Friday, 11 April 2014

News that stays news

This blog will centre on a conversation held after one of our workshops, rather than the workshop sessions themselves.

The day had been both exhausting and fascinating. We're working on a project that brings together reminiscence, art making and poetry about the effect of two world wars on rural Derbyshire. The project, Stitching the Wars, will result in the exhibition of two quilts which have these memories sewn into it. Both Lois and myself are excited about it because we are working in a rural environment (unusual for us) and making textile pieces that feel very fresh and full of possibilities. However the biggest pleasure has been meeting the participants themselves, who have welcomed us and shared their memory-lives with us. Today we worked at a Bakewell Age UK Day Centre, the issue of memory and ability being erased by illness was present. And yet the sharing of life experience and the task of recording it as writings and art obviously brought deep satisfaction - and the stories were extraordinary. A man who had witnessed Hiroshima just after the bomb. The Sheffield bombings through the eyes of a young boy. Bridling a horse for ploughing, a tradition of many generations...

After the session Lois and I tried to pin down what it is that we're doing in our work - it's an attempt that we make every so often. After all, we've been a team for 14 years, so surely we should have an inkling? But the thing defies us. We aren't running reminiscence projects, because often we  confront the present as well as the past. We aren't therapists because we investigate material with an eye on the art itself, rather than trying to make the art do something that isn't artistic. And yet as artist/writer we are collaborators, not originators - and some people would dispute that we are artists at all. We aren't oral historians because our attempt is not to construct any consensus on events, only to honour personal histories however eccentric or 'wrong' they might seem. We aren't journalists because we aren't wedded to the big matters of the moment.

So what are we? Ezra Pound famously described poetry as 'news that stays news'. It doesn't date because it locates itself in the deeper currents of living, inner worlds, and sidesteps the quick judgement and the glossed exterior. Perhaps there is some of this in what we are trying for: to make work that speaks beyond it's own time, because it is at heart the story of how life FEELS, not what it is supposed to be. 

Flo at Bakewell Age UK Day Centre