Tuesday, 19 April 2011

yours mingles my dust

'Studio Chonqing' symposium will take place at Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester 21st April 2011 (details below). I've been invited to read from my work made in CQ, the poem 'My paintings are invisible' and some material from my journals. It seems a good moment to post my very last China journal entry.

January 2010

Snow glare from Beijing airport haloes the outsize buildings. We’ve wriggled one last time through the Beijing traffic – a wall of impossible complexity that made our taxi driver tut and play with his worry balls. An hour later, wrapped in warm aircon and easy pop, we’re combing the airport lounge for a decent coffee; an hour later again we’re rolling off the runway in the care of Finnair.

Screens are set into the headrests in front of us, we have the pilot’s POV for takeoff. I’m tired, dirty, stressed, stretched. Julia has grey sleep-lack around her eyes.

Now we’re climbing off the ground and below us on the runway we can see our shadow, caught in the screens, flit along the airstrip. Now we’re overhead and Julia is trying for some more photos through the plane window, cursing the overexposure. Now the screens are showing a 3D flightpath, Beijing below, Chengdu to our right, Xuanhua and Kalgan to the left.

The mountains are back again, the same mountains I saw on my arrival three months gone, and the snowplains outside the city. On the 3D computer graphic, our flightpath disappears with the world’s curve, to the other side of the globe. Our airspeed is 369, outside altitude 14491 feet as we bid goodbye to China.

“It’s minus 62 out there,” Julia says, the land all snow, the folds in contours like creases in a vast eiderdown, stuffed with white to the edge of our seeing. We slip into our own thoughts, then the shared dream of in-flight movies. I come awake with a jolt over Helsinki – wheels are spinning up dust in a car chase onscreen.

Studio Chongqing

A Live Collection of Work and Experiences from the 501 Residency, Chongqing, China.
Curated by Nina Chua and Jessica Longmore

Chinese Art Centre
21st April 2011

For free tickets and further information: http://chongqing-symposium-auto.eventbrite.com/

This event has been kindly sponsored by Arts Council England, Chinese Art Centre and Seabrook Associates.

Friday, 15 April 2011


Featuring Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, Maggie O'Sullivan, Phil Minton and Ben Gwilliam & Phil Davenport@ The Green Room, Manchester, Friday 15 April 2011

The Green Room and Text Festival present an evening of virtuoso vocals and groundbreaking sound art.

Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl is an Icelandic poet who regularly appears at poetry and music festivals, as well as dabbling in the dark arts of the concrete. Nothing can prepare you for the power and dexterity of his performance, the richness of his sound poems, and his amazing control of his material. His huge contortions twist his mouth to stun the audience.

Phil Minton is a dramatic baritone with a free-form style of "extended techniques" that are extremely unsettling. His vocals often include the sounds of retching, burping, screaming, and gasping, as well as childlike muttering, whining, crying and deep-throated drones; he also has an ability to distort his vocal cords to produce two notes at once. Phil Minton's voice occupies a category apart, as joyously accessible as it is radical.

For over thirty years, Maggie O'Sullivan has been one of the leading figures of British innovative poetry. An international performer and visual artist, she is committed to excavating language in all its multiple voices and tongues, known and unknown.

Davenport the poet and Gwilliam the sound artist merge language and the sound of the world. Their intricate tape-recordings are a chorus of human speech becoming noise pollution becoming birdsong.

Event also featured soundworks by Sarah Boothroyd and Matt Dalby.

Ticket Prices: £9.50/£6.50
Venue: Green Room 54-56 Whitworth St West Manchester M1 5WW 0161 615 0500

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A Big Bake Day

Last Thursday we worked on the Four Acre project-  we spent a very satisfying afternoon with Mature Matters, an over 60 group at the Leaf Centre. The lively group of woman, gleefully shared memories of baking, cake recipes and memories. Alongside this we asked about temptation and the forbidden, the naughty, the transgressive. Memories came thick and fast, which were written down then selected from, to write on cup-cakes I had prepared earlier.

