Behind the scenes Collections

Creative Responses to the Carcanet Email Archive

creative responses to the Carcanet Email Archive

In the final Palladium project blog, I’d like to share two new pieces of art, created in response to material found in the Carcanet Email Archive. This work was carried out with the permission of Carcanet, and we were delighted to be able to work with artists who were connected with the press, or had worked with them before.

Our first artist is Mary Griffiths. Griffiths’ practice begins with drawing and the close observation of urban, rural and industrial ecologies and architectures. These rapid figurative drawings are developed in the studio in graphite, ink, monoprint and paint. They are also the root of her abstract works, through which their essential geometries are rendered. She worked as a curator in museums and galleries until 2020, most recently at the Whitworth, The University of Manchester, where she is an Honorary Fellow. Since 2008, her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including solo exhibitions in 2012, 2014 and 2018, and a book of her drawings, Pictures of War, was published by Carcanet in 2009.

Mary requested access to email correspondence between Carcanet and astrophysicist and poet, Rebecca Elson. These emails were located in ePADD and found to refer to the publication of Elson’s posthumous book A Responsibility to Awe. They were checked by the project archivist, and a selection provided to be used as inspiration for the piece. There was not a large volume of relevant email in the collection, but the majority of what was available we were able to make open for access.

Mary Griffiths writes of her piece: “The work seeks to make present the person of Rebecca Elson within the many thousands of words about her and her poetry in the Carcanet Archive. The geometry of the drawing is derived from the nearly 10,000 words about her while its dark core represents the 130 actual mentions of her name.”

For this we go out dark nights (2022). Graphite on gesso on board.

Our second artist is Gregory O’Brien, also a curator, writer, and designer of covers for Carcanet’s journal, PN Review. He has edited numerous anthologies and art catalogues, and has written extensively about New Zealand culture. He is senior curator at the City Gallery in Wellington, and as an artist, Gregory has held solo exhibitions and participated in group shows around New Zealand. He has illustrated the work of other New Zealand writers – among them C. K. Stead, Elizabeth Smither, Bill Manhire, Michael King and Jenny Bornholdt.

Greg asked for access to the email of Scottish poet and novelist Frank Kuppner. There was a slightly larger volume of email available in this case, but not quite the extent we were expecting based upon Kuppner’s extensive Carcanet publications. The explanation for this was found in the discovery that Kuppner prefers to communicate with Michael Schmidt and Carcanet via letter and telephone as well as by email.

A circuit diagram for Frank Kuppner and Michael Schmidt, 2022.

Gregory O’Brien writes: “Sometime in the mid-1990s I discovered the poetry of Frank Kuppner. It was Robyn Marsack who pointed me in said direction. And so begins this merry dance. I remember being impressed when I was later informed—it must have been by Robyn—that Frank Kuppner worked as an electrician. Or maybe he was an electrical engineer? In recent years, I have been unable to find any mention of those occupations in Kuppner’s numerous biographical notes on-line, and I am now wondering if I invented (or perhaps misheard) this biographical fact. That said, I have decided to persist with it.

“My unwrapping of Frank Kuppner’s email correspondence with Michael Schmidt was prefaced by a note from Jessica Smith, at the John Rylands Library, informing me that much of this particular poet-publisher interaction had in fact taken place over the telephone or by letter. This I did not take as an impediment, figuring I was on the look-out for something fragmentary rather than a grand, roiling literary continuum. Also, bearing in mind Kuppner’s real/imagined working life amongst electrical and electronic gadgetry, I found his perceived preference for earlier communication systems something of a relief. A blizzard of emails was the last thing I wanted to be heading out into.

“In formulating a ‘response’ to the correspondence I resorted to that stock-and-trade of the electrical profession, the circuit diagram. Three years ago, upon my father’s death, I inherited a hardbound, handwritten workbook dating back to World War II, much of which he had spent as a wireless mechanic, working on Sunderland flying boats, based at the appropriately named Mechanics Bay on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. Like my imagined version of the ‘electrician’ Kuppner, my father had—for a time, at least—a substantial knowledge of electrical systems. (That said, by the end of the 20th century, he was totally flummoxed by the new-fangledness of the world and its technologies. He struggled to master the CD-player, let alone the home computer. The hundreds of scrupulously hand-drawn circuit-diagrams contained in the mid-century workbook had, it would seem, done nothing to prepare him for the digital age.)

“My Kuppner/Schmidt circuit diagram appropriates phrases from both sides of the e-conversation. You’ll have trouble guessing who said what. As in the best conversations, both figures are amply present in what the other says/writes. As a rebuke to the technology of laptop and internet, I have installed a reading lamp—that staple of readers and writers, publishers and poets—strategically near the middle of the ‘diagram’. I will leave it to Kuppner and Schmidt to ascertain whether this formulation of writerly/editorial energies is in anyway viable, let along representative. I think, like all diagrams, it is really only just a part of a much, much bigger diagram.”

These pieces are intended as examples of the potential of the Carcanet email archive to support and inspire the creation of creative works. They will be on permanent display on the Manchester Digital Exhibitions site, as part of the Carcanet exhibition pages.

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