A Newsletter for July

Saturday 9th of July: Autobiographical Food #3

This Saturday I will be telling half-truths and making auto-fictive jam: ‘Invisible Flock have invited artists to prepare dishes live from recipes based on personal stories in a Ready, Steady, Cook style set up with Terry O’Connor as master of ceremonies, during two hours of eating and sharing. Emma Bolland and Leo Kay will prepare meals that they feel represents a story from their lives – it might be to do with their artistic practice or something else entirely. Invisible Flock will help cook these dishes live while Terry leads a discussion about autobiographical practice.’

Invisible Flock are an interactive arts organisation described by the Guardian as “real innovators” of digital and interactive art.  They are renowned for creating ground breaking hybrid work across forms. They create artworks that invite people to reimagin the world they live in and how they participate in it, often using technology to incite meaningful encounters. Terry O’Connor is one of the six founding members of Forced Entertainment and has also established an independent body of performance work as a performer and theatre maker. Leo Kay is a performer and Theatre Maker who’s work sits between theatre and live-art with a focus on autobiographical performance. Leo is Artistic Director of Unfinished Business, creating original work that lives between performance and everyday interaction, with an emphasis on process, ritual, intimacy, socio-political engagement and unexpected interaction between artist and audience.

Places are free but booking is essential: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/autobiographical-food-3-emma-bolland-and-leo-kay-tickets-25993399959

The event is part of Hillsfest, taking place in Sheffield on the 9th and 10th of July, with spoken word, live music, performance, lecture and film strands. All events are free: http://www.hillsfest.org/spoken-word-and-film/

Friday 15th July: The National Association for Fine Art Education

I am pleased to be presenting my research at the NAFAE Research Practice Practice Research Symposium. ‘The symposium exploring aspects of doctoral research in Fine Art practice and Fine Art pedagogy organised by NAFAE in collaboration with the University of Cumbria. We are offering an opportunity to present a paper about what you are researching, and how you are researching it or, if you are supervisor, strategies for supervision. The aim of the symposium is to explore and debate issues of fine art research. It is hoped that a broad range of approaches to fine art research may be represented, to facilitate discussion of the range of topics being researched, and the methods being used to research them.

The symposium programme is available here: http://nafae.org.uk/sites/default/files/papers/research-practice-schedule.pdf

The abstracts. biographies, and papers will be available on the NAFAE website later this week. http://nafae.org.uk/events/research-practice-practice-research

A Newsletter for May and June

INT. EXT. – Ends 4pm, Friday 20th May

INT. EXT. explores the territory of the screenplay as a conceptual and material frame for auto-fictive practice. Video projection and an installation of specially created typographical drawing props explore the screenplay concepts of ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ in relation to Laconian ideas of the unconscious, and the ambiguities of memory. Writing within the film frame, using the video editing software as a site for producing an image-responsive text, reversing the orthodoxy of screenplay/film relations, and proposing art writing as moving image. Wild Pansy Project Space, School of Fine Art, History of Art, and Cultural Studies, Old Mining Building University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9JT. Monday to Thursday, 10 am to 5pm, Friday 10 am to 4pm. You can watch a trailer of the full projected film below:


ONE OR TWO THINGS THEY KNOW ABOUT HER, a play by Sharon Kivland, friday 20 may, 19.00 to 20.30 at art lacuna, 48 falcon rd, london, sw11 2lr

I am very fortunate to be one of the readers for this play, adapted for twenty-two voices for Pressure Chamber 0.5: House of Hysteria, as a read-through or table work, with the author as dramaturge. In 1999 Book Works published A Case of Hysteria, in which Sharon Kivland followed Sigmund Freud’s analysis of a young woman, ‘Dora’ (Ida Bauer). The book merges many voices and confusions of identity arise. Indeed, it turns on a matter of voice. There is a long chapter that appears to be a play, with many characters. They are those who have written about the case (a ‘fragment of an analysis a case of hysteria’), their words extracted as dialogue when they assert something – a speculation – about ‘Dora’ for which there is no textual evidence in Freud’s account or ‘fragment’. To this impossible dramatisation the author added the stage directions of a twentieth-century play, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. It has never been performed, though its performance has been imagined. 

Readers: Jake Arnott, Emma Bolland, Marianne Chase, Simon Crump, Richard Dodwell, Steve Dutton, Bryan Eccleshall, Gavin Edmonds, Michael Hampton, Francis Haselden, Matthew King, Rosanna McNamara, Megan Nolan, Joseph Noonan-Ganley, Maggie Pettigrew, Lucy Pook, Holly Sandford, Isabella Streffen, Linda Stupart, Sam Talbot, Emmanuelle Waeckerle, Frank Wasser

Places are limited for this event, as is seating. Booking is essential. Please email or telephone Tina Jenkins to reserve: tinajenkins@hotmail.co.uk 07786178078

Digital Re-enchantment: Place, Writing & Technology, Saturday 11th June 2016

I’m delighted to be one of the speakers at this symposium, together with Clare Archibald (Writer), David Borthwick (University of Glasgow), Sarah Cole (TIME/IMAGE & Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the British Library), David Cooper (Manchester Metropolitan University), and Brian Lewis (Longbarrow Press).

‘In Landmarks (2015) the writer Robert Macfarlane, expresses his anxiety for the way that technology “has bequeathed to us an inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves too”. In what ways, though, might digital technologies enhance and enrich our relationships with the places in which we live and the spaces through which we move? How have landscape writers drawn upon digital technologies in their own exploratory creative practices? This informal symposium will bring together a diverse range of speakers – including writers, literary critics, a leading publisher, and a creative entrepreneur – to explore the imaginative possibilities and problems presented by different digital technologies.’ The symposium will be followed by an evening of readings, and group walk on the following day. To find out more, and book a place, click here.

Moving Performances: a day symposium exploring the politics and spaces of voice and unruly emotions, Thursday 23rd June, Faculty of Music, St Aldates, Oxford University

I’m also delighted to be part of Moving Performances, talking about experimenting with the technologised voice as a means of voicing, and talking to, the internalised ‘other’.

‘This day symposium will bring together academics, artists, composers and other researchers who are interested in the capacities and aesthetics of the voice in performance and its spatial politics. How might affects be engineered and negotiated through the bodies of artistic and musical performances? How are passions or insanities produced – both in genres such as opera and ballet, but also in spectacles of live art? How might such performances generate space and atmospheres? How might bodies performing/experiencing emotion move/be moved through spaces? What kind of political material is the voice as a connecting medium between performer and audience? What is the impact of the mediated or technologized voice on artistic or musical performance of excessive emotion? The symposium title uses cultural theorist Jennifer Doyle¹s phrase ‘unruly emotions’ (2013) to reference a recent discussion of contemporary art’s use of emotion and affect as artistic materials, often manifested by those working in the traditions of live art and performance. Such work involves specific bodies that inhabit particular places, an understanding which chimes with both musicology’s study of performances, and also cultural geography’s recent attention to affect and spatial politics. For more information on this event click here.


