As You I Am

March 30, 2010

Testimony is a double-sided work on paper, with some letters torn out to let the light through:

It’s made to hang in an internal window, or as a screen, so that you can see both sides:

I first showed it as part of my 2008 installation in the Poetry Library in London’s Southbank Centre, hanging in a plate-glass window that separated the Poetry Library from the theatre foyer, and the following discussion is taken from one of a series of gallery talks I gave for that exhibition.

from Working with words

Here in this library we are surrounded by messages from the living and the dead – who are often looking both ways into their own past and to the imagined future. In Testimony the siting in this particular space necessitates two views, one view outwards to the no-place of the foyer where the poet Kathleen Raine identifies herself in the past, ‘already gone’ – and one view inwards into the exhibition space where the poet looks forward into the future.

The two views pivot on the phrase that sides poet and viewer together in this moment, and identifies our common lot –

As you I am

– which works both ways in reminding us of the poet’s mortality and our own, and works both ways on the paper too, with the symmetrical letters torn through, making the words of air and light, and communicating the startling fact in a physical way. 

This pivot is at the centre of the poem here physically, and I’ve placed it exactly where it comes in the written text. The poet’s urge to be with us here, now, to speak aloud in our imaginations in the present moment, to join our now to hers, gives life to this physical context, amplifying her individual voice above the clamour, overcoming the limitations of time.

The surrounding text is written in ink with a peg pen, rather than lettered, referencing the personal nature of the words the poet uses to meet us at this point:

This woman whose hand writes words not mine

and the extremely compelling individuality of this hand-written message, invoking the future reader for the writer, as much as the poet is invoked for her reader. The unusual shape of the whole untorn sheet of handmade cotton-rag paper (70cm x 70cm) further reflects the duality of the text.

Signed one-off; about 70cm square; for sale £200

For some more paperworks from this exhibition and for sale, please see the Paperworks and Bookworks pages.

To buy or enquire about any work, please leave me a note in the comments box below or click on contact details.

All photographs copyright Liz Mathews.

Any use of these photos needs permission.

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