Friday, 5 April 2013

Poets After Dark/Light Show at the Hayward Gallery: This Is Your Brain On Poetry and Art

Hayward Gallery, London, Southbank. Photo by Aurelien Guichard. Used under Creative Commons license

On Monday night I went to the Light Show exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank - which on Monday and Tuesday was also the setting for Poets After Dark, where ten poets commissioned to write about some of the artworks read their poems. (You can find pictures from the show, and more information, at Hayward Light Show.)

I carried away a medley of impressions. There were moments when I thought the concept wasn't working that well, and others when I was completely caught up in the experience. I suspect that a certain amount of adjustment was required. I am much more used to experiencing art on its own, or poetry on its own (whether at a reading, or reading it on my own) - not the two at the same time, and I occasionally felt what I think was mild sensory overload. In at least some cases, though, the art/poetry interaction was one I wouldn't have missed.

The experience felt like being in a sort of poetic funhouse. There were moments, amidst the dark rooms, the mirrors and the strobe lights, and the poems, where I expected the floor to move beneath my feet. I was intrigued to hear Kate Tempest read, alongside Leo Villareal's cascading column of light, Cylinder II - her poem was one which closely observed the reactions of people she had watched as they looked at the artwork, as well as her own reactions. Kate Tempest  has just won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for new poetry, for her work Brand New Ancients - she falls into the "spoken word artist" area of poetry, which is not (so far) entirely my cup of tea, but her passion was fascinating. I loved Amjad Nasser's poem (which he read in Arabic, followed by an English translation) about the death of a family member and exploring related concepts of light, but I was unsure whether the accompanying artwork did much for me. Mimi Khalvati read a very sensuous poem amidst the strobe lights of Olafur Eliasson's Model for a Timeless Garden, where fountains and water jets froze moment by moment into peaks and arcs of ice - overwhelming, but fantastic. I also felt that Sam Riviere's poems, which explored visions of a city through the filter of the digital age, worked remarkably well alongside the whirling shadow-cubes of the artwork by Conrad Shawcross. (Riviere referred to it as "the room of feeling increasingly sick", and I can confirm that I almost fell over when I walked through the door.)

You can read the poems and some comments from Julia Bird and Tamar Yoseloff, two of the poets who participated, on this link:

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