Inspired by the experimentation in Virginia Woolf's creative work in the last years of her life, my project takes three interlocking pathways: performance, painting and exegesis. In previous writings and art work I have based my exploration of Woolf as artist in the idea of synaesthesia, the multiple forms of perception she fuses in the text. Her unfinished novel Between the Acts (1941) is a consummate statement of this method, with performative, visual, voice, documentary and sound structures. I do not read the Between the Acts text as a final work, and I read it as more than a finished work, because it opens so powerfully into an emerging form, not informed by nostalgia or elegy but nevertheless an encounter with the prevailing revivalism of the 1930s decade. It can be seen as a response to the parochial, a loving gesture to kindle creative survival in hard times.
My methodology forms a triple creative process of interconnected languages. Reading Between the Acts and Woolf's other works of the late-30s period, while working on my large canvas, and simultaneously developing the pageant play script, I was hoping to tap into my own synaesthesic pathways as writer, artist and researcher. At the same time I was reading within the large body of scholarship on the novel and the period, as well as researching medieval manuscripts, the Luttrell Psalter, the Holkham Bible, Chaucerian text and early woodcuts, the Ellesmere text of Chaucer, all examples of text/image fusions which I wanted to create on the canvas. The canvas draws on typographical and mythological material, rural landscape, local history, elements of the novel and the pageant, held within an illuminated manuscript.
The creative process was slow to evolve. Things really started to happen once I had suddenly seen in my mind Woolf riding the Chaucer horse with her hand out in that familiar pointing gesture, the iconic Chaucer image. Early medieval texts all incorporated images on and through the page, fusing text and image without privileging or enforcing separation. I wanted to bring back image to the combination of forms, and then extend that into the performance work.
The conference theme “Contradictory Woolf” proved a perfect synthesizing template. How am I defining contradiction in this project?