Work in progress… Int. Ext.

Int. Ext.

20th April to 20th May 2016
Wild Pansy Project Space
School of Fine Art, History of Art, and Cultural Studies
Old Mining Building
University of Leeds
Woodhouse Lane
Leeds LS2 9JT

Preview 20th April 6–8pm: All welcome.

The Project Space will be open to the public from:
10.00-6.00 Monday-Thursday, 10.00-4.00 Friday

Video still (work in progress) – Emma Bolland 2016
Video still (work in progress) – Emma Bolland 2016

A Newsletter for March and April

Art Monthly Review

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My 2005 multiple work Melancholia, together with my 2015 bookwork Lectolalia have been reviewed in the March edition of Art Monthly. To buy Lectolalia from the publishers please click here. There are only a very few of the Melancholia works left. Should you be interested in buying one then please contact me direct, through my Bio / CV / Contact Me page.


The Editions at The Tetley, 5th and 6th of March




12697068_970220079728657_1499934083567074042_oThe Editions is an annual publishing project, undertaken by past and present M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. students in Fine Art, Sheffield Hallam University, working with number of constraints.

In 2015–16, over several months, the participants in The Editions III prepared their novels, following Roland Barthes, thinking about how to produce a book that while unwritten is described or figured, given form. The Editions III is the trial of writing. Material, without which the books would not be possible or which is constructed after the fact, is collected and displayed: the parts and processes of writing as terms of reference.

The participating artists in The Editions III have each produced a book in response to Roland Barthes’ text The Preparation for the Novel. This exhibition aims to recreate the artist’s /author’s moment of production, bringing together fifteen sets of preparatory material for these books – notes, drafts, crumpled sheets of paper, reference books, Post-Its, and other ephemera. Displayed as individual writing desks in the Tetley’s Boardroom, the installation will be activated by exhibiting artists taking turns to sit at their desks, writing, idling, or otherwise engaged.


EXT. INT. solo exhibition at the University of Leeds

My solo exhibition EXT. INT. at The Wild Pansy project Space, University of Leeds, curated by Simon Lewandowski and Chris Taylor, runs from Weds 20th April to Friday 20th May 2016. I will be showing new work created especially for the space: a short film, a text drawing installation, and a short text. The preview takes place on Wednesday 20th April from 6pm to 8pm. All welcome.


A Newsletter for January

Reading at Micromegas Vagabond Flux
Dog Star: Dreaming Transmissions Of a Cosmonaut Bitch being read at the launch of Micromegas Vagabond Flux, Lille 2015. Photograph, Emma Bolland.

Micromegas: University of Lincoln Monday 11th January – Friday 5th February

Private view Tuesday 26 Jan 5-7pm – all welcome
‘Curated by Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen this exhibition/publication brings together posters and texts by a range of artists who were commissioned in response to Voltaire’s Micromégas text
of 1752, a seminal work in the genre of science fiction which functions as a commentary on human foible, scientific superstitions and anti-utopias. The large-scale posters form a component of the exhibition, and when folded, an element of the publication. The exhibition and publication investigate notions of portability, reproduction, distribution and presentation in contemporary art practice and curation with reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en Valise.’
Micromegas: Powers of 10 brings together works by Pavel Büchler, Dora Garcia, Jonathan Monk, Scott Myles, Thomson & Craighead, Marco Stout, Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen, and a text by Mark Dorrian.
A second edition: Micromegas: Vagabond Flux contains digital print posters by Bik Van der Pol, Jonn Herschend, Jacques Longuecolline, Mick Peter, Laure Provost, Stefanos Pavlakis & Tobias Kauer, Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen and booklet with essay by Emma Bolland.’
My text for Micromegas, Dog Star: Dreaming Transmissions Of a Cosmonaut Bitch, is on the University website here: http://projectspacelsad.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2016/01/12/dog-star-by-emma-bolland/
More information on the exhibition can be found here: http://projectspacelsad.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2016/01/05/coming-soon-2/

Public lecture by curators Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen Wednesday 27 Jan, The Collection, Lincoln, free entry.

MilkyWayYouWillHearMeCall & Lectolalia Publications

The MilkyWayYouWillHearMeCall pamphlets, authored by myself, Judit Bodor and Tom Rodgers, have just been purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their Artists’ Books collection at the National Art Library. You can find out more about these publications here: http://gordianprojects.com/2016/01/05/new-year-special-offer-milkywayyouwillhearmecall/
Lectolalia, my single author pamphlet, has just been bought by the Saison Poetry Library for their collection at the Royal Festival Hall. You can find out more about the publication here: http://gordianprojects.com/lectolalia-a-romance/

Preface: What is a Book?

My short film Preface: What is a Book? remediates an academic paper about the author ego positioning the ‘book’ object as a kind of Lacanian fetish as a short film. Made with the support of Arts Council England for my exhibition Lectolalia #2 (Speak/Read) at Bank Street Arts, for their contextual exhibition programme for the Sheffield International Artist Book Prize 2015, it is now available to watch online:


Other News…

I am very pleased to have commenced part-time doctoral research at Sheffield Hallam University, and am very fortunate to have Dr Sharon Kivland as Director of Studies, and Dr Peter Jones as second supervisor.


