Fat Relic EVent

The Still Point presents an evening of creative exchange between artists and researchers at Fat Relic. Join us on Monday the 27th April for an exhibition of visual work and live readings over drinks.

Over the course of a month artists from the Slade School of Art and Central Saint Martins, and PhD Researchers from UCL, King’s College London and the Bartlett, have been working collaboratively in a series of partnerships. The aim of the creative exchange has been to encourage PhD students to engage with their research in creative and experimental ways, whilst also giving the artists a chance to develop their practice reciprocally by investigating new ideas and alternative ways of seeing.

The event on the 27th April will showcase the results of these collaborations. The event hopes to tease out the similarities between the kinds of rich thinking and exploration we do as researchers and as visual artists, and to interrogate the very notions of ‘art writing’ and of ‘academic style,’ by blurring the boundaries and bending the rules.

Work and readings from Mircea Teleaga and James Fisher, Maud Craigie and Polly Mitchell, Maxima Smith and Penny Newell, Sarah Boulton and James Morland, Dala Nasser and Laura Silva.

For more details see our Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/921737127878443/permalink/921749897877166/

Or view the listing on Art Rabbit: https://www.artrabbit.com/events/the-still-point-journal-creative-exchange

dismorr, the engine

This month Flashpoint Mag launched an issue devoted to Blast magazine in its centenary year. Having heard about the work I did on Jessie Dismorr during my undergraduate degree they asked if I would submit something so that they could give the women of Blast the coverage they deserve.  You can read my piece on ‘Walking and Rewriting London’ here.  My essay considers the relation of Dismorr to the feminist and metropolitan cultures of her day and I argue that her writings for Blast represent a personal rewriting of the patriarchal city – an architectural prose which re-conceptualizes the London of 1915.

I discovered Jessie Dismorr’s work in Blast during my degree and enjoyed hunting down new sources for her work and exploring the significance and feminism of her short experiments in the world of prose. You can read some of my reflections on different aspects of her work and career on my old blog, where I was tracking my research: Jessie Dismorr- Vorticist Streets, Jessie Dismorr and Rhythm, The Omnibus.

But my return to Jessie Dismorr’s prose has been an ‘interlude of high-love making’ and I must get back to the ‘life of thoroughfares to which I belong (i.e the subject of my PhD!).

I wander in the precincts of stately urban houses.  Moonlight carves them in purity. The presence of these great and rectangular personalities is a medicine. They are the children of colossal restraint, they are the last word of prose. (Poetics, your day is over!)  In admiring them I have put myself on the side of all severities.  I seek the profoundest teachings of the inanimate.  I feel the emotion of related shapes.  Oh, discipline of ordered pilasters and porticoes!  My volatility rests upon you as a swimmer hangs upon a rock. (Dismorr, ‘June Night’)

Richard Warren, whose blog provides a wonderful and extensive archive of Dismorr’s work, references my work before exploring Flanerie and Loss on the No.43 bus: Jessie Dismorr and Rosemary Tonks:

‘The new Flashpoint online magazine has a useful piece by Francesca Brooks on Jessie Dismorr, Vorticist painter, poet and flâneuse, whose artworks and writings can be found extensively on my pages up above. Brooks focuses pretty much entirely on Dismorr’s two urbanist prose poems published in 1915 in Blast 2. Her tie-in of Dismorr with Guy Debord and the dérive is apt and necessary; we can easily overlook the romantic roots of situationist thought, and the dérive is derived from Baudelairean flânerie.’

A few weeks ago I was involved in a creative thought-experiment in which Anglo-Saxonists from King’s College London were invited to respond to the current abstract art exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery ‘Adventures in the Black Square.’  In preparation for an event hosted by writer-in-residence, Caroline Bergvall, called ‘Adventures in the Illuminated Sphere – a meeting point between medieval culture and contemporary art’ we made a class trip to the exhibit and played with thinking medieval in a modern space. It required us to do the kind of close, superficial reading which would usually be discouraged: a reading of your own biases and interests into absolute alterity.

