The Stanza Group

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Just over a week has passed since the Stanza Project created their installation in the gallery. The work has generated a lot of interest and discussion with visitors to the exhibition. I invited members of the group to write a short reflection on the weekend. I have listed the reflections in the sequence they were posted among the group as there is a feeling of continuity with the dialogue and, at times, reference to previous posts.

‘This weekend was the first time I’ve worked with such a large group who were not already familiar with each other and each others’ ways of working. It was a slower and more considered approach than I had expected. There seemed to be a great concern about the white space and what was marked into it, a greater sense of control and, I felt at times a very strong group censor, which I was puzzled by. As many remarked, my sense of the group really gelling and beginning to work together more freely and spontaneously only really came together towards the end of the second day. What I learnt from this was that if I was to do a similar thing again (with similarly quantities of time & unknowns – people and processes) I would allow longer.. maybe five days for a finished work to properly emerge. The form of collective thinking we were engaged in only really had time and space to assimilate into being something that worked once we were already two-thirds through our time together, which on one level was a shame, but on another level the unfinishedness produces a form of tension and energy in itself.. as shown by people’s remarks to you while invigilating.

I was expecting a more free-flow improvisational way of working where everyone, for example, for the first hour, worked into the wall in response to the poem/slides.. while Mervyn was playing through the slides and a conversation of marks emerge from this process of working into the wall. After this first hour, we might have all come together and reflected on what patterns or themes were emerging and how to work them up or over and so on.. so that everyone was engaged in doing and making followed by periods of reflection and then immersion. What would have emerged would have been a lot more messy and a lot ‘blacker’ but embracing the mess as the physical tracing of these collected bodies and minds at work is all part of the process. ‘Errors’ can always be papered over and so the picture builds up. I think I would have gone for more play and more anarchism.. splashing paint etc. But as with everything you only become aware of what you thought was going to happen when it doesn’t so that in itself is a useful finding..

Good to go through this to realise what you might have done differently, where the tensions were and what you thought worked/didn’t work.

I was very conscious of certain voices/energies being heard/expressed more than others and wonder what could have been done to bring those who were quieter up and into the project more or whether in fact they would rather not have been more physically involved. Really interested in hearing other people’s responses and reflections to the process.
Camilla Nelson

‘The corner space appeared to contain and somehow restrict our development of ideas at times. Once the text ‘Mighty like a rose’ was inscribed, this corner and the space we were working in felt inward looking- rather than offering opportunities to move and grow out of the text.

The outcome presents a bricolage – on the one hand lacking cohesion and clarity (at one point It felt as if we were securing fixed points into a static wall), on the other – moments of unravelling and interplay. The late inclusion of the two suspended letters on paper altered the spatial configuration of the work, the flatness of the wall was paired back and a visual palimpsest appeared.

The more I pondered on the challenges we were experiencing working with the space and surface of the wall and how it impacted on our praxis, I began to realise that the site/locale of action might not, in fact, be the wall but rather the lantern with its enchained process of light-slide-text/image-projection-space-surface-imprint-residue-memory, as the source and site of our work.

I experienced a slight feeling of uncertainty as I cycled along the riverpath to the exhibition on Monday morning. My thoughts ranging from :
How does the work relate to the other work in the exhibition ?
Pondering on the dynamics of the group, the atmosphere and how we worked together. (My suggestion that we read through the poem in Sunday morning was to offer a context for the days work and to try to bring the group together more)
Is the work an eclectic mess ?
What I have learnt from the process … ?
Did the group enjoy the weekend ? Did they feel it was worth it ?

After a day in the gallery spending time with the work and chatting to visitors, I start to re-relate to it as it emerged out of this time spent and the conversations I had : the pull of the word ‘Pasadena’, the bold marks, recognisable – yet unfamiliar – text, working directly onto surface, the significance of experimentation and of presenting an experimental process.

My thoughts cycling back home along the river path:
What a pleasure it was to work with the magic lantern
The freedom of working in the space in the way we did.
How fruitful it can be to bring people together and work together
The work feels unresolved and suspended and that there is something exciting about that …
The potential to take the process further.’
Fay Stevens

‘The Stanza group spent the weekend deconstructing, and performing a text which had arguably been decontextualized from its lyric source and inscribed on a transparent/opaque glass (slide). The text was projected through light/ lens, time, space, shape, shadow, and further reconfigured onto a surface (space) and mediated via the artistic collaborative process. The project could be seen from certain angles as a fluid process with inevitable stops, pauses, literal punctuations, and enjambment in the form of comfort breaks, regroupings, revisions, steps forward and back – embodied in performance.

