frailty of spine
for being calipers
©Kyra Pollitt 2015
frailty of spine
for being calipers
©Kyra Pollitt 2015
Summer is drawing to a close and the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us: an appropriate time, then, to reflect on and draw in / draw to a close/ draw together the fruits of my Research to Public events.
In the early summer I staged two ‘happenings’ at the Royal West of England Academy. Each coinciding with the major summer exhibition Drawing, each taking place in The Drawing Lab – a gallery space given over to interactivity. The happenings brought together, in embodied performance, three elements of my research: ‘sign language poetry’; art practice; and scholarly writing.
The whole premise of my research is to re-search (re-see) ‘sign language poetry’ as much more than poetry. In language and literary terms it is undoubtedly poetic, and there has been a deal of scholarly research into the form; focusing on line, prosody, phonology, metaphor and so on. But these accounts address only the language.
Early in the process of research I had interviewed practitioners as well as fluent and naïve audiences- all of whom had alluded to additional aspects as being equally important. In my thesis I name these as drawing, gesture-dance, cinematics, composition and social sculpture. Taken together with poetic use of language, these aspects constitute the synthesis of artforms, the potential Gesamtkunstwerk that I now prefer to call Signart.
I have been exploring each of these aspects of Signart as Gesamtkunstwerk through a ‘blurred methodology’ known as a/r/tography. In my research practice a/r/tography is a blend of art practice, translation and scholarly writing. The happenings modelled (performed) my research practice.
Richard Carter and Paul Scott took it in turns to stand or sit by a full length mirror on one side of the gallery space, performing and rehearsing their silent, visual, gestural works. In the centre of the room members of HATCH – a research-through-drawing collective- ‘translated’ their responses to the Signart onto paper through art practice, whilst I responded to both activities by scribing – on the wall-mounted blackboards – quotes from scholarly works which drew together or sought to question and stimulate both sets of artistic activities. Chairs, desks and paper were set out for members of the public who were invited to drift in and out or stay and engage in research. And they did, with active participants numbering approximately thirty over the two events.
So what difference did it make? Well, not none.
Just having Signart performed in a gallery space raised questions.
The obvious starter was that gallery staff, volunteers, and participants of all stripes realized that public includes deaf, and became aware of adapting their communication accordingly. More profoundly, though, general perceptions of deafness (or more accurately deafhood) as disability or ‘special need’ began to fall away as the beauty and skill of Signart began to unfold. In the discussions at the end of each happening (ably facilitated by interpreters Naomi Bearne and Pascale Maroney) some people found themselves engaged in deep and animated discussion with a deaf person for the first time in their lives.
And what they were talking about was art: about line, and mark-making, about the ephemeral and the permanent; about movement and stasis; about the properties of different media; about acts of translation; about forms of inscription and encoding; about image.
And that affected the Signartists. Informed that they were poets by years of research, and unused to a gallery audience, their reception encouraged them to perhaps reconsider their positioning. They found themselves talking about their work in quite new and different ways, their consciousness of certain aspects heightened. The same was true of deaf members of the public, who were more accustomed to seeing ‘sign language poetry’ at their local Centre for Deaf People than in such prestigious and creative surroundings.
The happenings also raised questions for the HATCH members, who were interested in the aspects of Signart that resisted capture and exploration through drawing – what was lost (‘remaindered’) in translation.
And because a/r/tography is a ‘recursive’ methodology, the happenings affected the research too. The drawings, comments and contributions of Signartists, HATCH members, and those who took some time out of their days to observe, sit, draw, write, question or otherwise contribute were collected. They number over fifty and are currently feeding directly into the PhD thesis.
And of course, the happenings also happened to me. This was the first time I had curated, the first time I had performed in any significant capacity in a gallery space. The whole process was a learning curve – from conception through to structuring a focussed written proposal, budgeting, liaising with key personnel, sourcing materials, organizing zero-budget publicity, managing the comfort of participants, health and safety, managing the events, performing the events, ensuring effective channels for feedback, cleaning up the space after the events, thanking everyone, paying everyone and documenting and evaluating the process.
The training I received through the Afterlife project, and the accommodating, insightful support of Gemma Brace (Exhibitions and Membership Manager at the RWA) combined to ensure that curve was gentle and the happenings happened successfully.
Morrissey,I think it made a difference.
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.
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.
a concentration of
understanding will come soon.
This post first (and recently) appeared on The Afterlife of Heritage Research Project blog, as the first of a series of three posts written before, during and after a planned event. Take a look to see what other contributors are up to.
