Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A green goodbye

The train to Chengdu is practically a jet plane. There are stewardesses in uniform and two cleaners who forlornly mop the shining floors throughout the journey. A security guard doubletakes when he sees Julia and I, fixing us in his mental inventory.

I'm writing this entry in hazy sunlight as we tumble mile upon mile through terraced fields. There are fir trees cresting the hills like green teardrops. Cupped in the valleys are rice paddies and low houses and crop stoops. There are ploughed hills and little scatters of villages and people working in the old ways, but my eyes have been starved of green in CQ so that's my predominant sense, that we are aswim in green. The land here is lush - we're going west, cutting across the vegetable gardens of China. It's late afternoon and Julia is trying to photograph the moon dancing along the telegraph poles.

An hour ago we said our goodbyes. Yan Yan, Deng Chuan and Wang Jun came to see us off. I felt sadness squeeze my ribcage as we parted. The two months in CQ have been guided by the care and kindness of these people, especially this trio - and they have become fast friends. The gatherings around art-making and hotpots have often been celebrations. I will miss this little gang with their sweetness and eccentricities. It's been awhile since Julia and I were part of a group and I've missed that social clustering. By cutting this link we also cut away from our shepherds through this land. We're out on our own now with a smattering of phrasebook Mandarin and a guessed itinerary. Julia has been awake half the night with a cold and I'm coming to earth after the rush of the teahouse exhibition. I wonder who's taking Ciao Q out for a walk this afternoon?

(Typing this up a year after it was written in my battered notebook, I'm happy to say that emails between myself and Wang Jun are a regular habit, with a visit forthcoming from he and Deng Chuan, that Yan Yan has sat in this house in Manchester with us for a meal and that Wang Jun snored his way from Yorkshire in the back of our car on one of our many expeditions during his Manchester residency early 2010, and that Ciao Q is still apparently wreaking havoc on his walks...)

Friday, 24 December 2010

Private view/punch up

Two students - Shu Jing and Yuan chao - have volunteered to help install the exhibition in Jiao Tong teahouse. At 10 am we meet in the studio, collect the long list of 12 or so pieces that I've selected from the original 50, plus string (always essential), pegs, nails, extension leads, lights, pencils. We set up camp on one of the trestle tables in the teahouse.

Hanging work is in itself one of the arts - to speak to the surrounds and yet have the works in dialogue with one another, to choreograph still space, to state simply, but keep ambiguity. My works spark alive when there is sunlight pouring through them and the world's colours. The teahouse is a dark space and the pieces look alright only in the windows and near light sources, which are dim. We set up some discreet lamps and peg the pieces into position so that they frame the fanatic card players but don't bug people.

Wang Jun's piece is an installation of overpainted magazines - it's a work that I've loved since he first took me round his studio and it' a pleasure to see it here, abutting onto the real. He lights the shelves he's used with bright fluorescents so that they glow like a shrine in a cliche. The mugs of the regulars here in the teahouse feature as part of the work, anchoring it in Jiao Tong.

Yao Bo meanwhile has placed pots on nine tables on the raised area in the middle of the space. Underneath each is a piece of off white paper with a black rectangle screenprinted onto it. From inside two of the pots can be heard her voice, reading aloud from her response to Beckett. The tiny electric voices crackle and whisper; people put their ears to the lips of the pots to hear. It's a show-stealer.

By 2 o'clock Wang Jun has installed his piece and lit it, Yao Bo is still tweaking her lights. Mine hang in the wondows opposite the entrance with card players sitting under them. One man loses his cash and holds his head in his hands. Julia snaps a portrait. Behind him, the poem says: Protect Me.

The guys who frequent the teashop stroll between the pieces and we chat it through. Someone offers to do some calligraphy for me - showing me the steadiness of his hands.

A journalist asks me why I bother putting my peculiar poems in places where no one will understand them. I take a deep breath at all the suppositions in that statement. I explain that if the work is placed among the world's bustle, it has the chance to be more alive than in the pages of a book. The room suddenly is unusually noisy. Yan Yan taps me on the shoulder: "For example, look over there. Real life."
There is a punch up taking place between two card players and people join the scrum. Yan Yan glances at me and grins: "It's real," he says again.