A Newsletter for November and December

Video still from Preface - what is a book? Emma Bolland 2015
Video still from Preface – what is a book? Emma Bolland 2015

Over In and Under: a hysterical translation without a dictionary
Part One of my creative translation of of Freud’s 1899 essay Über Dekkerinnerungen, (published in English as On Screen Memories), has just been published on 3am Magazine, together with a companion audio-work. You can read and listen here:

Astronaut, Spelunker, Deep Sea Diver*
A short text commissioned by Unofficial Britain. Ruptured and redacted landscapes. You can read the text here:

Astronaut, Spelunker, Deep Sea Diver*

Lectolalia #2 (speak read)
My small exhibition Lectolalia #2 (speak read) is a part of Opening Up the Book, a programme of events and exhibitions run by Bank Street Arts and The School of English at The University of Sheffield, contextualised by the Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize. You are warmly invited to the opening night of this and the other exhibitions at Bank Street on Thursday 12th November. My work comprises of three short films, one newly commissioned for this exhibition, a reprise of my ‘Re-Writing Lispector’ instillation, and sundry other scrawls and objects that may demand to be included. Please note that whilst the exhibitions are wheelchair accessible the rest of the building including toilets and bar, is not at all disabled friendly. Should you not be able to attend on the 12th, the exhibition fruns from the 4th of December to the 5th of December. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1680122258940594/

Cobra Res
Cobra Res 1.9, the latest response by Cobra Res binds together specially commissioned flash fiction and experimental texts made in direct response to the ‘Calais crisis’ COBRA Committee meetings, and the overall crisis faced by refugees as they move towards and across Europe. Contributors include myself, Sharon Kivland, Paul O’Kane, Claire Potter, Jade Amoli-Jackson, Dragan Todorovic and many more. All the profits from the sale of this book will go to the charity CalAid who support refugees and migrants in Calais, France. You can buy the book here: http://cobrapress.bigcartel.com/product/cobra-1-9-book-of-flash-fiction

Reading at Conway Hall, London, Saturday 7th November
The Small Publishers’ Fair is an annual celebration of books by contemporary artists, poets, writers and book designers. It is held in London’s Conway Hall and takes place this year on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 November, 11am to 7pm. The fair features over 60 publishers from across the UK and around the world, and a programme of exhibitions, readings and talks. I will be reading from my text, Lectolalia (a romance) (2015), published by Gordian Projects. Details about the Fair can be found here:


Lectolalia ( a romance) can be bought here:

GeoHumanities: a journal of the Association of American Geographers. Volume 1, Issue 1
I have a short paper, Every Place a Palimpsest: Creative Practice, Emotional Archaeology, and the Post-Traumatic Landscape in the new GeoHumanities journal, edited by Tim Cresswell, Deborah P. Dixon, Peter K. Bol and J. Nicholas Entrikin. The journal is open access and free to read online:

and finally

Livres D’Artistes: The Artist’s Book in Theory and Practice. Cardiff University, Friday 4th to Sunday 6th December.
I am delighted to be presenting a paper, and screening my book as film works at this conference. The full programme can be found here: http://livresdartistes.weebly.com/programme.html

Best Wishes

Emma Bolland


This short essay was written in 2010, and was commissioned by  East Street Arts for ‘Over Yonder’, their 2010 project that explored the historical context of town/region twinning. I was given free rein to interpret the idea of ‘twinning’ however I wished.


‘…and thus did nature balance one freak by another, and restore her universal equilibrium…’ Punch Magazine 1843

BuyLibriumOnline! ‘Librium: this medicine is used to treat anxiety… side effects include confusion…’ Spam email received October 2010

Black Pony (detail)
Black Pony (detail). Paper, map pins, blue screen projector. Emma Bolland (2007).

On October 25th 2006 the craniopagus twins Tatiana and Krista Hogan were born. Conjoined, backward facing at the head, they clearly share bone, veins and arteries. Their neurologist states that they also share a cerebral cortex – the part of the brain that is believed to play a central role in memory, language and perception. Thus, Tatiana and Krista, whilst never being able to meet each other’s eye, may share a portion of a psychic existence: ambiguously separated physical selves inhabiting ambiguously connected interior minds. The uncanny mirror of this proposition is a single physical self internally fractured by a disruptive other.

The myth of the healthy self sets up an impossible ideal of a fully integrated psyche, of an emotionally, socially and morally balanced existence that enables us to travel progressively through a life of forward looking, harmonious and meditative reflection in which we unflinchingly meet our own gaze. An industry of ‘self help’ purports to assist us in journeying towards a state where internal conflicts are seen and resolved, and a spectral subconscious of intrusive visitations and unnaturally dark desires and drives is exorcised by the light of self awareness. The contemporary use of the term ‘freak’ to describe a seemingly psychically odd individual reflects the language used to comment on the ‘sideshows of monstrosities’ of the nineteenth century. An account from 1847 informs us that ‘there seems to be a sort of fascination in the horrible; and we can only hope, as the mania has now reached its extreme, a healthy admiration for the “true and the beautiful,” as the novelists call it, will immediately begin to show itself.’

The cultural myth of the twin allows us to both explore and distance ourselves from the unsettling reality of our internal conflict, and is rich with the contradictions that feed our anxieties about the unbalanced mind. The uncanny clone-like telepathy of The Midwich Cuckoos, (John Wydham Lewis 1957), threatens the annihilation of our singular existence through the proposition of a monstrous collective psyche. In the good / evil dyad of the Hammer Horror film Twins of Evil (1971), the externally identical Maria and Frieda manifest both the pure and virtuous mind, and its perverse and libidinous opponent. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson 1886) is centered upon anxieties about the double self to the extent that the actual physiology of the subject alters to mirror its psychic state.

Much media representation of Tatiana and Krista, and other conjoined twins provide us with a dehumanised ‘spectacle’ that is profoundly unsettling and irresistibly fascinating precisely because it visually reflects both the vicious doctrine of the ‘healthy mind and healthy body’, (arguably in itself a Victorian inverse of the freak show aesthetic), and more importantly the psychic blurring of the boundaries between the healthy self and the pathological other that the concepts of the ‘normal’ and the ‘ideal’ resist. Most coverage of these twins gives us no narrative of a complex and continuing existence, and refutes any experience of an ordinarily rich life. The adult lives of these individuals are rarely portrayed, except where a ‘freakish’ gift can be posed as a melodramatic or sentimental counterpoint to their tragic disability. Lori and Reba Schappell, the most widely described adult craniopagics, are defined almost exclusively by Reba’s career as a country and western singer. The National Fairground Archive comments that in the freak shows of the nineteenth century, ‘the most popular attractions were oddities with extraordinary talents’.

The intersection at which these lives come under scrutiny, at which our viscerally anxious fascination is revealed, is at the tortuously extended moment of their dangerous surgical separation. In the case of back or side facing craniopagics this is the imagined perilous point at which they will turn and face and stare, in which each other’s eyes, the supposed windows of their souls, will either be successfully penetrated or irrevocably shattered. The ambivalence of such procedures, paradoxically posed as both vital and life threatening, reflects our own uncertainty about our wish to see ourselves, secretly fearful that the act of seeing may force us to lose a darkness for which we dare not admit our yearning. This seemingly healthy act of a psychically eugenic form of self-examination, is designed to light the path of a life without conflict, to eradicate a troublesome interior darkness in which we sometimes stumble disorientated and dreamlike: it is a cruelly lit mirror that allows the beauty of existence to have no flaws, and whose glaring shine harshly and irrevocably splits off that which intrudes upon our ideal.

