallery in Glasgow. It will be great to have time, resources and impetus to put that project more fully together in this residency’s context.


In terms of challenges, I think I will be pushed into responding to new contexts with my writing, and I hope I will be open enough to learn from encounters I (and the things I write) will have with lots of different people. And it will be quite epic leaping up and down the country but mainly, I think, energising. The chance to experience an art gallery from the other side of the artist/organisation relationship is also already proving interesting and pleasurable. The team at JHG are excited about their move to a new building – the context for the residency – and are being generous about sharing access to their work at a pivotal time so that I can share some of that experience with them, and in turn with others.

Here’s the first bit of writing I’ve done in situ. A couple of blocks of text from my December 2017 visit. More soon.



Half an hour of writing at John Hansard Gallery

(that turned into 7 minutes because I got distracted with whether my camera was filming the shot I wanted)

Highfield Campus, University of Southampton, Tuesday 19 December 2017.


The time now is 97% I am writing in the old meeting room at John Hansard Gallery

surrounded by articles related to the transition programme

a space that has been preparing for some time to become another space

hoods in front of me and on the wall a planner chart

a gant chart beginning going gone but not yet in the writing time

I have been here all day thinking about with the team

warmly in the cold the move to new studio and the programme I think

will be a complex good and I am adjacent playing, enjoying the role


So far, this has been an experiment, in life and ten years

in the planning, so that’s a public public good and a cousin

in Bransgore to stay with and his dogs and news family

The new gathering around the John Hansard Gallery linking

to them to Matt, to Sarah by sconeference call in Ireland

in the CMCW in Mettricks in parks and sculpted parkland

before a move, we all make the movements for it

piling papers in the corners under chirpy named sheets

and there are memories of art works and not yet in the walls

the latex Bergvall balloon, the customised counted on days


Queer in the Landscape: Andrew Black at Embassy Gallery

Edinburgh Art Festival is running at the moment, concurrently with all the other August festivals in town. I got to the Embassy Gallery today, to see Our Andrew of the Flowers – a solo presentation by Andrew Black, a Glasgow-based artist.

Andy 1

Andy is a friend and I’d been looking forward to this for a while. I knew I was interested in the themes of ‘queerness, gayness, maleness’ that he was thinking and working around, but even so I was swept away by how much in the show there was that I connected with. The piece I spent longest with was ‘A man struggling with a huge faggot of wands’ which combined film footage of Scottish remote coastal landscape with superimposed transcript (rolling film-creditwise) of diary-like pieces in different voices that told a story of a trip made by a group of queers around the Highlands at the time of the Brexit vote.


This piece was the first art I’ve seen that deals explicitly with Brexit, so I guess that being dealt with was an unexpected bonus, in addition to the queer themes I was looking forward to seeing explored, and it all resonated hugely with me because I had been travelling around the same part of Scotland at exactly the same time with some friends, and was able to map and think about and compare my experience with that recorded in the work. I remember waking up in a hostel in Ullapool to find out the news, and the same feelings of wondering who around me had voted what, being angry at perceived ignorance, seeing the EU-funded signs on many rural infrastructure projects….. In the narrative Andy put together, the protagonists wake in a tent that day, and there is talk about their physical sensations on processing the news, passing through Fort William, thinking about communities they’re linked to or with elsewhere and how it all adds up to how visible these elements of their identities might be to those sharing the same landscape.


The question foremost in the piece, of how the queer can exist outside of the urban context is one I’ve thought about a fair bit, and in my experience, many remote livers are happy to see you! The way the outdoors industry markets itself though, can be pretty excluding, with straight stereotypes and expectations abounding in brochures and b&b’s. And even where situations turn out to be receptive, there are many moments of wondering how one is being perceived. One of the diary sections in the piece records a feeling at a Glen Brittle campsite of the circus having come to town.


I’d loved seeing Andy’s Instagram pictures of his time on Skye, of him and his partner and friends swimming naked at the Fairy Pools, as I’d done with my friend Viki a couple of years before. In my parallel trvelling at the time of Brexit news, I’d just come down from participating and reading at a community festival in Orkney, and was still thankfully buoyed by the knowledge that queer-friendly communities can set up and connect in the remotest of places. I feel encouraged too by Andy’s work to keep getting out there and living as I need and desire to. As one of the voices recorded said, ‘the sea is for me too’.

note the sea crashing, and the woodchip on the wall

note the sea crashing, and the woodchip on the wall

Andrew Black’s ‘Our Andrew of the Flowers’ is on at Embassy Gallery until 28 August 2016. The gallery is open Thursday to Sunday 12–6pm. Go!


