Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Asleep in the dark wood

The dark forest or wood, is a symbol that haunts human beings - from fairy tales to horror films we go into the darkness to encounter fear and perhaps to overcome it. This is the way that we grow up and become fully ourselves, by facing fears, demons, addictions, enemies without or within. The means to challenge and disperse one's particular fears is something that we only can discover individually, but because humans are emotionally similar we can learn from the experience of others, be they Hansel and Gretel or King Arthur, Dante or Dostoyevsky, whoever. The way that some of these experiences are passed on is through the strange fabrics of storytelling, poetry, art.

The exhibition The Dark Would, which I've just curated at Summerhall in Edinburgh, brings together poets and artists who take us into the heart of the Dark Wood, as the poet Dante called it. These are pieces that look at the confusions and difficulties of being alive, balancing that with  beauty - and perhaps too, very subtly, with ways out.

a quilt for when you are homeless

I now want to “walk” you through this exhibition, because it hinges on an arthur+martha piece and many followers of this blog won't be able to visit in person.

The central piece is a quilt that is hand stitched by homeless people from Manchester (helped by embroidery students and members of the WI) describing fragments of their lives. It was made during an arthur+martha project last year called 'the warm /&/ the cold'; the piece itself is titled 'a quilt for when you are homeless'. The making of this quilt is detailed elsewhere on the arthur+martha blog; it was a long process constructing this modest-looking piece, the work of many hands and much life experience. Much of the work occurred at The Booth Centre and The Big Issue in the North offices in Manchester. The quilt is a series of life story fragments from a much longer piece, which we are editing into a book called ALBION, funded by the NALD.
After Henry James, by Tom Phillips; on shelf, THE DARK WOULD language art anthology, at Summerhall, Edinburgh, 2013 

In the main exhibition space at Summerhall, the quilt is spot-lit, and around it are satellites, other works also picked out of the dark by intense lights. I've put stuffing under the quilt, so that it looks as though there's someone sleeping beneath it. Around this imagined person are dilemmas and difficulties that we sometimes face, leading away like myriad possibilities. We see works about madness, rape, war, repression (by Tom Phillips, Caroline Bergvall, Simon Patterson) but also gentleness, love, humour, art (father and son Alec Finlay, Ian Hamilton Finlay, then Richard Wentworth, Maria Chevska). To my mind these pieces are speaking to each other. Here's the revolutionary thinker Guy Debord represented by two posters from the 1968 student uprising in Paris, in dialogue with Ian Hamilton Finlay about insurrection; in the next room along are pieces by Lawrence Weiner, Fiona Banner and Jenny Holzer which, all put together, make connections between male sexuality, power and war.

On the ground floor of the gallery we find work by Jenny Holzer, Mallarme, Richard Long, Sarah Sanders, Robert Fitterman, Tony Trehy and Laurence Lane (among many others) all of which touch on the places where we are rawest and most human. You can see shots of the exhibition and read more about it elsewhere in FLUX magazine,The Herald, Summerhall TV and other sites.

However, the two pieces I'd finally like to mention here both link back to arthur+martha again. The first is Holocaust Museum by Robert Fitterman the delicacy of which chimes with our own project involving Holocaust survivors, Kindness. Fitterman's piece takes the text from all of the photo-captions in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and simply reproduces them as a long "found" poem. The poem has been printed on A4 pages and pinned to the walls of an office room adjacent to the gallery.

The last room - and most uplifting, I find - contains two textworks by Richard Long. They were made by Long over twenty years apart, at very different times of his life. He suggested that I pair them. They are both circular and both describe going for walks in the outdoors. In a way they're tiny globes. They are in a long, bright room and the light changes subtly as you move from one end to the other, from cold to warm. The room has a soundtrack of schoolchildren impersonating birdsong, a recording that Lois and I made during an arthur+martha session at a school in Derbyshire, during a silly and joyous afternoon. They give the space that very underrated thing, a happy ending.   

I would particularly like to thank ACE for funding this project, all of the project participants from The Booth Centre, The Big Issue in the North and The Red Door, whose work and words made the quilt.

The Dark Would exhibition continues at Summerhall until 24 January 2013.

a quilt for when you are homeless

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