A softer light upon a reflective surface might not exclude a positive and progressive psyche, but allow for fluid exchange between ourselves and our dark other that is only possible across a boundary blurred, a mirror become a mist. The clarity of a single path, which conceptually purports to steer us ever onwards through a life which begins with a hopeful birth, and ends with a satisfactorily peaceful death, in which we congratulate ourselves upon a fulfilled potential seemingly untainted by uncertainty and doubt, is in fact a narrow and prosaic road which allows for none of the creative and poetic blunders and diversions which truly illuminate our rich potential. In reality, a life defined by a cold cycle of an impenetrable rock orbiting slavishly through the vacuum of a bleak prescriptive space offers no richness. Nor does the pitiless light and the sterilising heat of a merciless sun allow for a sensual organic growth of our psychic selves. Without the blackness of night, or the liminal grey of dawn and dusk, the contemplative, creative, and conflicted luminescence of the day would not exist. The mind that does not struggle cannot prevail and the heart that does not break cannot feel love.

In August 2007, it was declared that Tatiana and Krista could not be separated, due to the likelihood of the surgery killing or paralysing one or both the girls. However, doctors stated that they are doing well in terms of health issues, and it is reported that when in distress, the soothing of one of the sisters will cause the other to cease her crying, and that when one is tickled, the other also laughs.

“Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare!” Alice Through The Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll 1871.

Approaching the Dog Star*: writing for Micromegas Vagabond Flux

The following text is an extended transcript of a lecture given at L’Université Lille 3 on 19th March 2015 about the process of writing a commissioned text for Micromegas Vagabond Flux, the second in a series of 7 publishing projects and mobile exhibitions curated by Tracy Makenna and Edwin Janssen in response to Voltaire’s satirical proto-SciFi short story Micromegas (1752), with work by Bik Van Der Pol, Jacques Longuecolline, Jonn Herschend, Laure Prouvost, Mick Peter, Stefanos Pavlakis & Tobias Kauer, Tracy Makenna & Edwin Janssen, and myself.  Micromegas Vagabond Flux is published by artconnexion in partnership with Ed & Ellis PS in a boxed, archival edition of 24 copies, and is supported by the University of Dundee and Fondation de France.  A French translation of the lecture will be embedded here shortly. My published commissioned text Dog Star: Dreaming Transmissions from a Cosmonaut Bitch will be available online later in the year.

Dog Star: Dreaming Transmissions Of a Cosmonaut Bitch being read at the launch of Micromegas Vagabond Flux, Lille 2015. Photograph, Emma Bolland.
Dog Star: Dreaming Transmissions Of a Cosmonaut Bitch being read at the launch of Micromegas Vagabond Flux, Lille 2015 with Laure Prouvost’s text poster visible behind. Photograph, Emma Bolland.

Approaching the Dog Star*: writing for Micromegas Vagabond Flux
Une conférence pour L’Université Lille 3, 19th March 2015
Emma Bolland

I thought it might be useful to start by talking about some of the ways in which an artist can write, and the possibilities of writing as part of art practice before I address the process of writing the text for Micromegas Vagabond Flux, and the challenges of responding to Voltaire in the light of recent events.

I am an artist and writer who sees the processes of making and writing as intertwined and at times inseparable. Creating boundaries between making images and objects, and writing texts is not helpful for me. Additionally, I see the act of reading and writing as performative.   You will probably be familiar with the term ‘Art Writing’, which might be used to describe some of the things I do. However, I’m not yet sure what I think about this term, or whether it is of any use to me beyond that of convenience, in that it is a term one can use in a simplistic way to categorise and explain aspects of one’s practice. I wonder if, paradoxically, the term might engender a separation between written and visual practice, rather than enable integration of or discourse between the two.

Unwriting Lispector - Book, notebook & looped video projection. Emma Bolland, 2014
Unwriting Lispector – Book, notebook & looped video projection. Emma Bolland, 2014

What for the sake of convenience we can call my visual work has always, to one degree or another, started from the idea of text. Unwriting Lispector (2014) is an installation that is designed to sit on a bookshelf. A book, Água Viva by Clarice Lispector (which in English can be translated as ‘Living Water’ – perhaps in French it might be ‘eau vive’?) is placed next to a notebook, open at a blank page. Onto these is projected a looped video of me copying out the Lispector text into the self-same notebook. The footage is reversed so that my hand moves up the page and the words disappear – unwriting. This is a piece about writing and reading as process and performance, about an immersion in a text, and perhaps also about the limits of textual understanding. Other works have incorporated elements such as 100 crime novels which I made myself read one after the other, and a desk with a computer, its screen projected out onto the floor, where I spent periods in the gallery writing a sort of screenplay that attempted to animate the installation that surrounded me – see Sylvia Sylvia Where are You Buried? (2005). My short film The Is Of The Thing (2014) is about our relationship with books and reading. The voiceover is a cut-up / collage, of phrases taken from an email conversation between myself, and the curator who commissioned the work, David Berridge, an experimental writer. In our conversation we talked about the process of reading, and also the fear of reading that sometimes happens when one becomes overwhelmed by ones own ignorance, by the infinitesimal multitude of texts that one will never read.

photo 5
A slide from What Is A Book If It Will Not Be A Book (2013). A performed paper presentation for the Impact 8 conference at the University of Dundee. Emma Bolland.

In What Is A Book If It Will Not Be A BooK (2013) I turn an academic paper / illustrated talk into a performance, with the slides dominating the spoken and written narrative.

In the same way that my ‘visual work’ is embedded with an experience of text, so my writing starts from the visual and the spatial.  By this I don’t necessarily mean the kind of experimental typography as exemplified by Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard (1914), but more that to write I must first inhabit a visual field. Writers are so often told not to worry about layout in the first instance – told that this is procrastination. ‘Just start! Just get it down!’. However, before I can start to write on the screen, even in note form, I have to choose a font, think about spacing, set the margins, start to design the page – otherwise the words will not come. I cannot shape the piece unless I have a visual framework from which to start.

Screen shot of Over In And Under (2015). Emma Bolland.
Screen shot of Over In And Under (2015). Emma Bolland.

Above is a screenshot of an ongoing piece of work, an experimental translation of Freud’s Überdekkerinnerungen, translated in English as ‘Screen Memories’– in French this might be something like ‘souvenirs d’écran’ or ‘couvercle de la mémoire’? I don’t speak German, so I am translating on what the words look like and sound like, working quickly, in the style of the free association of Freudian analysis. The text is formatted so that Freud’s text and mine follow each other paragraph by paragraph, with Freud’s words minaturised and redacted, written through, impossible to read, so that although both our voices are there, visually, my words are screening his: the page is designed to echo the ideas and processes of both Freud’s text and my translation.

