The above text is Rachel Lois Clapham’s score for her project of writing live throughout ART WRITING FIELD STATION in Leeds on March 27 2010 (see a set of preparatory notes by RL on this project here and a report after the event here).
A DESCRIPTION: During presentations by myself, Mary Paterson (performed and interpreted by Simon Zimmerman) and Emma Cocker, Rachel Lois wrote in black marker pen on square pieces of paper, constructing a 3 x 3 grid of these squares. Sometimes new blank squares were placed on top of old, or squares were removed, placed on the floor, and replaced.
As the last presentation ended, RL removed her last piece of paper from the wall, as if our discussion had returned us to a white wall from which we began, and announced she had finished.
A CONTEXT: This was the second attempt to write live during an ART WRITING FIELD STATION, following on from Marianne Holm Hansen’s work in London. Like Marianne’s project – more information about which is here – the actual act of writing live is a performance both visible and invisible.
Absorbed in discussions, I looked up every so often to see what was happening (as well as the activity on the wall, the grid was filmed and projected). Whilst all of Marianne’s writing figured on a single sheet of piece of paper that was on the wall throughout, RL’s adding and removal of sheets made the whole more illusive. I only ever got a snapshot at different times of what was an ongoing flow, and the processes of editing and decision making remained inaccessible to my piecemeal attention.
Also unlike Marianne’s, RL’s work was principally non-verbal – her grid of squares contained a series of graphic, gestural markings, and if there was an alphabet or lexicon it was one of signs, boxes, brackets, and lines, with arrows indicating movement into and out of both drawn spaces and those of paper, wall and room.
Talks and discussions at the table – one end of which openned onto to RL’s workspace – were being translated into markings, both representing it and working it into something else, accepting its informational quality and its opacity. When I looked across, the process seemed to be a thoughtful, meditative one, rather than a Jackson Pollock like storm of marker pen scratchings. A lot of time, too, of looking and considering, of (re-)moving the paper, and these as much part of the writing as the writing.
A PROBLEM OF DEFINITION: As with Marianne’s work, the question of what to call this activity was problematic. Because of RL’s previous work, I tended to settle on the phrase “writing live.” Because of the gestural quality, I was less prone to use the phrase “minute taking” – “emotional minute taking” in Marianne’s phrase.
The frame of camera and careful choreography suggested it was a “performance” but this was definition was slightly challenged by the private nature of the work. Maybe it was better to think of this – to pick up on some topics in Emma Cocker’s presentation – as a “writer’s studio” negotiating a new position of exposure.
CONCERNING AFTER (TEXT &) IMAGE: My own understanding of what it meant to have someone writing live throughout the ART WRITING FIELD STATION events was originally that it would offer a summation of each field station as a whole.
Whilst discussions would focus on a series of individual presentations, the live writing would capture a version of what emerged from all those discussions. A field recording. How did this relate to what has actually happened?
Once again, as soon as the discussions in Leeds finished, RL’s texts demonstrated a tension between their own materiality – a new found set of resonances and associations within the system of these texts as an art work in their own right – and any relation to the event within which it had been (was still) occurring.
RL offered spoken commentary on a number of images, connecting back to specific talks and moments, and revealing the close connection of gesture to idea. I wondered how such processes were one way, the resultant markings unlikely to lead back to the original ideas without a guide.
I also want to think of these live writings as generative, as scripts and scores for future events. RL’s drawings seemed to function as a series of maps of rooms, conceptual and actual, proposals for actual and ideational movements within those spaces. Sometimes the spaces themselves were defined: four solid black marker pen walls surrounding. Sometime the movement itself had a quality of absorption which meant there was no immediate awareness of frame or container. This could be the starting point for an exhibition or for a kind of art writing field station architecture.
A BROADER RESONANCE: The gestural nature of RL’s response suggested several connections. I saw Matt Mullican lecture at the ICA earlier this year. Mullican talked of scrawls and drawings, and how, through meditation techniques, he inhabited and journeyed into his drawings, exploring the landscapes they contained.
For Mullican this inhabitation was the only way to understand the true dimensions of what he had drawn – a small dot on the page might turn out, through imaginative journeying-dreaming, to be a gaping chasm hundreds of miles wide that was the entrance to hell.
Mullican also demonstrated how he had stayed with such images and scrawls over long periods of time, developing them into fleshed out cosmologies, architectural models, and installations.
WE ARE ALL WRITING LIVE: Of course,it would be wrong to think of RL’s as the only “live writing” going on, in the same way as all texts are “visual” orchestrations, not just those we might choose to label “visual poetry.”
Emma Cocker’s field maps – diagrams on large sheets on graph paper of her writing practice – gave way to a participatory scripting where Simon pointed out particular words, prompting Emma to read particular texts (see Emma’s notes for this project here).
Although Emma read from a set of footnotes devised alongside the diagram, the process revealed how “live footnoting” might work well as a place where different texts were brought alongside the map, with each live reading being a chance to set out a new set of relations of word and map to footnote.
Mary Paterson’s text – which was read by Simon Zimmerman – explored the workings of memory, particularly as it relates to her work writing about performance (and as writer in residence for the Live Art Development Agency) . Her text left spaces for Simon to introduce his own thought and memories into the text.
This adding of a “live” layer to the text seemed to scramble the text: upsetting any linear flow and argument. The “live” presence – as Simon considered what stories to tell when prompted by the script – contrasted with the reflective tone of Mary’s own words, and when Simon went back to the script it was hard to shift back to the argument he had been unfolding before his invited interruption.
This suggested how live writing could involve a number of forms of presence, shifting between and around these different emotional and textual registers in ways both scripted and beyond anticipation.
FIVE WRITE LIVE AT THE PIGEON WING: Finally, I was thinking about all these spaces in regard to The Pigeon Wing space, where VerySmallKitchen will be in residence throughout September. I imagined what it meant for five writers to be writing live, each with their own methods and tools, not in relation to an art work, but as a performance as itself, in relation to the space and each other, as a starting point towards an exhibition.
More on how this particular project unfolds will be on this site in the coming months. For the moment I am imagining how five people could write live here: