Bury Art Museum is a secret gem tucked away at the end of the tram lines. With a confident and bold creative programme, its ability to outshine any large scale gallery in the city centre is well worth the trip out to Bury for.
Reading as Art at Bury Art Museum is an exploration of our interaction with words through sound, sight and visceral experience. Sometimes loud, sometimes hidden the corners of the walls, this exhibition, curated by Simon Morris, successfully shows the quietly powerful qualities of the written and spoken word.
In crevasses and dark places, a few works are linked by the responses of writings by big 20th century writers turned philosophers including Marcel Proust and Iris Murdoch whom used their writing to document a certain way of thinking. Of course, one of the most famous works of fiction heavily influenced by memory and loss – Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is the ultimate journey of experience and an epic search for identity. In Jérémie Bennequin’s Erased Proust Writing we witness an hour long film of the erasure of one page out of Proust’s mammoth 3000 page novel. The noise from the rubber scrubbing at the pages echo throughout the space, acting as both white noise, and a small act of violence against an object that is seen so holy in the eyes of many cultures.
In contrast, Jo Hamil’s beautiful Gutter Words installation sits in the corner of the gallery space, unassuming until inspected closely. Using exacts from James Joyce’s Ulysees Hamil uses the gutter words of a book – the words that appear on each side of the adjoining pages to create a site specific concrete poem which works so well in the space, so well it’s easy to walk past, unintentionally assuming its home, organically placed in the corner of the gallery’s walls.
On the opposite side of the exhibition is Carol Sommer‘s Cartography for Girls (2016) which explores the female experience within the novels of Iris Murdoch, an Irish philosopher and novelist who is at the centre of much of Sommer’s research and work. Cartography for Girls catalogues all incidences of female experience in Murdoch’s novels, and are pinned neatly against the wall of the gallery space. As a delicate landscape of paper, Sommer’s work is a quietly powerful study of human experience, cascading across the room, and provides a real spectacle, a highlight of the exhibition.
Morris curates the show in a way that allows the reader to glide through the space naturally and effortlessly allowing participation to be active in the art of reading and interpreting.
Then there is Martin Creed’s no.88 which is often seen as the very work that questions and explores the space between words and experience. His simplistic sculptures, made from thin sheets of white paper crumpled into a small ball, offer an alternative response to the written word and the space it takes up. But, as he would probably put it, it’s just a piece of paper crumpled up into a ball. Creed’s very simplified and matter of fact way of speaking about his work is relieving contrast from a very philosophically dense exhibition creating nice waves of engagement throughout the space.
Morris features 12 artists in this exhibition, all explore the relationship between reading and language as an art form in itself. Each artists explores the page, from its dimensions, its purpose, to its content and ideas.
Reading is its own form of making – the message is in the medium – the reader as author. All these postmodern ideas bring the reader into the creative process to create an alternative meaning. This very thoughtful arrangement of work reminds of Roland Barthes’ well sited 1967 essay Death of the Author – an exploration of an active reader, and the blurred relationship between maker, or author and reader, or audience. As Barthes writes, “a text consists of multiple writings, issuing from several cultures and entering into dialogue with each other”. Morris, who currently lectures at Leeds Becket University, curates the show in a way that allows the reader to glide through the space naturally and effortlessly allowing participation to be active in the art of reading and interpreting. In his professor biography, it’s easy to see where his concerns and questions lie “What could we write if reading could be a materially productive act of making art? How might a certain kind of reading-as-making problematise the understandings of authorship, production and reproduction ensconced in our cultural industries?”
Words are symbols, when strung together cause political and social warfare, create communities, provide solace beyond the confines of its pages. Morris and his 12 artists successfully carve a small narrative through words enabling us to document a world of experience, immortalising ideas and providing legacy through language. A wonderful exhibition from Morris who is constantly questioning the blurred lines between art and literature, and in direct relation, our responsibilities as readers.
Reading as Art at Bury Art Museum runs 27 August to 19 November.