Culture & Review on Phonic FM is a monthly round-up of cultural activity in and around Exeter. It’s broadcast live at 6pm on the first Thursday of the month, presented by Josie Sutcliffe. It’s a mix of reviews, interviews, features and music, featuring a couple of guests from the cultural scene.
My “Green|Blue” show in the Cathedral Chapter House was reviewed back in June by musician Emma Welton, and playwright Emily Holyoake. I couldn’t listen at the time, as I was campaigning door-to-door in the run up to the General Election. Five months later, I’ve managed to get hold of the recording!
Here’s the clip. Josie first introduces the show by reading from my blurb, while I listening squirm a bit and realise I should maybe use fewer sesquipedalian words in my explications. Then there’s a few minutes of me talking about my art practice and the inspiration for the work. Skip to 05:20 for the actual review, or read a transcript of it below.
I was amazed that they devoted 18 minutes in total to the show, and was very moved by the attention and thoughtful response to my work. They really got it! Not just the underlying message, but also details like my drawing on “Drop, Drop Slow Tears” and Emily Dickinson. More than that, they responded to the Chapter House / Cathedral setting in a way I hadn’t appreciated, and they broadened and deepened my understanding of my work and motivation. Heartfelt thanks.
[Josie Sutcliffe] So, Emma, tell me what your thoughts were about seeing “Green|Blue”.
[Emma Welton] I was really moved by it, actually. I was able to spend quite a bit of time in the Chapter House with my son, who’s 9, and he was sort of drifting in and out of the art and lying on the floor and looking at the ceiling, and at everything there is – it’s quite an impressive building. And I was almost doing the opposite, being able to go into real detail looking into each of these little worlds they seemed to be to me. They’re really beautiful. Every river has its own sort of personality and character, and that was an education in its own right. And being familiar with some, and not familiar with others, makes me want to get the map out and try and understand them more. But also at first sight, I actually took them as literal – this is what the river patterns are. So the layers of understanding that I’ve gained as I’ve learned more about Clare’s method of using the data about flood, and then realising: “Actually no the Exe doesn’t look exactly like that. Oh, so that’s quite different, and the Cathedral now is right next to the river”. And things you realise – it bears a lot of exploring I think and delving into.
[Emily Holyoake] I’ve been reading a book recently called “The Power”, and the first line of that really badly paraphrased is “The shape of power is the shape of a tree”, and it’s to do with this idea of, as Clare says, these repetitions and variations within nature – thinking about a tree as the same shape as the nerves in your body, as a river, as lightning – and that struck me before I turned around and looked at the other side of the room where that is exactly what she’d done. And I went in with my partner and said “Oh, this is just like this”, and then was taken by surprise that that’s one of the things that she was trying to demonstrate and that really struck me instantly. Because when you do take those images out of context, they do show that up really strongly – that repetition and variation. I thought the prints were beautiful as well. I would happily have one in my home!
[Josie] Yeah, they’re gorgeous, and gorgeous in different ways that she uses the data. So she then uses different techniques. I really loved the dye on the chiffon. I thought they were so delicate, and so extraordinary. You know, you could feel yourself getting really close, almost becoming absorbed into them. I thought they were… It’s a difficult space to put something that fragile, if you like, as well. I thought they were hung well.
[Emily] Yeah. It is quite an overwhelming space. Did you think to start with that the verses that were above were to do with the exhibition? Because me and Ben thought “Oh, and they’ve got these glass things above”, and then realised that they weren’t. But a lot of them did seem to correlate quite nicely with perhaps what she was trying to say, and then one of them really didn’t, and we thought “OK, no that’s just the Chapter House!”
[Josie] That’s just the Chapter House, indeed. Well I went today, and it was closed to the public, because there was a meeting going on in there. But I managed to scuttle in with Clare at lunchtime. So there were masses of people in there eating their sandwiches, so I didn’t get to see the videos. Did you get to see the videos? I’d really like to hear about what those videos were.
[Emma] Yeah, the one that wasn’t “Future Shock”… That was called “God’s Eye View”. “God’s Eye View”, that’s right, was a series of different, sort of maps, but views from above. I think each image had the same length of time, so they were given equal weighting. And some of them were literal photographs from the air. There was a photograph of “Earth Rise” from the Moon. There were several maps – OS maps – and images of Google, like a walking map through Exeter to the Cathedral. And then amongst them all there was one image of a future Exeter in flood, I think. So that was, again, rather an understated message, when you had to sit through and give it a bit of thought: “No the others are all actual, and this is a prediction, a forecast,” which again I kind of enjoyed that it wasn’t really telling me – it was showing me that reality, I suppose.
[Josie] It’s an interesting one, isn’t it, because Clare in her interview earlier was talking about “gentle activism”. And she is interested in how she can do things that are not stridently saying “this is what you need to do about climate change”, but different ways of showing us. What do you think about that, the gentle forms of activism? Knitting!
[Emily] Yeah! Yes, just like yarnbombing! It didn’t strike me personally as a particularly activism-driven or -inspiring exhibition, to me. Other than, maybe, this pointing out of how linked we are to natural patterns and natural occurrences. It did make me… Being in a Cathedral is an interesting thing for something like that. Because it made me think about notions of design-slash-coincidence. And, you know, whether it makes you think: “Ah well, if the same patterns and ideas and vulnerabilities are occurring in several different places that otherwise aren’t linked, then is there a design behind it?” So I thought that was interesting.
[Josie] What about you Emma and the notion of activism? Because obviously she’s doing this for a reason. There’s a point behind the art that she’s making. As well as producing beautiful images, she’s also saying things, gently.
[Emma] Yeah, well, I think it’s very powerful, for me. I suppose I’m ready for it. If you weren’t convinced about climate change, I’m not sure what you’d make of it. Except I think that the power is in the care and the love, and the pointing out of these really special things, and the information – that we then learn that they are changing. I suppose I felt that siting it in the Chapter House at the Cathedral – such a place of permanence – the dates of the Bishops of Exeter go back to 1050, my son pointed out. He’s interested in that sequence, you know, going back that far. You can imagine going forward that same amount of time, and does that flood forecast even go that far? How can we possibly imagine that? You know, I think it’s very rich, and thought-provoking. And actually it was the “Drop Slow Tears” one with the clear droplets of water with etched river systems inside them that sort of made me think about that, about each of the… the care, the attention, and love that you can hold these things in, within and in yourself as well, as a society I suppose.
[Josie] Yes I was taken by the Tears, too, those wonderful little engravings. And I think there is something about doing something gently, and not pushing at it. You know it’s all so sad and we should weep. But actually making these things and calling them “Tears”, but not doing anything more than that. And I did think, I thought they were really well executed. And there is something, for me, marvellous about just the way one could relate the different rivers and how similar and yet different they were, and the neurons and it made me think of blood. It made me think of bodies. It made me think of cabbage leaves. It made me think of all different aspects of nature in a way that I hadn’t thought about them before. I’d never thought of a river in relation to a cabbage leaf! Or a tree in that way. And so I was struck by that too. Great. So is there anything else that you wanted to say about that, that struck you?
[Emma] Yes, I know that Clare’s a singer and musician, and the “Drop Slow Tears” reminded me… I suppose it must be taken from a piece of text that’s set by a lot of composers, the most famously by Orlando Gibbons. So I went afterwards and looked it up: “Drop, Drop Slow Tears”. It’s a really beautiful and very short song. But the third verse is “In your deep floods / Drown all my faults and fears; / Nor let His eye see / Sin, but through my tears.” I was really grateful to her really for pointing me back towards that, through her title. I don’t know if it has resonance other than through that text, or not, that musical setting, other than our own tears.
[Josie] Yeah. Yes, I was taken by something that she said that I just read out, which was about looking slant at something. Which is taken from Emily Dickinson – writing “slant” – so that you don’t write straight at something, but you write slant, which is taking another view, taking a slightly different view on it. That’s an interesting way to think about activism too, I think. So thank you Clare Bryden for all that.