Screen Shot of Dog Star* - Dreaming transmissions of a cosmonaut bitch. Emma Bolland 2015
Screen Shot of Dog Star* – Dreaming transmissions of a cosmonaut bitch. Emma Bolland 2015

A visual articulation of different voices is also used in the text for Micromegas Vagabond Flux to position the reader within the different narratives at the point of reading, and to enable me to inhabit the voices during the process of writing. Laika (the eponymous cosmonaut bitch) is italicized, Voltaire is diminished in size, and the deliberate use of symbols rather than numbers for the footnotes meant that a visual star could orbit the written Star of the title. I cannot tell you how much this pleases me!

So how did I write it? On the 6th January I received an email from Tracy and Edwin kindly inviting me to write the text in response to Voltaire’s Micromegas. They give me free rein, whilst indicating areas of my practice that might offer starting points: the arena of the ambiguous memoir, the relationships between word and image, the positioning of site and landscape as a repository for personal and collective memory, and walking as a tool for teaching, learning and research. This all seemed good to me, and I think that in the first instance I imagined writing quite an abstract, cerebral sort of piece, probably around place and imagined sites. But then the next day, January 7th, there came the attack upon the offices of the ‘satirical’ magazine Charlie Hebdo, and suddenly Voltaire was everywhere: the poster boy for free speech. It seemed inconceivable that I could write the piece without talking about Hebdo. But the more I tried, the more impossible it became. I talk about these impossibilities at length in the postscript of Dog Star (so in a way I do write about it), but for the purposes of this presentation I’m more interested in how what was impossible shaped what was possible. Thinking through these impossibilities made me angry, angry at the hypocrisy & laziness around the uses and definitions of the term free speech, and the uncritical trumpeting of vague Enlightenment values. What is free speech exactly? Where do its boundaries lie? If, as a feminist activist I receive what I experience as misogynist and intimidating Tweets, should I tolerate them because of the sanctity of ‘free speech’? Is the reason I find them distressing because I am not rational? When I saw the picture of world leaders marching for Hebdo in the newspapers I started counting the number of countries represented wherein its citizens are either locked up, punished, or murdered for ‘free speech’. There were many, including my own. I found Voltaire’s story fascinating and ingenious: but the character of Micromegas paradoxical. In some senses written to be a listener, an observer, a wonderer, he also read as privileged, pompous and self-satisfied. I wouldn’t want to sit next to him at dinner.

Laika – passenger of Sputnik Two, launched in 1957, who died just a few hours after take off from panic and overheating.

So what shaped the piece in the end was anger. I needed a voice that could be angry, that could disrupt the flow of the writing, that could shout at Voltaire and shout at Micromegas, and shout at the violence committed on both sides of any war. I also needed a voice with which I could be playful, a foil for the serious politicised narrative that I wanted to construct around the moon landings. As I read and reread Micromegas I found myself becoming more and more murderous in my mind – I saw myself following him around, muttering and cursing, and I was muttering and cursing and walking around my studio as I read. We have a phrase in English that is to be ‘dogged by’, which is to be cursed by and bound to – as in ‘he was dogged by misfortune’. We also use the description ‘dogged’, to be dogged is to be persistent, stubborn, determined, to keep at it. It was during the process of these cross and grumbling readings that Laika the space dog, the creature betrayed by science and rationality, came to mind – she would follow Micromegas from planet to planet, snapping at his heels and sniffing him out. I wanted allow Laika’s voice to become more and more feral as the piece went on. I was trying to write growls and howls but they looked unconvincing as words – contrived and inauthentic, and read as whimsical rather than fierce. A solution to this was to record myself being a dog, snapping and barking, and then to transcribe the sounds I made onto the page. (At the time of recording I had very bad flu, with fluid filling up my lungs – the recording is interspersed with much coughing and cursing).

Screen Shot of 'Laika's voice' from Dog Star Dreaming transmissions from a cosmonaut bitch. Emma Bolland 2015
Screen Shot of ‘Laika’s voice’ from Dog Star Dreaming transmissions from a cosmonaut bitch. Emma Bolland 2015

In the process of writing there are many influences and desires that shape our texts. The ones that I can consciously acknowledge in Dog Star* include a wish to try to write in different and dialectical voices and the deliberate juxtaposition of personal memory (particularly my memories of watching the moon landings as a very small child) with historical research, political analysis, and fictional narratives, and the use of a postscript to anchor the present with the past. I tried to situate wonder and reality side by side and let them both retain an integrity whilst avoiding the polarities of whimsy and didacticism. And there were other, more sentimental indulgences, for instance – my partner’s fascination with and imaginative love for the outer reaches of our solar system, so when in the first paragraph I write ‘I slipped the leash and spiralled past the pewter planets of the Kuiper belt, through the fractoluminescence of the asteroids, and the comet clouds of icy moons to sail far, far out into the starry deeps’, I am writing for them.

I cannot end without mentioning that most useful of creative tools: serendipity. As I was struggling to finish the main body of the piece I was contacted by the journalist Cath Murray of DIVA magazine who were planning an article about the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, at the RAF Greenham Common military base in Kent, set up in response to the British government’s decision to allow the US Air Force to site Cruise nuclear missiles there. I had been there as a very young woman, and they wanted to interview me about my memories of that time. Suddenly and unexpectedly I had the ending for Dog Star, for here in those memories was Laika embodied. Feral, stubborn, and uncompromising: not pontificating about the sanctity of free speech, but getting dirty and speaking truth to power.

women dancing on top of the nuclear missile silos during a night time break in to the Greenham Common Nuclear Missile Base. (Provenance of photograph unestablished at time of posting - my apologies).
women dancing on top of the nuclear missile silos during a night time break in to the Greenham Common Nuclear Missile Base. (Provenance of photograph unestablished at time of posting – my apologies).


The full text of Dog Star* – dreaming transmissions from a cosmonaut bitch will be available on line later this year.

The Last Judgement

This essay was commissioned by Longbarrow Press, and was first published  on their blog in Autumn 2015.