Here’s Nana’s ‘before the event’ blog:
Of course I think my PhD is interesting. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davis, I would say that wouldn’t I? But I don’t foresee a queue forming outside Waterstones’ in eager anticipation of the submission of my thesis. So when I came across artsmethods@manchester’s Research to Public strand, offering guidance on making my research public-facing, I was immediately excited. After all, what’s the point of research if it’s not meaningful to reality?
Research to Public offered two structured and intensive full day workshops at the University of Manchester, supplemented by documentation and an online presence designed to prize open the rusty doors of the ivory tower and let the daylight of practicality flood in.
Eager applicants to the scheme were initially subject to a selection process before being invited to the first workshop. Then, after considerable input, we were sent forth into the big wide world and told to come back with an institutional partner- a gallery, museum or other public institution interested in our proposal and willing to play host. The second workshop honed our ability to co-operate with our partners and the resulting carefully budgeted and considered proposals were then submitted to a panel charged with distributing prize funding.
I am very fortunate to have had my proposal selected, and I write this on the eve of the first of the two events that I proposed. As you can imagine, the whole process has been challenging in lots of ways; some anticipated, some unexpected, but all very, very useful. So here are some of the lessons I’ve learned thus far. I apologize if you already know them, but some of us are slower on the uptake.
Lesson 1: Don’t be precious
There’s wisdom in that there Kenny Rogers song about knowing ‘when to fold ‘em’ and ‘when to hold ‘em’. There may be some ideas that are worth being deeply precious about, but these are rare. Actively seek the opinions and contributions of others. Be honest with yourself about your level of commitment to the idea as it stands, and give due and respectful consideration to the tweaks others propose. Every contributor (from the gallery curator to the chatty passenger sharing your train journey) brings different expertise; learn to harness it.
Lesson 2: Network
Contributing to as many networks as you can effectively manage is good for your creative soul. It’s also kind of karmic. I had cold-called a number of institutions who were all enthusiastic but already committed to a schedule, before a network connection yielded an introduction to an institution that wasn’t even on my list. It turns out the institution was looking for something that would reach beyond its usual remit and demographic, and I could propose just the thing. Who knew?
Lesson 3: Refining is a lived process
Like most other things in life – and unlike the fairy tales I’m still addicted to – perfect proposals don’t just appear fully-formed, ready-sprinkled with magic dust. Business proposals, academic theses, paintings, life – all require adjustments and rewrites.
Lesson 4: Plan and anticipate
Like the archetypal mum checking before her child leaves for school in the morning- Homework? Packed lunch? Gym kit? Keys? Hanky? Umbrella? It was quite fun spending time just thinking about all the possibilities and unlikelihoods surrounding the events I’d proposed. It was even more fun when the gallery curator was able to identify a few more.
Lesson 5: Make it real
Isn’t there some great quote from a famous person about the number of brilliant ideas that lie gathering dust in obscurity? Despite what I hope (with some effort) is a bubbly public persona, I’m actually ‘a bit behind the door’ so the process of taking an idea and making it real has been quite exhilarating. It’s both humbling and inspiring when other people believe enough in your idea to lend themselves to it. Ok, so I may have had to gather myself a little before plastering my event all over Facebook and Twitter but the whole R2P process has given me renewed confidence in my ability to communicate to others through writing, talking, thinking and sharing, and ultimately performing. I think it’s no coincidence that my painting and sculpting, as well as my academic writing also seem to have received a bit of a boost.
I’ve spent today having final meetings with the artists involved, gathering the hardware I’ll need for the space, making a Blue Peter style audience contributions box, monitoring the Twitter publicity spread (currently standing at 45 RTs, 7 mentions and 3 favourites), and checking the Bank Holiday weekend weather forecast (chance of rain, 13˚C).
What are we planning? Will it work? Will anyone care? These tales will be told in the next blog. For now, let’s see what new lessons tomorrow brings…
February: the month of lovers.
Even the foxes are keening.
But for Nana, St. Valentine’s Day came and went with ne’er so much as a card.
And still the invitation to the second round workshop of the Afterlife of Heritage Research to Public initiative gathered dust on the mantelpiece.
Unlike many of the more graceful belles, yours truly has no pedigree in the arts and cultural heritage sector; no friends in high (or even low) places to return overdue favours; no advantage reflecting from the looking glass.
Lacking white mice, Nana turned to the keyboard. She wrote a proposal. Then realised there should perhaps be two (to indicate range and to demonstrate a willingness to be flexible). Or perhaps three would be better……..
But then how to compose a love letter when you don’t know who you’re writing to?
Nana got digital and started internet dating- scouring websites for a potential match.
