…the etiquette required to keep still is similar to playing dead…

 

I recently finished a collaboration with the Textile artist Sarah-Joy Ford, which went into the Stanley and Audrey Burton Galley at the University of Leeds on 1 November. It will be in the gallery until spring 2017. The project was funded by Arts Council England and was part of the University of Leeds Year of the Textile.  Our work responds to the portraits of the Leeds mill owners John and Jane Marshall and is in dialogue with the poem, ‘There is an etiquette to everything’ by Malika Booker. Below is my description of the work:

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Queer theory draws on the forces of the outsider, the other and the non normative. Using this apparatus of Otherness it is possible to bring to the forefront historical narratives that may have fallen from the canon of history.

A collaborative group of works casts aside male-dominated tropes of historical storytelling and looks elsewhere to illuminate unspoken narratives.

These works rearrange historical perspectives: rather than acting as a direct response to the portraits of John and Jane Marshall, they dedicate time, effort and a platform to ‘unimportant’ (queer) histories.

Here we shed light on the little-documented relationship between Jane Pollard and Dorothy Wordsworth through a series of intimate and personal letters that paint a picture of a tender and loving relationship between two creative women.

This somewhat forgotten relationship not only provides a radical alternative history to prevalent (masculine) historical narratives, but also acts as a lens through which to view them. The act of reviewing these narratives through from a contemporary queer standpoint opens up new perspectives, allowing us to create new histories and problematize existing ones.

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Sarah-Joy Ford created textile portraits of Jane Marshall and Dorothy Wordsworth illustrating moments from the letters between the two women. Her embroideries offer a queering of the history of women’s portraiture that has traditionally been commissioned, brought, sold, viewed and owned by men. Displacing the privilege of heterosexual marriage narratives, the new interpretations contextualize the women’s lives though their intimate friendship with each other. Above the door to the gallery hangs a quilted architectural frieze that references the Temple Mill architectural façade. Transforming stone to cloth the work acts to disrupt the distinction between the monumental and the domestic.

My own work takes the form of a seven-minute stereo loudspeaker piece. This work takes key themes, objects and spaces referenced in the intimate letters between Jane Pollard and Dorothy Wordsworth and places them within a queer phenomenological framework.[1] Queer phenomenology views sexual orientation through bodily orientation and sensation, and the stereo piece uses the medium of sound to place listeners within (imagined) orientations, practices and rituals of the women. This creates an earpiece through which to hear their (imagined), intimate and untold bodily and sexual orientation, and a lens through which to view accepted versions of history.

[1] See Sarah Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (Duke: Duke University Press, 2006).

 

You can also read Malaika Booker’s original poem below.

 

There is an etiquette to everything

like the way I sit here or how in stillness,

we recognize the body’s heaviness. Be still

 

John says, and an itch creeps onto a spot in

my leg. Upstairs my children are rolling apples

 

scattering across the ceiling, my lips purse

to scold, but I am a portrait in practice.

 

Sunlight crouches in the window like a shy girl.

Ah perfect John says. The weight of my body steadily

 

gets heavier, keep still, back like a plank, your Posture…

relax, John instructs. Be demure, he chuckles

 

as hush drags her deceptive self into the room,

her sound heavy as my body.

 

The fireplace and chandelier all whisper

in here. This room breathes, I think. It lives.

 

***

 

Late morning crispness bites the mood

like a crunchy apple chewing into each

placement of my body, hands delicately

placed just so. This is the etiquette here.

 

John’s pencil scribbles in his sketchpad

I ache to shift my toe, but must oblige

to his unreasonable demands to keep still

as I am a portrait in practice.

 

There are apples in the pantry. I must tell

Cook to make pies, send some to Dorothy.

My mind is a darting fly, frisky, buzzing,

No distraction from my still body.

 

John mutters, yes, that slight flush of red

on her cheeks, like the faint blush of ripening

apples, must replicate. I learn that the etiquette

required to keep still is similar to playing dead.

 

Malika Booker, 2016

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