‘Queer Information’ – call for submissions for Modern Edinburgh Film School’s first Poetry Anthology

Here’s an open writing call for a project I’m involved in. It’s headed up by the ever-mercurial artist Alex Hetherington.

The call is for an anthology to be published by Modern Edinburgh Film School at the end of this year. As Alex says in the blurb ‘inclusion makes no inference of sexuality’, although I’m definitely interested in the part about ‘poetry in gay discotheques’ tbh…

Would be great to get a wide range of submissions – deadline is 11 November.

Am excited to be working on this as it furthers my recent collaborative-creative interests. Particularly pleasing to be being presented in the corner of my creative spread that’s grounded in visual arts practice. It’s been an element of my work for some time, but I haven’t taken my practice fully into visual art’s home territories, so to be engaging closely with visual artists and their discourse is an important developmental act for me. I guess the closest to it in my previous work was my collaboration with Zoe Fothergill last year (and she’s also worked with Modern Edinburgh Film School) but there’s a real movement towards looking at how texts can behave when given space in visual art at the moment, and I’m excited to explore what that means from whatever perspective my range of previous creativity has given me.

More on this project will pop up here as it develops!

Iain Morrison reading at David Faithfull’s exhibition

A busy week this. Just on the off-chance that any of you are near Haddington, or fancy travelling, I’m delighted to be reading at artist David Faithfull’s Earth, Wind & Fission exhibition. It’s happening in approximately 18 hours from posting at the event in the eflyer below. So that’s 7pm for the reading.

David Faithfull Earth Wind & Fission

Am really excited to be doing this. I’ve known David Faithfull and enjoyed his work for some time, and I’m flattered to get to share a bit of what I do in the context he’s creating here. I’ll be reading with Sam and Jow Walton. Sam and I have been writing a sequence of poems called ‘Four For Forth’ and it’s getting its first outing tomorrow. Think estuarine realism meets arch-emo in a filmed dream sequence.

Cornelius Cardew’s move from notes to performance notes

I just came across the music piece Octet ’61 for Jasper Johns by Cornelius Cardew online.

It contains some of the early electronic noises I’ve loved in sound recordings from Stockhausen performances in the 60’s. There’s a purity of tone and a warm analogue sound in them.

I was curious to see how the music was written down, and a little look around led me to the performance notes for it by the composer himself, quoted on this page.

screenshot from

As I suspected, there is an element of the graphic score here, meaning a performance score which doesn’t use conventional musical notation and which requires input from the performers to interpret/create more of the content than is averagely the case.

I was interested, though, that in this score – an early one from the young composer – the notation is very close, actually, to conventional notation.  The form of it is just about readable by musicians who are able to read music. In his performance note, Cardew states an intriguing idea of the graphic score almost as a sort of Sudoku puzzle:

‘The signs should be allowed to suggest something concrete: a sound, a technique. The traditional connotations of signs or parts of signs should provide sufficient context for a concrete interpretation of at least one sign by almost any musician. This done, his utterance of the one sign should provide sufficient context for the comprehension of neighbouring signs. And so on…’

So the idea seems that if at least one of the players is able to interpret from their previous training and understanding ONE of the signs out of the 61 he creates for this score, then that one interpretative act should be sufficient to set the context for interpretation of the other signs by the initial player and the seven other players.

I like that in this piece, there’s an easing out of conventional notation practices rather than a sudden break. This is of course makes sense, that a new idea doesn’t arrive fully formed with no reference to the past. I was aware that the later graphic score work used very beautiful  and controlled drawing which used the graphical language of musical scores, however visually abstracted. This fills in the gap for me a bit. The attempted precision of a traditional music score is allowed to unfocus.

I enjoy tracing an artist’s route to his or her iconic ideas/practices through their earlier work. Hindsight is fun to engage, given that the creative figure at the point of making the work could have less idea than us where their ideas would take them. Fun for us to know and spot the signposts retrospectively.

