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Writing (MA)

Gertrude Gibbons

Gertrude Gibbons (b. 1998) is a writer based in London. She previously studied English Literature at the University of York and French Literature in Paris. As a young teenager she co-founded the experimental language group ‘Slavia’ and wrote two novels and a play: Plato’s Cave, performed at Arcola Theatre, Hackney, The Phaistos Disk, and a second novel The Silent Violinist currently in the process of publication. In 2018 with Derek Horton, she relaunched Soanyway magazine which she co-edits.

She has written for The French Literary ReviewThe PluralistNERO MagazineThe Theatre Times, Still Point Journal, Witkacy! among others, and has written essays on Mary Shelley, Guillaume Apollinaire, Witkacy, Philip Glass and Zoe Zenghelis. Recent interviews include director and translator Giovanni Pampiglione, artist Alen Ožbolt, artistic director David Gothard and instrument maker Peter Forrester, and collaborations with Bolim Jeon and Taylor Davies-King. She is researching Polish theatre and cultural reception in the UK and Italy, and writing about theories of absorption and seduction in the arts. Gibbons has recently had work translated into Italian, Polish, Chinese and Malayalam, and she regularly gives literary workshops in England and abroad. She plays and teaches violin which also influences her writing subject and style.

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Writing (MA)

My practice is informed by the idea that words are living, moving and delicate bodies. The movement from thought to word is a process and translation that is difficult; the word might damage or destroy the thought, and words once written have the potential to take on a life of their own that no longer belongs to the hand that wrote them. They live on after the mouth has closed or the page has been turned. I am interested in words which return to haunt or speak back to the writer or reader. My work considers the dimensionality of words, of their fixed place on the printed page as surfaces, but as bodies in motion while they are being read. I use their nature as pointers, always in the process of gesturing towards, speaking around, or ornately framing some object or idea. 

I explore writing as a space for conversation, and weaving together various voices, through quotation, reference or story-telling. In my writing, music talks to sculpture, poetry reflects on painting, architecture speaks with theatre. I write as response, using one idea or medium as a window into another; a digressive starting point enables an unravelling of ideas, like in conversation. This, I think, is also how thoughts unfold, and my recent work has been exploring how to write the experience of encountering a work of art in the immediacy of the encounter; to write thoughts comprehensibly as they fall one after the other, linked and overlapping and slippery. I intend writing to be like the singing hand of a siren, calling through the mist to a reader at sea.  

Remnants of an Experience of Reading Tom Edmonds’ 'Compromise Poem' (1969) — Introduction
Remnants of an Experience of Reading Tom Edmonds’ 'Compromise Poem' (1969) — Introduction
Remnants of an Experience of Reading Tom Edmonds’ 'Compromise Poem' (1969) — Introduction
Remnants of an Experience of Reading Tom Edmonds’ 'Compromise Poem' (1969) — Excerpt from Chapter CONSUMED BY NIGHT, SEA, DROWNING: Mallarmé, Stendhal, Giotto, Broodthaers, Dante, Calvino

This text considers the possibility of a work’s ability to seduce and absorb a reader, spectator, or listener, taking the concrete poet Tom Edmonds’ glass cube Compromise Poem (1969) as its starting point. It considers the challenge of discussing an absorptive experience directly; that once a reader becomes self-conscious, the fragile membrane encompassing them has vanished, its present tense is always already gone.

Following the form of Compromise Poem, where text suspended on glass sheets gives the illusion of falling rain, my exploration incorporates diverse examples, across medium and period, to survey thoughts surfacing in the present tense of a reading experience. My research includes works I have seen, read, or heard, as well as secondary responses, and theoretical writings on narrative, interpretation, and rhetoric. Where possible, for a closer or first-hand encounter of text, I use my own translations.

I envisage immersive space via Compromise Poem; as a glass cube where an invisibly enveloped reader might imagine drowning in falling fragments of text. My study hangs off the medium of writing, but where Edmonds’ medium is ambiguous, I use the terms ‘reader’ and ‘spectator’ interchangeably, venturing towards a tactile and spatialised experience of reading, through interspersed windows of visual and auditory works. The encounter is regarded collaborative, with surface the point at which metaphorical hands might meet between work and reader, bringing the work into being. In this collaboration, surface is illusive, transient, shifting; a place which might imprison, embrace, absorb, reflect; a place of mediation between the imagination and the work.


