Words & Pictures is one of those projects where I find it tricky to pinpoint how/where it began. We’ve been working with the Off The Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading for a number of years now. Third Angel showed Pills For Modern Living as part of the festival (and in conjunction with ArtSheffield) in 2001. Chris Hall and I have made a number of installation and performance pieces for them since then, all of them exploring the significance of writing and reading in our own lives, from postcards to comics to books.
One of those installations, Chapter Titles From The Unwritten Book Of My Life Story (2005), was itself inspired by the making of The Lad Lit Project in 2004. In researching that show I asked men what they would call the chapters in the unwritten books of their life stories, and as part of that experiment I wrote a list of the chapter titles from my own life. When Chris was editing documentation of an early work in progress of The Lad Lit Project, in which titles were written in chalk on to, and then washed off, blackboards, he discovered the speeded up evaporation effect that then inspired our installation piece. We filmed me writing up and washing off all of the chapter titles from my list - with me self editing and re-writing as I went. Chris then removed me completely in the edit suite, leaving a series of vanishing chapter titles to be projected onto a blackboard.
A couple of those chapters had in fact already been written, and I still have the list as a kind of ‘writing to do list’ – or a 'waiting for inspiration and/or time' list. Although they wouldn’t flow together as a narrative whole, I imagine that eventually they would hang together as an autobiography of sorts. Most of them are still to be written (or written down at least), but the idea is there.
On top of these chapters, we have, unsurprisingly, built up a small a collection of text pieces that were written for other projects and didn't quite fit the 'finished' version of the show, even though we liked them. Over the years a few of these have stuck around, kept our interest - but they haven't found a home - yet.
More recently I was talking to Pat at Studio Dust, who designed the Third Angel website, and some of our print. Dust have done some really nice work in collaboration with other artists, producing books and paper/card objects. I really like the fact that whilst they do a lot of work digitally, they also have their own silk screen press in their workspace. Pat and I were talking about the images on our Flickr photostream, and he said, “We should do a book together.”
“Great,” I said, “what would be in it?”
“Your words and your pictures,” said Pat, “and we’ll design it.”
We liked, of course, the idea of doing a book. And it was natural that we would want to work with Off The Shelf to launch it. However, as a way of interrogating the material for the book, we’re doing the book reading first.
So, Words & Pictures, at this stage, is a theatrical short story collection, made up of material Rachael and I have produced for a variety of contexts over the last few years.
The Office Texts were originally written during the making of Believe The Worst in 2001, these monologues proved to be a bit too real-world to fit into the dark reality of that show.
Empty Benches and Benchers between them chart the development of an obsession. Starting on our travels for Pleasant Land we began noticing, and then photographing, empty solitary benches. Several years later I found myself collaborating with Paula Diogo, then of Teatro Praga, for their invited-artist-duets project “Shall We Dance IV”. Paula and I continued researching benches and collecting other people’s bench stories, compiling our findings into a performance piece (named slightly confusingly after a different short chapter) Off The White.
A version of Empty Benches was published in the limited edition artist's book, Slow, edited and bound by Ian Abbott; it was performed as part of the Café Scientifique/Art Science Encounters 'How To Be Creative' event, earlier this year. Benchers was reworked from its full length version to be a 6 minute 40 second Peachy Coochy presentation at NRLA earlier this year, and has now been reworked and slightly extended again; Benchers is co-written with Paula and a number of contributing benchers.
It Starts With The Dice was originally written, at the request of Teresa Brayshaw, for May Day Conversations at Leeds Met University earlier this year, specifically an hour of hobby-horses. I took the prompt fairly literally and used it as a chance to get down one of those chapters from the list. A short piece about hobbies, games, friendship, attention to detail and pedantry.
Dark is an extract from a new piece in development.
Dead Jellyfish is a new piece developed specifically for Words & Pictures. It started off as a (very) short chapter from the list. When I presented it to Rachael recently she suggested that there was more to be said about it. She was right. There’s a lot more to be said about dead jellyfish strewn on the shore of a Scottish loch than you might initially suppose.
Songmap is our contribution to our good friends Unlimited Theatre’s ongoing Mixtape project, for which a range of artists are being asked to choose a favourite song and set stage action of some kind to it. Ultimately the aim is to have a “a whole tape’s worth” of performances. We’ll be unveiling Songmap, and revealing our chosen song at the first performances of Words & Pictures in Sheffield and Leeds. Making Songmap has been a really interesting process for us – deserving of its own blog entry, I think, so more on that soon.
So finally, for this post, thanks to Off The Shelf, The Showroom Cinema, Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre, Studio Dust, Unlimited Theatre, and all of the people who have fed ideas into the development of Words & Pictures, either in the making processes of the individual pieces, or as audience members at the work-in-progress showings at Forest Fringe and FIX09 over the summer.
UPDATE: there is a "Second Printing" update about Words & Pictures in a later blog post, here.