I point at sinister and say to Brown
there’s ones like you, stewing in sex…
But Hell’s not prised for Brown’s gathered elect.
And you, old man, do you rise or go down?

from Death and the Gallant by Chris Jones (2013)

A painted demon, St John the Evangelist, Corby Glen (the next church after St Andrew’s, where light levels defeated our attempts to photograph the devil). Photograph by Emma Bolland

What shape does the devil take? What is the colour of evil? How much ‘dark matter’ does it take to weigh us down? In the ‘Doom’ painting (a name often given to depictions of the last judgement), dated to 1380 and filling the entire Chancel Arch in St Andrew’s church in Pickworth, a ‘swim of souls’ (Jones, ibid.) ascending into heaven are counterbalanced by a suffocating net of the damned, hauled hopeless into the gaping maw of Hell. The landscape of heaven sitting to the right hand of Christ is a noncommittal pastoral. How does one depict that hazy notion of Nirvana? The environs of evil, both figuratively and literally speaking, are on the other hand, even in their abraded, ‘desecrated’ state, vividly drawn with cauldrons, flames and leering demons of unequivocal iconography. Evil is easily described and given shape. We see it clearly, located in our particular visions of ‘the other’, formed in the image of that which is not us.

… Brown works the whitewash,
and just for good measure, cuts Mary’s face.

headless statue of a 'female saint'.
Headless saint, possibly the Magdalene, St Andrew’s, Pickworth. Photograph by Emma Bolland

The word ‘blasphemous’ comes to us from the Greek: blapsis = evil + phēmē = speech. To be blasphemous is to speak (and I include the word of ‘image’ here) evil. Within the institutional structures of faith, the malevolent utterance is defined in relation to that which is sacred; or, more importantly, those linguistic or visual devices adopted to serve such definitions, and in some interpretations, will constitute a sin that is beyond redemption. The new Protestantism of the Reformation had to differentiate itself from that which it now positioned as the other – Catholicism – by adopting the word as its definitive tool. It became the faith of scripture, of language, and thus the Catholic emphasis on the visual, the figurative representation of doctrine through painting and statuary, had to be condemned as idolatrous and blasphemous in the extreme. Particular attention was paid to the head, the face and ultimately the gaze. The common iconoclastic belief was that evil could enter in through the eyes, by implication suggesting that evil was therefore emitted from the eyes of the idol, evoking primitive anxieties regarding the sorcerous, hypnotic stare. Statues were not merely smashed, they were beheaded; faces not simply painted over – first, their eyes were gouged out. The paradox is that whilst the paintings and statues were condemned as superstitious, superstitious actions were required to properly destroy them.

Snow falls on fire. Saved and damned lie buried
under snow. Christ and his colours
under drifts…

painted floor
Exposed fragment of chevron painted stone floor, St Andrew’s, Pickworth. Photo by Emma Bolland

Some of the ideas regarding the nature of blasphemy were first explored in my essay Somebody’s Heaven, Somebody’s Hell, written to accompany my exhibition Nightwood, and presented at East Street Arts’ ‘Thought For Food’ meal sharing and seminar series. The essay grew out of an ‘in conversation event’ with the writer David Peace, where Peace and I discussed the mythologies of violent and sexual crime in relation to our respective practices.

Death and the Gallant appears in the Longbarrow Press anthology The FootingThis is the second blog post focusing on the pre-Reformation wall art of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire churches (originally posted on the Longbarrow Blog in October 2014). The first post, by Brian Lewis, appears here. The third and final blog post and podcast, documenting the visit to Corby Glen, appears here. Listen to Chris Jones and Emma Bolland discuss ‘The Last Judgement’ and the poems in ‘Death and the Gallant’ (recorded at St Andrew’s, Pickworth, Lincs, 19 Sept 2014):

The Truths Of Fictions: Post-Traumatic Landscapes, Civic Erasure And The Projects Of Artistic Resistance.

The text below comprises the full presentation script of my paper at the 2014 Unofficial Histories conference. Note: this paper has been developed from a piece I presented at the Occursus Post Traumatic Landscapes Symposium last year, which we think is the first time that the term ‘Post-Traumatic Landscapes’ was used. 


Part 1. Monument, Memorial, Memory And Forgetting

tell me what you forget and I will tell you who you are
Marc Augé, from Oblivion (2004)

In his 2004 essay Oblivion, Marc Augé explored the relationship between memory and forgetting, and proposed that ‘memories are crafted by oblivion as the outlines of the shore are created by the sea’. He goes further than this, implying not just a relationship between the two, but a kind of complicity that suggests that we can shape our memories, and therefore our identities according to the self-mythology that we either consciously or unconsciously desire – or, to put it another way, that an active forgetting, an active erasure, is vital in maintaining the truths of the histories that we want to write – the histories that best serve our passions and our interests. I will examine the work of creative, resistant remembering, regarding traumatic and violent acts in terms of the materiality and emotion of physical place. We are all subject to official narratives of what can be remembered, what memories the civic body can bear; the most visible markers of what we might call ideologies of memory are monuments and memorials, and I would point to the textual emphasis on place in these official inscriptions. ‘Here lived, here lies, here fell, here died’.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 17.08.39
Memorial to Sergeant John Speed, Kirkgate, Leeds

Police officer Jon Speed was shot dead outside Leeds Parish Church in 1984 and a monument was erected on the pavement to mark the spot where he died. Every year a memorial service is held on the street. This is the Rector of Leeds speaking in 2005:

Sgt John Speed was a brave man, willing to risk his life in the course of his duty. He was struck down by a fatal bullet and we pay tribute to his courage and devotion to duty and think of his family and loved ones whose lives were so cruelly changed by the tragic events we remember today.

His words point out the obvious truths regarding the tragedy of lives lost to violence and the terrible effect on those left behind, but they also outline the criteria by which such events and such victims are allowed to be remembered, and materially marked. Brave, dutiful, courageous, incorporated into the civic body by virtue of profession, politics or belief, above all respectable, and, by extension, innocent. The plaque itself is made from the traditional materials that physically embody these strict conventions: metal and stone – a working into permanence, an inscribing into history.


2. Telling Tales: A House, A River And A Field

Nothing defines the specific rootedness of a location the transformation of a place into a site more than its being founded on a grave. Francesco Pellizzi

Luke Bennett and Amanda Crawley-Jackson have outlined three categories of ‘Post-traumatic Landscape’, none of which are mutually exclusive, and which may include contested and non-contested sites, and be either physical, conceptual or fictional.

– a place where something traumatic has happened in or on the landscape

The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Roger Fenton (1835). Cannonballs left on a battlefield during the Crimean War �
The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Roger Fenton (1835). Cannonballs left on a battlefield during the Crimean War

– a place where something traumatic has happened to the landscape

Furnace Park, Sheffield. Photograph: Amanda Crawley-Jackson. No digging is allowed due to post industrial soil toxicity . Now the site of an Occursus/plastiCities project to make ‘a space for creative production’. �
Furnace Park, Sheffield. Photograph: Amanda Crawley-Jackson. No digging is allowed due to post industrial soil toxicity . Now the site of an Occursus/plastiCities project to make ‘a space for creative production’.

