The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

30 March 2011

Hop the Seventeenth - Of Poetry and Strange Canvases

Jenny Walklate, Museo-Poetics

Museum spaces create different responses in different people. Some wish to look and absorb,and some wish to create. In the act of creation, which may take many forms, it is possible to enact a creative critique which is at once analytical and enjoyable.

Museo-Poetics, a site specific act of poetic response, is such a form of playful critique, which takes its influences from Bachelard and Jane Rendell's 'site-writing'. Poesis, taken in its original sense as any act of imaginative creation, can come in many forms, and poetry, a way of making language strange, lends itself to representation in different media forms. Here, those media are film, concrete poetry and its language, brought together to provide a kind of homage to the Round Room of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, in a way which traditional textual critique would find difficult.

The film provides the audience with a visual awareness of the space of the Round Room, but also serves a deeper purpose. Through it's deliberately foregrounded framing, it showcases the subjectivity of every response to the space, critical or otherwise. In showing the importance of positionality in creating a perspective, the film also problematizes the hierarchy of subject-object relationships, for using Lucifer as the focalisor for the narrative questions the location of the critique, and raises the question of the agency of objects.

This positionality also becomes apparent in the shifting of perspective which occurs in the concrete artwork, a-semi abstract, symbolic evocation of the space of the Round Room itself. In this, canvases are positioned on a background which echoes the gallery's walls, but the way in which we interact and respond to these is very different to that of the film. In colour, arrangement and the shaping of text, the concrete artwork encourages the creation of multiple meanings, and questions whether even the most tangible artefact is truly solid or permanent.

The text, which appears in different forms throughout this Museo-Poesis, becomes more than simply language, more than a sign. Nontheless, the language is critical in making meaning, and also serves to make clear many of the issues raised implicitly by the film and canvas, such as the power structures in which museums, their operators, their objects and their audiences are tangled.

When we consider polyvocality, we tend to consider the response of the visitor, not the academic. But the academic's response can be just as creative, as Jane Rendell's acts of 'site-writing' show. We need not merely write academically, but respond to museums in a way which is as inventive and imaginative as they are themselves.


  1. I didn't get a chance to mention it, but I liked the way your presentation created a constellation of meaning through ekphrastic poetry. It reminded me of the seventeenth-century 'painting of paintings' where seemingly unrelated works of art in a real or fictitious collection were foregrounded and, arguably, linked together by the threads of a particular idea such as representations of the five senses, which brought the entire painting, as well as the idea of collecting, to life.

  2. Thanks - that's a nice way of putting it, a 'constellation of meaning.' That was exactly what I was aiming for, a way to create that polyvocality and multiplicity in one. It was fun!