by Angie McCarthy
I have been working at the John Rylands Library for two years, becoming an Imaging Assistant in November 2019. This role allows me to get up close and personal to the collections and archive. I get to assess and retrieve a variety of items for customers requesting a digital copy of collection items. In just over four months I have found myself totally immersed in the collections and archive. I have selected a few objects from the dsh archive and used them in response to the artist’s work.
I was introduced to the artist Dom Sylvester Houedard over a coffee with Stella Halkyard. Stella was responsible for obtaining the dsh collection (more about Stella in a later blog).
The Spectacles worn by dsh are a simple and functional design. A strong black frame locks a pair of lenses to enhance vision for the wearer. They are worn to enable a better focus on the world, to focus on the detail. Glasses have the ability to become part of a person’s identity, a decoration worn on the face that, when not being worn, the person becomes almost transformed, looking unlike themselves, like a stranger! The photographs of dsh clearly depict that the spectacles he wore were part of his persona, the windows through which he assessed the world, looking at and creating Art; Poetry; Concrete poetry; Typestracts; Kinetic artist; Visual poetry.
dsh’s glasses inspired me to create work in response to his concrete poetry. Working remotely on a laptop belonging to the University of Manchester I wanted to keep my work simple. dsh used an Olivetti Typewriter to create some of his poems and Typestracts. Using the Paint App on my laptop (having little knowledge of much more regarding anything too technical) I began to use dsh’s glasses to work on and work with. I wanted to create a drawing using letters typed from Paint App. The glasses literally became a frame I worked onto. My response to the Man, the Monk, The Artist, the Visionary.
The dsh archive at the John Rylands Library contains objects that are totally unique; unique to the person, an extension of their personality and an aspect of their very existence. Residue energy from the artist is still present and contained in the inked fabric of the ribbon, rubber, metal and screws of the typewriter. The Olivetti Lettera typewriter therefore becomes a representation and a symbol of the man and artist who used this object to create his Art; Poetry; Concrete poetry and Typestracts.
The sound made by hitting the individual keys on a typewriter is like no other sound; hard, direct, linear. Ink meets paper, each letter stamped, leaving a mark by process of fingers and eyes working together.
I used an image of the Olivetti Typewriter in response to the work dsh produced using this very typewriter. My materials were a borrowed laptop and Paint App. Keeping to the ethos of dsh I kept the process as simple as possible.
The feed roller on a typewriter holds paper, this was the area I decided to write/type onto. The inked ribbon on a typewriter uses black or red ink therefore typed letters are black or red. I decided to use a
s trong blue font with a linear strike through, acknowledging my deliberate mistake, the paradox of colour, words and repetition symbolise the artist and his work. Finally, the roller on a typewriter usually contains a trace of the past, dried ink, layers of type, and ghosts of previous work. The Olivetti Lettera Typewriter sits in the archive in poetic silence.
Cut and paste
I would love to have used the actual typewriter owned by dsh to make work in response to his art and poems. If I closed my eyes I imagined the long metal, spindly arms rising to the command of a finger, printing an indelible mark onto paper. If I tried I could almost hear the roller feeding the paper through and jolting aggressively back into place on the completion of a line. The cold blue machine is tactile and inviting.
Keeping my work and materials as simple as I could, I wanted to use letters directly from the ergonomically designed keys on the typewriter.
Using Paint App I carefully cut letters from the typewriter keys to spell out crude looking words. This act left certain keys on the Olivetti Typewriter blank, a space where letters were once placed, letters silenced by my act of cutting away, like missing teeth losing their bite.
dsh text arrangement.
I created an arrangement of letters using the initials of the artist, poet and monk, dom sylvester houedard on my laptop using Paint App. dsh used three letters in lower case when writing his name. I layered, erased, allowed the letters to fade, brought them back in bold, I silenced them, a breath taken in a confusing arrangement of letters.
5 words below describe my response to the work of dsh.
Such a beautiful tribute to dom sylvester! Many thanks for bringing his unique presence back to life through the power of your art and for making his work new for contemporary audiences. You’ve shot a silver star into the velvet night of lock down.
Thank you Stella, that mean a great deal to me.