Private Views are posh showbiz and this one's no different. After the fighting has died away and the sore heads have been rubbed better, the art people arrive. The official opening is at 7pm, although the teahouse remains open all day for usual business. Julia and I are invited to join a long table of the local great and good, sipping flower tea. I end up swapping lines of poems with a DJ who wants to showboat her English and quotes lines of John Donne. In reply, I try her with a line from Tony Trehy. We struggle with the translation and she passes the line "Never to have compromised with transcendence" over to Yan Yan who shoots me a pained look.

These colours are not the same without you: Chongqing clotheslines December 2009

As Julia takes pictures, I'm reminded of two lines in the poem that Ive made here:

these colours are not the same to you
are not the same without you.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Present for Xmas

Julia appears briefly at CQ arrivals gate, waves, gives a little skip and disappears again. 15 minutes and she reappears with her luggage, grinning sleepily. We hold hands as Yan Yan rockets us through the city and I point out the neons and mist. She's been held up by worldwide snow, made it onto one of the last two planes out of Manchester, got past delays in Helsinki (due to other less efficient airlines than Finnair) and Beijing (a mysterious medical emergency). 36 hours of travelling with no guarantee of arrival. Yan Yan drops us at the flat and we stroll Huang Jie Ping in the early hours, to let her descend from the adrenalin. She's my Xmas present.

Next day, I try to show off the studio and artworks to her, but Ciao Q effortlessly steals the moment by chewing open a tube of Yan Yan's oil paint and then licking it over his paws and around his muzzle. He doesn't like the taste, but loves the squeals of consternation when he chases people aropund the studio with the threat of blue paw marks. Yan Yan scolds; he hates it when Ciao Q's coat gets muddy and blue oilpaint is worse. My observation that Yan Yan's dog has the good taste to select a close match for International Klien Blue doesn't help. The favoured pronounciation of Ciao Q has changed once more to "Ciao Ko". I wearily start calling him "Ciao Ko" and the favoured pronounciation changes to Koko. Whatever he's called - not that he cares - his IKKB paws last two days.

Julia is wearing a vivid orange quilted coat that miraculously receives only one little blue smudge. Ciao Q likes her because she finds him funny. Later she takes him for an afternoon jaunt and he's won over entirely.

Later again she says to me - "You need to start thinking about how you light those pieces, they're dying in here when there's no daylight." She has a photographer's eye - unforgiving at times, but invaluable. She starts taking some experimental shots with her Leica, using the window in the hallway to frame people in the street outside.

The show is imminent and I haven't thought about light.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


Yan Yan casually suggests that I make some "stampos" for the poster poems.

“How?” I ask with a smallscale panic already building. These are the red identifying stamps that authenticate traditional Chinese artworks. They are complex little monograms, with many layers of meaning. Usually they are a reworking of the artist’s name in zhuan seal writing, or another archaic script, bonded together into a circular or rectangular design. They are dense, beautiful handcarved stamps (rather like our old fashioned seals) and require enormous skill to produce.

I've already introduced the idea into the poems - handstencilling red circles into the compositions and using them to add extra lines.

“Yao Bo will help, of course,” he shrugs as if to say: why don’t you think of these things Davenport? So Yao Bo is consulted and she agrees to oversee my attempts to model stamps in clay. I’m turning into a technician, but one without training or indeed much idea of what’s going on.
“OK,” I say, reluctantly.
“You will learn much about the Chinese way,” concludes Yan Yan, pleased at my impending betterment.

Yao Bo’s studio/apartment is next to Yan Yan’s in 501. She’s a petite woman, but suffused with energy, making ceramics, painting, writing – and she loves dancing. She swirls in and out of her connections with people in a pair of bright yellow boots. Her daily companion from upstairs is lonesome for her boyfriend and so she has breakfast with Yao Bo – lotus root and cigarettes – and hangs out.

The pair of them patiently shepherd me through the process of making a clay mould. Yao Bo shows me her own stamp and collapses with mirth when she hears that I’m trying to make one like it. We decide that I can try for something more like an official rubber stamp; that way I might be spared humiliation.

Jiao Tong - the last teahouse

Phil writes:

To coincide with the exhibition of my work at the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester, I've decided to post the last few entries of my China journal, written late 2009 - early 2010.

Jiao Tong – the last teahouse

The last traditional teahouse on Huang Jie Ping Street is closing soon, doesn’t fit here – it’s a goner. If you happen to be in the locale of the art school, take a left down HJP, walk 500 metres downhill, go through the mobile phone shop, drop down the little stairs and you are in an anytime. The walls have absorbed so much damp, so many knocks and so many years that they are crumpling with history.

