Monday, 14 February 2011

Write Here at Nottingham Contemporary

Write Here is the writer in residence programme organised by the writing development agency, Writing East Midlands. Write Here is fantastic as it creates residencies for writers in culturally and socially significant venues across the East Midlands, facilitates the creative development of writers and strengthens their links with local communities and audiences.

As part of the Write Here programme, the writer Wayne Burrows is the Writer in Resident at the Nottingham Contemporary. For a period of three months, Wayne is responding to the exhibitions, the museum’s atmosphere, services and working environment. As part of the residency Wayne is also running two series of workshops providing a supportive environment in which participants will be encouraged to creatively respond to all facets of Nottingham Contemporary; one series of the workshops is running in February and the other in March, the latter of which will be held in the Nottingham Contemporary’s ‘Study’ space and is open for participants, so if you’re interested contact Saima Kaur at

The February workshops are currently taking place with a group of older people from theBilborough Community Centre. These workshops particularly interest me, as I have previously worked in the care industry; I have an affinity with this demographic and I am lucky enough to work as a mentee on these sessions. I was interested in how the group would respond to the gallery and what their thoughts and feeling would be to the exhibitions on display there.Currently the exhibitions at the gallery focus on work by artists Jack Goldstein, reputably one of the most important ‘artist’s artists’ of the last 30 years, and Anne Collier, an exciting artist working with photography.

The workshops are collaborative, as they combine the expertise of both the writer in residence, Wayne, and one of the gallery’s four associate artists, Jo Dacombe to help the participants amalgamate the written with the visual and explore the exhibitions’ themes and ideas in a variety of ways. The first week acted as an introduction for the group to the gallery, with the group exploring the gallery and the exhibitions. A couple of the participants exclaimed that it was the first time they’d ever visited a place like the Nottingham Contemporary before and it was wonderful to see them engaging with the pieces, particularly the sound-scapes, Jack Goldstein’s recordings pressed onto vinyl of forests burning, cats fighting and a tornado to name but a few. After we had explored the exhibitions we all convened for another well deserved cup of tea and a discussion on what the pieces had said to us. There was an agreement from the group that everyone reads the pieces differently, and it was interesting to hear their thoughts and feelings on the experience, with one lady explaining that you can learn a lot about life just by looking at art.

The next workshop on the following Tuesday, Wayne, Jo and myself traveled to the community centre in Bilborough and met the group there. It was larger this time, with more participants who had not been able to attend the previous week but nonetheless keen to take part. For this workshop we reminded the group of some of the pieces that had engaged with at the gallery, and discussed Jack Goldstein’s ‘Text Totems’, explaining our mission for the session was to create some totems of our own.

The session commenced with the group cutting out words and poetic phrases from magazines and newspapers and arranging them on paper in a meaningful and significant way. Other participants played with the relationship between words and images, and wrote thoughts and phrases down, inspired by the Nottingham Contemporary’s exhibitions in an artistic way.

Wayne, Jo and myself worked one to one with the participants during this session, helping the groups with their pieces and encouraging them to approach them from a different angle. I particularly loved the charming, often poignant stories that emerged through this process, tales of first loves lost during the war, of a lady whose husband had gone to school with the man who was the inspiration for the character the Fat Controller on Thomas the Tank Engine, and a lady whose career in fashion had to be abandoned during the chaos of the war, but would never have met her husband had she not moved away from the city.

I think the group found the creative process to be incredibly therapeutic and enjoyable, with no two Totems the same and each offering a different perspective. There was a genuine sense of wellbeing after the sessions, with the participants pleased with their artwork and taking it home to show family and loved ones. I look forward to the creations we come up with tomorrow!

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