This month’s Drawn to the Page workshop took place at the De La Warr Pavilion in response to Simon Patterson’s work Safari: an Exhibition as Expedition. The gallery’s website explains that: ‘People often make sense of the world through language, maps, museological classifications, military codes and routines: Simon Patterson manipulates these mechanisms, shifting our perceptions as a result. Safari combines works from the last twenty-five years of Patterson’s career with two new commissions. This exhibition takes the visitor on a mini safari throughout the De La Warr Pavilion where they will encounter, interspersed with Patterson’s own work, objects drawn from Bexhill and Hastings Museums.
‘These objects include artefacts collected by Hastings resident Annie Brassey (1839-87), an English writer and traveller who amassed an extensive collection of ethnographic objects during her voyages around the world on her steam yacht, the Sunbeam. Patterson’s display will also include several rather more questionable objects, such as those relating to the notorious Piltdown man, Grey Owl and other local fraudsters, charlatans and fantasists.’ (https://www.dlwp.com/exhibition/simon-patterson/)
Our group was given the luminous rooftop foyer as a workspace; from here we could see the horizon dividing the sea from the sky and imagine Patterson’s staging of Seascape, enacted earlier in the month with the Bexhill Sailing Club. We began our workshop by going on safari around the exhibition, which also includes artworks on the first and second floor stairwells. We drew our own maps and trails as we worked our way through the building, writing words onto our maps, doodling and making notes in response to the Patterson’s numerous artefacts, images and constructions.
At the end of our explorations, we met in the rooftop foyer to share impressions. Our different discoveries included a fascination with science and cataloguing; an interaction with maps and charts; a reflection on the limitations of words and a strong sense of journey. We set out into the gallery again to investigate the idea of imposters. Patterson’s exhibition is filled with imposters – exotic birds pretending to be local, stones pretending to be sculptures, the costume of an actor in a film about a local man pretending to be from another culture altogether. As an exercise we all chose one of these objects and wrote in its voice, alternating lines – ‘I am’ and ‘I pretend to be.’ This structure led on to free writing the raw material for a story, or a poem.
Our next exercise took place in our writing eyrie upstairs, following a pause for tea and cake in the café. First of all, we remembered a local museum or somewhere we often visited as a child, such as a place of worship or a relative’s house. Then we entered a particular room and imagined how it was lit, what it smelt like, how it felt. After that we chose an object in the room and wrote about it for five minutes. The second part of the exercise involved selecting a name or location from one of the old maps I had brought to the workshop. We started writing, using the phrase: ‘As I stand on the edge of…,’ letting our imaginations explore unfamiliar territory. Finally, we wrote down a phrase describing the remembered object and below it, one describing the imaginary place. We swapped our pieces of paper and spent a few minutes considering how the object and place could fit together, writing about these connections for another five minutes.
The last part of the workshop offered an opportunity to either find part of the exhibition we had not yet explored, or to continue to work on a piece begun earlier in the afternoon. Some of us visited the George Shaw exhibition, My Back to Nature. If discovering new work, the suggestion was to write oneself into the work (for example, into Shaw’s dense enamel landscapes) or to use it to take off (for example, Patterson’s staircase installation ‘Manned Flight’). We looked at Inna Kabysh’s ‘Yuri Gagarin Was a Great Russian Poet’ (translated by Katherine E. Young) as an example of launching out of the imagination: see https://vimeo.com/67417337 When we shared our work it was clear that we had all enjoyed excavating the rich narrative layers offered by Safari.
You can read writing from this session here on the Drawn to the Page blog. We’ll be back for our next session, exploring Ravilious and Friends as well as Becky Beasley’s Ous at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne on Saturday, 17th June.
This workshop will be the final session of Drawn to the Page’s 2 year Arts Council England funded project of hugely successful workshops, working with De La Warr Pavilion, Jerwood Gallery, Towner Art Gallery and New Writing South to develop writing communities and create innovative writing from a new relationship with visual art.