We were at Towner Art Gallery in April to visit the Melanie Manchot exhibition and gather some inspiration for our writing. This was the first major exhibition of new and recent work by London-based photographer, video and installation artist, Manchot. And People, Places, Propositions is the most significant exhibition of her work to date in the UK, and it proved rich material for writers’ imaginations.
The works in the exhibition are truly immersive, and as viewers of the film and video installations, we’re naturally drawn into them, the nature of the time based medium, inviting us to spend time them. So for the first time in a Drawn To The Page workshop we viewed one installation at a time, and discussed them as a group, explored them with our writing, before moving on to the next.
We began with Manchot’s work 1/18 (2015), a nine-screen durational studio portrait of the artist’s daughter – Billie, seven years in the making, which enquires into the nature of time, duration and commitment. I invited writers to make notes on the experience of watching the girl as she grew and changed on the small television monitors, making notes not just on their own thoughts and responses, but also on the mannerisms, emotions, character and personality that emerged. We then talked about the relationship we’d formed with Billie on the screen, before exploring relationships and growing-up through our writing.
Manchot’s approach to film-making is non linear, offering vignettes and fragments which build to create a whole, and so our writing was an exploration not just of her themes, but also her own unique form of storytelling. For 11/18 I asked writers to take the P.O.V. of either Billie, or a parent seeing Billie grow up. Writing in the 1st person they wrote about the girl at 6 stages between 11 and 18 years old, creating short paragraphs expressing the thoughts and emotions that might have been occurring on screen or generally at this time in her life. These fragmentary paragraphs were then edited into 6 other paragraphs they wrote in the 3rd person, depicting Billie in different ordinary everyday scenes (e.g. walking to school, watching TV, chatting with friends).
Over a cup of tea in the cafe, writers talked about their writing experience, before editing these 11/18 pieces together. We then went and had a look at Manchot’s multi-channel video installations Twelve (2015), an exploration of lives spent in addiction and recovery.
Once again we viewed the Manchot’s work, making notes about the stories, rituals, obsessions, memories and states of mind that formed a kaleidoscopic narrative in the various mult-screen installations. After viewing we talked about the artist’s non-linear approach to conveying the emotions and thoughts of the people on screen and about the inner conflicts that emerged as a consequence, tensions between people in relationships an between people and their addiction. I then invited writers to write an inner dialogue or argument between two aspects of the same person – using the people on screen as the inspiration for a character, or if they preferred, writing autobiographically, about themselves. We finished by emulating the repetitive writing “I woke up today…” to explore this character or our own experience further.
We all agreed it was a powerful exhibition and that Melanie Manchot had drawn us in to the worlds of the people on screen very subtly, often obliquely, but in a way we had deeply connected with. It was an exhibition that we carried out with us, and followed us home.