– a place where a subject performs or narrates trauma to and of themselves within a landscape

Between Hull and Spurn Point, a 65 mile 33 hour continuous walk by writer/artist Brian Lewis. 2013
Between Hull and Spurn Point, a 65 mile 33 hour continuous walk by writer/artist Brian Lewis. 2013

The traumatised sites and the corresponding creative resistance that I examine here all relate to the first of Bennett and Crawley-Jackson’s categories. Sites where harm was done: sites that are contested, forgotten, and erased; and where, in different ways, the work of ‘fiction’ – a term which I use here to describe all areas of artistic and creative practice – ‘performs’ the sites back in to life.


Part 3. And Every Brick, And Every Piece Of Rubble

‘’Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers. Karen Barad

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 19.02.12

25 Cromwell Street was the home of Fred and Rosemary West, the site where they tortured, murdered, dismembered and buried 9 of their 13 known victims, both in the house and in the garden. It is in the nature of buildings that they are part of the fabric of an urban landscape that can be bounded, delineated and specifically identified in the way that streets, or hills, cannot. They are material objects that occupy a distinct physical space: bricks, concrete, tiles, joists, enmeshed in a body as distinct as the ones of flesh and bone that we inhabit. This distinction is important, for to forget and disappear such a body requires a physical labour, an effort of erasure that matches the body’s construction. The effort made by Gloucester city council to erase the house went beyond such parity. An extended analysis of the complexities of civic shame and disquiet would require its own paper, but suffice it to say that so great was the city’s desire to eradicate the visible signifiers of the West’s atrocities that the consensus was not so much for demolition, as for obliteration, cleansing, and forgetting. The bricks and mortar of the house were taken away and crushed, pulverized to dust. Gordon Burn, in his 1998 account of the West’s atrocities Happy Like Murderers, describes the process thus:

The job of taking the house down was given to the local family firm of the Bishops whose lorries carry the slogan Well bring it down to earth. [] The Bishops had been commissioned not only to remove all the materials from the site but to destroy them. There was a crushing machine at the Gloucester tip in Hempstead by the docks. And every brick and every piece of rubble was dismantled and driven to Hempstead and crushed to dust. Timber and everything flammable was taken to RAF Innsworth and put in an incinerator and burned there and the ashes crushed. The cellar was backfilled with bricks off the walls and sealed with quick drying concrete.’ (p 464-5).

This was a process of demolition, of deconstruction that was detailed, obsessive and forensic in the attention it paid to the physical matter of place. Everything is gone; nothing remains: the meat and bones of the building dispersed into ashes, smoke and dust. For those of us seeking to remember – not a voyeuristic remembering that will elevate Fred and Rose into the pantheon of true crime serial killer stars, but a remembrance of the marginalised, socially and civically overlooked victims – only a fictional reconstruction is possible, a creative resurrection of place that attends to the materiality that has been erased. Happy Like Murderers is a book that transcends the ‘True Crime’ genre, and, in its forensic dissection of place and social history, contextualises the actions of the Wests through a cellular scrutiny that both locates the mutation and illuminates our vision of the whole.

Tim Edensor, speaking at the 2014 Big Ruins conference, proposed that buildings, in a physical sense, are ‘collages of time’, and I would add to this proposal another layer, the proposal that buildings, places, sites, are emotional palimpsests. Gloucester city council desired not only to erase the fabric of the building, but also the emotions contained within it – the feelings, utterings, suffering, desires, yearnings and rememberings contained within the bricks and mortar. Burn’s writing returns again and again to the processes and substances of construction: from Fred’s obsession with DIY, and the details of his burying of the bodies, to the council’s comprehensive erasure, and in doing so he resurrects not just the house, but the memories of the murdered women. In the final passage of the book he flips the obliteration – turning absences into presences, making holes speak, creating memorials from the concrete that was poured into the holes where the bodies once were.

When the house had been levelled and the cellar filled in, block paving was brought and laid in a herring bone pattern, three small trees planted, edging cobbles set in thick grade concrete: ST4 concrete on 150-mm.-type figure-1 granular material. [] They laid a blue-brick on-edge soldier course channel and feature between the block-paved areas and the grass verge. They fixed close-boarded fencing stained chestnut brown. Tough spiked pyracantha bushes were planted to run the length of it and discourage graffiti-writers and vandals. A country lane introduced to the city. The bends and shadows in the narrow road. [] The intention is that it will be impossible to distinguish between parts that have been added and those that already exist. Underneath is the cellar void. And under the cellar five cores of concrete buried in Severn clay. The fact of something behind. Something that is inaccessible, unknown. Beyond a doubt there is something behind. It imposes itself and wont go away. You look at the walls. You listen to the space.


Part 4. Running Water: Remembering Oluwale

‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.’
Psalms: 137: 1&2 (KJV)

On the evening of January the 23rd in 2013 I joined a group of people standing on the south bank of the river Aire. Rough ground, a building blinded by its bricked up windows, a lonely stone archway holding up an invisible wall.

Outdoor projection, part of the Remembering Oluwale event,  January 23rd 2013
Outdoor projection, part of the Remembering Oluwale event, January 23rd 2013

We were gathered to remember David Oluwale, a Nigerian immigrant. His is a long, complex and tragic story of mental illness, homelessness and police persecution, told at length by Kester Aspden in his book Nationality: Wog, The Hounding of David Oluwale (2007). The last reported sighting of David was of him running away from two police officers in the early hours of the 17th of April 1969. Two weeks later his body was found floating in the River Aire. His death was not deemed suspicious, and he was buried in a pauper’s grave. In 1971 charges were brought against the officers, and although the original charges of Manslaughter and GBH were reduced to ‘assault’, it is one of the few times in contemporary British history that police officers involved in such a case have been convicted, and received criminal sentences. At the time, the trial caused scandal and outrage, but dropped from public and civic consciousness with alarming alacrity. Oluwale was the City of Leeds’ secret shame.

The evening’s events had been organised by the David Oluwale Remembrance Association, and the ground upon which we stood has been identified as a site for a permanent memorial garden to be dedicated in his name, but there is no evidence that this is the spot where he fell. The exact whereabouts of his death will, in all probability, never be known. The site’s importance is symbolic, its materiality a testimony for the speculative and imagined place where David Oluwale met his fate. The materiality of the (paradoxically) imagined real space can never be reconstructed, but the emotions of it can be resurrected through an experiential witnessing upon a material and symbolic ground.