There are continual games of cards, mah jong and chequers at the tables, slow games played out over long conversations. Two huge parrots swing on perches, cawing at the assembly. The tea is local CQ and comes with a big hot water thermos for refills, supplemented by a hot water lady with a long spouted pot like a steaming watering can.

Old men drink their brews and fresh-face art students sketch portraits of the clientele over and over so that they’ll be good enough to make it into the art college. In places, the students have pencilled faces on the walls too, perhaps they ran out of paper and in their fever just kept on drawing. This is the place I see Yan Yan look happiest – a student offers him a paper and pencil and for 10 minutes he draws, his concentration absolute, his face rapt.

Part of the side wall is open to the outside air and there are washing lines out back. The roof is like that of an old barn, with a long vent letting in even more air and daylight. There are discussions, disputes, deals being made. It was the social centre for the students 20 years ago, where they planned and dreamed. Hai Zi came here to drink the rough tannic CQ tea. I am told that Jiao Tong is important, famous. Sit here on the benches in this teahouse in Huang Jie Ping in China and you can feel that you are in all ages of the world, that anyone from any moment could walk in.

“This is my idea where we do exhibition,” says Yao Bo.

I feel a jolt of excitement.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Ghosts move about me patched with histories

Philip Davenport and Nicola Smith
Chinese Art Centre, Manchester, UK 9 - 17 December

Artists' Talk: 9 December 5.30- 6.30pm
Preview Evening: 9 December - 6.30pm - 8.30pm
Tour dates: 9 - 11 December

Ghosts move about me patched with histories is an immersive text/art experience, designed by poet Philip Davenport and performance artist Nicola Smith. Both have previously taken part in artist residencies in Chongqing and will use the exhibition to reflect on their time in China. The show counterpoints the freedom of being in a strange environment with the limits imposed by social control.

Davenport’s text installation is a poem written into wallpaper, covering one side of the gallery. Nicola will act as a deliberately misleading tour guide, taking visitors through the environment created by the pair, including a pause for snacks, some trashy TV and a computer that rewrites Davenport’s words with infinite variations, programmed by poet Tom Jenks. A live chicken will be ‘resident’ in the space.

The artist talk is free but booking is required: please follow the link below for tickets: http://whisper-residency-artists-talk.eventbrite.com/

The tours are free and running as part of the open studio as follows:

9 Dec - 7pm 10 Dec - 1.15pm and 3.30pm 11 Dec - 1.15pm

Special thanks to Tom Jenks and Leftfield, School of Art & Design, University of Salford www.salfordleftfield.co.uk for their help.

Supported by Arts Council England.

Davenport's China journal begins at http://arthur-and-martha.blogspot.com/2009/11/shared-loneliness-philip-davenport.html

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Artist in residence at International School in The Hague

Last year, Philip was artist in residence at the International School, in the Hague. They worked on a concrete poetry piece called The Grin Variations, using some of the techniques we experiment with in our new blog Boys Can Write. Here Philip is interviewed by one of the students. 

Hi there Christiane

Thank you for your interest in what I'm up to. I'm rushing a little and cooking/eating my evening meal as I do this so I hope it's coherent.

