As I haven’t blogged regularly on a-n for ages perhaps an overall introduction to The Lost Library is in order?

The Lost Library is a performance in which I change the experience of joining a library into a silent enrolment where joiners follow written instructions to join, and pose a question on their registration form.  The Library holds a word collection, the words having been gathered from the area of performance, ahead of the performance if the duration is less than an hour, during the performance with an assistant and typewriter when longer than an hour.  The assistant is currently hypothetical, yet I have collected words in this manner in two locations already – at The Print Shed, Madley a few years ago when I had my artist in residence Show and at this years Abergavenny Writing Festival in April.

I began The Lost Library as I was aware of the loss of libraries that is going on since the recession, and a greater proportion of libraries were lost in Wales, compared to England and Scotland.  When looking at the figures a few years back, Ireland had kept all of its libraries open. 

So I began The Lost Library – it was very messy – at The National Eisteddfod of Wales while it was in Abergavenny in 2016.  I put everything into it.  I wanted dancers to be involved, but that turned out to be the one thing I couldn’t arrange.  The desire to have a physical response to text has stayed with me through the years since.  Of course, back in 2016 I could have done the dancing myself in theory, yet in practice I was not ready to do it.  The first time I gave my physical response to text (in the form of a question posed by a participant) was in the Wrexham Open in October-December last year.  I have always enjoyed dancing and attended dance classes whenever I can, but with this development with the Lost Library I’ve realised I need to make training my body a priority, even if I have a slow approach to it.  This slow approach has so far involved going to a weekly contemporary dance class, running whenever I can and daily pilates.  I say slow because it takes me a long time to develop ability in just about anything and the movements I’m using to understand questions come from deep within, they are not surface movements.  This is what happens (on repeat) in a LL performance:

Participants fill out registration form and hand it to me

I read the question, then move around the space, holding the question in mind.

I date stamp the membership card

I pour the word collection into the sieve and shake until a word comes out

I hand the card and word to the participant. This marks the completion of their enrolment.

Something that I am currently considering is how to document this experience appropriately.  I have used video and photography. I also archive the word collections and the registration forms (i.e. the questions posed) for each performance.  But key to my development of this is documenting my own experience.  I recently had a one-to-one with an Arts Admin advisor where we discussed the documenting of my performances and I came away with valuable questions to ask myself, some useful leads and this indirectly initiated me to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s ‘Phenomonology of Perception’ book, which I am currently consuming.

I would like to record something of my thoughts from each enrolment, after I’ve moved with the question in mind, yet I need what I write to be invisible to those watching, so I can simply note three points down to consider the question further later, it could extend the experience of joining the lost library into looking at my blog to see if the question you posed has been further considered and an inkling of what I was thinking during the performance.  These blog posts may come out weeks or months or even years after a particular appearance.

I did find the during my SpringBoard performance – people who posed the question often understood something in my movements around their question, I was often feeling my way around the question through fairly obvious and clear gestures, sometimes miming something associated with the question. This was a way for me to begin to understand the question more was through mimicking movements I associated with it. Considering it from different directions, the longer the movement phase went on, the more abstract the movements got.

For Springboard I completely changed my costume – previously I’ve worn black trousers and a black and white stripy jacket – these have become too restrictive of movement, but also the boldness of the monotone stripes are at odds with the delicacy of the performance.  So this week I made a cream smock with pockets (for the completed forms) worn with a wide belt, brown leggings and bare feet.  A neutral looking costume, but with a medieval feel to it.  

The costume is something I want to develop – do I want it to adapt to each context of performance? Or do I want the costume to become part of The Lost Library signature?

I had printed t-shirts for the Eisteddfod, then I’ve used pinstripe suit, then black and white striped jacket and now cream and brown homemade costume.

A continuous evolution of costume is whats happening so far.

Lots to ponder.


Later this week I’ll be appearing at SpringBoard – an event run by MainSpring Arts near Brixton in London – an evening of neurodivergent performances.

I’m preparing the kit and my costume in readiness.  I’m collecting resonant, exciting or important words from attendees via social media in advance, which I’ve typed out on the typewriter and put into a jar ready for Thursday later.

I’ve not performed in the context of my neurological differences before, I’m realising late in life that I’m dispraxic, possibly autistic and I also sustained a head injury at age 12 from a bike accident (wrote a little piece ‘my taste of tarmac’ afterwards, of uncertain quality).   I’ve been to see one woman play The Duck written by Rhi Lloyd-Williams, performed by Lucy Theobald and directed by Jo Loan when it was in Stroud last year and was blown away by it’s insight into the autistic female perspective.   It was like the veiled mysteries of life fell away while I heard and saw a parallel version of my experience being played out in front of me.  My world stopped for the duration of the play, clarity reigned and understanding.   Someone gets it and can write about it with such clarity as it’s like when I got my first glasses for near sightedness when I was 14 and walking out of the opticians seeing wonderful sharp edges to everything once more.

In my upcoming appearance:

The experience of joining a library is morphed into a ritual to include filling in a registration form for The Lost Library on which you can pose a question. Anything you’d like to know the answer to she’ll mind/body ponder a while before giving you your loan.

I’ll be mute.  I’m currently attempting to make a new costume for it – the paper I use for the registration forms, library card and typed words is cream coloured and I have some cream cotton fabric I’m attempting to fashion into a simple shift dress, to be worn with a belt with the lost library kit hanging from it.  I enjoy the idea of it being a fully portable performance, kit attached.  Instructions for joining will be projected on a screen, or failing that, with marker on paper.

I’m considering ways of documenting these performances and to inform this the question that drives my work needs clarifying.

This is where I’m at with that:

’What is listening?’