Adrian Slatcher writes poetry, fiction and criticism, and lives in Manchester.
I don’t get asked to do many commissions as a writer, even when my interests and approach would make me an obvious candidate, so it was particularly rewarding earlier this year when the artist James Ackerley asked if I would contribute a poem to a piece he was making for Castlefield Gallery.
I have been involved with the gallery for a number of years, as a trustee, and before that as an admirer and regular visitor. With a permanent exhibition space, and a revolving series of shows of new work throughout the year, as well as a considerable artist development programme, and a range of outreach activities – pop-up project spaces around Greater Manchester; helping coordinate The Manchester Contemporary exhibition alongside the Buy Art Fair; working on public art commissions – Castlefield plays a unique and growing role in the city’s contemporary art ecosystem.
Over the last year the Gallery has been working on developing a way to encourage closer and deeper participation from friends of the gallery, to help raise money to develop its work, and to reach out to collectors and advocates. This culminated in the launch of a guardians and patrons scheme which was launched successfully in May.
To coincide with the launch the artist James Ackerley was commissioned to create a new “donations box” for the gallery. Rather than create another perspex cube, familiar from the entrances of museums and galleries throughout the country, James has designed a new desk, with a slot at the front where you can place your money. He approached me about writing a poem to appear on the top – with the letters to be cut out and also dropped into the slot.
We met several times to discuss the work, and what he had in mind, and after due consideration I suggested that a “visual poem” might work better than a more formal verse. After a few iterations, I reduced this to just a few words:
CAN ART GIVE LIFE
but repeated in different formations, and reducing to just a single word, about the slot:
James ran with the idea and the resulting donations box is a genuine collaboration. The pattern of the words and how they scatter across the top of the desk was left to him, and it creates a fluid, but not proscriptive “visual poem”, that can be read in several different ways, the four words recombining across the desk.
I only saw the finished work on the night of the launch, and was so pleased with the overall concept and execution. As a “working desk” for when people come in the gallery, the top and the words are often obscured, but I popped in the other day and got a photograph of the clear desk. Its always pleasing to collaborate, but also to contribute to something that has a clear purpose, and where the creativity aligns with the functionality.