We are now coming up to almost a year since our residency, funded by the Arts Council, began here at the British Library as their First Associate Theatre Company. What has evolved as one of the main aims of the project has been to help open the British Library up to other artists who may want to access the library for inspiration and research of their own creative projects.
My time here has really rationalised and prioritised what is important and necessary for me as an artist and I have learnt that I love research and it is integral to my artistic process. The more rigorously and specifically you understand material, the more distinct and original it will make your artistic work. So, spending time in and with the collections gives you the rare time and space to really go deep into a subject. It is about making unexpected and surprising connections between remote pieces of research, and the result of such connections is where you start to create something new. As an artist I am always looking to gather as much 'fuel' for my process as possible, stimulus, data, information, knowledge and details. The British Library is the optimum resource for this. Not only does it have 'everything'(!), it also enables you to come at a topic in a diversity of ways, sound, image, digital, archive, maps... and all this inspires in a different way, it really makes you think about the 'how' of your work, in other words, not just what your project will say and contain, but how it will be made, crafted, the form it will take.
A particular highlight of my time here has been spending time in the Ballard archive which is looked after by curator, Christopher Beckett. The archive is extensive and Chris has written here a fantastic overview and introduction to the archive: http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2011articles/pdf/ebljarticle122011.pdf
Whilst it is not as personal as some of the archives held here, in that it holds very little in the way of private correspondence, it is a brilliant insight into the process of a great artist. Ballard wrote a lot of his novels by hand and many of his typescripts are heavily annotated. As you start to work through the archive you begin to stitch together a sense of his process. You can learn so much from seeing his choices of what to edit or reword. Particularly memorable was coming across his wire bound notebooks, which appear to contain early brainstormings of ideas and concepts for his novels. It is unusual to have such private access to the earliest thoughts of such a great artist and its quite special to unpick how he works through his ideas and begins his projects.
What this has all been building to will now be shared in our events that celebrate the culmination of our residency here. The' Library of Ideas' is an free event very close to my heart on Sunday 22nd April. Acknowledging that the British Library holds a wealth of materials which are increasingly being used as inspiration for artists and creative, this event aims to encourage early-career artists into the British Library so that they can discover how they can use the Library to develop their own artistic projects. It's a rare opportunity to meet curators and get up close to some of our collections. You will have the opportunity to 'bid' for your chosen experience and then meet the curator and hear from them about the most exciting elements in their collections; everything from sound to manuscripts to digital! It's about putting the curators centre stage. Its free – book your place now! https://www.bl.uk/events/the-library-of-ideas-creative-use-of-the-british-library