Reading Room explores some of the ways in which contemporary visual artists, poets, writers, and scholars practice in the rich seam between art and writing. Focusing on works with particular sensual, personal, or material immediacy, the exhibition seeks to integrate expression and analysis.
Gillian Allnutt’s poems, collected under the title “From the Artist’s Notebook: After some paintings of girls and women by Paula Modersohn-Becker” (2001) were written as if the post-impressionist artist were reflecting on the lives and characters of her sitters. Not scholarly interpretations of the portraits, they are nevertheless insightful, capturing turn-of-the-century rural life in carefully selected details. Offering an equally personal take on social history, Bethan Lewis’ White Sea (2011) is a translation of memories of the artist’s paternal grandmother – typed in English – into handwritten, makeshift Welsh.
Emily Erb’s dyed silk paintings bring deep emotion and critical thought into productive tension. Her melancholic Native Languages of North America (2008) combines elements of skilled craft, meticulous research, and scrawled, anthropological diagramming to mourn lost cultural diversity. For art historian Carol Mavor, creative practice is a way to “get lost” in her research material, illuminating new perspectives. Her film Fairy Tale Still Almost Blue: She writes with the Blue-Blood of a (Swan-like) Goose (2011) is a meditation on the color blue’s duplicitous nature narrated in Mavor’s luscious voice, and prepares ground for her forthcoming book Blue Mythologies (Reaktion, 2013).
Concerned with the contemporary relevance of modernism and informed by the structure and feel of his home, Anthony Boswell’s paintings sidestep language. But on the a-n.co.uk Artists Talking website he is a popular blogger, documenting his thoughts and doubts on art-making and life with a searchingly honest conviction. In her performative work, Tamarin Norwood more deliberately seeks reciprocation between art, writing and life. In My House and Other Inventions and Other Inventions (2011) she “reads” kitchen objects as mnemonic devices. Norwood also contributes bootlegged versions of six Bath drawings (2005) by Tracey Emin that inform her explorations into everyday, domestic life.
While the whole exhibition functions as a reading room of sorts – a space to read, listen, and absorb creative works – the front, right portion of the gallery is arranged as a sitting room, with a small selection of books and extracts intended to continue the conversation around art and writing. Punctuating the gallery space is a collection of touching love letters from artists to their idols commissioned for Valentines Day 2012 by Philadelphia-based magazine The Nicola Midnight St. Claire (the-st-claire.com).
This exhibition expands upon the Art Writing performance events curated in 2011-2012 by Becky Huff Hunter and KIOSK collective at Vox Populi’s AUX Performance Space, inspired by writer-scholar Maria Fusco’s concept of art writing: “art as writing, writing as art, and writing about art.”