Etymology: from the Greek word dialogos
dia-: through, between, across, inter
dýo- or di-: two
From the Latin dies: day, period of light
-logos: the rational principle that governs and develops the universe; word, saying, speech, discourse, thought, reckoning
log: chronological record
Whilst we were installing the Dwell Time exhibition at Huddersfield Railway Station this morning, we had a couple of conversations with passerby by. People were curious what we were doing and some commented on the previous work which had been up since 2015. We invited people to the launch event tomorrow and had quite an indepth conversation with someone about the bit of train line between Hebden Bridge and Burnley.
Hopefully our exhibition will prompt dialogue about mental wellbeing. It’s still very much a stigmatised issue and without dialogue about it, there is bound to be huge gaps in knowledge and misunderstanding. We really hope people will engage in the work and it prompt a conversation; whether that’s with their family or friend or a stranger in the waiting room as they comment on the show. I would love to spend a few days in the waiting room just talking to people about the work. We’ll have to ask the station staff at a later date if they’ve gleaned anything from things they’ve either overheard or the conversations they’ve had. Typically people often ask “so what’s this about then?” before even reading or engaging with the work. It will be interesting to get an insight into how the station staff perceive it and then convey that to their customers.
We had a Dwell Time meeting today finalising the last bits of planning for our exhibition opening this Thursday and looking at the various funding applications we’re planning to apply for. We’ve been doing lots of interviews for this project and we’re also launching a film featuring some of these interviews. This weekend we’ll also be at the Piece Hall in Halifax for their Wellbeing Festival and I’m looking forward to the conversations with the other practitioners and visitors there. These will be structured audio-recorded interviews more than dialogue in a balanced sense but interviews take a tangent into more natural dialogue. The pre-amble dialogue is interesting too where we explain the project and seek the necessary permissions for the audio recording. A common reservation that people have is they don’t like the sound of their own voice. I empathise with that as I dislike the sound of my voice recorded too. I remember reading the reason our own voices sound so odd to us recorded is because when we speak, the sound that we make is not only heard by our ears as soundwaves like everyone else hears and that recordings pick up, the sound we make also reverberates through our body and is heard that way as well. When we listen to the recording, it’s missing that latter part.
One of the reasons I think I’m so interested in dialogue at the moment is I’m a bit deaf in my right ear and struggle hearing especially when there’s a lot of background noise. Sometimes dialogue becomes hard work to work out what other people are saying or it becomes hilarious as I mishear and take the conversation somewhere completely different based on a misheard word!
I recently read Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn: “A progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable” in which the island inhabitants are required to use less and less letters of the alphabet in their speech and writing as they drop of the memorial statue of the island’s creator. The epitaph reads; ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’ and as each letter falls, the council decide it must be ‘a sign’ and banish each letter from use with severe punishments for offenders. The story is written in the form of correspondence letters between the islanders and some outsiders.
It’s cleverly written. As the alphabetical letters decrease, so to the the correspondence letters. The characters record their dialogue and the difficulty of self-censoring with the frequently changing rules as each letter falls from the memorial. The dialogue becomes so reduced and bastardised, morphing gradually from eloquent prose to stupified text-speak. It is a Orwellian dystopia poking fun at the seemingly random and absurd reasons that certain words are banned in contemporary society and reductive dialogue.
I went to see the amazing Hollie McNish last night, part of Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. I saw Hollie perform last year at Hope Baptist as a solo gig and last night she was joined by “Scottish writer and poet Michael Pedersen and Shetland writer, singer-songwriter and all round lovely man Malachy Tallack as they read and sing in the beautiful Hope Chapel”.
Michael was very entertaining and had the interludes down to a fine art, segwaying unscripted/semiscripted ‘chat’ with ‘poetry’ very smoothly. I thought these interlude moments were particularly interesting and more of him than his published poems which were the more crafted elements. Perhaps stand-up/improv is his calling.
Unfortunatey I was in too much pain to register Malachy’s words but standing up at the back somewhat resolved the pain for Hollie’s performances. She was great and again it was fascinating to see how her words are performed time and time again, afresh. She mentioned ‘a group of midwives who accosted her in Leeds’ after one gig and voiced their disappointment that she didn’t perform Embarassed.
I know that group of amazing women, not all midwives but certaily pro-breastfeeding feminists, and I only missed that outing because I was either very heavily pregnant or just given birth. They asked, post-gig, for Hollie to please read that poem, as it meant so much to them, and she generously obliged. Hollie cites this experience in her performance back in Hebden and says she feels she must read this poem every time she’s back in the area. I’m glad she does choose that poem to read as it’s so brilliant but I’m also grateful she entertains that dialogue with her audience and blurs the boundary between on and off stage.
I went to Mandy Barker‘s new show opening at Impressions Gallery yesterday.
Mandy gave a talk about her work in the show and there was a Q&A with the audience as well. She used a microphone plus PA system and, which enabled her to move around the space, and she opted for printed images rather than a projector/screen set up.
I’m a big fan of Mandy’s work and went to her talk at Chinese Centre for Contemporary Art last year. It was great to hear what she’s been working on since then and also how she talks about her work with similar stories and anecdotes but in a new context and for a new audience. Giving a talk to a new audience, you have to begin from the beginning as some people may have absolutely no previous knowledge of your work. The Q&A was also interesting as I think questions, in terms of content and how they are posed, are fascinating at revealing a lot about the questioner, their base knowledge and opinions
For example, someone asked a question about why Mandy chooses to make her work aesthetically pleasing. Mandy replied [paraphrasing] that she likes to entice people in to enable a deeper consideration of the work than shock tactics and inevitable denial / switching off when presented with the shocking images of reality. The way the question was asked suggested to me that the questioner was certainly intrigued by this beautifying of rubbish but also possibly a bit perplexed why someone would want to do that – as if glossing of something so horrific. Having taken for granted my understanding of this tactic, it was great to be reminded this might not be a common understanding. Perhaps this a particular area of interest to the questioner and it was a faux-naivety and/or simply wanting to hear more about Mandy’s thought processes on this, I don’t know. But questions like this are a great opportunity to expand upon important points that are sometimes less obvious initially and, from an artist and curator perspective, can crucially help inform the way work is presented.
This made me think about recent and recurrent conversations I’ve had with artist-friends who are or have been in the role of visitor assistant or invigilator at art galleries/institutions. A commonly cited frustation is the hierarchy of the curatorial/management team not engaging with the knowledge that VA/inviglators glean from their everyday interactions with visitors. The public facing roles in arts institutions are really important but undervalued as deemed ‘unskilled’. Having had a stint co-directing Temporary Art Space at the Piece Hall back in 2009 as well as other curatorial projects, I think it’s very insightful talking to gallery visitors and artists and curators can learn a lot from it.
Back to Mandy’s show, the exhibition has a Plastic Pledge section which invites visitors to pledge their actions to tackle the plastic crisis.
These audience participation cards are a common way to engage visitors in a dialogue with the exhibition and other visitors. It does negate the human aspect of talking to someone in the real/realtime but it is, I think, in the realm of Dialogue. They have the potential to prompt dialogue like anything else in the exhibition space but it is an explicit invite to participate. I’ve been thinking a lot about this invitation to dialogue and particular modes and strategies we employ.