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:

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 for their help.

Supported by Arts Council England.

Davenport's China journal begins at

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  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:

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 "  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

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 try out any of the exercises that you like the look of and feel free to leave your comments. 

Joe's Concrete Football