Phil and Pauline
It's a treat to see an visual idea in my head become a reality, especially when its such a hit with everyone making (and eating it) There is something very satisfying about creating an edible poem, and I'm sure it will be a technique we will use again. (my children were particularly pleased that I managed to bring a couple home for them to sample)

strict but a heart of gold
We have a wonderful artist Joan and writer Joanne who are shadowing us on the Four Acre project.  Joanne edited the following poem from her notes with Joan.

A Big Bake Day  (with Joan)

two ovens     I smell
a leaded range
rice pudding
50 fairy cakes in a sweet jar
warmed Liberty bodice
porridge and toast
sugar in blue bags
conny onny
lavender polish
stale cake and custard
our own jam
tea leaves on the carpet
pobs from your mum if
you wasn’t well
Grandma’s copper in the scullery

Gather your elderberries on a warm July day

more photos at http://www.flickr.com

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Sunday, 10 April 2011

chosen by chance

Our new project in Four Acre has already produced some wonderful new art and poetry, and taken us to two new working environments- (my first art/poetry workshop in a Doctors waiting room and first in a Bingo Hall!) You can see the artworks at http://www.flickr.com/ and below is an example of the poems- written by the lively group of Bingo players.

every sum we do
the teacher
gives us a tickle with the cane
balls against a wall
over under dropsy
bouncy, 1 leg, 2 legs
under leg, forward
hated maths, hated maths teacher
4 + 3 forty-three
“10 girl’s names I must know
wish me luck and away I go”
123 O’Leary
2 balls against the house
turnaround or do a forfeit
kickthecan allio
arrows out of sticks > follow a paperchase
a snail-shaped hopscotch
a hopscotch-shaped snail
neighbour said = “Don’t be drawing in front of my house.”
chalk the squares hop on the 1st then
throw a stone someone’s coming
manhunt, running away

in hospital, irons on my legs
pulling my legs straight
4 years with irons on
marbles draw a circle
all the 8s eighty-eight
milked over 180 cows in an hour-and-a-half
piggy wood shaved to a point
I’m a child raised on technology
favourite lucky pebble
everybody had 1
tucked in their knickers
cross the river over to Pilks
get the offcuts and use em for marbles
slight imperfects, ovals and offcasts
building big teams
7 + 3 seventy-three
hopscotch and trungel
guide it round with a metal arm
top and whip
mind I had to look after my bothers and sis
Grand National
always my sister’s or dad’s horse came in
I don’t even do the lottery
no calculators we’re using our heads
8 + 0
blind eighty
13 brothers + sisters
= my memories are at home.

Group poem

Bingo Night St Michael’s

April 2011

1,2,3 O'Leary... Bingo!

Our project at Four Acre plays with the idea that artmaking can take place in any environment. Going to the Bingo session at St Michael's church hall was an ideal way to stretch out our creative process and to show our faces too.

We'd decided to construct a poem that used chance and numbers for so that we fitted into the surroundings.

When people arrived in the hall we asked each individual for a memory of childhood number games. They came back with skipping songs, hopscotch, hated maths teachers, counting away slow time in hospital - and much else besides. 

Their words were then gently whittled to make them concise, cut into individual lines and put into  bag, shaken up and tipped out in random order. This became the order of the poem, with  very little re-arrangement.

The room went pin-drop quiet as I read back through the Bingo Caller's Pa. People were waiting to hear their line. Bringing together so many disparate but similar memories was an extraordinary feeling, like channeling  choir.

The response was delighted surprise. Several people came up to us afterwards to tell us how pleased they were to 'hear' themselves - and how well all of their memories dovetailed together, making a whole. The Bingo night (run by Les and Pat, unpaid -wonders of the community) is helping to stitch together  community that's struggled. Perhaps the poem confirmed how much they share, despite all the differences. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

comfort: smell the waft

smell comforting waft
Our first session in St Helens and our first using cakes as a page for writing poems upon. This very delightful session in the Chester Lane library in Four Acres made cake-making a bridge between the past and present. We asked older participants to think into childhood taste-memories, smells, all the associations that come with home cooking.

This was literally a taster session for our new project in Four Acre's, St Helens working with older people to explore memory and find ways to encapsulate it and pass it on.

