I COULD NOT THINK THE FUTURE WOULD BE SO DIFFERENT, AND YET CHANGE SO LITTLE - T. S. ELIOT'S THE WASTELAND COMES TO COVENTRY
JOURNEYS WITH THE WASTELAND
A new exhibition is coming to Coventry, by way of Margate sands, to connect nothing with nothing – Coventry to the great beyond – showing a range of artwork and events that explore's T.S Eliot's seminal Modernist poem at the Herbert Art Gallery.
The project is part of an interesting double-header approach, with an initial exhibition that ran at the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate that featured many works from early 20th century painters and artists, as well as breaking down Eliot's seminal 1922 text.
What made the Margate exhibition so interesting is the ways in which it was a citizen-led event – curated by members of the public in cooperation with the gallery – blending Margate tales with Eliot's brief stay there as part of his recuperation from a mental breakdown [which in turn seems to have triggered the creative response of The Wasteland]. They also produced a rather natty newspaper which twists and turns Margate narratives of past/present/future into Eliot's continuing dreamscape.
It is a bold approach, with the poem offering as many interpretations as it does radical offshoots to a range of voices, broken poetic forms, critiques of modern civilisation and eastern spirituality as it does, it seems that while the poem can seem to be about nothing and everything, it can find its place anywhere - like all good poetry should?
Cy Twombly's variations on the four seasons – a beautiful dirty protest [against art] or a deconstruction of weather as myths of mood?
The exhibition[s] and many events to be held in Coventry, will no doubt explore similar themes, but once again reimagined through a local context and individual perspectives. It is liberating to see more power handed to local people as expert advisers, exploring the meanings of the poem and its shifting relationship to place, by way of underlining this, consider one of the more famous quotes from the poem:
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
A common reading of this would be the individual as a collective mass of experiences, but also considering the ways in which these experiences gathered and collated are a part of what keeps us whole. And in this same spirit, you might extrapolate that most places are much like anywhere – to paraphrase Philip Larkin.
Margate has its share of outpost detachment, a somewhat depleted seaside town that does not experience the same tourist trade it once did, but no less hated and beloved by its residents [there are lots of great pubs, bars and weird places to visit - I particularly recommend The Shell Grotto] and in this sense, the town shares much with Coventry – the land-locked post-industrial Midland outpost stuck and struck orbiting Meridian time but due an imminent rebirth with increasing investment in tech, arts and culture.
Nigel Hutchinson, who is part of a citizen-led research group said: "We decided early on that it would be fruitful to respond to Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’ in the context of Coventry’s experience of WW2. In Coventry, the poem’s imagery of journeys and fragmentation, of redemption through fire and rebirth, connects with the histories and myths of the city. Paintings by Walter Ashworth and Ernest Boyd Udden record the aftermath of the Coventry blitz, George Shaw’s work the edge lands around the development of Tile Hill. Ecological concerns are reflected in the work of John Newling which will be in The Herbert and Coventry Cathedral.
Ignoring Eliot’s much later comment on the poem that it was just ‘rhythmical grumbling’, an underlying thread of exhibition is to explore those meanings that bind us together. Eliot was concerned with the loss of a core set of beliefs - unsurprising in the aftermath of The Great War - post WW2 the question re-arises and resonates today, both politically and ecologically."
I look forward to seeing the exhibition [again] but made new by the people of Coventry.
Journeys with “The Waste Land” is a community project bringing together an exhibition of artworks that in some way are a response to T S Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land”.
The research will culminate in an exhibition in Coventry at The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in conjunction with The Mead Gallery.
The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum - Coventry - Sat 15th Sept – Sun 18th Nov 2018
There will also be a programme of talks, events, readings and films: https://journeyswiththewastelandcoventry.com/events/
Connect with the project: @wastelandcov