Playfully, Cardew says of the Octet ’61 for Jasper Johns,  ‘My reputation is free to suffer.’! And I think this is doubly playful because he acknowledges that even though he is decentring the importance of the composer as authority for the content of the work, and wants to do so, he accepts that it is his name that is linked, auteur, to the results. Is he having his cake and eating it?!

As well as the idea of  shifting some of the responsibility for creating the content from the composer to the performer ‘interpreter’, there’s a connected idea here of translation between art forms, between languages. The Octet was a musical response to Cardew’s experience of seeing Jasper John’s ‘0 – 9’ drawings, which superimposed all the number digits in the decimal system.


In fact, I think Cardew appropriates numerology, the belief in mysterious significances of numbers, to underpin and justify the process he is using here. It creates an insoluble structure underneath the form the expression takes, deeper in structure even than the level of a musical score. This numerological reading is I think reinforced by his title ‘Octet ’61’ where the date of composition becomes part of the data defining the structure of the expression. The composer lays out 61 symbols, musical pictograms, to be interpreted by the players live in their historical and cultural moment. The actual visual form of the numbers from Johns’ drawings is encoded visually into the symbols on the graphic score – another element which the human interpreter of the score finds interpretation for if they can.


To put the introduction at the end, Cornelius Cardew is a musical composer in whom I’ve had an interest since my undergraduate study at Cambridge University, where I was introduced to his most famous work Treatise by the composers John Woolrich and Peter Wiegold. A scratch group of students performed 20 pages of the work in the Old Music Room at St John’s College. I think of the moment where someone in the audience’s phone started ringing and I decided on the spur of the moment to vocally imitate it as being a eureka in developing my understanding of creativity and connection: how it can happen truly in a moment  if you’re brave, and create a richer and more generous experience for people. Which is another way of saying, I got a laugh.

My Zoe Fothergill Collaboration. The correspondence file continues!

Jan the 9th and high time I posted further links in my email chain with artist Zoe Fothergill. The last post was in November I see. Check there please if you’re at sea with what’s going on below. Basically we’re collaborating and working towards a performance lecture on structure and content.


Iain Morrison said:

Hi it’s me! I’ve been in writing-thinking-blogging-Zoe+Iain-land tonight. Have done lots of thinking and I’ve put one new blog up, with two more written and set to auto-publish during the week. So that means my blog should be catching up with our correspondence.

Here’s a reply to your email from the 5th November. I hope it’s interesting. I have an idea that it might be fun for us to both reply, quiz or questionnaire-style, to a series of questions about form and structure. I think, now, that we pretty-much know where we’re at with what we’re thinking of, but it might be useful to capture it for the project and could generate some interesting text. Anyway, I have some idea, but will send in a separate email. Here’s my reply to your reply to my reply from before.


I thought your paragraph on the difference between structure and form was excellent. It answered a lot of the questions I had about where you see the difference. You wrote:


‘ok so i say structure because i think it’s far more precise.

form has many more interpretations for me.

and oed agrees so it must be right – pasted below

but maybe the more openended nature of form appeals to you more

i guess for me structure feels more inside

more understanding relations within

and form is a step remove

surveying the whole

what say you?’


Having looked at the OED definitions of form and structure, I think I understand a difference that form is somehow about what can be perceived visually (possibly not that different in an artwork or a poem actually), where structure takes into account the inner organisation of an artefact. So form=externally visible and structure=external and internal organisation.

This raises the interesting possibility just now in my head, of a see-through artwork. Can you think of any?

I notice that a word that comes up in both definitions is ‘arrangement’. The definition of form in the OED’s definition list that came closest to what I think I’ve been thinking of was

‘[mass noun] style, design, and arrangement in an artistic work as distinct from its content: these videos are a triumph of form over content’

I also love the idea of a ‘mass noun’. Cool!

You wonder if it’s the open-endedness of form which attracts me. I think what I like about ‘form’ as a word to use in this discussion is that it’s often set up as, not exactly the opposite of, but certainly the counterpart to ‘content’, so it comes out of my mouth/fingers naturally. It has a valency, history of use. Maybe that makes it too cosy to use now unthinkingly. A bit hackneyed.

As I think you say, the Andrew Grassie flips apparent content into a place less-important than the structure. The content doesn’t become the meaning and the structure does. What’re we left looking at? It’s more than our own perception, isn’t it? You talked about ghosts.

