Coasts & Gloss
I’ve just got back from my talk on coastlines and non-mainstream British literature and book works, for the event Art & the Sea at Sheringham Little Theatre, organised by the University of East Anglia and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. By a weird coincidence – as if we needed any more proof that the coast is seen as a perfect conduit at the moment for public environmental culture – this coincides with a number of other festivals and events. Shorelines, the literature festival of the sea, is running from the 8-10th November in Leigh on Sea, and includes – as well as performances by a few friends, including an estuary audio piece by Justin Hopper – the debut performance of Caroline Bergvall’s DRIFT. I’ve written previously on this blog about Bergvall’s forthcoming DRIFT, which works with Anglo-Saxon seafaring texts and problems of language (and will be out from Nightboat Books next year). A teaser can be seen here; her performance is also supported by another friend, Tom Chivers, with his press Penned in the Margins. At my last talk, I mentioned Caroline’s work with this North Sea travel text; from the website’s blurb:
a performance (…) by internationally renowned writer and artist Caroline Bergvall and Norwegian percussionist and rising improv star, Ingar Zach, and visuals by Thomas Koppel. Inspired by the language and themes of Seafarer, an anonymous, 10th Century Anglo-Saxon poem, DRIFT takes you on a journey through time where languages mix and text, voice and live percussion conjure up the ancient to cohabit with the present. A contemporary meditation on migrancy, exiles and sea-travel.
Bergvall and Zach visit and invent a language of extremes: from the most ancient pool of English and Nordic poetry to the lyrics of current pop songs and the legal speak of controversial human rights reports, in order to create a vocabulary that speaks resolutely for today. Electronic texts by Ciaran Maher and slow moving video work by Eva Roovers and Erica Scourti provide the visual and spatial dimension to this deep language work.
The full programme for Shorelines is available in PDF form here. Meanwhile, in Kent, the exhibition Tides of Change, part of Kent’s Coastal Week, has been running over the last few days – ending tomorrow. It includes an appearance of Richard Skelton’s Corbel Stone Press work Limnology, which I have also mentioned here, and which alongside the musical recording also ‘assembles over 1000 ‘water-words’ from the dialect of Cumbria and its tributaries in the Germanic and Celtic languages, and presents them in a way which typographically imitates riverine processes’. The rest of the exhibition sounds good too, in this rather breathless explanation: ‘LV21 will be awash with coastal themed artwork throughout the decks, cabins and passageways; from a selection of works by artist Billy Childish to Anna Falcini’s intricate line drawings and Estuary Eulogies, from Fiona Spirals’ Ripping Landscapes and poems to Laurie Harpum’s ‘Cliff Creatures’ and Julie Bradshaw’s installation of memories, from ‘Mudlark’ Nick Stewart’s driftwood furniture and Malcolm Wright’s instruments to Paul Fowler’s paintings on salvaged timber, from Daniel Nash’s concrete ‘floating anchors’ to Germander Speedwell’s verses…’
Finally, the poet and academic David Herd will be speaking on Tuesday the 12th November to the title ‘The View from Dover’ as part of a brand new event series, Print Screen: Writing and the Moving Image (7pm, the Old Cinema, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street). Two of Herd’s own publications – All Just (Carcanet, 2012) and Outwith (BookThug, 2012) – deal with the politics of the Dover coastline, particularly the various holding spaces and holding process at the Dover Immigration Removal Centre. His work is also very informed by Charles Olson’s concepts of the coastal limit, Okeanos, and the ‘Figure of Outward’ in The Maximus Poems. For this reason, I mentioned both of the Herd texts at my own talk on modern coastal poetry on Wednesday. The event blurb for the 12th:
(The talk) takes its bearings from the site of The Citadel on Dover’s Western Heights. Originally constructed at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, as part of a network of fortifications, The Citadel knew various functions before its present use as an immigration removal centre. Starting at the building itself, with its iconic location, the talk asks what it means to view contemporary culture from such a contested site. Focusing questions of movement and belonging, Dover’s Citadel offers one of the most striking views in modern Britain. What becomes visible from a site held legally and linguistically just outside?
David Herd’s online sequence OUTWITH, in last year’s issue of the online journal Almost Island, is also worth reading beforehand if you plan on attending the event (‘It stands at the limit. A question of holding. / From the cliffs it is possible to witness France. / (…) It is a language question also, so to speak’).
