WTC Spring 15

Writing the City

I’ve been woefully slow to post our most recent series of WTC, so I’m going to put the entire archive of writing and the photos on one page – let’s call it WTC Spring ’15  Do take a look. Meanwhile, here’s a recap of what we did and where we went, along with some of the prompts. 


Money Gallery: Room 68 at the British Museum

The prompts:

Freewrite: coin – value – worth – minted – cost of living – to coin a phrase

Look inside your purse/wallet – what story do the contents tell?

Tell the story of your day so far in terms of what it has cost.

Remember what was the first thing you bought with your first wages?

What did you save up for with your pocket money?

“Debt . . . . that peculiar nexus where money, narrative or story, and religious belief intersect, often with explosive force.” ― Margaret AtwoodPayback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Think of the role of money in plots you know and love – Mme. Bovary, Cherry Orchard, Doll’s House…

The entire object selection and design of the gallery has been refreshed. New thematic approaches are used on either side of the gallery. One side considers the authorities behind the issuance of money – the rulers, governments and institutions who issued, backed, and guaranteed the value of money in circulation. The other focuses on individuals and what they used money for, including the social and cultural significance that money has had, as well as its financial uses. These themes progress chronologically, allowing visitors to walk through the history of money.

The beginnings of coinage and the way in which money has taken different forms around the world is explored through early exhibits such as Lydian electrum coins, thought to be among the oldest in existence, Chinese bronze spade and knife money, and Indian punch-marked coins. Other themes in the gallery include the manufacture, counting, saving and hoarding of money; ritual and religious uses of money including burying coins with the dead, pilgrimage, alms-giving, and amuletic uses of coins; and the problem of forgery. In the modern-day section of the gallery, there are sections looking at modern economic institutions, banking, financial crises, and at who or what guarantees the value of the currency in circulation.

(From British Museum press release)

After the British Museum, we caught the lush El Anatsui in the October Gallery. It was the ideal partner exhibition.

EL ANATSUI El Anatsui (detail)Pat at October Gallery

WTC #2 Who Do You Think You Are? National Portrait Gallery


The medium and the message – why did Grayson Perry use the materials and forms that he did for the various groups and individuals? 

Take one of the Perry portraits, and imagine their story as your own – write a monologue in their voice.

Use the language of the various media (make notes whilst looking at the work) to create your own portrait (someone you know or a self-portrait)

Think about writing styles to reflect personality (minimal or chatty? Colourful, florid words, or short simple language?)


That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek…

(from His Last Duchess, Robert Browning)



Mother came to visit today. We

hadn’t seen each other in years. Why didn’t

you call? I asked. Your windows are filthy, she said. I know,

I know. It’s from the dust and rain. She stood outside.

I stood in, and we cleaned each one that way, staring into each other’s eyes,

rubbing the white towel over our faces, rubbing

away hours, years. This is what it was like

when you were inside me, she said. What? I asked,

though I understood. Afterwards, indoors, she smelled like snow

melting. Holding hands we stood by the picture window,

gazing into the December sun, watching the pines in flame.

A Nice Cuppa Tea

A Nice Cuppa Tea

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Astrid and Marie at NPG

Astrid and Marie at NPG

WTC #3 FORENSICS at the Wellcome Collection

The Crime Scene

In this gallery, you will see ‘The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’. Using this, and any other supporting material available, you are invited to solve the crime that is presented.

Or, using this format – a doll’s house-style interior representing a crime scene – you can invent your own scenario: What would your crime scene show in each of the rooms? This can be as fantastical as you like.

The Search

The work of forensic anthropologists and archaeologists is reflected in this gallery. You are invited to consider ‘Facial reconstruction of Isabella Ruxton’ and the commissioned artwork exploring facial reconstruction by Christine Borland.

  • – Do these two exhibits share a commonality that you can explore?
  • – Could you write something addressed to one of these characters?

Crime as Metaphor

Use this material – the vocabulary, and all the paraphernalia of crime – and apply it to something completely ‘other’ – something you are interested in, that has nothing whatsoever to do with crime. Sex and love and interpersonal relations are obvious and good options. Explore being as technical and visceral as you are able. Here’s an example –

The Flight


That day I hired a private detective to follow me,

and could not read his notes. In a tangled grove,

I hid behind white pines, compressed my body,

then watched him write, left-handed and myopic,

under an Irish cap, when I asked for help

from strangers who spoke Slavic languages.

