The Word into Art event was set up a little like a talk show, if we imagine Kirsty Gunn as the host and Beth McDonough and Graham Domke as the guest speakers. Kirsty, a lecturer at the University of Dundee and a well-known author, began by introducing herself, and commented that as a writer she “like[s] to think of other media”. She then introduced her guests, namely Beth who is both an artist and a poet, as well as the DCA’s (Dundee Contemporary Arts) writer in residence and Graham, the curator of the DCA.
Kirsty prompted discussion about the relationship between words and art – what is it? How do we explain it? In response, Graham, who described himself as an “avid reader” and “inhaler of culture”, talked of his own experience of writing catalogues for exhibitions, and used his work on Thomas Hirschhorn’s It’s Burning Everywhere (shown at the DCA in 2009) as an example of how he writes what the artist creates. He read a little excerpt from the piece and Kirsty noted how it was an excellent example of the coming together of formal and creative writing. That is, even though the piece was communicating information, it was done so in a creative and thought provoking way. This example highlighted a form of relationship between the written word and art in that it was a written piece about art but also written in an artful manner.
“Poetic work is informed by visual work and vice versa”, noted Beth. That is the reason, she told us, that she was drawn to poetry, having initially started out in the ‘art world’ as an art teacher and jewellery designer (I’m not sure in what order). The incredible attention to detail, she commented, is something that written and visual works share. However, Beth also interestingly noted how there appears to be a boundary of some form that surrounds places such as the DCA (The McManus Galleries not so much) in that people feel they are unable to, or incapable of, relating to the work there. Her work recently, alongside Graham, has involved attempts at “dissolving [those] boundaries” and I found this a rather fascinating project. How to get people to engage with, and (as I’m sure it was Kirsty who commented) ask “normal” questions about art.
These examples are only a snippet of the conversation today as part of the Dundee Literary Festival, and they show only a glimpse of the possibilities of such a conversation. I am sure the discussion could have continued for a number of hours if time had allowed. The relationship between the written word and art is one that is not particularly easy to define, but is definitely a significant one. The key seems to be, as suggested today, to get rid of some of the preconceptions of both genres and allow the imagination to do the talking whilst remembering that “what holds us together is greater than what separates us”.