Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Burned By Light: Dovetailing - Gathered Notes

Never underestimate the simple pleasure of contemplative quiet. Several visitors to Dovetailing - a collaboration of artwork, installation, music and word, which was exhibited at the Quaker Meeting House of Farfield near Addingham in the Summer of 2021- were moved to feelings of ‘calm and wellbeing’. Their thoughts, some of which are now collected in an impressive anthology of responses to the exhibition, indirectly corroborate the themes explored. Picking up suggestion as if on the breeze, one such gives a reading of the event which is as impressionistic as the mutable, hybrid character of the work seems to demand:

To be mesmerised by the film and hanging mobiles. Curves
rotating, throwing shadows on the screen, like spirits dancing
in the room with sounds of nature, of working wood and then
violins. Like puppets that come alive or masks that take on
their spirit when worn. From tree to wood to music. Music
spans heaven and earth. Soaring above and returning as
reverberations. I wanted to dance
-Ruth Steinberg

That the respondent is so thoroughly immersed in metaphor and simile is a natural channel for enchantment. The focus of this inter-disciplinary Arts project, devised and curated by Clare Dearnaley, Juliet Gutch, Ian Duhig and many others, measures the interplay of natural materials, artisanal function and aesthetic application in synchronous harmony, as though landscape and human endeavour might meet on one symbiotic plane, or be embodied, like Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’, in a single unitary figure. But synchronous in another sense too: for the poet Ian Duhig, the annals of time and shared memory may be reunited in the moment of contemplation. The simple idea of a ‘collaborative exploration into the making of stringed wooden instruments’ morphs, by associative inference, into a reflection on the connection between the domestic quotidian and ancient artifacts, of…

art reaching beyond words and time yet everyday still, our kitchen drawers connecting with the tombs of the Egyptian First Dynasty or of Chinese Emperors.

Duhig’s own sense of the project – he has written several poems and prose pieces in support – naturally overlaps, occluding boundaries of apprehension, as the exhibition does. Artist and filmmaker Clare Dearnaley and sculptor Juliet Gutch freely concede the difficulty of pigeonholing the intractable strands of an exploration which defies gravity, in the same way that a luthier cannot precisely anticipate the sound a finished guitar will produce. Evaluation, if in fact evaluation is relevant, is predicated on the journey of creation, of combing the strands to make wholes of recognition and meaning, and of taking profound satisfaction in the meandering, non-linear act of making. A luthier’s wood turnings, carved and shaped into mobiles by Gutch, were taken from the guitar manufacturing process, lending them authenticity of provenance, and crafting a direct link between observer, sculptor, artisan, wood and forest.

The subtitle to the new book, Gathered Notes - is taken from a poem entitled ‘A Dove’s Tale’ by one of several active participants in the exhibition, musician and teacher, Kerry McMullen, and the reference is fitting: an affecting narrative of displacement and tendered kindness, the sacred symbol of the dove entwines with unconditional love to yield another kind of ‘dovetail’, where opposing forces are neatly reconciled:

And when we shared

You told me you’d felt them too –
Roses, the scent of a mother’s love
But where might have been thorns

We found only buds

There is irony here, and in the exhibition: a passing whiff of scent becomes unconditionally durable where it inheres to a mother’s love, just as a mobile’s gentle movement in the exhalation of a breath need not betoken transience, but rather an emblem of the lasting. The sound of the trees or of a guitar or violin may remain long in the memory, even in silence. The dovetailing of memory and the imagination enables clarity of recall, makes sacred the kind of fidelity to artistic truth which was demanded by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, who committed her entire poetic oeuvre to the recesses of her mind when Stalin threatened to burn it.

For Clare Dearnaley, Dovetailing’s sound and filmic space were intended to create a similar sense of interdependence. Interspersed amongst the mobiles, her films of trees and woods insinuated the external world into the musty interior landscape of Farfield, refracting land and usage into an indivisibly single light. So, too, for renowned composer Sally Beamish, who commissioned a movement for two violas to accompany the exhibition, whilst remaining fully cognizant of the history of the instrument, its material origins and dispositions.

Dovetailing: Gathered Notes is the culminating act of an ongoing drama: the exhibition itself is aptly ‘mobile’, and has already travelled to Windermere and the US. An anthology of reactions to the project, Gathered Notes is a beautifully realised and seamless agglomeration of words and images whose narcotic is reflective and slow-burn, as organically enduring as the tree that embodies the book’s focus. Mindful of wider resonances of amity, cooperation and trans-national unity in a time of displacement, Ian Duhig invited a group of refugees from Bradford to participate in a creative writing exercise as a response to what they saw of the project. The outcome was illuminating, yielding a collaborative poetry of simple, resounding lines that revel in freedom of expression and the deafening silence of peace. Encouraging the participants to insert a response into a ‘magic museum music box’ of the mind, their words were direct, and imbued with a kind of beleaguered wisdom known only to those who have suffered the bitterest of experiences. Not least in the thoughts of a thirteen-year-old Iranian girl, who finds reserves of determination where you might expect despair. Her muse is the music of hope:

You don’t always have to dance with music,
you can be silent
& think of things you can’t actually have…
In music you can see yourself in your dreams.

Dovetailing: Gathered Notes will be launched at the Grove Bookshop in Ilkley on Tuesday, 21st June.

More information here:

All images courtesy of Clare Dearnaley