Originally published on jerwoodopenforest.org/journal/
‘The Forest of Lost Trees’, is a proposed performance. A performance in which stories are told in a forest. Lots of stories, true stories, stories that other people have told me, that I have dug up from history, that I have elaborated from archive, that I’ve intuited from a tree stump. Stories that are remembered and spoken aloud.
As I make the performance, I will be writing. But in writing, I am thinking about speaking – whose turn of phrase is this? What is it like to remember these words? Are the words important or will the story be told a different way each time, the teller telling in their own way?
This summer, I spent four days in Edinburgh on a DIY retreat led by writer and performer Season Butler, along with five other artists and writers. During our time together, Season introduced us to different tools for writing, and we played with writing at different times of the day and night – watching how our not-yet-awake brains, our tired-and-wired brains, our post-lunch brains produced language. I learnt a lot in those four days, from Season’s calm and purposeful guidance and the exercises she set for us, and from the ideas, text and language shared by everyone in the group – such as sean burn‘s ability to deconstruct and remake meaning just in the way he reads aloud. Punctuation disobedience.
During the retreat, I tried working with some material for this project. I spent some time with William Lobb, the Victorian plant hunter who left rural cornwall to become a star collector for the famous Veitch nurseries, supplying ‘exotic’ plants to decorate gardens – rarities that are now familiar. But I realised I didn’t know what kind of gun he would carry, let alone how to load it. So I got stuck at the first hurdle when trying to write the story of Lobb shooting down cones from monkey-puzzle trees in the Aracauria forests of Chile. I realised I needed to do the research before writing and self-consciously started googling muskets.
We talked a lot about history and memory in various forms, each of us attracted for different reasons to the questions Season asked to frame the retreat: ‘When should we conserve and when should we allow things to degrade? How should we remember and what should we forget? Are there elements of our archive that could benefit from tampering, tweaking and interfering?’
I noticed myself drawn to text that has a physicality to it, that exists alongside imagery, or is spoken in performance or film, danced text, text that could act as a score… one of my favourite moments of the weekend was a list of collectively generated instructions for writing.
I started thinking about a ‘script’ for the performance.. but there’s something that seems quite fixed in scripted text. I remember giving a talk at a conference years ago. I was co-presenting with the brilliant Jane Trowell from Platform. We were talking about activism and radical education in gallery spaces. I read part of the talk that she had written and tripped over the word pedagogy. We talked about this afterwards, about needing to find the words that come out of your mouth comfortably when speaking in public. In ‘On Performance Writing’ Tim Etchells describes the process of taking a script and developing it with performers: ‘a growing, generative process of improvisation, negotiation, discussion, more writing and eventual fixing. A kind of speaking that becomes writing’.
I’m interested in making a script that acts as a ‘score’ – and working with narrators to find the final form of the stories. I’ll be experimenting with this idea in a performance at the Jerwood Space alongside the upcoming Jerwood Open Forest exhibition.