Two and a half years ago, while at Jeremy Deller’s Joy in People exhibition at the Hayward, during his re-enactment film of the miner’s strike, the Battle of Orgreave, I killed off a character in my second novel. In the manuscript all the signs of ill-fortune were already written – risk, storm, grief – but I didn’t yet know what they meant. Watching the police on the horses and the men on the ground and how real it was for everyone, the question in my mind about what needed to happen in the book, at this place, became clear. By watching how someone else (re)created a narrative, I created my own. I held this character’s death in my head as we continued around the exhibition witnessing Deller’s bats and lingering at his wall of failures, which included his rejected proposal for the cover of a London Tube map, the colours of the different underground lines forming the shape of a bike, which was rejected because it “failed to meet the commissioner’s demands”.
We left the exhibition, went to a café. After thirty minutes of writing, I’d killed a toddler and my novel fell into place around this scene that had not existed that morning.
On Mull in November 2013, the wind was brutal and the ferry was cancelled many times over the days we visited. When the wind picked up to violent storm twelve, we walked, but not in the forest, where windfall was a real possibility. On the coast it battered us and a short video I made was nothing but gale-force-static. I’d been asked to run a workshop on imagined lands and to write a response to a one-room exhibition at An Tobar, that was filled with imagined beasts and lands. They were eerily odd, arresting. Of another world. My mom had been dead for 37 days: she was my imagined lands and she would not leave the piece I wrote in response to the exhibition. I shook it, took her out, and yet there she still was. One example of how a mind works. The draft response broke too many rules of the creative / critical pact and so then I engaged in the sort of active waiting a maker does when a piece is unfinished.
New Year. Dark. Searching. Writing around. In the first week of February 2014, I made my way to the Tramway. I watched Siobhan Davies and her company dance for hours and hours during their ‘Table of Contents’ installation. It’s all about archive and the body and failure. I tried to make myself go home and do the work I need to do, but I could not. I stayed. I stayed and watched them perform for three days. Between day two and three I wrote a corollary essay to accompany the drafted An Tobar piece. These became ‘Body as Archive I’ and ‘Body as Archive II’.
These examples of influence and process aren’t linear or conclusive and I’ve not picked them apart for this brief blog. I watched the work of other artists and experienced how their minds worked, how their work worked, and something in that helped me with my own creative and critical grapplings.
Our mediums as artists and writers differ in fundamental ways, except in the ways they don’t. Each of us co-opts other fields and tools and our processes could be mapped onto one another over days and weeks. Even where our forms differ, they can speak to each other, and we comprehend them. We make, we edit, we curate: whether the outcome is for an exhibition, a collection of short stories, or a sequence of chapters in a book. Knowledge, intuition, trial and error: this is making. Medium, subject and form decide each other. Questions lead us to materials and influence and substance and this pact and process is mutual and ongoing. Why do I seek out other artists and why do I seek out the work of other artists? Because as makers we have things in common and we are not the same.
Text by Dr Elizabeth Reeder, lecturer (English Literature).
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