Contents

ILLUSIVE SURFACE: MIRROR OF THE PAGE Edmonds, Apollinaire, Proust 

APPROACHING SURFACE: HOLES, HOLLOWS, MARKS Mulas, Fontana, Calvino, Mallarmé, Beckett 

REACHING THROUGH: THE SEDUCER’S HAND Baudelaire, Almeida, Mozart 

HANDING OVER VOICE: CONSUMED BY THE TOUCH Cocteau, Ovid, Shelley 

CONSUMED BY NIGHT, SEA, DROWNING Mallarmé, Stendhal, Giotto, Broodthaers, Dante, Calvino 

GUIDED THROUGH: IMPRISONED IN THE UNDERWORLD Cocteau, Ovid, Witkacy, Apollinaire 

HAUNTED BEYOND THE PAGE: A DREAM OF HANDS, CYCLES OF REPETITION Keats, Beckett, Proust, Mozart, Shakespeare 

Opening to Monologue of a Violin
Violin, 1897
Extracts from review of Philip Glass’s Orphée at the London Coliseum — BETWEENtheLINES magazine Issue One, edited and translated by Eko Binyao Liu

This series of texts consider writing about music, with music and through music. They utilise ideas of prosopopoeia and ekphrasis (speaking for or about or alongside an object or person).

This is a development on ideas I explored while writing the novel The Silent Violinist about a violinist who is a mute, but speaks through his violin.

Monologue of a Violin is a prose poem which imagines a violin speaking, inspired by Eugène Ysaÿe’s music for solo violin with its musical quotations of Bach, and includes interwoven fragments of Ysaÿe’s sheet music. It explores the ethics of giving voice to an object with potentially already has a voice. This is available at Still Point Journal which also includes a recording of a performance of the piece and a discussion, led and edited by James Waddell.

Rain Rhythm considers music as a space, and the possibility that different rhythms evoke and structure different spaces and sensations, provoking images and memories within the space of the music. This is available at The Pluralist newspaper.

I am currently working on a series of monologues using the imagined voice of a violin, for all of Bach's Six Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo, reflecting on Bach's own exploration and conjuring of voice/s in these pieces.

“Someone wake me up!” is a review of Philip Glass’s Orphée at the London Coliseum (15-29 November 2019), discussing its use of the medium of opera and exploring it as an adaptation or translation of Jean Cocteau’s film Orphée (1950). It incorporates detailed descriptions of particular passages of music, as well as these reflect or respond to the visual elements. Extracts of this text are available in English and Chinese translated by Eko Binyao Liu in BETWEENtheLINES.

Introducing Swedenborg via Nerval — An example of the method of poetry as a window into the archive
Ark 45 Winter 1969 — Managing editor: Malcolm Winton; Art editor: Darrell Ireland. Covers originated and printed at the Royal College of Art. Photo: Gertrude Gibbons.

A piece of Swedenborg’s poplar tree bark was written as part of the Writing Programme's External Partner Project with Swedenborg House, involving visits to their archive, to write a text for an exhibition catalogue, responding to a single object from their ongoing project ‘The Story of Swedenborg in 99 Objects’. This text reflects on a piece of tree bark using the French Symbolist poets Gérard de Nerval and Charles Baudelaire who were inspired by Emanuel Swedenborg. This is available in the exhibition catalogue, and is upcoming in the Swedenborg Review Issue 3.

Other recent archival research has included within the Special Collections at the RCA, exploring the college student-led magazine, ARK. A recording made with Eko Binyao Liu for Montez Press Radio in August 2020, a presentation and a discussion with Emily LaBarge is available at the launch of ARC 2021 here. One of these issues in the archive inspired the idea of a special insert to Soanyway Magazine Issue 9 focusing on early music, enabling a cross-discipline exploration of early music with the visual arts.

Soanyway Magazine homepage
'Staring at the Silence' by Fabian Peake — An installation by Fabian Peake at the Madonna del Pozzo, Spoleto, curated and with a text by Gertrude Gibbons.
Exterior view of Madonna del Pozzo 'Staring at the Silence' by Fabian Peake — An installation by Fabian Peake at the Madonna del Pozzo, Spoleto, curated and with a text by Gertrude Gibbons.

