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UNWRAPPING DAVID

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					UNWRAPPING DAVID
You stood unwrapping marzipan. The skin of wedding cakes. (‘Marzipan’) The overwhelming descriptive onrush becomes the ‘thing’ itself and the poem is full of sound and colour and images brushing up against each other. … full of fantastic jumps and a richness rare in contemporary poetry. (Steve Spence, reviewing Each Broken Object, Terrible Work 2002)

Wrapping and unwrapping: lifting veils, casting skins. Greenslade has long been fascinated by the fragility of surfaces ‘brushing up against each other’. Under his intense gaze objects and creatures – unruly peas or leeks (Creosote, 1996), snaking paperclips or railway lines (Each Broken Object, 2000), engulfing termite or amoeba (Zeus Amoeba, forthcoming) – burst open to reveal their strange particularity. His wrappings are never functional coverings that keep an object cool, or warm, or clean, protecting interiors from the contaminations of an outer world. Instead they are uncertain boundaries that mark the dynamic connections between inner and outer spaces, that exist not as a material objects but as markers of relationship - just as the marzipan covers the wedding cake in order to be broken into; or as the wrapping of the gift embodies the gesture connecting giver to receiver that must be torn to be completed. His creatures slide through solidity into the flexible spaces of myth: in ‘Mole’, his creature renders the packed earth as permeable as ‘Demeter’s keyhole, Hades’ pore’. Greenslade is probably best known in Wales for his theatrical readings, particularly the ones about (and with) vegetables, but he is an accomplished and extraordinarily prolific writer who is highly praised in experimental poetry magazines such as Angel Exhaust and Terrible Work. He has produced 20 odd volumes of verse and prose to date, in Welsh as well as English, many of them involving collaboration with other artists, all seeking to work collaboratively with his readers. Greenslade’s language piles up in rich unstable masses of images, playing with metaphor, myth, symbol, pattern. The tentative connections may break but they are always capable of new patterns of entanglement. For him artists are lovers, and lovers, artists: in ‘Silk Knots’ the lovers are ‘weavers/ waking from /a torn cocoon’ (Weak Eros, 2002). His written text is theatrical in the same way as his readings and for the same purpose: that of softening the distance between self and other, allowing the scrutinised object of his verse to shimmer into focus through similitude and connection - what Spence describes as its ‘overwhelming descriptive onrush’ rather than existing in individuated isolation. Visitors to the Eisteddfod this year may have come across Greenslade’s alert figure adorned in a sharp grey suit, slashed to accommodate the skeins of white gauze spilling out from his arms and back. Wandering round the field with the cameras of Soie Gelf, he spent the festival wrapping initially unsuspecting people and random objects (chairs, tents, cars, a harp, an umbrella) in swathes of fine agricultural fleece. ‘Initially unsuspecting’ because after a few days his appearance and actions became more familiar to the extent that, towards the end of the week, he returned to the campsite to find that, in his absence, his neighbours had got hold of some fleece and wrapped up his yurt… Bemusing and amusing in equal measure to participants and onlookers, this odd project made for excellent television. It was one of three week-long artworks commissioned by S4C. Each of these extended the logic of the Eisteddfod – to encourage and celebrate culture at every level of society – into making art with the audiences on the field. All three commissions focused on the festival as a whole rather than on the staged performances of the pavilions. Two foregrounded the

materials of the background: musican Dyl Mei collaged the voices and sounds he collected over the week to create a CD time capsule that he buried on site; photographer Dewi Glyn Jones constructed an exhibition of black and white portraits, choosing not triumphant victors but adolescent competitors who had not won. Both of these projects commemorated half forgotten aspects of the festival. Greenslade’s wrapping work differed in its theatricality, transforming passive spectators into active performers. Many participants took the opportunity to perform: one danced her way free of the wrapping, another sat quietly as more and more wool was wrapped around him, happily intoning a monologue about finding ‘a small, quiet moment of peace in a busy life’. Most laughed. For the participants the pleasure understandably lay in the strangeness of it all. But Greenslade’s project should not be dismissed as a trivial eccentricity. Like the other Sioe Gelf artists, he treasures the Eisteddfod as a transfigurative moment of cultural renewal, divorced from quotidian banality. He compares the renewal to that of the snake whose dull old skin is cast so that it can be reborn as more fully itself. The physical wrapping literalises the metaphor, the acts of wrapping and unwrapping signify a ritual process of stillness and rebirth. But this narrative of the process was for him; he did not explain it to people on the field – when they asked him what he was doing he responded by doing it, by actively creating a moment of rebirth At first glance, the project seems similar to that of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, famous for ‘wrapping’ the Reichstag in a second skin of pleated fabric. But their wrapping focused on the material object and its transformation from use value to decorative value, in part commenting on Western consumerism. Greenslade’s Eisteddfod project is quite different. As another, complex example of his fascination with connection and relationship it grows broadly out of his work as a whole, demonstrating his continuing emphasis on multiple collaborations: between performer/poet/text and spectator/reader/body. And, finally, it builds specifically on a recent pamphlet, which appeared during the Urdd Eisteddfod. The poems of Lladd Nadroedd (Killing Snakes) explore the myths and cultural symbolism of snakes. My last image of Greenslade is of him sitting on the ground reading it aloud, the unravelling fleece as ‘full of fantastic jumps’ as his poetry, still connected to his jacket but rippling away from him in long extraordinary ribbons of white floating on the wind. 1,017 words


				
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