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Bill Viola exhibition & workshop (Young Poet in Residence, Darts)

Write up: Bill Viola exhibition & workshop at The Point
By Lydia Allison – Young Poet in Residence at Darts – Doncaster Community Arts

 Bill Viola shows us what love and grief and a whole life could look like – Lydia Allison

The Point, home to Darts (Doncaster Community Arts) was host to a Bill Viola exhibition from September to December 2018. The three works included as part of the installation ‘The Passions’, included an ongoing series of small and intimate pieces. Viola’s common themes of combining simple representations with deep universal experiences were the centre of the mood here.

It was an ideal setting for me personally as a poet and a writing facilitator as I am interested in these small details which reveal much of both artist and the subject. After exploring the exhibition and starting drafts of my own creative responses, I led my first Young Poet in Residence workshop at The Point with members of the Creative Directions adult group, who enjoy a wide range of creative activities in the building. Some members of the group came brimming with ideas and poetry they had written previously, whereas for others it was their first attempt at creative writing for many years. For all of us, visiting the exhibition space elicited empathy and feeling which acted as fuel for the writing activities which took place after. I was astounded by the quality and emotional weight each individual managed to instill in their small pieces in the space of a single workshop.

There was some stunning work written as you’ll hear and read. Here’s Mal Perkins with a very moving poem called Photo of Skegness


You’re standing in the garden holding a Barbie Doll.
Behind you is a small tree. It’s warm and the sun is shining.
In this photo your blonde hair is straight.

You are wearing a long dress.
You look over to me and say
‘Dean, you’re quiet, make a noise!’
(Dean Lisle, workshop participant)

I was immediately drawn to Catherine’s Room. Each of the five screens presented a different time of day, and season, with the same figure inhabiting each of the rooms. I was transfixed by the first image’s yoga routine, and started thinking about the small routines we all perform day to day; how similar and how different our experiences may be.

Different members of the group were drawn to the various periods of Catherine’s day.

… I light the candles, to you my lord, memories whirling in my head, like a tornado rocks the earth.

Your message I wait to hear and strength to see out another day, my mind like an express train that just goes round and round, oh lord, do you hear my thoughts, as they pass to you, or will you leave me in the darkness … (Neil Foulstone)

It was interesting to see how individuals put themselves into the pieces. In Four Hands the audience is presented with four isolated pairs of hands, clasping and moving slowly. My immediate thoughts went to the idea of holding hands and the sensation of the movement. Members of the group reacted differently. Viola presents three generations: a young boy father, mother, and grandmother. An older member of the group was immediately drawn to the older pair of hands; their age being the feature which stood out to him the most. Another commented that the hands made her think of pain – due to a muscular condition she would not be able to move her hands like that. This highlighted how different our physical experiences are and how significant this shapes our perception.

Surrender can be seen simply as a pair of moving portraits, but goes through distortion when the subjects submerge their heads in water, showing us that we may have been seeing a surface reflection of the pair. The group’s individual translations of the exhibition were fascinating to read, and offered a similar pleasure to being in the exhibition itself. Some shared a powerful moment from their own history, others opened up a simple image to show the emotion contained under the surface.

Looking back through the work produced and my own writing, I get a sense of timelessness and time-fixedness. The moving pictures act as a kind of proof, a moving representation of what was, whilst also highlighting the nature of change. Each movement is followed by another, and each day moves us further from the person we were then.

It shows who I am
or, more correctly, who I was at that moment.
I’m her, but she’s not me.
She hasn’t lived through what I have yet.
But she will.
The future is hers.
I know, because I’ve lived it.        
(Louise Kerkhoff)

Poetry wise to support the workshops, we looked at various poems including work by Billy Collins and Margaret Atwood. So participants commented that some of the styles were new to them and they were pleasantly surprised to see how far-reaching poetry can be.

Lydia Allison is a Sheffield-born poet, writing facilitator and creative mentor. She is a graduate of the Manchester Writing School (MA) and the Writing Squad.  Her work had appeared both online and in print, including in Introduction X: The Poetry Business Book of New Poets, PN Review, Now Then, Ink Sweat & Tears, United Jotters, and PUSH. She enjoys a range of modern and contemporary writers. Her other favourite things in life are the Yorkshire countryside and cake for breakfast. Follow her on twitter @LydiarAllison

If you’re interested and an adult attending a group at Darts, let your group leader or Darts reception team know. Or look out for workshop announcements in the near future open to the public!

Gallery photos courtesy of James Mulkeen

Part of the Hatch programme – Next steps for young writers in South Yorkshire. Supported by Darts (Doncaster Community Arts)