Writing Exhibitions and Curation

Soanyway Magazine is an ongoing project which I co-edit with Derek Horton who founded the magazine, and we re-founded it in 2018. This is an online platform which publishes three to four issues per year, and freely accessible to all.

Featuring both invited contributions and selections from open calls, established and emerging artists, writers and musicians, the magazine is treated as a space which we curate as editors; a space of exhibition, documentation and performance, and a place for conversation between diverse voices and practices. Our slogan is 'a turn in conversation' reflecting on the name 'soanyway', because the magazine encourages digression and digressive ways of thinking and expression. Issues are frequently themed, and there is an occasional special 'insert' focusing on a particular event or idea. Each issue features two features on a current exhibition or event, to initiate the conversation with the other contributions, which may be recent or older.


Exhibition Catalogue Essays I like to approach work in discussion from a diagonal. Writing for Zoe Zenghelis's Exhibition at the Architectural Association curated by Hamed Khosravi (May-June 2021 and previously at Betts Project December 2020), I consider her painting in relation to theatre and the stage, her concept of architecture as a stage to painting. I used a resonating image from an Alfred Hitchcock set as a starting point, before exploring Zenghelis's painting, ideas and contexts.


"OPUS & LIGHT" is a project by Studio A'87 and Franco Troiani in the chapel of the Madonna del Pozzo, Spoleto. In September 2020, I curated and wrote the accompanying text for an installation by Fabian Peake. This installation has a particular resonance with concepts of words and language.

Fabian Peake’s 'Staring at the Silence' is a site-specific work for the Madonna del Pozzo, Spoleto. It is based around the idea of the tabernacle as a liturgical object of mystery, and considers its definition as a temporary dwelling place. Complemented by an altar cloth covered in handwritten words, the installation parallels the object of the tabernacle with words, and the possibility of these as bodies containing something alive, transient and hidden. Traditionally ornate, Peake’s tabernacle is instead simply coated in an opaque white paint which subtly gives the task of ornamentation to the chapel’s available light. Black lines on the cloth imitate the white lines of the tabernacle’s uniform bricks, cut one by one, creating a correspondence and mirroring between the cloth and tabernacle. The mirror writing employed on the cloth forces a consideration of direction, slowing legibility and denying being read from left to right. Rather, the words travel downwards, pointing towards the well which is given a dwelling place by the chapel.

I am currently working on another project for the Madonna del Pozzo for July 2021, featuring the work of Walker and Walker.

Pampiglione's Atelier di Formia on the Spoleto Steps, 1984.
La Piovra by Witkacy translated and directed by Giovanni Pampiglione, Spoleto, 1982. — Jerzy Stuhr and Carla Cassola in the Atelier di Formia's production of La Piovra translated and directed by Giovanni Pampiglione, Spoleto, 1982. Photo: Tommaso Le Pera.
Gothard's Hamlet in Kosovo, 1999. — Hamlet (Armond Morina) and Hamlet's father (Hazir Miftari, Dibran Tahiri, Selman Lokaj as a chorus) at National Theatre of Kosovo, 1999, with a pile of discarded identification papers. Photo: Edi Agagjyshi.

‘From the Italian land to Poland’ and Back: A Conversation with Giovanni Pampiglione

This discussion with the Italian director and translator Giovanni Pampiglione acts both as interview and profile, focusing on his interest and translation of Witkacy's plays, and formation of his international theatre company Atelier di Formia during the 1980s. He has not previously been interviewed in English, and most writing on him is in Italian or Polish. This is available in English at The Theatre Times and in Polish translated by Izabela Curyłło-Klag in Witkacy! Journal Issue 9, a print publication.

Reopening the National Theatre of Kosovo: A Conversation on David Gothard's Hamlet

I have recently interviewed David Gothard following a similar style after a series of conversations about his use of figure of Hamlet, focusing on his production of Hamlet in Albanian which re-opened the National Theatre of Kosovo in 1999 and toured to South Africa to perform at the International AIDS Conference in 2000.

