2019 Update: The Bill Gibb Line and The Shelter

It’s been a long time since I last updated my blog – too long! – so I thought I’d rectify that with updates on the two main projects I’ve been focused on this year.

Firstly, in June I had the pleasure of sharing six poems from my wider Bill Gibb project (the focus of my last post) in the form of a spoken-word film and exhibition titled ‘The Bill Gibb Line’, commissioned as part of the 2019 Look Again Festival.

This was a culmination of an 8-month long collaboration with fashion students at Gray’s School of Art who created new outfits inspired by Gibb’s collections as well as original pattern cuttings and sketches for Gibb’s final 1985 collection held in RGU Art & Heritage Collections.

‘The Bill Gibb Line’ for Look Again Festival 2019. Featuring work by Kimberley Monaghan and Kirstie Noble; photograph by Graeme Roger

‘The Bill Gibb Line’ for Look Again Festival 2019. Featuring work by Kimberley Monaghan and Kirstie Noble; photograph by Graeme Roger

Over time, it became clear that the best way to bring everything together was to create a spoken-word film in which I would wear a different outfit to reflect a different poem inspired by Gibb’s fashion shows, all based on newspaper clippings from Aberdeen Art Gallery, Central Saint Martins and Fraserburgh Heritage Centre’s archives. Throughout this process, I became taken with the idea of ‘line’ in both fashion design and poetry, and how both creative practices can involve people taking on a new persona by “dressing up” in different voices or outfits.   

The highly supportive Look Again team suggested I get filmmaker Graeme Roger (of Wildbird) on board and with Graeme’s fantastic input, we created a 12-minute film in which I perform each poem with a different accent to match that of the poetic persona, such as fashion reviewers, a model and Bill Gibb himself, against a green-screen studio backdrop. I felt this setting made the clothes really stand out and that it also highlighted the artificiality and highly contrived nature of the performance: rather than being 100% factual, the poems are poetic retellings with a modern twist, further reflected by the students’ new designs.

‘The Bill Gibb Line’ for Look Again Festival 2019. Featuring work by Charlotte Scouler; photograph by Grant Anderson

‘The Bill Gibb Line’ for Look Again Festival 2019. Featuring work by Charlotte Scouler; photograph by Grant Anderson

Everything came together at Look Again’s Project Space in Aberdeen with poems and images from the film digitally printed on large rectangles of cotton and silk, alongside Gibb’s original sketches from the RGU Art & Heritage Archive, all exhibited on the entrance floor. On the basement floor, the students’ designs were displayed on mannequins just before entering another room where the film played on loop. This meant that the visitors to the exhibition had the opportunity to engage with the printed versions of the words both before and after seeing the filmed performances, which I was pleased about as I know poetry can be daunting at first for some.

‘The Bill Gibb Line’. Look Again Festival 2019; photograph by Grant Anderson

‘The Bill Gibb Line’. Look Again Festival 2019; photograph by Grant Anderson

Being involved with the Look Again festival gave me a much-needed confidence boost to carry on the wider Bill Gibb project. Having around 275 people visit the exhibition proved just how much interest there is in Gibb’s story, and the feedback was highly positive and encouraging, including from Bill Gibb’s middle sister Janet who kindly came to see and support the exhibition. After writing a large chunk while on my Scottish Book Trust Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship last November in France, I had felt a little wiped out and lost with how to continue on, but the response to ‘The Bill Gibb Line’ spurred me on to refocus and drive forward the larger work of fiction. From this I have split the project into two novels, and recently completed the first book (around 88,000 words, a standard novel length) focused on Gibb’s life up until his first major show under his own label in April 1972. Until the book sees the light of day, you can find some of the poems in print in the latest editions of Gutter (No. 20) and Causeway/Cabhsair (Volume 10.1).

Another big project this year has been the further development of multidisciplinary theatre show, ‘The Shelter’. With support from the National Theatre of Scotland, musician and composer Ross Whyte joined visual artist Kate Steenhauer and I on our cold wanders round Aberdeen’s bus shelters to gather further material for our live-drawing, verbatim, and now musical, show!

We were then supported by NTS through directional input from theatre legend Stewart Laing at their Glasgow development space, Rockvilla, across six days. As well as the addition of a new scene (and the extension of others) one of the main changes was for me to shift from actively “acting” each voice in the text, to toning things down to a more traditional spoken word performance so that the audience can focus equally on the words, the beautiful drawings being created on stage by Kate and the new component of musical compositions and soundscapes.

‘The Shelter’ for National Theatre of Scotland, 2019; photograph by Michal Wachucik

‘The Shelter’ for National Theatre of Scotland, 2019; photograph by Michal Wachucik

The latest version of the show was shared with a sold-out audience as part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Just Start Here Festival in CityMoves’ Dissection Hall in Aberdeen in March, alongside performances from Kathryn Joseph and Whyte and ‘The Afflicted’, a new work by Vicki Manderson, Finn der Hertog and Jake Jeppson. The new version was very well received, and we were pleased to go on to show filmed excerpts of it at SoundThought (CCA Glasgow) and ‘Drawing in the World’ (Kelvin Hall, Glasgow). A further live performance with a special Doric-slant will take place as part of Creative Aberdeenshire’s Across the Grain Festival on October 26th. More details and the full programme here.

‘The Shelter’ for National Theatre of Scotland, 2019; photograph by Michal Wachucik

‘The Shelter’ for National Theatre of Scotland, 2019; photograph by Michal Wachucik

Outside of these writing projects, I also started a new part-time job last December as a Learning & Engagement Officer for Art UK’s Sculpture Project. This primarily involves taking sculptures out of museums and galleries into schools and public spaces across Scotland and Northern England and supporting creative workshops. So far, I’ve loved the opportunity to meet so many new people across the country, including sculptors I’ve admired for some time such as Kenny Hunter, and to work with fantastic organisations such as the National Library of Scotland, Yorkshire Sculpture International and the Royal Scottish Academy. I’ll soon be writing pieces for Art UK about the events I’ve helped coordinate, so keep an eye on their Stories page.

That’s all for now – hopefully I won’t leave it another 11 months to update this… In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my Diary page for upcoming events!