Day One: 27 January 2011

It seems a very long time since I first met with Robert Blackson, then just appointed as the new gallery’s curator of public programmes, to put forward the idea that his institution might register an interest in taking part in Writing East Midlands’ Write Here residencies programme. In the time between, I’ve written poems about works by David Hockney and Frances Stark (as part of a programme curated by Eireann Lorsung, featuring five poets responding to the opening shows in late 2009), presented a Communist Rock’n’Roll Night with Robert Adlington and Polly McMichael from the University of Nottingham, looking at music behind the Iron Curtain as part of Star City, and run a series of workshops under the heading of Writing Art to accompany the just-closed British Art Show 7. No wonder, then, that some seem to think the residency has been going on for months and were asking how it was going back in November.

In fact, today was the first day, and while some notes were made and a few people stopped by to chat, this has been a largely exploratory session: spending some time with the exhibitions (especially Jack Goldstein‘s film and sound pieces), looking through the library in the Study Room (where I’ll be based every Thursday until March from 2 – 4pm, and during March from 3 – 5pm) and thinking about ways into the project. Early thoughts find many connecting threads between material I’ve been working on recently and the interests of the artists featured in these galleries. Goldstein’s interest in the manipulation of images lifted from a wider culture – the MGM lion, a Van Gogh reproduction, a series of 45rpm vinyl records featuring dramatic sound effects – spark a connection with my own plans to use found images as sources for fictional texts (one, a short film compiled from stills and given a live voice-over, was presented at Annexinema in December).

Today, I find myself especially fascinated by Goldstein’s Under Water Sea Fantasy film, begun in 1983 and completed just prior to the artist’s death in 2003, a work that begins with a cinematic countdown – 4, 3, 2, 1 – then plunges us into colour saturated lava and oceans – like the later phases of the Stargate sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. At the conclusion a full moon is eclipsed, and the black screen returns us, once again via that cinematic countdown, to the spectacular volcanic beginning. Whether Goldstein intended any explicit metaphysical content here is probably doubtful (though he certainly has a sense of distilled theatre, and an interest in images that strongly relate to the Romantic Sublime) – but  the 16mm film seems to build itself around the elements (fire, earth, water, air) and a powerful sense of an eternally repeating cycle of creation and destruction. On another level, of course, Under Water Sea Fantasy records and heightens images of extreme beauty, or (perhaps by way of Kubrick) represents a passage into another kind of consciousness, something underlined by those saturated colours, with their echoes of psychedelia, and their ending in the darkness of what we might read as death, once that moon has fully passed into shadow.

Equally fortunate is the presence of John Newling’s Miracle Trees in the Study, which connects rather directly to a sequence called The Protein Songs I’ve been adding to, on and off, since it was first commissioned by Retina Dance Company in 2005: Newling’s fusion of art, science and a sceptical fascination with the forms of the sacred (as in earlier projects like Currency & Belief and The Chatham Vines) taps directly into territory I already have my own fascination with, so I’ll certainly look forward to bouncing some ideas off his richly-layered intervention in the space I’m occupying here.

One other thing caught my eye (for the purposes of this first post, at least – more will follow) and began to trigger ideas and notes: a collection of postcards showing caves, grottoes and caverns in the Small Collections Room, the strange images contained inside the drawers of a gathering of beautiful cabinets in a side room designed (by the curator Paolo Bronstein) to resemble a Seventeenth Century Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities. The cabinets themselves are sufficiently rich in detail to justify a visit, but the combination of these with the images inside generates a wonderfully dream-like effect, as though these subterranean caverns are opening passageways into other worlds we might fall into, imaginitively if not literally.

The next thing, though, is to attend tonight’s Re-Performance of Goldstein’s Two Boxers (1979), a piece that has been twice performed in New York (once in its original form at PS1, the second time – just prior to Goldstein’s death in 2003 – in a New York synagogue as part of a retrospective). Tonight’s presentation will be the first time any of Goldstein’s performance works has been staged since his death, and the curator of that earlier retrospective, Chrissie Iles, will be on hand to introduce the piece and answer questions. More on that in the days to come, I think.

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