New Month, First Workshop

As part of the Write Here residency, two series of workshops will be running, one in February, the other in March. The March workshops (running in the Study Room on the first four Thursdays of the exhibition’s final month, from 3 – 24 March,  5 – 7pm) are open to bookings through the gallery (contact Saima Kaur at Nottingham Contemporary for more details) and will focus very much on the writing aspects of the residency.

The February sessions are a little different: more collaborative, for a start, as one of the gallery’s four associate artists, Jo Dacombe, joins me to help fuse the written and visual (something we both seem to do in our own bodies of work) and allow us to explore the exhibitions’ themes, techniques and ideas in a variety of ways, ranging from collecting aphorisms, thoughts and phrases to making our own ‘appropriations’ of images, then spinning fresh stories, poems, ideas and fictional histories from them.

When I met with Jo a few weeks before the residency start date, we drew up a list of potential themes and exercises, and planned everything out in detail – but when I arrived at the gallery at 9.30am this morning to meet a group from Bilborough Community Centre I was aware (as I’m sure Jo was, too) that since we’d yet to meet the group, and they would invariably have their own ideas and interests to add to the mix, there was always the possibility that everything might need to be thrown out and fresh angles found on the hoof.

One thing about workshops is that if they’re going to succeed, they need to be built around their participants, not the preconceived formats and ideas of those leading them, but at the same time it is our job to create an atmosphere where everyone is not only at ease and happy to participate but also interested in often complex questions of process and open to new things, as viewers (it turned out that all but one of our group were taking their first steps inside the building this morning) and the authors of their own artworks and texts.

When Jo, Aimee Wilkinson (the Write Here mentee) and myself finally greeted the taxis from Bilborough around 10am, and escorted the eight strong group to the Studio, where tea, biscuits and introductions awaited, it was good to finally be able to put names and individual faces to the previously unknown group we’d been planning to meet. Instead of anonymous persons, we now had eight very different people in the room with us – Pat, Doris, Kath, Maureen, Beatrice, Joyce, Irene and Pauline – and they were all quick to share their first impressions of the building. After presenting some outlines of what we hoped to do with the morning, and hearing Jo’s concisely open-ended background notes on the artists and works we were about to see, everyone headed into the galleries, clipboards in hand, and began to look and (occasionally) make a note – anything that came to mind, were our instructions, whether obviously relevant or not.

Anne Collier’s ‘Open Book #1 (Crepuscules)’ won several admirers for its framing of a conventionally picturesque sunset within the everyday surreal flourish of hands holding open a book’s pages, as though a fragment of the real world had been caught, surprised, lurking in an unexpected place. Sometimes the subject rather than form caught the imagination, as when Collier’s ‘Double Marilyn’ drew positive comments and led into a discussion about Andy Warhol and the circumstances of Monroe’s death in 1963.

 As we moved around the four galleries, both Collier’s and Goldstein’s works drew ever more stories, thoughts and comments, from recollections of “sewing buttonholes by hand into made-to-measure suits” to the trapped Chilean miners, from pets to the power of sound to evoke its own films in the mind, from the disturbing quality of the animated bird flying endlessly around its plate in Jack Goldstein’s ‘Bone China’ to the pavement artists who used to present their chalk works on St Peter’s Gate, like buskers, but haven’t been seen there for years.

By the time we’d seen everything and gathered ourselves (and our notes) in the Studio again, we only had 20 minutes of the session left, so we kept to an informal discussion of what we’d seen, and left the fully fledged workshop activity until next week, when we’ll be meeting again at Bilborough Community Centre to take our explorations further.

 We asked everyone to bring in an object or image to use as a stimulus for writing, and said we’d look again at today’s notes with a view to building our own versions of Jack Goldstein’s text-based ‘Totems’  pieces – a group of works that proved surprisingly popular today. By the end, after all the initial worries, it seemed that those attending had enjoyed their visit, and the session gave us plenty of opportunity to break the ice and lay the ground for picking up our thread again in Bilborough next week.



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