Posts Tagged ‘charles dickens’


In Uncategorized on May 7, 2010 at 9:04 am


Bram Thomas Arnold, Death and Dick Whittington, 2009. Photo: Sam Priddle


On Saturday May 1st I was part of a series of readings, performances and screenings, as part of Preambles and Perambulations at The Charles Dickens Musuem in London’s Bloomsbury. 

The programme began on the museums top floor with Bram Thomas Arnold’s Museum Piece, in which he read a text partly authored by him and partly drawn from introductions to eight Dickens novels. 

Bram alternated between reading to the room and into a microphone, one of several practical and conceptual ways that  his single voice split into something more polyphonic, providing oral edge to the shifting relationship between experience and commentary, 21st and 19th century London, personal and textural, to pose questions of how private experiences became mediated in language and writing/ performance, body and history.

Bram’s text seemed to be permitted this eclecticism by its reading persona – both a composed commentator and somewhat edgy flaneur, a city stalked in writing between Iain Sinclair, Stewart Home, Naomi Klein, and Rimbaud, taking “Dickensian” very much as a grime and grim of detail, opening into it a certain aestheticism and romantic melancholy, testing that, what was possible within a commitment to  the/a contemporary. 

A second piece by Bram, performed later in the afternoon, involved reading introductions to Dickens novels into a microphone that echoed/ doubled/ reverberated his voice. This manipulation became telling commentary on the museums construction of Dickens-ness, its own writing genres of wall text and display labels.  

Readings by Jane Madell and Gary O’Connor were more conventional author readings – Madell a short story published in the Bedford Square 3 anthology of writing from Royal Holloway’s MA in Creative Writing -and O’Connor from his Transition-gallery published novella The Field.

In the context of the afternoon, both explored a certain tangential relationship to Dicken’s: a character in Madell’s story is named for Dickens Estella; O’Connor’s thick matter and detail of description unfolded a certain acoustic space of “Dickensian” fiction and narrative. 

It was also curious to think about how these different fictions were part of different writing careers – one (Madell) very much part of the Creative Writing arena, the later an “art writing” originally  part of  a gallery installation. I interviewed Gary earlier in the year as part of a response to his northcabin installation – see here – and was interested how book and show related.

Saturday’s reading suggested the questions were more ontologic than I had previously thought. Was this important? What differences did it imply? Did it mean different kinds of writing? 

Sophie Loss, Klienhouse (2009)



In the basement there was a screening of Jonathan Trayner’s Past and Present: A Conversation, in which a camera’s slow pan over a sentimental Victorian child portrait was accompanied by a soundtrack of an interview in which a man described the intertwining of his work in a massage parlour with his commitment to communist politics. 

The interview was read in a way that seemed designed to raise questions about its authenticity,`and how its own detail and constructedness related to that in the painting. I was interested how the slow pan over the painting related to the unfolding of the evidently staged interview, what the rhythm of each meant in terms of discovery and revelation of detail. 

Sophie Loss’ performance Reading to Myself was in two sections, each of which began in the library of Dickens museum with Loss unfurling an actual size photo of herself, then stepping back and reading to herself. 

She moved between two books, one am academic study of Dickens reading, the other – I think – a manual on public speaking. Whilst I could see sections in the texts had been underlined by Loss or another studious reader, Loss chose what to read in the moment, flicking through the books to find a passage that articulated a nexus of reader, photo, room, audience, book, and voice.

Loss stood further away from her photograph than I expected. She moved away as she read, not looking at herself very much. One of the books contained exercises on posture and breathing for public speaking that Loss enacted as a further example of reading as “space tuning.”

She concluded each part of the reading by rolling up the photograph, almost as a form of punctuation, both prelude and coda. 

Gary O'Connor, The Field, Transition Gallery, London, 2-31 May 2009


This avoidance of the self was curious to add to the pieces other central paradox: that this a private act of reading in a public place. Loss was also streaming the reading on the internet, suggesting new configurations of public and private in digital space.

Loss’ two readings were interspersed by my own piece, THE SOUND OF DICKENS DANCING. This was a text piece whose several starting points included an interest in Dickens practice of the serial novel and reading aloud and a set of manuscripts and drawings written by myself aged six.

My piece changed considerably as I worked on it last week after several visits to the museum. How was the museum itself a site for writing, reading and talking? In a work exploring an associative network of ideas – spanning literary history and personal memory – how did the context of the museum limit and define the material that became part of my text and reading?

How did personal experience, as well as the moment of reading itself, relate to the constraint based text I had re-written and was, in some ways, re-authoring in moment of the event?