1. What is your connection to the ISH? Why did you choose to come to our school?
I met your art teacher Mr Jalland at an exhibition that we were both showing in and the connection grew from there. So I suppose you could say that it was a mixture of coincidence and planning. I wanted to start doing more things outside of the UK and the link with Mark Jalland and your school came along at the right time. I believe that if you point yourself towards something then it often happens, in one way or another.
Having started a link with ISH I would very much like to continue it. I'm working in the UK right now on a project about the holocaust and we'd like to expand it, so who knows...?
2. What is it you are trying to do here? (You told my class in one of your workshops you wanted to use the students' art work for a certain project...)
I was working on two projects during my time at ISH and both of them draw in other people's work and ideas. The poem for the screens is called The Grin Variations and has involved many of the students from ISH (as well as students from Parenthorn High School in the UK). The other piece is called A Shared Loneliness: during my travels I ask people about ways that they might describe emotional distance and closeness between one another. I will continue this investigation when I go to China at the end of 2009. I'm particularly interested in using mathematics as a metaphor to describe this distance.
3. How would you describe what you do for a living? 
Poetry is the short answer. A careers advisor might say that I write and I help other people to do so. In some ways I feel that I've managed to dodge the gruesome business of WORK in the puritanical 9-5 sense, for which I'm grateful. Although I am busy most of the time and often find myself making pieces for long hours, it doesn't feel like a job. When it becomes a drudge it is generally going awry. I'm amazed and happy that I live this way - and very aware of my good luck, which is probably the thing I do work hard at.
In any case, what we all really do for a living is breathe, eat, sleep. The rest are niceties.
4. Your art-work has a lot to do with writing and poetry. Would you describe yourself as a poet or an artist?
The poetry tradition that I come from winds back and forth between art and literature and music, so those distinctions aren't very real for me. I think that creativity often occupies the space between categories, which is where the confusion and energy is. By the time something has been neatly categorised it's dead and in a museum.
Having said that, I grew up surrounded by voices, stories and poetry, so my starting line is a literary one. I learned how to write sonnets and villanelles rather than attending life drawing classes. I find that placing poems in the world, outside of books, is a good arrangement for me. I like the thrill of a little illegal billposting, being chased by policemen. And the pieces look beautiful when they fall apart in the rain.
5. What do you hope to see from the students here at ISH.
The students at ISH have already exceeded my expectations. They've made hundreds of visual poems, with energy and wit and a certain tolerance of my eccentricities. They've welcomed me, asked me interesting questions and stolen some good ideas from me. What more could I possibly wish for?
6. Do you have any dates that I can use for my article? (For example; any displays of your artwork or workshops you are performing.)
I will be performing some material from my new book about everything in Manchester on 1st April. That will be followed by a reading at Bury Text Festival. The Festival will mark the official launch of The Grin Variations at Bury Art Gallery, Parenthorn School and ISH. My website www.applepie-editions.co.uk  will be up and running by that time. Then there will be some poems published in if p then q magazine. I'll finish the year in China for two months Nov-Dec doing another residency. There are probably some other things going on too but I can't remember em.
7. Who do you admire/look up to in the world of art?
As I've said, art is something that can equally be an artwork, a poem, music, dance - it's of the same stuff. Text artists often catch my eye because they intensify the word or the world, just as poets do, but using a different set of strategies - Lawrence Weiner for example. The people I talked about alot during my residency were Bob Cobbing and William Burroughs. Cobbing is someone I'll always hold dear because he allowed me in - opened a door in that brick wall we face sometimes and invited me to join the game. He published my first book and also invited me around to spend the day with him - an extraordinary day that changed my polarity somehow. Burroughs is very much better known than Cobbing, even a cliche, but the process of the cutup has plenty of fuel in it for me, so I stay interested in him. A few months ago the poet Bob Grenier stayed over in my flat and trailed clouds of gold in with him. Yesterday I picked up a book by Jackson Maclow and felt very close to what he was doing. Tomorrow I'll happen into someone else.
I'm blessed with some friends who are doing extraordinary things right now and so the people in my circle are also people I admire. My great friend Tony Trehy is a remarkable poet.   
8. Where are you originally from?

I was born in what was Kent, but my town has been sucked into the spread of London. My childhood was spent in Ireland, near Belfast and then my teens in the North of England, where I now live. But when I go to visit in London, those accents of childhood call me in and it feels home.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

PATIENCE – riding the rollercoaster of illness Press release

There were times when I was reading this book that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I felt my eyes prick with tears.”
(Fiona Roscoe, Advanced Nurse Practitioner)

A new book of experimental art and poetry by older people in hospital will help patients cope with illness. 

PATIENCE is an account of the emotional rollercoaster of illness. The poems and artworks are by patients who are sometimes in the process of recovery, sometimes coming to terms with dying. The book trials experimental ways of working that haven’t been used in hospital arts, in a bid to get closer to the genuine voice of patients.