Wary, moving ahead, I found a depot,

watched an immense train churn, haloed in steam,

and boarded, second class. I had no ticket,

and my expired passport represented

a drooping head with unfamiliar eyes.

Unshaken, rows behind, the stranger waited,

wielding camera and pen. Across the border

I disembarked, but knew he would capture me,

with soundless footsteps, even on black gravel.

I tried to recall my crime. I know I am guilty,

but never why. Lawless, I have ignored

those signs: WRONG WAY; GO BACK and NO WAY OUT,

circles that tell me YOU ARE HERE. I gather

it is the whispers that explode, the looks

that make dogs whimper. When I bow in prayer

I think of love; I know I’ve killed my friends,

pelting them with a touch—and yet I’ve heard

they are alive. Besides, that’s not the real

offense. I would cross any path, or trek

through swamps to find my crime. But even he,

that bald, insistent man who follows me,

unsleeping, cannot tell me what I’ve done.

Grace Schulman, “The Flight” from Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems.

Display Gallery

WTC #4 Dissenters, Law Breakers, Manifestos and Song

This week’s WTC takes in a church, an art gallery, and a hall.

You are invited to think about protest in all its forms. Because the church is closely associated with musicians, perhaps your writing may take the form of a protest song.

In the gallery think about what is outside the establishment nowadays, and what you stand for, and what are you against?

Writing could take the form of text for a billboard or a manifesto (check out examples of both included in the gallery)

Maybe write your own manifesto in the form of a list – imperative tense is a must!

Heading back to Mary Ward, check out Red Lion Square and its history of ethical humanism. I have arranged for the use of the library here, on the first floor (no food and drink) to write up your manifesto or protest song or hymn….


St Sepulchre-without-Newgate

The church is today the largest parish church in the City. It was completely rebuilt in the 15th century but was gutted by the Great Fire of London in 1666, which left only the outer walls, the tower and the porch standing. Modified in the 18th century, the church underwent extensive restoration in 1878. It narrowly avoided destruction in the Second World War, although the 18th-century watch-house in its churchyard (erected to deter grave-robbers) was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt.

During the reign of Mary I in 1555, St Sepulchre’s vicar, John Rogers, was burned as a heretic.

St Sepulchre is named in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons as the “bells of Old Bailey”. Traditionally, the great bell would be rung to mark the execution of a prisoner at the nearby gallows at Newgate.

The clerk of St Sepulchre’s was also responsible for ringing a handbell outside the condemned man’s cell in Newgate Prison to inform him of his impending execution. This handbell, known as the Execution Bell, now resides in a glass case to the south of the nave.bell

The church has been the official musicians’ church for many years and is associated with many famous musicians. Its north aisle is dedicated as the Musicians’ Chapel, with four windows commemorating John Ireland, the singer Dame Nellie Melba, Walter Carroll and the conductor Sir Henry Wood respectively. Wood, who “at the age of fourteen, learned to play the organ” at this church and later became its organist, also has his ashes buried in this church.

Dame Nelly Melba

Phyllis at Display Gallery

Sunday in the Park with Ed DISPLAY GALLERY

Éduoard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe was first exhibited at the 1863 Salon des Refuses*, having been rejected by the Academie des Beaux Arts for the annual Salon de Paris. In ‘Sunday in the Park with Ed’, curators Cedric Christie & Pascal Rousson invited artists to look at what is transgressive in their own practice, and by doing so, to question whether the radicalism present in Manet’s work had been truly taken forward.

The show included both a salon exhibition of submitted works of more than 80 artists, together with a curated programme of picnics hosted by a series of guests in an ‘en plein air’ installation at the heart of the gallery.

*The original Salon des Refusés was an art exhibition that took place in Paris in 1863, showing works that had been rejected by the official Paris Salon. That year artists protested vehemently after so many paintings were rejected (only 2,217 paintings out of the more than 5,000 submitted were accepted1), and Emperor Napoleon III ordered a special exhibition be held at which rejected artists could display their works. Hence the name, Salon des Refusés.

Many artists now considered masters had their work rejected. Rejected paintings had a red R stamped on the back for refusé (rejected).


Red Lion Square

Check out the statue Fenner Brockway and memorial bust of Bertrand Russell.