Writing the talk has prompted a broader enquiry into the forms of  (artists’ – ) talk and lecture, which will be unfolded on this site. The questions were useful to explore in the context of an afternoon characterised by an intertwining of different practices with both the specificity and generality of Dickens, his writings and the museum.

Island Projects plan to explore these questions further as part of a larger scale exhibition in the Autumn.



In Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 at 7:13 am

On May 1st I will be presenting a reading as part of PREAMBLES AND PERAMBULATIONS, an exhibition at the Dickens House Museum curated by Island Projects. More about the event can be seen here

 On 13th April 2010, thinking about what I will read, I went to the Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street in Bloomsbury. On the top floor there was a small display dedicated to Dicken’s own practice of reading aloud. I noted Dickens specially built reading table that accompanied him on tour, particularly the small box placed on top and on which the hand holding the book would rest. 

 I wrote: This suggests that book reading is like a cumbersome prosthetic, how the act of reading in public is a complex act requiring a cumbersome architecture of body appendages and extensions. Rather than standing at the reading table, one crawls inside it to get more familiar with one’s own texts. 

I also examined a display case of the reading copies, from which Dickens read. These were subject to various methods of annotation, including pencil underlining and the highlighting of sections of text in red and blue. Inparticular I noted that Dickens sometimes crossed out paragraphs in the printed text, and replaced them with a handwritten alternative. I thought these might be slight rearrangements of grammar, possibly to bring out rhythms more striking for reading aloud. 

In the printed text of MR. CHOPS THE DWARF Dickens had crossed out a text which read:

There was the canvas representin the picter [sic] of a child of a British Planter, siezed by the two boa constricters…

and replaced it with the following: 

Then there was the canvas representing the fat lady from Norfolk, in a plaid frock and sash…

Whilst there may be some obvious reason for this shift apparent to Dickens scholars, I appropriated the shift between paragraphs as evidencing the demands of reading aloud, shifting from private absorption to public performance, and the transformations of matter, style, and story that necessitates. 

Coming downstairs into the library, I noticed in one corner a reproduction of Dickens reading table (the original upstairs had been in a glass case, which suggested a Dickens still reading, muffled, behind glass). But it lacked the small square – covered in the same dark red velvet – that Dickens rested hand and book upon (see image above). My response to the reading table had focussed upon that red square block. I wondered where it was, if the reproduction had ever included such a thing. 

I note some reasons for this fascination: its nature as building block, minimalist cube (fringed with a dark red tassle), mobility, wrist podium, something to be found hanging from every book like furry dice from a car window.

It is the block that fits the reading stand into the scale of Dicken’s body, giving form to a void space between human and object, reader and book, but such form is temporary/provisional/”blocked”. Hopefully, the block can levitate on its own if carrying around the reading stand proves difficult. 

In fact, I noted, the reconstruction [of the reading stand] is noticeable for its lack of animating props, its denial of the prosthetic nature of reading aloud. No ivory paper knife that functioned as a prop, never to cut paper; no jug of water; no cloth or towel. 

My image of how to use this reading table was becoming ever more physical. I IMAGINED DICKENS wiping his brow and the back of his neck with the towel like a boxer, sweat pouring onto the altered paragraphs of his page. I imagine a script of Dickens reading aloud that involves no books, just a choreography of sweat, box, jug, water, ivory paper knife.  From Boa Constrictor to Norfolk Fat Lady.

A few days after my visit to the Dickens House Museum I read the following quotation by Gertrude Stein:

She always said that that first visit had made London just like Dickens and Dickens had always frightened her. As she says anything can frighten her and London when it was like Dickens certainly did. 

SOURCE TEXT: Gertrude Stein, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B TOKLAS, (Penguin Books, London, 2001 [1933]), 92-3


Preambles and Perambulations: Past, Present and Future: Creative minds at 48 Doughty Street. Saturday 24th April 2010 – Saturday 8th May 2010.

ARTISTS: Larry Achiampong, Bram Thomas Arnold, David Berridge, Marco Cali, Maurice Carlin, Jeremy Evans, Anna Chapman, Pippa Koszerek, Yaron Lapid, Sophie Loss, Jane Madell, Penny Matheson, Aidan McNeill, Duane Moyle, Dermot O’Brien, Gary O’Connor, Claudia Passeri, Steve Perfect, Veronica Perez Karleson, Jonathan Trayner, Mary Yacoob.

Private View (entry free): Friday 23rd April 2010, 18.00 – 21.00. A conversation with the artists: Saturday 24th April 2010, 14.00 – 16.00. Performers and Readers: Saturday 1st May 2010, 14.00 – 16.00. Exhibition open: Monday – Sunday, 10.00 – 17.00. Normal museum admission charges apply.