Poet Philip Davenport explained: “We hope PATIENCE will help people deal with the journey through illness. The poems and artworks were made using cutup techniques, blending text and art, which allowed people to make delicate, tangential work that reflected their physical state. There’s a lot of humour and acceptance in the pieces. The idea is that PATIENCE will help people realise they’re not alone in illness, others have been there too."
We have put copies of the book on the wards for people to see. But the workshops were a tonic in themselves, the act of making something creative helps patients deal with illness, bringing respite. ”
The end product is the joy you get from creating it…” (David, patient)
Writing helps – ever since my stroke it helps me to spell – gets my brain working. Sometimes I get a bit down and I say to myself: come on you silly monkey, get writing. Do something.” (Joyce, patient)
PATIENCE was compiled from workshops and interviews with people in healthcare in the North West of England by arts organisation arthur+martha, in a Lottery-funded project. Threading between the art and poems are interviews with nurses, doctors and carers. The book becomes a cross-section of hospital life, using artworks, photographs (many are snapshots taken by patients of the view from their bed) poems, discussion. There are forewords by poet Carol Watts and psychiatrist Francis Creed; renowned American poet Robert Grenier wrote the ‘afterwards’. 
"The crossover between image and word is what makes this book unique - someone's shaky handwriting, or their face, or an object they've labelled - they are the fingerprints of real life. These little indications of frailty are very moving, " commented Artist Lois Blackburn from arthur+martha. “We encountered amazing determination, humour and kindness in hospital amongst patients and staff. People dealing with dementia, depression, diabetes, strokes... We met the experts in treating these illnesses and the sufferers, who in their own way are also experts. Their insights are important to pass on; they teach us how to live in our bodies gracefully as we age.” 
PATIENCE 129pp hardback, full colour ISBN 978-0-9539367-8-6 retails at £24.99 and is currently available from Amazon at: http://www.amazon.co.uk

As well as being a tool for the wards, the book is being promoted as an adjunct for nurse training, giving student nurses a unique opportunity to understand and empathise with the point-of-view of older patients. The book is also available to the general public as an artful object in itself - a moment of peace in the midst of panic, a meditation on a rollercoaster. 

An invitation to schools

Boys Can Write

This project is about finding unusual, creative ways to motivate boys to write.

Boys can find some of the technical aspects of writing dry and boring, and this can turn them off writing completely.  Boys learn more effectively when they see a purpose to the learning and when they are having fun. They often prefer practical, hands on learning and many respond well to art.  Include art, drama, active learning in their writing lessons and they won’t even notice they’re learning to write as well!  Of course, the key techniques have to be taught but boys, and girls too, will learn more effectively if they are inspired and motivated. Using the arts is one way of making this happen.” 
Primary School Head Teacher,

Arts organization arthur+martha can offer many ideas for taking a sideways step around problems with writing. By using exercises that are played like games, anxiety can be defused. We’ve collected many techniques that are used by contemporary artists and writers. Some, like concrete poetry, cut-ups and Oulipo strategies are rarely taught in school, which gives them the advantage of freshness. They are playful, but are also subtle tools for self-expression.

The Boys Can Write project isn’t tied to any curriculum or syllabus, it is designed to aid children find delight in writing. It is especially for boys who have hit that cold, blank wall of the page.

arthur+martha can offer schools:
  • taster sessions
  • a program of art/writing workshops in the classroom
  • homework ideas and exhibitions
  • parent and children ‘drop in’ open days
  • ‘how to’ sessions for teachers
Journal entry as concrete poem

Taster Sessions

We can offer one of our taster sessions to schools, run in half or full days. Working with themes suggested by the school or us, with outcomes such as creation of a group or individual shaped poem, the setting of a story, a descriptive piece of writing, all ideas will mix art or design and writing. Work can be completed on the day or can be developed by the class teacher in further sessions.

Program of art/writing workshops in the classroom

These workshops would go into the techniques and themes in more depth, allowing a program to be developed with the class teacher and head, matching the needs of the pupils and school.

Homework ideas

arthur+martha can work with class teachers to create a series of creative ideas for homework, specific to the needs of the class. Work can be motivated with exhibition on-line at our portfolio site "http://www.flickr.com  or by creating exhibitions in venues away from school. arthur+martha have previously held exhibition in art galleries, hospitals, schools, train stations, the Houses of Parliament.

Parent and child ‘drop in’ sessions

arthur+martha can offer the school a ‘drop in/open day’ session, out of school time. These will give parents and children an opportunity to try a range of exciting art/writing techniques, and to discuss any concerns or ideas directly with arthur+martha.

Parents also will benefit from an opportunity to go on their own creative journey, encouraging their confidence, to get inspired to do the art and poetry with their children, and network with other parents.

‘How to’ sessions for teachers

Because we employ unusual writing techniques, it can be helpful for teachers to have a dedicated skill-raising session, to inspire future lessons.

