Posts Tagged ‘women’s writing’

River songs in winter

December 1, 2011

I love the image of John Clare’s wassail singer telling her winter tale; she’s one of  many women whose songs, poems and stories I’m celebrating this season in my new exhibition, River songs in winter, at Woolfson & Tay in Bermondsey Square, near Tower Bridge. In this gallery within a bookshop beside the river, surrounded by books and words and volumes and images, I’ve brought together a collection of river songs from the water’s edge, a winter’s tale of the riverbank.


The Thames is my Ur-river.  Most of my life I’ve lived beside it: as a child in the 60’s playing on the toxic concrete shores at Long Reach, and in my teens totally immersed in the green leafy stretches further upriver. My partner the writer Frances Bingham is a lifelong Londoner, and after university we came straight back to London to start our life and work together, setting up our first studio here in 1986.

Later, when we came home again to London after living for a while by the sea, Frances and I stood together on the winter embankment watching a great ship slowly setting off downriver, and felt the tidal force of the river running through our life as it runs through our city.  For many years now the most homelike stretch of the Thames for us has been the reach from Waterloo Bridge down to Greenwich, and the river still retains its tidal tug; we hear the river’s voice; we read the river’s words.

Rather as a composer sets poetry to music, I work with fragments of poetry or a flow of words that to me express the essential form and volume of the individual work I’m making, whether it’s a vessel or an artist’s book or a driftwood sculpture. This exhibition includes all three, juxtaposed so that the relationship between the forms is evident:

My work is about containment and connection: the natural materials formed and shaped by water and the cosmic transformation of the fire re-enact the elemental processes of nature that form the earth and our own bodies.

Working with text is a way to examine how the light shows through, how the materials and process are given life and meaning by thought and words.  Our artists’ film Riversoup continues this balancing act of text and form with a sequence of still images about constant movement reflecting a poetic text that follows the journey of the tidal Thames from the Pool of London to the sea, and back again.

I always enjoy site-specific exhibitions, where the work relates closely to the showing environment, and the gallery at Woolfson & Tay is a beautiful bookish space, with incidentally a lovely cafe, so that you can sit to contemplate the work in warmth and comfort.

River songs in winter is on from 29th November, throughout December until 8th January 2012, open daily except over Christmas. Please see W&T’s website for opening times and details. It’s a selling show, so you can buy off-the-wall to take away immediately, and as each artwork is a signed original one-off, the show will be changing throughout the month as sold work is replaced.

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.