My talk on Wednesday also approached ideas of diasporic language at the coast (note the importance of the phrase ‘so to speak’ in that line from Herd). I went for a number of well known texts as well as the small press experimental books – including Daljit Nagra’s use of dialect in his response to W. H. Auden’s ‘Look, stranger, on this island now’ and Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ (1867) in the titular poem of his 2007 collection Look We Have Coming to Dover. The event – as part of the Sainsbury Centre’s Art & the Sea programme and exhibition, and in collaboration with the University of East Anglia – also involved the artist Rachel Wilberforce discussing modernist bungalows and lost sea villages, Claude Cattelain‘s performance on Sheringham beach, and artist and sociologist Charlotte Humphrey’s local video work. The artists Dan Harvey and Heather Ackroyd also gave a great talk on their work Stranded (2006), which involved collaborating with the Cetacean Stranding Programme and growing crystals on the skeleton of a minke whale washed up in Skegness, and also discussed their Antarctic residency with Cape Farewell, the art programme working on climate change.
Cape Farewell are also running their own exhibition and late night launch event on Thursday the 7th November, Sea Change, ‘with seaweed, science and song’: ‘Fresh from Cape Farewell’s sailing journey on the 113-year-old Swan from Orkney to Shetland, artists are preparing for the Sea Change exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (…) Bringing together 19 artists, from both our 2011 and 2013 Scottish expeditions.’ As yet another coincidence, my friend Hanna Tuulikki’s visual score for Guth an Eòin | Voice of the Bird will be on display as part of the exhibition…
Also, it was good to see Ackroyd & Harvey’s images of the ice and snow phenomena they worked with on their Antarctic trip, as my previous talk on Oct 16th, for the Practice-Based research seminars evening series at the Centre for Creative Collaboration, included my first presentation of new research which I’ll be doing at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge after submitting my PhD. This will be for an article called ‘Translating ice: 20th century glossaries and Arctic nature’, for a forthcoming special issue of Ecozon@ (European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment) on ‘Northern Natures’:
This paper will examine the construction of global vocabularies of cold from the mid twentieth century onwards, beginning with the Illustrated Glossary of Snow and Ice (Scott Polar Research Institute Special Publication) assembled by Charles Swithinbank and other professional Arctic explorers, and the material stories which relate to the recording and dissemination of these standard terminologies for ice and snow. This includes the international coding of messages due to the shared governance of the Arctic and the facsimile radio transmission of weatherfaxes and ice charts, but also traditions of bibliographic illustration for the identification of dynamic features in the subzero landscape (such as E. A. Wilson’s analytical sketches). This paper will map the changing technologies for reporting these phenomena of the cold, following this through into modern online databases such as the navy’s Arctic Forecaster’s Handbook and the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s Sea Ice Glossary.
The provenance of these cold vocabularies will then be set within wider research on the cultural and literary lexicon of snow and ice, including the reception of the “Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax” in linguistics and literature. Igor Krupnik’s recent work on Inuit sea ice terminologies and Julie Kruikshank’s indigenous oral histories of glaciers will be balanced against the literary contexts depicted by Spufford (I May be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination) and Wilson (The Spiritual History of Ice: Romanticism, Science, and the Imagination). These will be used to explore the famed trope of the semantic slipperiness of ice and snow. The vocabulary histories presented above and the idea of a globally useful and meaningful language will then be measured against the cultural histories which continue to imagine the languages wrought from the cold as difficult and unstable.
A couple of the slides from my talk are below:
The same research materials – on language interference, Arctic radio, weatherfaxes and landscape – have also gone into the most recent chapbook I have written, GLOSS. Though the text is written, I’ll be working on the setting and design following my PhD submission, and I’ve currently been playing with some potential cover images and illustrations (below). (If anyone would like to help me choose, I actually have a whole stock of potentials over on my Flickr account here!)
Finally, on coastlines and water: while PASSENGERFILMS has already had its coast-themed screening, we’ve been working on water on our recent screenings. Last week’s Blackfish screening at Somerset House included five guest researchers speaking on cinema, the film spectacle, animal philosophy, and sea parks (some of my photos are below). Our next screening is specifically on inland water – on the governance of water and its relation to society. We’ll be screening Pumzi (2009), the first ever Kenyan sci fi film, the public information ad ‘Dark and Lonely Water’, a 1962 archival German short narrated from the point of view of a talking dyke sluice, a Polanski feature, and three talks. The full information will be released in the next couple of days on the PASSENGERFILMS blog, but the event will be on Friday the 22nd November, and it will be our first night at our brand new pop-up venue on Hoxton Square designed by the architects Shoreditch Works. Put it in your diary if you’d like to come!
This is my last internet post – and these were my last public outings! – before my PhD thesis submission in around four weeks time. But I will be attending David Herd’s event on the 12th: so if anyone’s going, I’ll see you there…