Evaluation and development

Previously, arthur+martha worked with researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University, to study the impact that creating art has on older people’s health and wellbeing. The evaluation produced positive and helpful findings.

We are keen to study the impact any work with Boys Can Write has on literacy in schools.  Therefore as part of this project we will explore ways of capturing information in appropriate ways. In addition we will investigate working with professional bodies to complete a more formal study.


We have worked with hundreds of young people, many illiterate, some in danger of exclusion, with special needs, trauma, or vulnerable in numerous ways. By making writing playful, we’ve helped them explore their own ideas of beauty, anger, humour, sadness and hope. Our blog site is illustrated with examples from past and present arthur+martha projects, as well as an ongoing diary of experiments documented by Lois and her son Joe.

Friday, 5 November 2010

A brain of a dream of a dog

Our first workshop in Warrington with young carers and children from Women’s Aid, mostly pre-teens, took place last Friday. An ice-breaker for all of us, we let the participants steer much of the session, building trust and emphasising playfulness. By getting a sense of the group when they were relaxed, we were able to gauge how they might be able to explore more deeply.

concrete poem on a plaster
The art-room in Warrington Peace Centre was set up with separate spaces for five different exercises, plus extra materials from Derek (Warrington Museum and Art Gallerywho had commissioned this initial workshop and came to lend his support. We would try overwriting, fold-in and some variants on concrete poetry and collage, using pens, postcards and stencils. 

The Dead
The intention was to build on this session in order to run further workshops focussed on text/art self-portraits. It was also a chance for Derek to see us in action and decide if our approach fitted the group. Because the first session was on the doorstep of Halloween, the young carers arrived in their finest, witchiest costumes and face-paint. We decided to busk along this theme, using the excuse of spookiness to explain the weird effect of some of the pieces.

Spooky World
Overwriting (a la Bob Grenier) combined with ‘wrong hand’ writing, was used to create badges with a 50s horror movie flavour. We hope to come back to this ‘wrong hand’ technique again, with the group exploring the push/pull between positive and negative self-image. Badges are a form of self-labelling; these ones were essentially fancy dress, the equivalent of a ghost mask, but the same method can be used to go deeper under the surface. For this day, the big success was the enthusiasm which met these little bits of mini-writing. An industrious girl made six badges and clinked as she walked away at the end of the afternoon.
Stencil Face
The concrete poem faces were very simple, game-like. Again, this was an easy way into a technique that is extraordinarily expressive; we will return to it. One of the delights was that a young girl F who had literacy problems was able to make a witty poetic piece, completely unhampered by (and unaware of) her spelling.
F also contributed beautifully to the largest piece of the day, a cross-section of a brain that people wrote dream fragments into (this was the fold-in writing). F wrote a short sentence, needing letter-by-letter guidance. “What else can I do?” she asked.
“Can you draw?” I enquired.
A Brain of a Dream of a Dog
Not only could she draw, but was bursting to do so. She was joined by Kitty, whose specialty was drawing dogs. And so the brain became a figment of a dreaming dog’s imagining, filled with further dreaming dogs, dream bones, cats up trees, a cat and crossbones, and a doggy spiel written by the irrepressible Billy. A brain of a dream of a dog was a piece of splendid whimsy, co-drawn-and-written by roughly ten of the group. Co-operative pieces like this tend to be unwieldy, but are great to get a group working as a team and also quieten criticism.

The collage-making produced some of the most subtle pieces of the day, recycling postcards into little dioramas with intriguing perspective shifts and lush textures. The makers of these pieces also seemed to be the most introspective, moving quietly into the imagined space of their postcard worlds.

The workshop was a very joyful day of silliness and messing, with a serious undercurrent. We were very aware of the backgrounds of the young people and the thin ice that some of them walk across day-to-day. The question is: how to develop the exercises, to reflect this experience without intruding?

For more images please visit http://www.flickr.com

We will run number of one day workshops, relating carers' experiences and emotions in a creative manner. This will link this to the exhibition at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery by American street artist Elbow-Toe who creates collages and prints depicting the emotions of the inner person. We will use portraiture combined with poetry; work will be displayed in the town centre and/or gallery.