The Conway Hall Ethical Society, formerly the South Place Ethical Society is thought to be the oldest surviving free thought organisation in the world, and is the only remaining ethical society in the United Kingdom. It now advocates secular humanism and is a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Conway Hall

WTC #5 Back to the Fields



Back to the Fields



London-based artist Ruth Ewan brings to life the French Republican Calendar in a new work made for Camden Arts Centre’s Gallery 3. In use from 1793 until 1805, the calendar temporarily redefined and rationalised the Gregorian Calendar, stripping it of all religious references in post-revolutionary France. Months and weeks were restructured and seasons and days renamed in collaboration with artists, poets and horticulturalists to reflect nature and agriculture.
Bringing together all 365 items used to denote the days of the year – such as a lettuce, a cart, wax, a turnip, honey, a fir tree, ivy, figs, mercury, lava, moss, tuna, a pheasant, an axe – the gallery will be transformed into a tangible calendar. The title of the exhibition comes from the former title of the French folk song Il Pleut, Il Pleut, Bergère (It Rains, It Rains, Shepherdess) written by the Republican Calendar collaborator, Fabre d’Églantine, who allegedly recited the song’s lyrics calmly at his own execution.

For Ewan, the Republican Calendar is an inspiring and innovative example of collaboration between artists and the state. Often cited as a ‘failed utopianism’, Ewan reconsiders the calendar as a complete artwork in itself, asking what can now be gleaned from this bold reframing of our daily lives. Presenting strands of subversive histories, her work reflects on how radical ideas have been transferred, absorbed or lost within popular culture, whilst reopening their historic continuity to the present moment.

(Camden Art Centre press release)



WTC#6 Moore is More at Gagosian London

We met in Berkeley Square. A nightingale sang. We shared our own pocket size treasures, and explained what made them precious. We looked at how objects contain memories – and how writing about the object could take the place of writing directly about the memory.

Moore at Gagosian

HENRY MOORE Wunderkammer Origin of Forms

The observation of nature is part of an artist’s life, it enlarges his form-knowledge, keeps him fresh and from working only by formula, and feeds inspiration…I have found principles of form and rhythm from the study of natural objects such as pebbles, rocks, bones, trees, plants… There is in Nature a limitless variety of shapes and rhythms…from which the sculptor can enlarge his form-knowledge experience. Henry Moore

A giant of modern sculpture, Moore engaged the abstract, the surreal, the primitive and the classical in vigorous corporeal forms that are as accessible and familiar as they are avant-garde. His large-scale works celebrate the power of organic imagery at a time when traditional representation was largely eschewed by the vanguard art establishment. Their overwhelming physicality and forceful presence promotes a charged relation between sculpture, site, and viewer.

This special exhibition explores the origins and processes behind Moore’s sculptures by recreating his maquette studio at Perry Green—now home to The Henry Moore Foundation—at the Davies Street gallery. His Wunderkammer of natural stones, shells, bones, animal skulls, and other found objects will be presented alongside the drawings and sculptural maquettes that they inspired, demonstrating the metamorphosis from nature to sculpture, from inanimate object to human or animal form, that was the impetus of his oeuvre. Moore often cast natural specimens into plaster without further intervention as the first step of their absorption into his vast figurative idiom. Progressions can be traced between organic elements, preliminary sketches, maquettes and finished bronzes—for example, the amorphous totemic stack contoured in a 1955 maquette that is monumentalized in Upright Motive No. 5 (1955–56). These fluid evolutions also occur in reverse, as in the Studies after Crucifixion Sculpture (1954–56) executed in pencil and ink. These, and more than sixty works on paper, treat pebbles, trees, sheep, birds, Moore’s own hands, and nude figures, demonstrating the sheer breadth of biomorphic subjects that find tenuous harmonies in visionary monumental sculpture.

(Gagosian London press release)

Moore at Gagosian


About claire collison

Writer, photographer, creative facilitator, and breast cancer survivor, I am currently Artist in Residence at the Women's Art Library (WAL) My first novel was a finalist in the Dundee Book Prize, and my short stories and poetry have appeared in print and online. In 2015 I was awarded second place in the inaugural Resurgence Prize, the world's first eco poetry competition, judged by Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. This blog began as a space for words generated on my walking/writing workshops at the Mary Ward centre in Bloomsbury - Writing the City (WTC). WTC has since grown to include many other venues, including the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Barbican, the River Rom, Southwark Woods, Aylesbury Estate, and most recently, as part of Walking Women festival, An Intimate Tour of Breasts. I have worked with Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, as the recipient of the first Max Reinhardt Literacy Award, designing teaching resources; and for The Photographers' Gallery, helping school children develop visual literacy as part of 'Seeing More Things'. If you would like me to design a workshop or walk for you, please be in touch!
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