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Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together

The second of a series of three posts written before, during and after an event curated by yours truly, supported by The Afterlife of Heritage Research Project and hosted by the the Royal West of England Academy.

A version of this post first appeared on the Afterlife of Heritage Research blog. All photographic images by Alice Hendy.

The weather forecast lied. The galleries of the Royal West of England Academy were pretty quiet on the Saturday afternoon of one of the few gloriously sunny bank holidays in living memory. This did not bode well for the first of the two Research to Public events I had been busily planning. Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together was scheduled as one of the activities running through the RWA’s Drawn exhibition. It was designed as an interactive visitor experience, and it wouldn’t work without visitors.


I was relying on a host of folks to help the event along. The most important members of the cast were the Signartists Richard Carter and Paul Scott who had agreed to perform the poetic works they had created in the visual-gestural medium of British Sign Language. Then there were the interpreters, Pascale Maroney and Naomi Bearne, without whom the Signartists and visitors would not be able to communicate. Finally there were the members of the research-through-drawing collective HATCH who had volunteered to lead the graphic responses to Richard and Paul’s work, and Alice Hendy who was to record the event with her camera.

After arriving to arrange the ‘Drawing Lab’ gallery space far too early and sweating through the superfluous empty minutes supported by my partner who had generously elected to lend a hand, the cast began to arrive. Fifteen minutes before the start of the event we were all assembled. All that was missing was a ‘public’.

‘Assemblage’, but not yet ‘Action’…

But I needn’t have worried. Once the Signartists began to perform, their movements conjured visitors into the space as if by magic…….



The Drawing Lab quickly filled. What’s more, the visitors didn’t leave. Most stayed for the entire two hours of the event.


IMG_0388 IMG_0422

As an inveterate wimp (see my first blog on this subject), the bravery of others never ceases to impress and I was bowled over by the readiness of casual visitors to engage with drawing practice. They drew, they wrote haikus, they asked questions, they made comments and appreciative noises, and observed long intense silences while Richard and Paul performed, and I scribed provocative quotes on the blackboards. And as the event drew to a close and artists and visitors mingled and chatted, the voluntary contributions box began to fill with drawings, comments and those haikus.




The success of the event was all the more rewarding because the whole was designed as a performance of the activity of my doctoral research. I’m looking at image in sign language poetry, and asking whether analyzing this ‘Signart’ through art epistemologies can offer a greater understanding of the form than purely linguistic or literary analysis permits. So Richard and Paul were performing the subject of the research, the visitors were performing the research practice by drawing, thinking, writing and commenting, whilst I was performing academically by relating all of these to existing knowledge.


It seemed to work. I can only hope my thesis will be as well received.

And perhaps the brightest planning idea – which came from Gemma Brace, the curator at the RWA – was to run the event twice. This offered the opportunity for ‘rewrites’ and ‘corrections’.

The first event put a lot of pressure on the Signartists to perform continuously, whilst the position of the blackboards meant the content of my work could easily have been overlooked by visitors. In short, the three activities of the model were performed but could perhaps have interacted with each other more fully. At the next event, a few weeks later, I punctuated the Signartist’s performances by reading the statements I had written on the blackboards. This helped the ‘academic’ content inform the visitors’ ‘research’ activities. Both the visitor turn out and the responses were just as satisfying the second time round, but the discussion was a tad richer.


I enjoyed the experience enormously!

I can’t tell you how fascinating I found the event.

I’m an artist. I’ve lived in Bristol for six years and this is the first event that has attracted me to the RWA.

 It was really moving, and incredibly inspiring and thought provoking!

Fascinating.Where is the line drawn?

I have never seen sign poetry before, and I didn’t even know it existed

Brilliantly expressive and strong. Mesmerising!

Wow! Really interesting challenge.


with eye,hand,lip

a concentration of


understanding will come soon.


Nana went to Latitude

After months of spreadsheets filled with quotations and bibliographic work, I dispatched the upgrade report to the examiners, whizzed off one or two proposals and made it to Latitude Festival. Now the summer feels like it’s finally arrived and Nana is back.

2012: The Summer of Promise. At least that was the view from under Henham Park’s expansive early skies as, brew in hand, I frolicked in the maze of mental stimulus gathered from each festival day in much the same way the famous coloured sheep constantly moved around the frame of their pen (and still there were so many things I didn’t do or see!)

Interpreting First Aid Kit on the Obelisk stage was a genuine pleasure as well as a privilege. Scott (the manager) was helpful and efficient, Johanna and Klara both friendly and playful and their profound lyrical narratives were perfect for exploring some ideas around sign creativity gleaned from my PhD work with the best of the British Sign Language poets – Paul Scott, Richard Carter, John Wilson and Donna Williams. I was really pleased with the results: @deafjesus tweeted that First Aid Kit were “immense, cool dudes” and First Aid Kit tweeted “How awesome was our sign-language lady? New band member?”