My personal response to the project is to further explore aspects of performance writing and to examine more closely the fluid nature of a palimpsest of process which appears to go beyond the space in which it took place. I also wish to explore what I personally perceive as the teleological resonance in the text Pasadena, the paradox being its use of clichés, references to stillness, grass is greener, desire for home. These nostalgic references set up a cognitive dissonance which I became aware of the more I interacted with the text. For example my attempt to trace the word settle, while it was being projected as a shadow-word which kept shifting and fading as the lantern warmed, cooled, or moved, serendipitously fed into my own work which focuses on the kinetic energy in poetry and explores multiple ways of ‘transforming loss into movement’, through different media. (A recording of Pasadena played on site may have added another layer to the mix)

This is only the second time I’ve worked collaboratively in a large group and the first time I’ve taken part in performance writing/ installation. Apart from open mics and producing poetry film collaboratively, I consider myself a solitary page poet.
Due to a change of circumstance, I found myself more focused on the writing project and lantern, rather than the installation.
At first I viewed this negatively. However as the weekend progressed I began to see the benefits and potential of the separation
and by the end I was able to see how the two works, worked together. Indeed, this separation and re-merge, appeared as a reflection of the groups own dynamic. And now I find myself asking a hundred and one questions. Which is a good place to start.

A very fruitful weekend.

The key word for me is ‘fluidity.’
Chaucer Cameron

‘On Saturday I felt apprehensive and uneasy perhaps because I was working on my own piece whilst trying to join in the work of the group as well. I think for most of Saturday I watched what others were contributing and wondering what I could offer. I felt the group was in the control of the magic lantern which stopped to cool down and then we waited for it to have its rest and we got going again! A gendered machine maybe?

Leona challenged me on something I had said when we met a couple of weeks earlier and that helped me to get going on Sunday (thanks Leona). I made a few suggestions a bit louder than I had on Saturday. It still felt controlled, as if as collaborators we were waiting for permission from the magic lantern to perform.

Having said that, I enjoyed everyone’s company, artistic freedom and energy.

The work I did on my mother’s letters took directions that I had not expected and I have reflected on how it related in some ways to the collaborative work.

Letters by their nature are incomplete bodies of work. They are dispersed, do not usually have lasting value in their physical form and contain gaps and missing information that signifies shared knowledge and censorship.

I used a table as an obvious symbolic writing tool and the transparent acetates placed on top of each other were layered, could be moved around, re read, reinterpreted, hidden. The extracts re-inforced the incompleteness of the text.

I am interested in how the authorial embodiment in the letters on the wall (the markings, marginal notes, under-linings, signs of a changing flow of writing – fast, passionate, slow and signs of folding pages, stamps stuck) remain or not in the extracts on the table.

The process of extracting is also reflective of letter writing; I traced the letters, left spaces, copied, scanned and printed. The printer ink re-fixed the words to the page.

Perhaps the embodiment is now mine. In the act of literally tracing using tracing paper and a pencil, I felt something of the emotion of the original author at the time of writing. (Like mimicking a facial expression to try and understand how someone might be feeling.) I became familiar with the confidence in some of the words, some of the hesitance, some of the anger and frustration.

The ‘M’ in Mighty was flamboyant and drew our attention to its lovely curves and sweeps. My mother wrote some of the alphabet with similar sweeps and curves. Familiarity with the letter perhaps – like our own signatures may be written. As the ‘M’ was decontextualized through the magic lantern and we traced it through the light onto the wall, so I feel that some of the words on the table may have become sweeps and curves of my own embodiment with just a faint reference to what came before.

On the wall the Pasadena font and the Mighty as a Rose font didn’t necessarily go together, we paused as we considered it. But on the page of the letters it is clear that there it represents different stages of the letter and different stories being told.’
Helen Dewbery


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Stanza brings together a group of performance writers whose intention is to make the work in situ during the first weekend of the Festival in the exhibition space of ‘Still Points: Moving World.’ Based around a magic lantern show and digital projection, the concept of Stanza relates to the idea of standing (still) and ‘verse’. It has connotations of turning (moving). It also has the meaning of a room, resting place, as well as a stance, together with support or stay, and a group of words.

The artists will be working in the gallery space during the first weekend of the festival (23rd-24th May). The outcome of their will last throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Members of the Stanza Group

Chaucer Cameron

Helen Dewbery

Jerome Fletcher

Mervyn Heard

Leona Jones

Camilla Nelson

Fay Stevens

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