On Wednesday night I sent these notes to the other people in the May exhibition at the Menier Gallery. I’m working on an exhibition essay and they are some of the early thoughts I’ve had:

Looking through our initial proposal a number of ideas and moods seem to recur. We might be able to tighten some of these diverse but related strands of our practices by focusing in on a single knot that I think all our work is grappling with one way or another.

I think our projects all converge around a certain use of inhabited objects and spaces. We are using domestic, everyday or physical environments to pin down a kind of ‘default’ position: a safe, familiar or established position. In each of our projects what I think we’re foregrounding is the disquiet between this ‘default’ state and some hoped-for, ideal or imaginary state.

Working all together as a corpus of work, our projects seem to pose a question and suggest an answer. Inhabiting spaces that bear the weight of historical or institutional intent; reflecting that our aspirations are unlikely and our memories transient – what route is left, if we’re blocked off by the status quo of the way things are? We have to invent. We have to get in amongst the stuff of the world, get our fingers behind it and peel it off, so that we’re left with a celebration of the plurality and irreconcilability of it all. We have to pack up our worldly things into boats and row back to our childhoods; ignore gravity and fall without landing.

Anyway this is where I’ve got to so far with my ideas about the show. Last thing – three texts sprang to mind as I was thinking all this through. I won’t go into explanations of why as I think some of the links are clear, and the unclear links are just as unclear to me!

First, a description from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway of Septimus Prime battling with his encroaching madness, trying to ground himself by studying the things in the room around him:

“He began, very cautiously, to open his eyes, to see whether a gramophone was really there. But real things – real things were too exciting. He must be cautious. He would not go mad. First he looked at the fashion papers on the lower shelf, then gradually at the gramophone with the green trumpet. Nothing could be more exact. And so, gathering courage, he looked at the sideboard; the plate of bananas; the engraving of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, at the mantelpiece, with the jar of roses. None of these things moved. All were still; all were real”

Second, a poem by Louis MacNiece that a friend recently showed me, particularly the words of the second stanza:


The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Third, a short story called The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1899). I won’t quote it but the full text is here and I like it very much:

Briefly, it’s the story of a woman on the fringes of madness whose loving husband hopes to calm her nerves by closing her in a room with wallpaper so yellow and ghastly that it sends her over the edge. She begins to believe she lives inside the wallpaper, and eventually gets her fingernails behind the paper and tears it all off the walls, freeing the woman inside so that she can take her place, crawling around between its fibres.

Valerie and I discussed the possibility of changing the title of the show following our talk tonight. It might be a good idea to do this, as affinities certainly do exist among our projects but we might make more explicit the nature of these links. Also the title implies ours is primarily a drawing show, which I don’t think it really is!

If Matt would still be able to amend his design I might suggest “There is More Than Glass”, “More Than Glass” or “Things Being Various” after MacNeice? Just in case, the corresponding wordpress blogs are reserved: