Thursday, 22 October 2015


Ripple ʃ Siachen Glacier

Ripple ʃ Butterfly Orchid

These are a couple of prototypes for Ripple - a triptych of three dimensional poetry pieces I'm making with Maya Chowdhry for an exhibition next month at the Menier Gallery as part of GFest. It's been a fascinating process so far.

Not least for the scale. I'm (once again) outside my comfort zone. Having become confident with small scale, miniature artist booklets combing poetry I had to say 'Yes' to Maya's invitation to work with her on this project that aims to present the impact of climate change on the Indian subcontinent. Each installation is an interactive poetic sculpture, using both the sculptural extension (the extension of my previous paper work) and augmented reality (bi-lingual audio poems accessed through Zappar). 

This sculpture, we hope, illustrates the imagination made solid, the creation of a space, a small world into which the listener is invited to stay and explore the poem, for the poem to have a physical presence.

Collaboration is a slow, rigorous way of working. Every decision takes twice as long, new ideas bubble up with the discussions. Which, for me, makes a perfect method for presenting poems: there is no one way of reading a poem, there is no one ‘translation’. There are compromises and unexpected outcomes, so the piece that is finally made surpasses what either creator could have achieved solo. And it is this that makes the sometimes frustrating process so thrilling. 

It is like learning a new language. It is an exploration into a new territory for which neither collaborator has a complete map, except for their experience and willingness to learn from the other. 

All the visual elements of this poem sculpture are only clues, tactile renderings of the written and spoken poem. We chose not to render too many of the images literally within the piece. That would be stealing from the poem, and the listener. 

Light and shadow fall onto each element in ways that could join the images in the spoken poem, or they could send the observer elsewhere. This poem may never be heard by some, it is the visual equivalent of simply looking at the poetic text on a page, lingering over that, considering it as a drawing, perhaps. Another way of regarding the sculpture is as the imprint of the poem, what may be left behind after the poem is heard or read. 

Ripple ʃ Heritage Carrot
So far so fascinating. As collaborators Maya and myself go way back and enjoy the bouncing of ideas and parallel thinking that we bring to a piece of work. This does take time, however. I've tallied thirty hours so far and I've only just begun to make the actual pieces. Then of course there is Maya's time - probably similar to mine and we've had translators and Bengali and Urdu readers involved, plus artist Laura Collins drew the stunning image of Siachen Glacier you can just see in the top pic. So when we were asked how much did we want to price them for the catalogue it became a tricky concept...

And once we have (including the gallery percentage) I'm now left with having to make pieces that are more expensive than any art piece I've bought. I've talked about money and value on this blog before and how it does my head in. I can't even bring myself to say how much they're going for. Maybe when they're made and in situ and have become separate from me it might seem more laughable than pressurizing.

To paraphrase Jorie Graham : the economic sense is not a very important stratum of reality, even though it is the most apparently influential one.

In this interview (from 1991) she goes on, "How amazing that the most advanced capitalist society on earth should have so many of its children turning towards an art form that is bound to make them overworked and underpaid. Could it be that they have intuited that poetry can put them in contact with some necessary mystery, or value (or set of values), or sense of reality, that this narcotizing culture has increasingly deprived them of? Maybe they just want to wake up."

For now I need to keep focused and a steady hand. Ripple is available to view (and buy) at the Menier Gallery from 10-14 November.