I thought about:

*Paper cultures/Textual Cultures

*Abstraction as a form of anarchic marginalia

*Language and script as a foundational pattern for visuals

The result of this thought-experiment was a vibrant and surreal evening for which Fran Allfrey and I produced a book of juxtapositions and uncanny reflections between the abstract and the medieval. Fran was responsible for the design and physical/digital making of the book, and we were both responsible for contributing ideas and concepts. You can enjoy the book on Issuu, it’s our gift to you.

The Still Point Twitter Cover

Along with other PhD researchers at King’s College London and UCL, I’ve been working on a new literary journal which will be a forum for creative, tangential thinking and writing related (however loosely) to our research. We’ve released our Call for Submissions for the journal we will be producing over the summer, but in the meantime we are also working on some teasers for our blog to inspire the kind of thinking we are interested in exploring.

One of our short features for the blog is the ‘The Secret Autobiography of my PhD’, a kind of confessional space in which we encourage people to reflect on what compels them to do their research and the autobiographical stories which might underlie the endless footnotes and bibliographies of their thesis. I began the series with my own confessional, something of a revelation in which I stumbled upon what Seamus Heaney would call my ‘thole-pin’ – my local and vernacular claim to the old language I study.

The other week my flatmate stumbled into my bedroom and surveyed the chaos. “Your room is filled with so much paper” she said as she looked in wonder from the books arranged anarchically across the shelves and puzzled together on the desk, to the gatherings of bills and letters, the postcards pinned to the walls, the mind-maps and the folders of work popping with paper-weights. I feel like my life is an increasingly unruly paper trail: paper breeds paper it seems, every book ends with a Borgesian bibliography which propels you towards an infinite library of more books. But my relationship with texts and with stories began before collections of material papers, before bindings. It began with my mother’s voice.

Read the full piece, as well as the first of our PhD Playlists, on The Still Point blog: https://stillpointldn.wordpress.com/.

And here’s a little of our Call for Submissions to whet your appetite too:

The Still Point Journal is currently seeking submissions of creative non-fiction, short fiction, poetry, and visual artwork, for its inaugural issue and web journal.

 A new literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers in London, The Still Point aims to be a forum for dialogue, collaboration and experimentation, and offers a space for creatively writing through ideas in original forms.

 The Journal will feature short fiction and poetry although its particular focus is on non-fiction writing, related – however tangentially – to our research and the kind of rich thinking and exploration we do during the course of this research. These informal articles and journalistic pieces, free of footnotes or bibliographies, should feel more like a collection of conversations had with fellow researchers over coffee than academic papers. You might tell the story of a visit to an archive, or a pilgrimage in search of the traces of a writer or artist, or simply mull over some inspiration which came from an unexpected source…if you have a story to tell, we’d like to hear it.

 ‘The still point’ reflects our experience of being new researchers and represents those moments when we take time out of our days for deep thinking and reflection: when the world gets quiet but our minds are still racing. For the first issue we invite submissions in response to the quotation from T.S Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’, from which the journal takes its name. Responses can be as creative and as broad as you like, and we are particularly interested in seeing work which blurs the boundaries of form and genre.

brainofforgetting A little piece of my flash fiction appears in the inaugural issue of ‘Brain of Forgetting’, a journal which aims to create a dialogue between past and present, and encourage creative reflections on scholarly knowledge. I’ve always had an unnatural (or perhaps peculiarly natural) passion for stones and so couldn’t resist the call for submissions when I saw that it appealed directly to my slightly niche obsessions.