You say that the structure (meaning the process here?) becomes the principal subject. I’d like to hear what you think might be secondary subjects in this Grassie work too.

I can see a dance of meaning happening in his work. You’re presented with a formal question about what’s going on, how were the images generated, is it  a photo, is the content the artist’s work, no it seems so various, oh it’s a painting, hang on, I’m in the space depicted in the painting, but where have the objects gone, oh, this painting is made from the exact same view-point you would look through if the canvas were a window. Then once you’ve worked it all out, a second stage of interpretation happens. Why these works? Why has he done this? Why these materials? Questions which don’t have such straightforward answers as the formal ones. But I’m interested in that initial period in which we’re wooed by the work, and the game, the puzzle, keeps you looking longer – it makes it something happening in time maybe?

The submitted art he lets into his process seems effectively repressed and literally flattened/walked away from. I’m intrigued. Thanks for introducing me to this artist.

I can see what you mean about it possibly losing its meaning if you move it to a different venue. That’s a thing with site specific isn’t it? Cake, eating it perhaps. Did I tell you ever that I once misheard people talking about what I thought was ‘Site-Specific: The Musical’? I eventually realised that they were talking about ‘South Pacific’! I had a massive LOL about that.

I love structure/stricture. That’s a very nice sleight of word just there that you’ve introduced me to.

I’m interested in what you say about translation. I wonder if we could play some sort of translation game as a way of interrogating the ‘thisness’ of something. I wonder how we might do it with words and then also with something visual. Any thoughts?

You do read my poems very well. I was grateful to read your reponse to ‘in relation to’ that picked up elements that had interested me around the prefixed/non-prefixed (fixed?!) vocab, and I like that it had that effect of involving you in its play as it reached its conclusion(s). I wonder if sometimes the answer to the question ‘what is it about?’ has two answers: one which centres on the content and one which centres on the form/structure? So in the case of my poem I could say it’s about the extent to which you can relate to someone and which differences are insoluble, but I could also say it’s about moving forwards through a syntax structure and then unpicking what’s been created backwards to see where you end up. Maybe? Or maybe the second bit is the answer to the question ‘how does it convey its meaning?’, but I don’t think it’s that exactly. To say the meaning is housed in the structure implies a possible separation of the two. Maybe there are just two separate processes going on in an artwork and the trick is to manage the symbiotic relationship between them with you as the magi?

Iain x

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



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.

Enter stage left: Zoe Fothergill!

Hello all, and hello particularly Zoe Fothergill, and welcome back indeed.

I had interesting, productive fun collaborating with Zoe about a year ago (see earlier blog post here). Zoe’s a visual artist with a strong interest in science and in particular the science of perception, I’d say. She’s invited me to collaborate with her again in a discussion leading to a possible ‘kitchen lecture’ with Project!!WAKAKA! which is all rather apposite because Zoe and I met for the first time at one of the Annuale 2011 kitchen lectures and were the sole members of the pub quiz team called ‘the fuck you uppers’. I still remember Deborah Jackson’s attempt to resolve a tie by getting us to ‘do something extraordinary’. That shared look of panic/inspiration that led to the singing of The Bangles ‘Eternal Flame’ eternally linked us in some way. Or am I misremembering/mythologising? Either way, a spark was sparked and it’ll be fun to go back into that Wakakacontext again as a different sort of unit.

Zoe’s initiated a conversation with me on structure and content. It’s something we talked about in our earlier project a lot, while we wrestled/wrested with where one becomes the other, and the extent to which form is the stuff of content. I’ve just done there what I keep doing, which is to slip from talking about structure to calling it form. We’re working out at the moment what the difference might be. I wonder if partly there’s a culture of talking about form in poetry where the word means something different in visual art, but we haven’t resolved that one yet.

I’m going to be using this blog to post updates on and windows onto our conversations, which at the moment involve mainly emails, handily for cutting and pasting. So, if you’re interested, keep an eye on this space. And of course, come to the lecture! But that’ll be a while yet, probably in Spring. This online activity is part of the project though, and hopefully will be interesting in addition to whatever we end up with in performance.


I live on Edinburgh’s West Port and it’s a noisy tonight out on the street. You really notice the passing drunk groups mid-week, because the castle-dominated lulls are so quiet, I guess. People like to be loud and happy. Am pretty sure someone just went past strumming a ukelele.