It took two days of procrastinating, some nail-biting, quite a lot of chocolate, and a little encouragement from Jenna Carine Ashton before Nana could press SEND. After all, what would happen if they refused?
Nothing terrible happened.
And they refused politely and sweetly, and with some very helpful recommendations of others whose dance cards might not already be so full.
Nana reflected. Ah yes, what was it most of us had failed to include when we practised this at the workshop? Oops.
Rewrite #1 (including the crucial ‘What’s in it for you?’ section). SEND.
Rewrite #2 (including more potential strands). SEND.
Rewrite #3 (reducing the material requirements). SEND.
And then it happened. THE AMAZING THING. Our interests match, we’re looking for the same things, we’re talking the same talk, the timing is perfect, we’ve met face-to-face and we like each other….
Nana, book your train. For on Thursday you SHALL go to the Ball, and you shall dance….
….with the Royal West of England Academy!
Well, they say you can’t keep a good collective down (at least I think that’s right…)
Since my last message to you, People of the Eye have created a project blog on Projects unedited, part of Artists Talking – the website forum offered by the artists’ advocacy and information forum, artists-network (www.a-n.co.uk). You can see our initial offering here http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/2022613
No sooner had we posted this than @artists_talking tweeted the link. @artists_talking has 1,516 followers on Twitter. Sadly, I can’t get figures on the membership of a-n, although I would guesstimate that we’re talking 10s of 1,000s. Even allowing for the inevitably high overlap between these two networks, that’s a lot of people who just got exposed to the existence of sign language poetry!
We’ll be posting more soon, with an upcoming blog relating to a-n’s current hot topic #digitalpartners, followed by a blog from Fliss Watts (www.watermellon.co.uk), the first artist from the Collective to stick her head above the parapet and reveal how she’s getting on and the thoughts she’s been having. That’s her self-portrait right there.
I’ve also recently joined The International Coalition for Arts, Human Rights and Social Justice (www.artsrightsjustice.net) so that we can take the People of the Eye’s message to a global audience. We’ll keep you posted on that too.
Away from this whorl of digital posting, People of the Eye will be getting out and about in the real-world when we are represented at the 7th International Conference of the Arts in Society, which will be held in Liverpool from 23-25th July 2012 (http://artsinsociety.com/conference-2012/ ). Our paper is snappily entitled Plasticising Poetic Ephemera? Using Visual Arts Practices to Investigate (British) Sign Language Poetry. Here’s the abstract:
“Does not the term ‘image’ contain several functions whose problematic alignment precisely constitutes the labour of art?” (Rancière, 2009) So is it art? Is it poetry? Inherently transgressive, sign language poetry is composed and performed in a visual, gestural, spatial medium, relying on image for both form and content and reflecting the cultural experiences of “people of the eye” (Veditz, 1910 cited in Ladd, 2003) As such it challenges traditional assumptions of the literary, and remains invisible to the artworld. Hitherto investigated predominantly by linguists, this paper reports on an ongoing doctoral project which seeks to expose the nature of the image in this hidden artform through the explorations and responses of a collective of artists and poets using various media to research various aspects of selected (British) sign language poems.
If that’s whetted your appetite and you’re going to be heading along to the conference, please come and say ‘Hi’ and retreat to the bar with us.
In a tangential but related move, I’ll be giving a paper at the AHRC’s Researching Multilingually seminar at UWE (Bristol) on 25th and 26th April, 2012( http://researchingmultilingually.com/) where I’ll be describing (and possibly bemoaning) the lot of the multilingual, multidisciplinary, multi-modal researcher with a paper entitled No, this isn’t the data analysis; this is just the consent form….
Hey! I seem to be quite good at this title malarkey (not!).
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:- http://www.bris.ac.uk/education/research/sites/micsl/poem-repository/
So far the artists are:-
Trina Bohan-Tyrie: www.trinagallery.com (website launching soon)
Jackie Calderwood: www.jackiecalderwood.com
Howard Hardiman: www.howardhardiman.com
Eliza Kesuma: www.moodymonday.co.uk
Tamarin Norwood: www.tamarinnorwood.co.uk
Kyra Pollitt: www.kyrapollitt.com (website launching soon)
Bob Quinn: www.bobquinn.ie
The Rutterfords (Chris and Fiona): www.chrisrutterford.com
Melanie Sangwine: www.sangwine.co.uk
Mairi Taylor: www.mairitaylor.co.uk
Fliss Watts: www.watermellon.co.uk
Tom White: www.tomwhitesound.com
*President of the National Association of the Deaf in the U.S. (1861- 1937)
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