Tuesday 27 October 2009

Words & Pictures: Introduction, Contents, Acknowledgements

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.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Wealth of Nations

The Wealth of Nations
video still by Christopher Hall

When we were making Leave No Trace in 2002, Chris and Barry went to Scarborough for us. Leave No Trace was about a woman who went through a fugue state, leaving the life she knew, travelling happilly, not even remembering her name.

We were struggling with how to present this story - partly because the whole point was that she would not remember the events of the fugue afterwards. It was hard to tell, from our research, what would actually have happened to her. We had an idea that, this being a small island, she would have ended up at the coast, at the sea side. Looking back, though I don't know how conscious this was at the time, it seems appropriate that we asked film makers Christopher Hall and Barry Ryan to go and collect images for us - without us being there. To document what they encountered on their travels.

They brought back an hour or so of rushes of misty seaside entertainments, along with seaside souvenirs. And those souvenirs made it into the show, but the footage didn't, as we gradually moved away from a thought-track of video images to hand drawn animations. (There was some video in the first version of Leave No Trace, but none of the Scarborough footage).

So this tape has been on the raw materials pile for a few years now, waiting for the right outlet. A week or so ago Chris came into the Third Angel space, as he does from time to time, and dug out the rushes. He explained he'd got an idea for something in response to a call out for films for White Night in Brighton.

The resulting 30 second video, The Wealth of Nations, will be presented during White Night as part of Lighthouse's 30 Seconds of Fortune, on 24 October. You can also see all the 30 second films on line, and find out more about the scheme, on Lighthouse's site.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Leeds Met Gallery

Last chance to see... Leeds Met Studio Theatre – the space, not the programme – has closed down now. Along with the rest of the building it is housed in, H Block, it is being decommissioned, and this season’s programme, as exciting as ever (and of which we are pleased to be a part with Words & Pictures), is taking place up the road at University of Leeds’ Theatre Workshop. (Full details here).

But round the corner and down the corridor, Leeds Met Gallery – the venue and the programme – is currently hosting its final exhibition in its current space. Or should that be spaces? The final exhibitions (Souvenir, Old Wars New Wars and As Long As It Lasts) really show off one of the things that is unique about this venue; these three spaces - all accessed through the same double doors - all feel so distinct.

When we made Pleasant Land for Leeds Met Gallery in 2004 (co-commissioned by Shooting Live Artists), this gave us the opportunity to make three separate but linked pieces. In the front gallery, with a glass wall, we were able to grow a turf map of England:

It grew really well, apart from a single strip which seemed to correspond to the M1/A1 corridor. The turf map was surrounded by lightbox maps of the travels we had undertaken as part of the project so far:

Pleasant Land travels lightbox map: Land's End
(click to view full size)

In the back room - the double height space - we had the space to construct our own room, designed to house the audience, with space surrounding it for window-viewed video pieces, mini sculptural installations and performance.

Pleasant Land: Queuing

In the upstairs space, which overlooks the double-height space in places, but can be curtained off to be self-contained, we created a study room where audiences could contribute to the ongoing research for the project.

For a space with such strong character, it is also very flexible, and an important decision for artists occupying it is how separate to keep the three rooms. It can feel pretty open plan, or the three rooms can be made distinct with curtains and partitions, and smaller spaces can be made, of course (as the Gallery provided for Christopher Hall and I when we showed Reading & Writing there earlier this year).

An important experience for me was seeing Forced Entertainment's Ground Plans For Paradise, back in 1994, which used the spaces really well. The photographs of sleeping people that were exhibited at normal exhibition height in the upstairs gallery continued around the walls, over the balcony open to the double-height room, and around its far walls - so you were able to see some of the sleepers close up, but others only at a distance (from the balcony or from the ground). The double-height space was home to the beautiful, glowing balsa-wood city - which could also be explored up close up at ground level or viewed at a distance from above. On Saturdays the front gallery, viewable from inside or through the windows, was site of a durational, eyes-closed performance element.

The current exhibitions, which run until 17 October, use the three rooms differently again, and quietly commemorate the end of their lives as exhibition spaces. If you're in Leeds, or Yorkshire, it's worth making a last visit. Maybe see you there.