As with our hospital work, the pace of exploration will be determined by the participants themselves - it’s their choice. Enthusiasm is a key in all this and so we will revisit the things that elicited the best responses to see where they lead. The badges are a particularly popular activity and can open out into various kinds of writing and self-portraiture, including photography, so they will feature. The group piece was a gand way to gather all the ages and abilities into one space and we will experiment with this further, with a tighter brief. We hope to visit the Elbow-Toe exhibition with the groups, to focus our work and move it into an introspective mode.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

boys can write

We are just launching our new blogsite Boys Can Write. It is designed to help boys overcome blocks with reading and writing. The site is full of creative poetry/art exercises that aim to bring pleasure back into using words. Boys Can Write now being piloted by the arthur+martha arts organisation and we would welcome the participation of anyone with children. Just go to http://boys-can-write.blogspot.com/ try out any of the exercises that you like the look of and feel free to leave your comments. 

Joe's Concrete Football

Friday, 22 October 2010

PATIENCE (press release)

Snapshots from hospital beds

A book of art and poetry by older people in hospital designed to help people cope with the emotional journey through illness has been published by arts organisation arthur+martha.

PATIENCE is a no-blows-barred account of life in hospital. The poems and artworks are by people who are sometimes in the process of recovery, sometimes coming to terms with dying. There’s also a good dose of humour. Threading between are interviews with nurses, doctors and carers from Stockport hospitals in North West England.

Poet Philip Davenport explained: “PATIENCE is an experiment to see how poetry and art can complement the journey through hospital and recovery. We have left copies of the book on the wards for people to read. It is a document of the extraordinary determination, humour and kindness we encountered in hospital amongst patients and staff.”

"It brings a new outlook from my point of view, reading this book. It makes you think of something else in life, apart from yourself. You cheer one another up." (Madeleine, Patient)

"This book, it gives other people something of what you feel like." (Marjorie, Patient)

PATIENCE was compiled from workshops and interviews with people in healthcare in the North West of England by arts organisation arthur+martha in a Lottery-funded project. The book is lavishly colour illustrated throughout with photographs (many are snapshots taken by patients of the view from their hospital bed) visual poems and found objects. There are forewords by poet Carol Watts and psychiatrist Francis Creed; renowned American poet Robert Grenier wrote the ‘afterwards’.

Artist Lois Blackburn from arthur+martha said: “PATIENCE gives both an emotional and a medical picture of the journey through illness - from denial to acceptance. Dementia and Parkinson’s, depression, diabetes... We have met the experts in treating these illnesses and the sufferers, who in their own way are also experts. It has been a privilege to encounter these inspirational people.”

PATIENCE 129pp hardback, full colour ISBN 978-0-9539367-8-6 retails at £24.99 and is currently available from Amazon at:



arthur+martha feature in The Guardian:


Holocaust-related project devised by arthur+martha on BBC website:


Thursday, 7 October 2010

a must to read

We've just received this wonderful review of our new book Patience, from Nicole Alkemade, the Older People's Joint Commissioning Manager, NHS Stockport:


Patience is a book which captures patients’ experiences and stories of staff on the wards in a very creative way. It shows how every patient is different and how everybody has a different view on their stay in hospital and their life in general.

The artists did an amazing job in engaging with people in a variety of ways meeting people’s interests and abilities e.g. by putting prescription messages for happiness on pharmaceutical packages, writing poems, making pictures of people’s views on their hospital stay and by designing personal postcards.

All pages in the book contain touching messages, give great insights and are often humorous too. It is an impressive piece of collaborative art describing something so common as a stay in hospital, which could also be sometimes frightening and frustrating, from a human perspective.

Patience is an excellent book to look through, to read, to talk about and to reflect upon. It is a must to read for everybody wanting to deliver personalised and dignified care.

A big thank you to all people who contributed and shared their experiences and wisdom and to Lois and Phillip for capturing these valuable messages!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Dementia arts project

I'm working on a proposal for an arts project with people diagnosed with Dementia, Spaghetti Maze. The proposal keeps growing and changing as we talk to more specialists in the field, which is fantastic- however it sometimes feels like the research and development of this project is never ending! I'm finding many wonderful resources along my way, including these:

Dignity in Care Network: which aims to put dignity at the heart of care services..
and The Life Story Network an independent network of people with a passion for life story work, to create further discussion and sharing of positive practice in the use of life stories...

Monday, 27 September 2010

Stepping Hill Open Day

Saturday, we held the launch of Patience at Stepping Hill Hospital. Coinciding with the Stepping Hill Open Day, we had a great mix of staff, patients and the general public view our book.