*Proud* Obviously I’ll be in the queue for flight tickets to Stockholm as soon as that paperwork comes through…..

It was interesting, though, to make this connection with performance, song lyrics, and sign poetry. And like all good memes, it replicated. Simon Armitage riffed on the relationship between writing poetry and writing lyrics in response to a question from the floor (in a discussion chaired by Stuart Maconie), Benjamin Zephaniah warned of the consequences of taking the comparison too far, Scroobius Pip re-formed it via a full-length piece, and Don’t Flop played it out gangster-stylee.

I’ll be moving my coloured sheep around on this one for a while…..


In the meantime, here’s my Latitude gratitude for 2012:

Thanks to Carole and Rob for their constant generosity (and great to meet their Jamie this time). Thanks of course to Caz for being the Slash to my Lemmy, and for rocking the Alabama Shakes set, and to Emma for bringing her cool brand of elegant, witty control (and the zombie apocalypse action plan) to the terp team. Thanks to Deaf Jesus and all his disciples. Thanks to First Aid Kit and Scott, and all the backstage crews for being so lovely, professional and accommodating and for remembering us. Thanks to Alabama Shakes not only because they smashed it, but because Brittany and Heath were so lovely to hang with for that little while. Thanks to Simon Armitage for his flattering recall. Thanks to the silent but eloquently lined member of Paul Weller’s entourage for the beautiful, impromptu blue paper camellia. Thanks to Mark Lamarr for the best booty-shaking, bone-rattling, skip-to-my-lou of the year and to the unknown DJ on the Lake Stage who chilled it all down with a vintage cut of ‘Bare Neccessities’. A huge fashion thanks to Ottilie and Clover for the baby blue recycled cashmere Amish bear bonnet (I love you ladies). Thanks to Oxfam for this year’s funky wardrobe addition. Thanks to the hugely talented and indefatigable Amy of Keep and Share. Thanks to all the performers and creatives whose work I so enjoyed. Thanks to John, the lovely dad-next-door whose solid wall of family shielded me from the frankly terrifying beyond (I hope you got your coffee). Thanks to Lovely Mirror Lady (I still don’t know your name) for her fine vibe and for remembering the bunting – until next time. Thanks to Frosty, obviously, and all of Festival Republic for their smooth operating. Ditto all the campsite angels and especially the brave, stoic and efficient toilet cleaning crew.

Thanks to my beautiful son for being cool enough to not mind hanging out with his mother every now and again, and for his bars.

Thank you L…A…T…I…T…U….D…E !

I hope you’ll invite me back.

Right then, back to the real world and that conference presentation that needs preparing….Image

#People of the Eye

In 1910 George Veditz*, addressing the Ninth Convention of the American National Association of the Deaf and the Third World Congress of the Deaf, described sign language people as “people of the eye”. He knew a thing or two. Despite 21st Century discourses, for most contemporary sign language people this remains a more precise description than any that involve lack, loss, disability or the practices of medicine.

Visual artists are also ‘people of the eye’. Although they are not defined by a biological imperative (nor subject to medical interference), they nonetheless tend to be people who think, process and conceptualise the world visually.

What better name, then, for the loose collective of sign poets and visual artists I have been gathering together since my last blog post. (Did you miss me? Go on, say you did.)

The People of The Eye so far consist of four esteemed sign poets: John Wilson, Donna Williams, Paul Scott and Richard Carter and a growing number of visual artists working in various media (including sound). Those engaged so far are listed below, each charged with creating a visual response to one of the poems created and selected by the poets. Their response may be to content, form or any other aspect.

We will be communicating across an internet platform; discussing, questioning and creating and are hoping to collectively blog to the wider artworld.

It’s been a lot of work putting it together, but everyone has responded so enthusiastically to the idea that it has also been a great honour.

We’re all very excited about what might emerge, and the mutual understandings these two tribes of visual peoples might find. We’ll keep you posted.

The work of the poets can be seen at:-

So far the artists are:-

Trina Bohan-Tyrie: (website launching soon)

Jackie Calderwood:

Howard Hardiman:

Eliza Kesuma:

Tamarin Norwood:

Kyra Pollitt: (website launching soon)

Bob Quinn:

The Rutterfords (Chris and Fiona):

Melanie Sangwine:

Mairi Taylor:

Fliss Watts:

Tom White:


*President of the National Association of the Deaf in the U.S. (1861- 1937)


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