Sunday, 3 October 2010

Not an Anthology: Into the Desert

I have just finished putting together Into the Desert, the first ever collection at my new project, eight cuts gallery. It features work from 19 amazing writers, and I'm incredibly proud of it. But that is, in a way, by the by. Why I'm writing something about it is I think this is a new way of curating and showcasing literature, and I would love to know whether you think it works.
To return to the beginning. The very first point in the eight cuts gallery manifesto states:

■Culture has no boundaries. It has no preconceptions as to what is literature.
So to showcase literature to its best effect, an anthology won't suffice. A website works rather well - I have been able to include not just amazing poetry and prose, but pictures, visual poetry, music, and even a stunning full-length documentary film.
The second thing that holding the exhibition online has been able to do is let me curate it mercilessly. The remit was simply to send in something that responded to the title, Into the Desert. The results were wonderfully diverse, literal, metaphorical, spiritual, and all taking a slightly different slant on what "the desert" might be and what a journey into it, and out of - where? - somewhere else might entail. It would be impossible to do anything with an anthology that wasn't really rather crude.
What I've been able to do online is to create a series of hyperlinks between pages that lead the reader through the exhibition in numerous different ways, placing different works together each time, making them question the meaning of each as they go, as well as giving them pictures of the overall theme that are as shifting as the desert sands themselves. And because the hyperlinks are anchored on words and images, I've been able to play with the audiene's expectations - to give them preconceptions about what comes next - preconceptions I can then either reinforce or upset.
In short, this format has been able to give me two exhibitions - that comprised of the pieces themselves, and that made up of the relations between them. Which, I think, is what good curation should always do. BUT, and here is the second question, does that kind oif curation have a place in literature?
There will also be a tie-in live show at Oxford's O3 gallery featuring readings, music and film, on November 18th. And I hope there will be both other live shows, and dedicated screenings of Cody James' full-length film, a documentary about the Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that forms a segment of the exhibition (along with Oli Johns' The Things They Let Into the Classroom and Sarah E Melville's French Lesson) that could be called something like "school is hell".


  1. Super congrats, Dan, for this first achievement!

    Cheers for many more to come! :)