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  • Writer's pictureRichard Downes

Corowned Works 1

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

Disabled poet’s response about the effect of COVID and Lockdown.

Blog Richard Downes & Ivan Riches

The project

This project is a purely experimental vehicle attempting to develop an immersive 360° poetic experience around responses to the effects of COVID and lock down on eight disabled poets/artists, culminating in recorded readings accompanied by soundscapes/music and 360° imagery.

During March 2022 Richard Downes and Ivan Riches conducted a workshop with six other poets, Michelle Baharier, Crippen, Kuli Koli, Inky Queer, Gwyneth Wilson and Wendy Young shared their responses to COVID and lock down. Each artist then wrote poems that described their experiences. These were passed on to Ivan Riches to be sketched into an immersive environment sound/music 360° imagery, some poets donated their own imagery.

The project experience

Ivan's soundscapes/music pieces for each poem are complete and are a direct response to the emotional, tonal, visual and rhythmic metre of each poem. Ivan found the experience joyfully challenging. He has shaped the sound as a setting for each poem. Every word has shaped each, tone, phrase and rhythm. Musically speaking, the project has been one of the most difficult ventures he haa ever undertaken.

The immersive 360° artwork is his first attempt to create digitally drawn, painted, filmed and abstracted imagery in response to poetry. Ivan says;

"I have been working with immersive imagery since 2019 but not to this more painterly level. As a sonic/visual artist, I am pushing new limits in my conceptual development and image making. The unpredictable outcomes are providing me with a challenging learning curve and I am often out of my depth, until I can stumble on workable solutions. The 360° spaces are an exciting and unknown territory. Rather than being a purveyor of a flat surface to manipulate, I am catapulting myself into spaces where it is challenging to work out where I am. My guides are the poems, along with my music. This is exciting stuff, being engulfed by my own artwork, digesting and making sense of it and trying to find an audience adventurous enough to join me. The 360° canvas swallows you whole and this is not a familiar or comfortable environment to navigate, for both artist and audience".

Richard Downes speaks to his poem "To Corona is based on the meter offered by Bob Dylan's To Ramona - a love song of some substance. I took this life affirming song and splattered it with doom laden imagery. Written early in lock down I recognised the present dangers to disabled people particularly those of us who would become defined as extremely vulnerable (myself and my partner included) but i was also certain that we and are friends within the community would survive. In fact the early signs were that we were at an advantage if living independently within the community. We were after all experienced isolationists used to taking our time on our own. We were also connected by friendship and social media and where able to maintain our commitments to one another. Against that the nursing homes scandal, the death count there, is beyond belief and requires urgent investigation and the dispensation of appropriate justice. Never has the ethos of Free Our People campaigns been thrown into such start relief. They will not be forgotten."

"Lock down further enabled many of us to explore our creativity. I went through a major learning experience. As a photograher I had quite a strong data bank of digital images which I could play with. Disguise is a leitmotif for me. I was a very enthusiastic finder of hiding places as a child, keen to not be seen never mind heard. This was how I survived institutionalization, the rigor of regulation and the brutality of beatings. Being hidden meant survival but it also meant learning how to look, how to be vigilant. I carried this forward when first seeking to write - preferring to be anonymous, not claiming credit for my work, contributing as one of a community or team. So I sought to destroy the data image using colour, contrast, highlights, exposure, etc. Much of this work would find symmetry with ideas around virus. When a match was found i'd send it to Ivan who would collect the imagery for later development."

Ivan talks abour his approach to supporting Richard's poem and imagery;

"Richard’s sung poem spoke to me with an almost Brechtian clarity and my musical response was in that almost burlesque music hall vein.

"The main difference in my approach, I suppose is my live improvisation to embellish as many of Richard’s words and phrases as possible. It took 21 recorded attempts and only the final one (by a mile) worked. Richard’s poem sent me in to a state of mind where I had to be entirely in the moment, breathing in each nuance of his poem and reflecting this with each hand/finger response. I have never worked like this before except with the visual equivalent of playing live to silent film at The Liberty Festival in 2014.

"Richard’s photography/image colour palate is bordering on psychedelic. I have a highly charged rich coloured palate myself, so Richard is an artist I feel a certain amount of kinship with. Much of my visual artwork has been influenced by the most intense colour charged stained glass windows and early renaissance paintings.

"With some of my own imagery I wanted a direct cartoon like purity to flash up with Richard’s most visceral and satirical phrases to provide some more brutal punctuation. The main challenge is to fit the flat paper/screen image into the new territory of an immersive 360° canvas/environment.

"Primarily this project is so experimental that the best I can hope for are good working sketches to take further into the the rest of my artistic career. With Richard’s poem and imagery and as my first attempt, a good working sketch was the best I could hope for. It would be hubris to expect more at this stage, particularly as this is the first poem of eight.

Hopefully people will engage with this new concept and see what I am trying to do.

Ivan tells us how he views the pandemic

"As far as the effects of the pandemic and lockdown, I feel that this project is showing a new resilience and direction in poetry and other forms of art making. This is poetry out of hardship that is more than the struggles of disabled people. COVID and lock down has affected all of us and almost everyone has suffered in some way, financially, in mental health or loss of family and friends.

"This world wide pandemic has deeply and intrinsically affected my creativity. And judging by the poems by the eight poets (including myself) this has been an inspiration from hardship and suffering, as well as many of us finding new freedoms and modes of expression in the rediscovery of nature during lock down. It’s as if nature has forced many of us to slow down, look, listen, feel and re assess our place and hopefully even influence in the world at large. For me the most unexpected experiences of the pandemic and lock down was in finding new aspects of humour and more importantly humility, not taking myself too seriously, knowing that I have very little control over my environment. I am left with having to trust the universe to give me what I need and it does in a way. Well “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you get what you need.”

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