These interviews intend to convey the personality and character of the interviewee as well as the atmosphere evoked around the events discussed. Rather than following a question-answer form, they consider the place of story-telling in documentation and the natural interchange between fact and fiction in the recounting of memories.


Visual Echoes: Place of Anne Askew's execution

Anne Askew’s Sight: Echoes in the Marketplace

This traces lines of connection through London via the figure of Anne Askew, responding to sensations or memories contained by the buildings and atmosphere around Farringdon. The piece was imagined as part of a series of stories about sites around Britain haunted by past events or memory, and focused on Anne Askew executed in Smithfield Market, with the area seen as a space for spectacle. The text considers the place of theatricality in story-telling and documentation.

"Rain falls so heavily that its circles attack and distort each other, converging chaotically across the pavement. They rapidly play into each other, violently force entry, overlap, erase. Fast clapping hands. Many of them. That’s what the sharp incessant noise conjures, echoing through the mind, prodding, tugging at veiled corners of memory. As the rain eases a little, the watery circles are illuminated yellow by the street lamps as they successively form, grow and vanish into the inky black surface of the paving. It is not so late, but dark already. The shapes on the ground are mesmerising, one after another, pitter patter. Some say rain helps them sleep, that it is comforting, allows long nights of deep unconsciousness. Once heard, the rain from this site echoes through sleep, penetrates these nights, bores holes in its dark blanket. It refuses to be forgotten; it knocks at the door and demands that the sleepers awake and give voice to the wordless site. And so the pitter patter translates to keyboard."

[...]

"With swirling gestures evocative of a swiftly written signature, a theatrical tour-guide motions towards the gates of St Bartholomew hospital. His movement is slightly stilted by the open umbrella in his left hand. “So! This was a site for the gallows until eighteenth century but also, would you believe it, a place for tournaments and plays. They had a different idea of performance.” Under their umbrellas, his audience laugh. “And Anne. She was just twenty-five, you know,” he pauses dramatically. “First woman, you know, to get a divorce. But she’s remembered for her gruesome torture and death.” Vigorous nodding. “There’s a woodcut illustrating the event in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs…her torturers and other important figures are watching from a raised platform over there…watching the performance go up in flames.” The tour-guide seems to feel the silence, suddenly dropping his arm in awkward dismissal of his words, as though the past is just a story and any emotion in its telling is just an affectation, and shouts over the rain. “Yes. Yes. She was an impressive figure. Tough, you know, being a woman in Tudor England, but, well, she managed. That was all here. Right there.”"

'Commute' on the Piccadilly Line, London, 2021 — By Bolim Jeon with text by Gertrude Gibbons
'Commute' on the Piccadilly Line, London, 2021 — By Bolim Jeon with text by Gertrude Gibbons
'Commute' on the Piccadilly Line, London, 2021 — By Bolim Jeon with text by Gertrude Gibbons
'Commute' on the Piccadilly Line, London, 2021 — By Bolim Jeon with text by Gertrude Gibbons
Taylor Davies-King, under the moonlight, 2021 [detail] — This work was a starting point for the sounds I played on violin in response

'Commute' with Bolim Jeon, April-May 2021

Bolim Jeon (Information Experience Design MA RCA 2019-2021) approached me to write a text for her project on the experience of commuting, which was to be realised three-dimensionally. Discussing the ideas she was exploring, this text considers tensions between the individual and society, incorporating quotes from interviews Jeon had conducted, as well as from transport automated announcements, and personal reflections. It uses the definition of the word commute as a verb and noun, its liminality, and its direction.


Sounds for Taylor Davies-King at Cromwell Place, June 2021

Taylor Davies-King (Sculpture MA RCA 2019-2021) invited me to create a soundscape on violin to accompany her work in the exhibition PROXY at Cromwell Place. We discussed forms of story-telling and word painting in music, and various techniques of the violin that could be utilised to emphasise and complement ideas and objects being exhibited. These raw sounds I performed and recorded were incorporated into a soundtrack produced, designed and edited by Davies-King and Daryl Notridge (from the collective Motus Anima). Davies-King's work incorporates multiple materials and mediums, and explores the body, story-telling and everyday-experiences. More information is available on my website project page here.