The Leeds Young Author’s Group lead a candlelit procession through the derelict arch and down to the river.
The Leeds Young Author’s Group lead a candlelit procession
through the derelict arch and down to the river.

The evening was multi-stranded, including performances from The Leeds Young Authors, The Baggage Handlers, poet Rommi Smith, Nigerian drummers and more; projections, speeches, silences, and food.

The Leeds Baggage Handlers, a mental health survivors’ writing group enacting scenes from David Oluwale’s life amongst the crowd.
The Leeds Baggage Handlers, a mental health survivors’ writing group
enacting scenes from David Oluwale’s life amongst the crowd.

Dramatisations of David’s life and death were enacted amongst us, and indeed most of the performances took place within the crowd, closing the gap between audience and actor, so that we experienced rather than observed.

Gathering by the river, Corinne Silva’s film Wandering Abroad projected onto an exterior wall.
Gathering by the river, Corinne Silva’s film
Wandering Abroad projected onto an exterior wall.

It was bitterly cold and utterly still, the absence of wind seeming to allow the freezing air to tighten its arms around us. We stayed for two hours in the numbing chill, never once wanting to leave – the act of witnessing mapping the ground and making it real. David Oluwale was there because we were there. For that night, we became his memorial. We were the language with which the ground spoke.


Part 5. Alone in the Chaotic Dark, Shitfaced on Spirits and Speed

‘At first I referred to the field as a space awaiting events; now I refer to it as an event in itself’John Berger, from Field (1971)

Prince Phillip playing fields is the site where, in 1975, Wilma Mcann was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Like the majority of the West’s victims, and like David Oluwale, Wilma McCann was deemed not just unimportant, but unrespectable, embarrassing, not able to be incorporated into the civic body without disturbing its sense of its own desired identity. When the city remembers Sutcliffe’s crimes today, it forgets its own treatment of most of his victims then. Her son Richard recalls the day that he was told that his mother was dead, and seeing the newspapers, and having to ask what the word prostitute meant, and realising that to the rest of the world she was something very different to ‘mum’. There is currently no memorial for Wilma.

Prince Phillip Playing Fields at Night. Photograph Tom Rodgers 2012
Prince Phillip Playing Fields at Night. Photograph Tom Rodgers 2012

As with the graves at 25 Cromwell Street, the spot where Wilma fell can be pinpointed with great accuracy, but unlike Cromwell Street it requires no effort of erasure by the civic body. Its flatness, its municipal banality enables it to auto-erase. It disappears itself. Gordon Burn’s fictions reconstructed the emotions of Cromwell Street by using words as materials, rebuilding, textually performing the space in our hearts and our guts. The Remembering Oluwale event made a symbolic space real through an experiential witnessing performed through a symbiotic fiction of audience, act and place. Prince Phillip Playing Fields, a site that is the instrument of its own disappearance, requires a transformative fiction of ritual and conjuration. A spell to break a spell: a reveal.

David Peace’s novel Nineteen Eighty is a re-imagining of the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe and it uses, as does much of his work, sections of text that are repetitive and incantational, both in utterance and on the page:

Lit match, gone –
Dark Jack.
Lit match, gone –
Like dark Jack, out –
Seeing through my eyes:
Winter, collapse –
Like dark Jack, out –
Seeing through my eyes:
1980 –
Out, out, out.

On reading the book for the first time, its visual and textual summoning of an almost bewitched broken-up-ness invoked for me not just a sense of the brutality and tragedy enacted, but a memory of my own history in Leeds in the immediate aftermath of said events, where, as a then heavy drinker and drug user I would stagger ‘alone in the chaotic dark, shit-faced on spirits and speed, a stumbling target (there but for the grace of God).’ (Bolland 2012). These lines were written for a poster publication for an on-going collaboration between myself, artist/photographer Tom Rodgers, and curator Judit Bodor: MilkyWayYouWillHearMeCall.

photo 2

Our starting point was a collective reading of David’s novel followed by a series of site visits to the traumatised landscape named in the book. We walk in the manner of a drift; talking, looking, listening, enacting rituals of mourning and remembrance, photographing, writing, and collecting detritus & fragile ‘edgelands’ flora from these spaces.

Crown&Target, Emma wearing a crown of grasses, Lewisham Park 2012. Photograph, Tom Rodgers
Crown&Target, Emma wearing a crown of grasses, Lewisham Park 2012. Photograph, Tom Rodgers

Our roles are deliberately blurred, and the outcomes are open-ended, so far encompassing drawing, photography, writing, performance and sound. When the work is shown we do not individually identify which of us made this piece or that. These walks are profoundly emotional and we experience being plunged into dreamlike states. We become both the enchanters and the enchanted.

My hands, gilded. Photograph Tom Rodgers 2012.
My hands, gilded. Photograph Tom Rodgers 2012.

The work of fictions, of creative practice, can attempt to uncover the multiplicity of ‘truths’ that constitute the material, conceptual and emotional narratives of individual and intertwined lives, and with which and of which we tell to and of our selves through the process of memory and forgetting. To return to Marc Augé and his essay on oblivion, he talks of life as being a narrative, and of how the story of an individual may fall over, and even topple in to death, because it is caught up in, obliterated by, the history of another. Fictions give us the chance to tell our own truths, to decide for ourselves what can be remembered.

I end with an extended reading from Nineteen Eighty

this is the world e was driving through Leeds at night e had been having a couple of pints and e saw this woman thumbing a lift and e stopped and e stopped and asked her how far she was going and she said not far thanks for stopping and jumped in and e was in quite a good mood and then she said did e want business and e said what did she mean and she says bloody hell do e have to spell it out so we drove to the park in my green ford capri and before we started she said it cost a fiver and e was a bit surprised and e was expecting it to be a bit romantic and e am not the type that can have intercourse in a split second e have to be aroused but all of a sudden she said e am off it is going to take all fucking day em fucking useless you are and e felt myself seething with rage and e wanted to hit her and he said hang on do not go off like that and she said oh you can manage it now can you and she was taunting me e said can we do it on the grass and she stormed off up the field and e took the hammer from my tool box and followed her and spread my coat on the wet grass and she sat down and unfastened her trousers and said come on get it over with and e said do not worry e will and e hit her with the hammer and she made a lot of noise and so e hit her again and then e took out knife from my pocket and e stabbed her fifteen times e think and her arm kept jerking up and down and so e kept at her until she was very dead and then he shot off home this is the world now

In memory of Wilma McCann 1947 – 1975

©Emma Bolland 2014