By Alice Gillie
In August 2017, I visited ‘ I the Poet. You the Poet’, a new and exciting exhibition created by artists and sisters Laurie and Biba Cole at SPACE in Old Market, Bristol.
The exhibition aimed to examine the often unexplored interaction between poetry and visual art; how each medium draws from, influences and enhances each other, whilst simultaneously exploring the perspicacity of artistic interpretation. However, what made this exhibition so unique was it’s participatory element. Upon arrival, spectators were invited to create, write or draw something on a piece of paper in relation to what had been produced before them, like a game of consequences. Their creation is then left for the next participant to respond to. The viewers, therefore, become part of the artistic process, fuelling an endless gyre of creation. This heightened the atmosphere in the gallery and there was a notable buzz of excitement in the air.
In order to find out more about the exhibition and particularly the artists motivation, I got in touch to ask Laurie and Biba to ask them about what the exhibition intended to portray and their motivation for the project.
Could you explain what the exhibition intended to demonstrate?
Laurie: The exhibition aimed to explore the connection between poetry and visual art. We feel that poetry is often a form which people don’t feel comfortable interacting with or commenting on in comparison to visual art. Overall we wanted to demonstrate the process between the written language and visual art by writing poetry ourselves and exchanging it with each other. By giving each other source material to then work from visually, our original narratives or concepts within the poems were taken in a completely new direction to how it was intended. The most exciting part of the whole process was seeing your own words materialise into something you had never even imagined”
“The most exciting part of the whole process was seeing your own words materialise into something you had never even imagined”
What was it that inspired the exhibition?
Biba: We had initially decided to do a joint exhibition whilst I was in Australia for my year abroad and whilst Laurie was in Bristol. We liked the idea of creating something that was collaborative but from a great distance. We realised that our individual processes of working drew parallels. We both use poetry or language as the starting point of making. Though we both work from writing, we became aware that this process is never shown as a final product and the bridge between the two mediums is never usually exhibited alongside our finished works. Therefore, we wanted to highlight this exchange between the two mediums and this was essentially the premise of the show.
“We both use poetry or language as the starting point of making”
Could you explain the relationship between the art and the poetry?
Laurie: We each wrote a set of poems and swapped them with each other. We then responded to each other’s words. Biba focussed on one poem and decided to interpret it through movement, gesture, and paint. This resulted in a backdrop painting and a costume that was worn live in the space, dependent on bodily movement, as well as hung as a sculpture. Whereas I worked with multiple poems and created new narratives through a series of paintings. We also made a risograph zine which exhibited the poems alongside some progress sketches.
Why did you encourage your viewers to participate and create their own response(s)?
Biba: We wanted the audience to be actively involved with the creative process between writing and making art, so to do this, we included an interactive game of consequences which we called ‘The Mother Stem’. The game was performative and encouraged viewers to use big bamboo quills, dipped in ink to draw and write with in response to the previous participants work. By using lifesize bamboo tools to write and draw with, we found the audience lost the fear of creating something aesthetically pleasing and instead made free, movement based works.
Laurie: It was also personally interesting because now, even months later, Biba and I can remember each participant, their story, and exactly which drawing they did out of hundreds of responses. It’s also important to us that the participants get to see what their own responses and creations developed. It meant that if they came to our next exhibition at the Vestibules, they saw their own work exhibited, alongside what we have created in response to them. We bound each response into a book, to create an entire audience sourced narrative, which was exhibited in amongst new paintings, films, and poetry that we had made.