Worm Wood at Kensal Green Cemetery & Dissenter's Chapel - Summer 2017
In the beautiful landscape of Kensal Green Cemetery, to which I have been a neighbour by residence for over a decade of my life, this summer was spent creating new performances, events, publications and a collaborative exhibition with the artist Tereza Stehliova as part of an extended residency with the Dissenter's Chapel in the cemetery.
Exploring the specific history of the cemetery and the part of London where it resides, as well as death and the culture of cemeteries specifically, and all the notions of geography and city that this entails, the project also explored London's painful development boom. The cemetery lies as the eastern border of the new Old Oak development, one of the largest ever in London, beginning its terraforming just as the residency took place. www.theenemiesproject.com/wormwood
Worm Wood Old Oak / published by Sampson Low
A piece of beautiful ephemera, a limited edition pamphlet by Sampson Low, founded in 1793, which was made to mark the moment of the Worm Wood residency specifically, and tells the ambiguous and quixotic tale of a property developer. My first work of fiction published for some years, it is available to buy here for £2.60
From Worm Wood Old Oak ...
"All development is a matter of structure. It is a word that might be used in learning to live the well lived life. You might find the word self before the word development. You might hear the words Take a moment to think about the words I am saying. The developer is active in ordering, aiming to make some sequences of events more likely, at the expense of other events. Happy, joy filled living will increase, the statistics will show this, concrete facts, and less resonant of existences will fall away. Maybe one day, it will be extinguished? If that would happen anywhere, it would be in old oak. In old oak the business of anticipation is thriving. It will be a few years yet before the stubborn presence of things resistant to such resonance uncovers the limit, if there is one, to the ordering intentions of development, but that’s fine. Nothing happens overnight. This is a long term deal. We’re thinking in centuries, aren’t we? Those, shall we say revelations, might not reveal the feebleness of such organisation for a few years after project completion. Then those outlandish outliers will become merely a crevice in the old oak, through which chaos will be, reluctantly and depressingly, sighted, from some eighth floor glass balcony. Too late then, isn’t it?"
The Ecchoing Green - July 13th 2017
The second event as part of my residence at Kensal Green Cemetery, Worm Wood, a really resonant and communal night with Tom Jeffreys and Chris McCabe, all three of us sharing somewhat deeply intertwined reflections on London, cemeteries, psychological interactions with space and history. I took folk down into the catacombs during my reading of my new limited edition short story publication from Sampson Low - Worm Wood Old Oak. I am really happy with the little chapbook, its beautifully done and this was the right place to share it with the world. https://sampsonlow.co/2017/07/14/worm-wood-old-oak-sj-fowler/
The Ecchoing Green was an event celebrating London and its landscape, most specifically its cemeteries. It featured three contemporary writers engaging with this notion in different but complimentary ways, with an exploration of Chris McCabe's ongoing publication project with Penned in the Margins, following In The Catacombs and Cenotaph South, with new work responding to Kensal Green Cemetery. This event also saw the launch of Worm Wood Old Oak, a new pamphlet of poems by SJ Fowler, published by Sampson Low, written about the Cemetery and its impending neighbour, the Old Oak development. And finally this event explored Tom Jeffrey's Signal Failures, published by Influx Press, which provides, through a walk along the proposed route of HS2, a wide-ranging critique of humanity’s most urgent failures.
Celebrating Erich Fried - July 6th 2017
The second instalment of a new series of innovative events bringing to light, in London, the work of writers fundamental to the unique Austrian contribution to world literature in the post-war era. // Erich Fried, one of the great political and love poets of the post-war era, whose strikingly beautiful and immediate poetry found no contradiction in those themes, was celebrated on the grounds of Kensal Green Cemetery, where he rests, and it was wonderful to have so many of his family come and attend this event. www.theenemiesproject.com/illuminations Photographs by Madeleine Elliott.
Landscape Learn : Growth and Decay - July 15th 2017
A dynamic public facing project from J&L Gibbons, Landscape Learn is an exciting venture that Ive been able to be involved with through my residency and tie into my time at Kensal Green Cemetery, with Tereza Stehlikova, with this event. A one day mix of cemetery tour via geology and lost rivers, to talks on the bones of the city, the urban mind, neuroscience, landscape architecture and finishing with a screening of a film I have small part in, made by Tereza. Tickets were sold to a group of nearly fifty and the day felt really communal and engaged, I met so many really interesting people, all of whom shared a complex and intensive interest in their city and its changing environment - often changing for the worst, as the discussion of the nearby Old Oak Common development seemed never too far from the discussions. It's inspiring for me to work with people such as Jo Gibbons and Neil Davidson, this is the kind of day that feeds into my work, takes it into new places, where it needs to be, always growing.
Origins of the Worm Wood project
Began in 2015, the primary outcome of the project is a film which fuses the industrial and reclusive landscapes of these areas of London with poetry and text, as well as live events, installations embedded in the environment, an exhibition of these works and a publication forthcoming.
Worm Wood crosses artforms, is fundamentally collaborative across concept, text and image, and aims to be as nebulous and striking as the landscape it celebrates.
"We should see if we can get permission to use that shed on stilts as an installation. If not, locate something hidden in the spiderweb of the stations grounds, or a part not used often, or something small, unreachable through the fence on the long walk to Harrow Road.
Pulling a handful of hair. Uprooting a small tree.
This place is not obsessed with itself. I think there’s a difference in that, one we’ve both noticed. There is one stop here, located momentarily. A fusion that spills out in eight directions, spiders legs. Our favourite is the snipers alley off the Harrow Road entrance, where we will enter."
PLACE OF DEFIANCE
For the past weeks, I have been exploring the Kensal Green Cemetery again, capturing little moments in time on my camera.
What I feel most strongly here is the presence of all the absent people. People are everywhere, yet nobody is here. Instead, there are traces: signs, pictures, names, toys…
I am struck by the abundant use of plastic to replace the natural world. It’s like a defiance against the perishability of organic life. Yet plastic seems strangely inappropriate for this place of decomposition.
The cemetery is a place where even the tiniest movement takes on a much greater significance. I am struck by how much movement there is: of trees and leaves, blades of grass, rainbow pinwheels, all animated by the wind. Other things propelled by tiny engines: artificial butterflies, cherubs nodding their heads. All this animation in defiance of stillness.
In contrast the stone statues are frozen in their eternal poses. For this particular defiance, they too are punished by time: Most are missing hands, arms, feet, even heads. There is something rather poignant about this image of an angel without hands or lips: her agency has been taken away, just like of those that lie buried here.
Working with the poet Steven Fowler on capturing the strange and disappearing no man’s land around Willesden junction…These are selected images from the latest recce…recording locations where nature meets artifice, where plastic and vegetation talk to each other, imitate each other, where synthetic colours are splashed in abundance across the subdued industrial landscape.
“Let’s listen tonight to Willesden junction together”, said John Berger in his letter to me, few months after I moved here. I keep these words close to me at all times, especially in the mornings as I walk from Harrow road along the railway line to catch the tube, to the sound of a screeching trains, desolate landscape all around me…feeling strangely content and free.