The title of the journal is drawn from the Irish legend of Cenn Fáelad, who lost his ‘brain of forgetting’ when his skull was split open by a sword-blow in battle. Cenn Fáelad developed a photographic memory for historical and legal information, which he wrote out in verse and prose on tablets. The journal includes some beautiful photographs, many many poems, and some select pieces of short and flash fiction. For more details on how to get your hands on a copy of the journal visit the Brain of Forgetting website: http://www.brainofforgetting.com/issue-1-stones.html

Devon 069

A few weeks ago I went on a press trip to the Liverpool Biennial for the Learned Pig. You can read my article and review of the Biennial events across the city at the Learned Pig here. In this blog post I’ve included my own oral parable which focuses on the discovery of a mural painted by my relative in the beautiful Old Blind School building.

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This year the Liverpool Biennial’s constellation of exhibitions, events and curatorial side-shows are grouped under the title, ‘A Needle Walks into a Haystack.’ Whether you read the play of words as a joke, a surreal oral parable, or a maxim on the banal and the domestic: it’s easy to feel like the needle walking into the haystack when you begin your hopscotch across Liverpool’s art map or enter the labyrinthine, peeling corridors of the Old Blind School for the central exhibition.

The power to make you feel like the main protagonist in an oral parable, passed by word of mouth, needle-like, between the blackened terraced houses of Liverpool’s sloping streets, is the Biennial’s greatest achievement. It’s a clever trick and it sucks you in. So here’s my needle in a haystack story: read it, repeat it, pass it on to a friend, and then visit the Biennial and find a story of your own.

Every year the Biennial seeks out venues with their own local character and this time the historic Old Blind School has been chosen as the contextual and cultural backdrop. On the outside Liverpool is a city of quarry-red terraced houses and smoked-black brickwork, its tar dock-waters shrouded under grey, but the Old Blind School’s interior is a peeling palette of inexplicable pastel shades: lemon yellows, mint greens, soft pinks, baby blues and shades of beige.

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In 1791 the Liverpool School for the Blind was founded by local hero Edward Rushton and since then the building has transformed and regenerated itself many times. Over the course of a century this building has housed the Merseyside Police, The Trades Union Centre, a recording studio and performance venue for the young and unemployed known as The Picket, and most recently, the Theatre Resource Centre. The building is a fascinating palimpsest of Liverpudlian social history and testament to the city’s reputation as the pioneering home of welfare.

There’s a palpable sense, wandering the corridors of the old school, that if you scratched away at the walls you’d find living history beneath. For locals, the Biennial has brought an old, abandoned building back to life: giving people an opportunity to return to the institutional and radical spaces of the Old Blind School where they once worked, campaigned, plotted, picketed and even performed.

As a life-long southerner and occasional Londoner, I didn’t expect to find I had any place within this architectonic narrative. Yet looking up from amongst Peter Wächtler’s ceramic sea creatures I discovered a mural. A mural which was not a part of the official Biennial programme but a piece of the fabric of the building itself, a fragment of the city’s past. Like the needle who stepped into the haystack to discover a lost connection with the social and political history of Liverpool, I found that I was a part of the crumbling walls and chipped paintwork after all. The mural was painted by a relative of mine in 1986.

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My great uncle Mick Jones, son of the Garston-born Trade Union Leader Jack Jones, was a political illustrator and mural painter most famous for his work on the Dalston Peace Mural designed by Ray Walker. The mural in the dome of the Old Blind School commemorates the Peoples’ March for Jobs in Liverpool: it curls over the mint green balcony of the top floor with the rage and passion of 1980s political activism. The colours are vibrant and in wild, striking contrast to the polite neo-classical detailing of the rest of the building.

Edward Rushton, one of Liverpool’s great radicals, is depicted as the blind hopelessly leading the blind. There are towers of smoke billowing behind him, and the cranes and hooks which swing in and out of the warped mural seem to threaten to demolish the world around them, including the crumbling red brickwork of the Albert Docks. Beneath this post-industrial apocalypse the people march with their bright, rippling protest banners.

