Friday, April 27, 2007

Brontë portraits

I went to a really interesting artists talk by Cornelia Parker at the National Portrait Gallery last night. She did a series of new work about the Brontës, partly in response to the challenge that when authors are so famous for their writing, it's easy to slip into cliched ways of representing them. The talk was about the work in her exhibition last year, at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire.

To research the work, she explored the Museum's collection, viewing original Brontë manuscripts in the British Library, and worked with the University of Bradford to analyse samples of Brontë hair, using electron microscope imaging technology.

The exhibition included a series of images of Brontë artefacts, including samples of hair produced using this method such as the one (above) of Anne Brontë's hair. A series of new portraits of the 3 sisters represented them with separate microscopic images of locks of their hair, rather than their faces, as in traditional portraiture. The images reflected different aspects of each woman's character or life, in the individual textures and appearance of the fragments of hair, which was interesting... I wish I'd taken more notes, but it's quite difficult to look, listen and write at the same time.

I liked the series of images of Charlotte Brontë's handwriting, focusing on words deleted from her final draft of 'Jane Eyre', along with their replacement words. Handwriting is interesting anyway, it's so personal and you seem to do it less now, with so much text produced by computer, rather than pen or pencil. The photographs Cornelia Parker took of the deleted words were interesting, because it showed how Charlotte Brontë's mind must have been working while she was putting the finishing touches to her manuscript... why did she replace 'blighted' with 'puny'... it made me want to compare my old paperback version with the Parker images, to see the chunk of text those words came from. Word-processing doesn't give a comparable trace of the thought processes that went before, in any piece of written work.

Cornelia Parker's work makes you think about objects from a different perspective, so it's quite refreshing to see different approaches when you're stuck in an academic rut, as I have been for a few days. Her 'Embryo Firearms' from about 10 years ago fits in with the stuff I've been writing recently, and I like a couple of Brontë books anyway (Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) along with their numerous film adaptations. I was really tired after being at work all day, but I'm really glad I went to that talk.

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