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Regular news and insight from our many poets, writers, educators and facilitators

19 June 2021

Posted by Beth McKeeman

Guest Speaker Ella Frears

Number –  13

We had our first visitor since moving to our new venue and being back in person  - Writer in Residence of the John Hansard Gallery, Ella Frears.

The adage ‘art is subjective’ could be the theme of the session. 

When viewing a piece by Rana Begum what in actual fact was spray painted fishing net conjured all sorts of imagery. Suggestions of mosquito nets, bed sheet ghosts, birds, sting rays, fighter jets, flying squirrels, generals hats, dancers, and Poseidon’s trident were all mentioned. To further this, the layered colours created a shifted 2d and 3d affect and reminded some of Minecraft - the red of lava and blue of water overlapping into the black of obsidian.

From a single image we’d already listed so much we could see, which got taken even further as we delved into creating poems inspired by the piece. Some wove between images, making connections between otherwise non-connected things - such as nets and dancers. Others focused on an image like a bird or trident and drew more imagery from that.

 Even in a piece of art which seems more obvious in its subject, what we take away from it can wildly vary.

Presented with Picasso’s Weeping Woman there were a variety of interpretations used when interviewing her. Eleanor said she looked like an old rich lady, Amelia labelled her a vodka aunt, where Libby simply ascribed her as sad. Shani’s interview focused on how she didn’t know how to dress because of the confused shapes and colours of the piece, Naomi also playing into that idea with the image of a broken kaleidoscope. Katie H thought she’d want to escape the interview, whereas Rowan had her revelling in life, a funny character, and Gene studied her like David Attenborough would study a creature, complete with voice.



But, what is art? Is it just things hanging on walls and in galleries? No! 


As Rowan said ‘isn’t a poem art?’ Yes. And it can be in multiple ways.



Ella gave us three short poems on a page - Snow Piece, Conversation Piece, and Hide-and-seek Piece. We analysed the contents, the length, the dates attached and how they were laid out on the page, all of it the individual brush-strokes of a larger painting.

Theories bounded around about the poems reflecting life being short, of being laid out to mimic snow, to mimic speech bubbles, of Hide-and-seek - ending in death - is the darkest background bubble to reflect it’s darker theme. The curved abnormality of the writing in Hide-and-seek might not be photocopying side-effects but instead might be a clue as to why they have to hide. The poems themselves could link together to tell the story of a wound suffered in snow, leading to death, or alternatively when the dates are taken into account, a wound made worse by the cold leading to death.


Conversation piece was liked by many because we all know someone who gets hurt and makes a point of raising it at every possible moment. Its relatability makes it funny. However the favourite of the group was Hide-and-seek because of the twist of morbidity where you hide until everybody dies. 


Supporting our young writers tendency for dark streaks, Ella noted that happy is hard to write, there needs to be a balance to highlight the light, and sometimes dark things can just be fun to write. 


Taking art completely off paper and outside, Kimsooja created a performance art piece called A Needle Woman where she stood still in the middle of crowded streets. Although as Eleanor pointed out more people probably would have stopped had there not been a camera, it was still strange to see so many people completely ignore her. No one checks if she’s okay or to say hello, even though that’s the instinct of some of us, though on the other hand, no one bumped into her either which was also surprising.

Thinking about Kimsooja and the three poems which acted as instructions, Ella tasked us with writing our own instructions for performance art.
Shani wanted people to stay still, Libby to stand and stare, Eleanor commanded silence and Amelia started with waiting, dissolving into burning them when the time came. Happier ones include Rowan’s say hello, Kamille’s smile, and Gene’s invite to go to your dream location. More destination instructions were Libby’s go there, Conrad’s go to the forest, Katie H’s pack, and Ella’s instructions for taking a walk at night.

Because we all had such a fantastic time with Ella, we clear ran out of time to document our work this week. You’ll have to make do with pretending to sit in the room with us instead. Check out more of what Ella does over on her blog.

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