Marx lurks somewhere amongst the crowds along with a self-portrait of the artist himself, and recent family debates have also concluded that the fiery red-head leading the protest must be my great aunt. That statuesque red-head raises her arm to unleash a cry, the slogan on her t-shirt screaming out: ‘Give us a Future!’ This cry ripples across the painted surface of the domed mural, and by a kind of magical coincidence I suspect: the sonics of protest, dissent and disenchantment, echo across the city and the Biennial’s many venues.

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Sound carries and it is the sounds of political and social unrest which offer one of the most interesting threads for navigating the haystack. Attune yourself to a sound-map of the Biennial and you’ll have found a satisfying way in.

For me, the best of the acoustic offerings was the exhibition devoted to Liverpool’s oral poet, musician and painter, Adrian Henri, at the Exhibition Research Centre. Here rare video and audio archive footage evoke the sounds of radical Liverpool in the 60s and 70s. Henri’s words come to us slowly across the music, at times coloured with romance and at others, barbed with politics. Listening to Henri’s experimental lyricism, the sounds of Liverpool and the chiming of the Liverpudlian accent, the Mersey Sound, become richly musical and even sensual. Henri was a wordsmith of great skill and craft. It’s when the Biennial taps into the Liverpudlian local and particular, when it picks up the melody of the city’s sounds and passes them back to the visitor: that the events reach rhapsodic peaks of brilliance. It’s then that they have our attention: that we’re all finally leaning to listen in.

I catch the beginning of a final parable as I’m leaving. I overhear two scousers swapping stories about going to Henri’s spoken word events in their own Mersey youth, their voices ricocheting against the looped recordings. There’s another two needles, entering the haystack.

So now the question is (or the moral of the parable): how can we preserve the mural? Rumour has it that the Hope Street Hotel has acquired the Old Blind School and plans to convert it into luxury apartments, but will there be space for the mural in this new development? If anyone has any interest in helping to preserve the mural, or any ideas of how to do so, please leave a comment below.

Liverpool Confidential believed the mural stole the show: http://www.liverpoolconfidential.co.uk/Culture/Arts/The-mural-that-steals-the-Biennial-show You an read more about the unique Liverpudlian history of the Blind Schools on the Biennial website where they have opened up a forum for swapping stories and memories: http://www.biennial.com/blog/2014/06/05/share-your-stories-an-iconic-building-brought-back-to-life Unite the Union has more detail about the historical figure of Edward Rushton and the history painted in the mural: http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/education/rebelroad/murals/

A3 Rv

This morning the A3 Review finally slipped through my letterbox to land in my eager, outstretched arms. The Review, which is  the size of a concertina postcard, folds out to become an A3 map of short stories fizzing with energy, lyrical prose and poetic fragments.

Several months ago I responded to a challenge from the wonderful Writing Maps to write a short story on the subject of neighbourhoods in just 150 words, and this is how ‘I Came to Find You’ found its own way into the Review. The story is set in the compact, yet drifting, neighbourhoods of east London and looks back to local patterns of movement and nostalgia. But I shouldn’t say much more – a footnote to a tiny story – except for to encourage you to buy a copy of the Review and discover all of the other wonderful pieces of Flash Fiction and poetry which are included in the inaugural issue. Order your copy here: http://www.writingmaps.com/collections/the-a3-review

It also occurred to me today (when I insisted that all of my family needed to read the story aloud and to catch hold of the right rhythm) that I am doing things with sound, and with a kind of aural, vocal sculpting, in my own writing which I am also interested in in my academic research. I will talk a little more about this in some posts over the next couple of weeks, but it is something of a newly dawning revelation. It never crossed my mind that the two things might overlap before.

Writing Maps, who produced the journal, also make beautifully designed maps and prompts to inspire writing in all kinds of unlikely and lovely places (from the beach, to a local cafe and the city streets), and they will soon be starting up their monthly short fiction competitions again in the search for new material for the next Review. So have a little browse of their website, sign up to the mailing list and submit to their upcoming prompts!

http://www.writingmaps.com/

@writingmaps