Simon Starling at The Common Guild

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Artist: Simon Starling

Exhibition title: At Twilight

Venue: The Common Guild, Glasgow, UK

Date: July 2 – September 4, 2016

Photography: Ruth Clark, all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and The Common Guild, Glasgow

‘At Twilight’ is an ambitious new project by Simon Starling, developed in collaboration with theatre director Graham Eatough, which revolves around a WB Yeats play, ‘At the Hawk’s Well’. Imagined as a play, the project first takes form as an exhibition, presenting the rich array of associations and remarkable stories.

‘At the Hawk’s Well’ was written and performed in April 1916 in what Starling describes as “an odd cross-cultural mash-up in an English garden, at a traumatic moment in European history”. The play was written by Yeats while working with poet Ezra Pound and was inspired by traditional Japanese ‘Noh’ theatre. It is a fusion of Irish folklore and what Yeats then saw as an exciting new possibility for theatre.

‘At Twilight’ encapsulates this dynamic discourse between tradition and the avant-garde, in a kind of absurd, dramatised tussle between history, mythology and Modernism. The inventions and innovations of Modernism have long been a source of interest for Starling, as has the trans-national movement of the people and ideas that shaped cultural history.

Extending from the core of the play through the circumstances of its coming into being, ‘At Twilight’ weaves together some surprising and significant inter-connections of influential figures and works through a particular time and place. This first presentation of Starling’s project coincides with the centenary of the play’s first appearance, in the middle of the First World War.

The exhibition at The Common Guild will include a group of masks and costumes for a performance, at the heart of which sits an imagined dialogue between Ezra Pound and W.B. Yeats, to be enacted as a fencing duel (as well as introducing him to ‘Noh’ theatre, Pound taught Yeats to fence). Starling’s masks, made by Japanese master mask-maker, each represent one of a range of inter-connected characters, both real and fictional. The nine characters represented include Yeats and Pound, as well as the 3 characters that appear in the original Yeats play, including and building on a work realised by Starling for the Yokohama Triennale in 2014 ‘At the Hawk’s Well (Grayscale)’, described as ‘Three costumes designed by Edmund Dulac and Michio Ito for the 1916 London premier of W.B. Yeats’ Noh-inspired play for dancers At the Hawk’s Well, reproduced in a grayscale palette using available historical documentation’.

Alongside Yeats, Pound and the fictional characters are: Nancy Cunard (1896 – 1965), daughter of the host of the 1916 performance and an heir to the Cunard Line shipping business; Michio Ito (1892 – 1961), a Japanese dancer who played The Hawk in the 1916 performance and went on to work with Martha Graham later in his career; Jacob Epstein’s ‘Rock Drill’ (1913 – 14), probably the sculptor’s most radical work, a fore-boding man-machine that first came into being before the start of WWI but was radically amended in 1916; and Eeyore, the famously glum donkey from A.A. Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ stories (first appearing 1926), set in the same Ashdown Forest where Yeats and Pound spent the winters of 1913-16, represented here in the form of a pantomime donkey costume for two actors.

The backdrop of the war and its devastation is evoked in the exhibition by a group of ‘blast trees’. These highly figurative stands, on which Starling exhibits the masks, take the form of charred, black tree trunks, echoing the ‘blasted landscapes’ of WWI.

‘At Twilight’ includes a danced segment – presented as film in the exhibition – devised specially by renowned choreographer Javier de Frutos, working with Scottish Ballet and dancer Thomas Edwards using the ‘grayscale’ Hawk costume. The music for the Hawk’s dance was created by Chicago-based musician Joshua Abrams and the Natural Information Society.

An exhibition of ‘At Twilight’ will be presented in the Japan Society Gallery, New York, in October 2016.

Commissioned by The Common Guild in collaboration with the Japan Society, New York.
Courtesy of the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow

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