I took advantage of being next to the cake stall, and my whole family benefited from the fantastic chocolate roulade.  What I found most inspiring was the tireless work of the volunteers, what a fantastic bunch.

We got some more wonderful feedback to the Patience book. A retired teacher visiting the hospital, was excited by the book one particular artwork caught her attention,  Lost my Independence:

"The Spiral, the strength of steel, your mind is unwinding- like steel, gradually unwinding, from one side to another,  thats how I see it- that would express everything to me." Sylvia Piggott.

Friday, 24 September 2010

the minds of elderly patients

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

Who are we to know what is going on in the minds of elderly patients as they sit dutifully in their chairs waiting for the next ward round or cup of tea?

It is a time when many are at their most vulnerable and reflective but sometimes due to disability and ill health are unable to express themselves. The artists of
arthur+martha have patiently sat with these souls and helped them to unlock their thoughts. In doing so, not only do we have examples of unique creative art but also a new dimension in our appreciation of our most senior citizens. (referring to Stages of grief 1950 and Parachute Landing by Albert Burrows)

Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

We are flames not flowers: Bhopal survivors film

Philip writes:

Last weekend I was lucky enough to meet the artist Daniel Gosling who uses walking as part of the making of his art. He sent me a link to a film he shot in 2006, accompanying survivors of the infamous Bhopal disaster on a 34 day protest walk across India. We're very proud to link to the film on our blog, it manages both to be beautiful and have a social conscience.

"In 2006 survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster (1984) walked 800km from Bhopal to Delhi. Their aim was to publicise and protest their continuing neglect by the government of India and Union Carbide/Dow Chemical's toxic legacy in Bhopal. The walk lasted 34 days. I walked with them every day of it." (Daniel Gosling)

Watching the film, I'm struck by the power of witnessing incidental details. Conversation snippets, jokes, glances - in a tiny space of time the film manages to catch a massive event by showing the small moments, rather than the grand. People walking with their backs to us, shared laughter, someone's foot twitching while they're asleep, an umberella painted with the slogan We are flames not flowers. It sidesteps the stale cliches of news reporting and also the documentary trap of unearned catharsis. Enough to see these people's faces and to acknowledge them, not as victims but as fellow folk, as you and I.

To view the 10 minute film on youtube, click on the orange title at the top of this blog: We are flames not flowers, or go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdTL9BJOum4

Daniel has put the film on youtube under the title: Bhopal Survivors Fighters Walkers (short version)

Photos by Daniel Gosling:
1. Left to right: Shehzadi Bee, Champa Devi Shukla, Rashida Bee, Nafisa Bee
2. Leela Bi asleep among the other walkers

Note: Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and together won the Goldman Environmental Prize. Arundhati Roy can be glimpsed in one scene...

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Patience launch at Stepping Hill Hospital

We are pleased to announce that we will be launching our book PATIENCE, at Stepping Hill Hospital during their Open Day, Saturday 25th September,  between 12 pm. and 4.00 pm. During the afternoon, we will be based at E1, the Stroke Unit. You can find out more about the open day by visiting http://www.stockporthealth.nwest.nhs.uk/

schools of nursing

In response to our new book Patience, Advance Nurse Practitioner, Fiona Roscoe has written:

The stark honesty and desperation expressed by a stroke patient in 'Ever' provides a frightening insight into her world. I would advocate that schools of nursing examine their curriculums and ensure that students are given an opportunity to experience the art produced from this project as stopping to listen to what patients are telling us is key to knowing what needs to be done to help them.
Fiona Roscoe RN DN MSc BSc(Hons) is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (Primary and Urgent Care)

a stroke: it’s like freezing a piece of meat

waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting
a cancellation
put me back again
a slight stroke
couldn’t move my arm
so I lift it with the other one
don’t let it lie dead
rub the back of your hand
keep it going

and then it’s un-frozen

waiting and
try to keep moving
haul yourself
with a walking stick
to your exercises
tried, tired and knackered
they train you, so
if you fall in the house by yourself

but only in part and some remains

waiting and
trying to open the door
try to get to the phone
try to climb a step, up four inches
(one bad leg, two arms, nothing 100%)
terrifying thinking about it
don’t think, try to
get on, to stand

on ice.

24-31 July 2009