Stephen Emmerson writes: The Last Ward is a series of 6 A3 posters and a 6 track CD. Each track title corresponds with one of the visual poem titles. They should be considered part of the same poem, working symbiotically rather than responding to one another.
2. speech is written in capitals
3. time runs backwards as well as forwards and will one day meet
5. voices in radiator falling through sink
6. you are not a concept i am familiar with
AN INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN EMMERSON
I think instructed reading, or innovative reading, is an interesting way to frame a work that may otherwise have been freed from authorial control. i.e. the audiovisual pieces are in one way open and abstract because they do not utilise a regular written language, however, by giving an instruction or guideline on how to read the work it becomes more definite.
The choreography of the reading came about as an attempt to examine the notion of reading as creativity. I am also interested in obstructing the reading of any given work, and I think it’s interesting to see how closely someone might follow any given set of essentially arbitrary rules.
The interest in sound and visual comes from reading as well. I mean when we read a text we are taking visual cues and transforming them into sound, and I see the audio aspect of this work as being a way to cue up the visuals and hopefully open up the possibility of a different way of reading.
The starting point for The Last Ward came from a quote by Trotsky. He said: ‘England is the last ward of the European madhouse’. I began this work during the riots last year.
Yes – all of these images began as writing, if you look closely you can see letters and parts of letters, fragments of typewriter keys, and pen strokes. Yet in these images there are repetitions of glyphs and patterns within those repetitions that to me at least makes this something very close to writing.
I think you give up a certain amount of specificity of meaning when you begin creating something like this – to some extent that’s the point, but at the same time I’m creating a frame to read or examine these works within, and knowing when and why they were written makes them much more specific to a certain time and place, and even pushes it towards certain critical boundaries. But the reader will know more about that than me.
There was a lot of editing, I mean I think it took the best part of a year to create the images and the audio. There were lots of different versions. It’s funny that you talk about endless new touches of paint, because sometimes that happened and pieces were ruined and I had to start the whole process over again. I think the details are very important, just like in any other kind of writing, the whole is nothing without them.
With the audio it was much the same, some of it was recorded live, but it might have taken many takes to get just right, some of the other pieces were more programmed, and that’s a totally different way of working.
The collaboration with Lucy Harvest Clarke is a work that does reveal the process to some extent. We started by taking a notebook page and folding it down the middle. Lucy wrote half a line, (3 – 6 words) and then turned the page over so that I couldn’t see what she’d written, and then I’d finish the line. It’s kind of like an exquisite corpse.
The first part of that work, which was published on VSK, was mostly written on train journeys so there’s loads of repeated imagery and words like ‘window’ and ‘pylon’ that keep cropping up. I think we were both shocked at just how complete those pieces turned out, being that we couldn’t see what the other was writing.
Having the hand written versions alongside the printed text brings a visual aspect to the work where the urgency of the writing is revealed. It also lets the reader into our state of mind at the time of writing whilst allowing the same words to be revealed as a different version of the same poem.
Even if I’m creating audiovisual work its still centred around language, so I feel it’s more centred around poetry than visual art per se.
For instance – in August I’m exhibiting a William Blake poem-installation in Camberwell that includes audiovisual work centred around a large pentagram with a typewriter at each point.
People coming to see the work will be invited to sit inside the pentagram and channel Blake whilst using the typewriters to create a text. Aside from channeling Blake, which is a reference to his paranormal conversations, this method can also be seen as a way of translating audiovisual work into text, the fact that I won’t be creating any of the text doesn’t necessarily mean that I am not the author, nor does it mean that I am more interested in the audiovisual than the text, it simply means I’m more interested in how people read, because again, this work is about reading, and about translating, and I think if you’re interested in that as an author then you are better off staying away from text.
THE LAST WARD by Stephen Emmerson is available for £6 (plus £1.50 UK P&P). Please email email@example.com for postage details if ordering from outside the UK.
More about Stephen’s work is here.