The conversation was scribed and read back, then the speakers picked lines that caught a moment for them and rewrote it using biscuit letters. The difficulty of 'writing' in this way meant that the lines had to be shortened, sharpened, making them richer. Placement and decoration was also important. The letters sat amongst the embroidered decoration on the tablecloth like an elaborate page of manuscript.

There was great pleasure in delving these memories and a lot of laughter amongst the group. Tales of treacle toffee cinders, blackberry pies, puff pastries and sugared almonds. There was pride in the craft of making cakes, the passing on of traditions, and also tremendous affection for the fields and woods and gardens of 60, 70 years ago that delivered fresh fruit and vegetables wondrous in the memory.

bread eating the corner off coming home
Taste is a powerful bringer of memories. With the pleasure came some sour memories to offset that sugar. Lack was never far from the edge of the feast. B remembered his mum selling their ration coupons, so that his childhood had very few sweets in it. T told our shadow artist Joan of local families during the First World War cooking an extra cake every Sunday to give to soldiers at the nearby training camp, before they went to the trenches in France. Most of all there was a sense of having to be careful, of making do with a little, putting food in pickling jars and preserving it as jams. The seasons would soon change and the food go with them.

best part licking the bowl

Humour of course popped in and out of the session. George gave a recipe for pheasant (mostly the catching of them): 'Feed some pheasants sultanas for a week, get them used to it. Soak sultanas in brandy. Now throw these down for the pheasants. They'll be blind drunk. Pick up whichever pheasant you please. It's what poachers used to do.'

We also had additional offerings from two grandchildren who worked with our other shadow artist Joanne to make concrete (or shaped) poems celebrating the taste of sweets.

We'd particularly like to thank Joan and Joanne our 'shadows', Dot and all the staff at the library and Owen for the help and enthusiasm that we received.

More photos of the project http://www.flickr.com

From our forgotten correspondent

The 'map of you' postcards carry tiny stories, little snatches of homeless people's lives. In the white space between the buildings, the stories appear, some stencilled, some handwritten, some self-explanatory, funny, dour, elusive. They've often been made under great duress. People have been high, or crying, or trying to make a housing appointment, or a deal, or trying to sell The Big Issue. They're moments grasped as they melt.

go on the rides, swimming, cigarettes, good to keep busy

At other times, people have sat with us for longer sessions, longer journeys. At the Red Door in Bury and at the Booth Centre in Manchester, people have explored their own edges. At times, people dismissed the postcards on first look, then looking closer discovered something of themselves. Many times we have introduced ourselves to the group and the idea, and before we have even started a discussion, participants have grabbed pens and written free form on the cards, in a passionate response.

Perhaps the most important thing is that the work is made by people who're living through crisis. As L, a 'service-user' in Bury said: 'People who suffer have knowledge.' The skin is thin and through it they feel the world intensely and report it with great vividness.

Move on from were I am/ Lost a few times

These reports on the world are from our own forgotten correspondents, people we might pass everyday without registering. But they see, they've no choice. To relax - to close their eyes - would be to make themselves even more vulnerable to attack. Stare hard enough and long at something you can observe the deeper structure, the bones.

The art and writing made during this project is starting to become whole, a body of work. A living body, a post-mortem body, take your choice. Evidence perhaps. What is the story that's being told? Many of the pieces are simply about desperation, the heaviness of being alone in a hostile environment. There is mourning: lost innocence, lost families, lost love. There's a yearning too, for shelter and kindness. And there's resilience, often in the form of humour, anger, friendship. Finally, many people told us don't want money, or even help, most of all they want acknowledgement. To be seen.

This point was emphasised several times by C at The Booth Centre - the horror of invisibility, of living in a place where, as he expressed it, "Society wears blindfolds."

In the blank spaces between buildings on the postcards that we've supplied to write in - they have appeared. Some of them are beautiful in their manifestation and all come hard won. Homelessness can happen to anybody - after a horrible series of events it could be you or me on the street.

Lawrence Weiner told me (the one time we met) that, 'Art is useful. It helps us to live.' These encounters and the work that's come out of them has helped me to see my own life differently and the greater workings of the society we're all held within. The voices of outsiders always have called to me because they seem to transcend those walls, to come from a bigger world. Perhaps they'll speak to - or for - you?