Of Real Worlds

Co-curation and commission to make new work in response to the work of Emily Bronte for the bicentenary celebrations of her birth in Bradford.

A vivid green and purple close up of foliage

To celebrate the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth I co-curated an exhibition; created a video installation and ran a series of workshops for schoolchildren, at South Square Gallery, Thornton.

The project was inspired by a belief in the on-going relevance of Brontë (who was born in Thornton village) for contemporary audiences. The title ‘Of Real Worlds’ comes from a poem in which Brontë described her imagination as both a companion and a place of freedom. Each project-strand took an element of Brontë’s life or writing as a starting point to explore the value of imagination: its role in reflecting upon and see beyond the circumstances of one’s own life.

My video installation used macro-filming techniques to echo Brontë’s method of describing tiny, seemingly inconsequential details of the landscape in her writing. I initially traversed the moorlands around where she lived to take footage of the landscape with which both she and I feel a deep connection. Ultimately, however, I decided to limit filming to the confines of my own Thornton back yard. This was to represent the restrictions upon Brontë’s life as a woman in the 1800s. Blowing these visuals up into a large-scale projection, the installation highlighted the often overlooked; suggesting that there is value in the everyday environment whilst also pushing against life’s limitations with colourful bombast.

Some of the same techniques were used in workshops with secondary school students. We produced small collages that were photographed and projected at large scale. These combined natural objects, collected from the local environment, with fragments from Emily’s poems. Students were invited to explore, tear and cut into Brontë’s texts. It proved a thrilling way of enabling them to create through destroying as well as prompting new engagement both with their locality and her work.

My emphasis was on encouraging students to see Brontë’s work not as dead literature but as an active, creative response to the landscape and society in which she lived. We discussed how society has changed in the last 200 years. For example questioning, how much progress has there been since the time when all three Brontë sisters were compelled to use ambiguously gendered pseudonyms, to be taken seriously as writers?

Primary students were asked to imagine a day in the life of the Brontë siblings in 1818, 2018 and 2218, leading to rich discussion and debate about what existed 200 years ago (alarm clocks, eggs for breakfast), now (word processors, emailing and trips to Bridlington) and the future (robot nannies). Illustration and animation were used to record their ideas and present these to an audience, within the exhibition.

The project and exhibition featured both on BBC Look North and the BBC website.

Commissioned by South Square Centre, Bradford

South Square Centre