Wordsworth and Bashō: Walking Poets

Dove Cottage (please click here to see more information about the exhibition and further events linked to the show at Dove Cottage)

24 May – 2 November 2014

The idea for this exhibition arose from a conference (at which Dr. Mike Collier and Prof. Brian Thompson of WALK presented a paper) and study produced by the Wordsworth Trust (with support from Arts Council England) in 2012 called Beyond Words: Understanding and Sharing the Meaning of Manuscripts. In the conference, Jeff Cowton, Curator at the Wordsworth Trust, described how manuscripts had meanings beyond the words themselves and how, for example, handwriting is a visual form which can ‘mimic the texture of thought’, revealing valuable clues as to the state of mind of the creator. The study recommended that the Trust consider working with contemporary artists to further explore and share these meanings and as a result WALK collaborated with the Trust and Bath Spa University to produce a small exhibition (Their Colours and Their forms: Artists’ Response to Wordsworth; 2 February 2013 to 10 March 2013 – please click here for further information). The success of this venture lead to further discussions between WALK and Jeff Cowton – resulting in in a more more ambitious project (Wordsworth and Bashō: Walking Poets). As a ‘prelude’ to this exhibition, the Trust and WALK organised a Symposium in January 2014 for artists in the exhibition which afforded all participants with a unique opportunity to meet and exchange ideas – with the added privilege of being able to work with original Wordsworth manuscripts as well as high quality facsimile copies of key works by Bashō. The Symposium took place in the Jerwood Centre at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, which houses the world’s largest collection of Wordsworth manuscripts. Access of this sort to these manuscripts is rare and the Symposium helped to generate ideas for artwork for the exhibition (for more information about the Symposium, please click here).

Wordsworth and Bashō: Walking Poets is an exhibition of original and facsimile copies of manuscripts by William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Matsuo Bashō. They are shown alongside new work by contemporary UK and Japanese artists who have responded to the manuscripts, and what originally inspired them, in ways that are as fresh, creative and radical now as Wordsworth and Basho were during their lives. Artists in the show include: Ewan Clayton; Ken Cockburn; Mike Collier; Alec Finlay; Christine Flint-Sato; Zaffar Kunial (Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth trust, 2014); Eiichi Kono; Manny Ling; Chris McHugh; Nobuya Monta; Inge Panneels; Andrew Richardson; Autumn Richardson; Nao Sakamoto; Minako Shirakura; Richard Skelton; Ayako Tani and Brian Thompson.

This exhibition has been organised by Jeff Cowton (Curator) and his colleagues at the Wordsworth Trust and the WALK Research Centre at the University of Sunderland in association with Bath Spa University and with the support of a number of key Japanese institutions. It was curated by Mike Collier and Janet Ross of WALK assisted by Ayako Tani and Chris McHugh. It has been made possible with the support of the Arts Council England and the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and  the John Ellerman Foundation.

The exhibition includes work by a number of staff and research students at the university (Prof. Ewan Clayton, Inge Panneels, Dr. Andrew Richardson, Emeritus Prof. Brian Thompson, Dr. Manny Ling, Dr Ayako Tani (recently awarded her PhD), PhD Student Chris McHugh and Mike Collier). It is accompanied by a significant publication which is co-published in English and Japanese by Art Editions North and the Wordsworth Trust, and it includes essays by: Professor Emeritus John Elder: Middlebury College, USA; Professor Shoko Azuma: Jumonji University; Tokyo; Dr. Kaz Oishi: University of Tokyo; Professor Ewan Clayton University of Sunderland; Pamela Woof – President of the Wordsworth Trust;  Dr. Carol McKay – University of Sunderland and Dr. Mike Collier – University of Sunderland. To purchase a copy for £9.99 please click here.

Composer Nobuya Monta has created a wonderfully evocative suite of music to accommpany the  exhibition. The suite consists of four movements, and features musicians Aki Komi on Viola and Kei Hamada on guitar and is approx. 20 mins long. To order a copy, please click here

You can view an online copy of the catalogue by clicking here.

A number of reviews of the exhibition have appeared in both UK and Japanese publications including in the Guardian on 16th August (click here); this piece by Masanori Hiuchi in The Aishi Shimbum (click here) and an article by Adrian Mullen, the Arts Correspondence of the Westmoralnd Gazette (click here)

A brief synopsis:

Although the Wordsworths and Bashō lived a century apart and in two very different cultures, it is, perhaps, surprising to find that there are a number of similarities between both their writing and the ideas that lay behind it.

Matsuo Bashō was born in Ueno (near Kyoto) in 1644 in Neo Confucian Japan. William Wordsworth was born just over a century later in 1770 in Cockermouth, Cumbria and Dorothy in 1771. At this time, Britain was undergoing an industrial revolution.

The most obvious ‘similarity’ between the Wordsworths and Bashō is that they were inveterate walkers whose practice of walking informed their writing. All three drew heavily on the natural world for their inspiration, although it would be misleading to label them ‘nature poets’ because they were also very much concerned with people. Some of the artists in this exhibition are themselves walkers; all have made work that is inspired by the natural world.

It may come as a surprise to realize that Wordsworth was a creative collaborator rather than the solitary genius often portrayed. He worked closely with Coleridge early in his career and his work owed much to his sister Dorothy.

Bashō also collaborated, undertaking his journeys with companions. The Narrow Road to the Deep North (for instance) is punctuated by references (and occasional contributions) from his companion, Sora.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that we invited a number of the artists in this exhibition to work collaboratively – and in the spirit of cultural exchange to encourage artists from the UK and Japan to work together.

The poetry and prose of Dorothy and William Wordsworth and Bashō emphasizes, in different ways, the importance of our emotional response to an experience of nature, developed through our active imagination. This approach is also shared by the contemporary artists in this exhibition and is even more important now than it was two centuries ago as our world is facing the twin evils of pollution and climate change.