We met at the de la Warr Pavilion for the latest in a series of touring exhibitions curated by artists – Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Prices’s In a Dream You Saw a Way to Survive and You Were Full of Joy. There was a variety of work on display, ranging from video
installations to drawings, photographs and sculptures as well as historical artefacts. We
moved around the exhibition asking what associations we could make between the different exhibits, what kinds of conversations seemed to be going on between the art works and what voices we could hear.
Price’s statement about one of the exhibits (Necessaire by Giulio Paolini) seemed particularly appropriate for our group – ‘the paper was just lying there, waiting. It was possible to imagine that images and narratives might yet follow.’
The exhibition was arranged in four sections – Sleeping, Working, Mourning and Dancing. Many of us experienced a heightened awareness of our role as observers, perhaps because of the intimate atmosphere conjured by many of the pieces. For our first exercise we performed a kind of eavesdropping, freewriting about characters suggested by the art works and imagining what they might be saying.
For our second exercise, we gathered next to the print sequence commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian the First to celebrate his own life. The series of images depicts a parade with flags and banners intended to carry inscriptions narrating his achievements but he died before it was complete. We filled in blank banners with our own legends, based on the themes of sleeping (‘I am an excellent insomniac’), working, mourning and dancing.
After a short break we chose one character or voice from our free-write and considered what we might ask them. One participant asked Eleanor of Aquitaine whether the book she was reading was a page-turner (unlikely, since it was made of bronze…).
For our final exercise we created brief dialogue exchanges between the exhibits – what do the boys in Fikret Atay’s video installation think of Prince Buster’s music which plays in their corner of the exhibition space? What does the child in the photograph of women and children sheltering at a refuge have to say to the rough sleeper captured in the neighbouring photograph? What does he say back?
Once we started ventriloquising these characters, we found they urgently wanted to make their stories heard. We had to write fast to get their words onto the page and we could still hear their voices in our heads after we left the exhibition.
The next Drawn To The Page workshop is at Jerwood Gallery in Hastings on Saturday April 29th 2-5pm. You can find out more and book your place with New Writing South.