Back in summer 2009 we approached the performance poet Charlie Weinberg (Joyful Noise) to collaborate with the librarians for an upcoming library event. We wanted noise, we wanted movement, we wanted energy. We wanted the library to come alive and prove that the role of research, libraries, and archives can be vital attributes in exploring artistic practices.
In December Charlie began a comprehensive research project, exploring the library and archives and working with the librarians to fully engage with the resource. Progress Reports: art in an era of cultural diversity is the current exhibition by Iniva at Rivington Place; a group exhibition exploring the interpretations of cultural diversity in the arts. Charlie's performance was scheduled as the library response to this exhibition.
The Stuart Hall Library collections focus on contemporary international visual artists as well as British artists from culturally diverse backgrounds. The library and archive is a collection of artists that remain somewhat invisible, celebrating new art histories and providing contextual resources and a framework of cultural theory to postion these artistic practices within social and political discourse.
In other words: the Stuart Hall Library is absolutely vital in the discussion of cultural diversity in the arts and this time we wanted to do more than simply produce a comprehensive bibliography in support of this exhibition and accompanying public programme.
Live Bibliographies: Performing the Text is the Stuart Hall Library's first experience of a live performance event which may seem odd given its artistic setting and its original design to facilitate live events. Libraries across all sectors are providing public events in their library space such as music performances, live theatre, talks and seminars, play sessions, workshops, comedy, poetry and spoken word. This is a new venture for the Stuart Hall Library and a new audience for Iniva as we aimed to promote the event to the spoken word and poetry community.
The research process was one of the most engaging and exciting projects I've been involved with at the Stuart Hall Library. It was interesting to view the library through someone else's eyes and being faced with questions such as 'Why do you classify the books like that?' 'Why aren't there more books like this?' 'Why don't you own anything by [enter artist's name here]' What makes this an archive?'
At the start of the project I compiled a basic bibliography covering the history of Iniva, showing examples of cultural diversity policy, and also examples of exhibitions and artists as an introduction to the scope of the upcoming exhibition. Charlie used this bibliography as a map, weaving her way around the library. Each listed item inspired a new set of questions, and for each item retrieved there was always some nearby book or journal to serendipitously stumble upon to start a new trail off the beaten track.
The majority of the poems comissioned in this project were written within the library as Charlie was influenced by specific texts. As time progressed and the exhibition became open to the public, Charlie was able to respond to specific pieces within the exhibition, retreating to the library just a few minutes later. The pieces were written over the 3 months, some in relation to orignal project brief given by the librarians, some in relation to specific artists and texts, some in direct response to the Progress Reports exhibtion.
After the initial research period and once the poems had begun to take shape, Charlie began to explore ways in which the library space could be used for this performance and how to make this Live Bibliography come alive. Charlie went back to the idea of the bibliography as a map and her initial idea was to attach threads to the shelves, creating a tangled web of links across the library collection. Another idea was for Charlie to perform the poems while moving through the library, so that members of the audience were invited to view and/or follow Charlie's path through the library shelves.
In relation to working on the aesthetic of the performance, Charlie began to collaborate with artist Trevor Mathison who created a series of visual pieces from photographs taken by Charlie in the library specifically for the performance. These images reflected some of the materials used for research including images from books and journals selected by Charlie. The original bibliography included texts focusing on cultural diversity policy such as the Arts Council reports Towards Cultural Diversity (1992) and Whose Heritage? The Impact of Cultural Diversity on Britain's Living Heritage (2000) . Charlie isolated key words and phrases from these reports, including dictionary definitions of particular key words which were then incorporated into a visual piece created by Trevor to support the live poetry performance.
The collaboration with Trevor added a new dimension to the work, incorporating audio and visual responses to the pieces. The use of an audio visual display in response to the poems defined the use of the space for performance with Charlie to appear agains the backdrop of projected images. However Charlie still aimed to add movement to the performance demonstrating the full use of the library space, which has been utilised in particular for one poem aptly titled Library.
Live Bibliographies takes place this Saturday 20th February 2:30pm in the Stuart Hall Library. For information about the event please visit the library website. To book a free place at the event please contact firstname.lastname@example.org 020 7749 1240.
Full documentation of this event will appear both in the library collections as well as online. We will be updating the blog post-performance with images and links to audio visual recordings of the performance.