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How big is there? How long is now? Readings from selected texts by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. [Performance]


Anne Douglas


This performance featured readings from selected poetic texts by Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932), known as 'the Harrisons'. Chris Fremantle and Anne Douglas read six excerpts, which were selected to highlight the Harrisons' articulation of their collaboration and their evolving understanding of ecology. This included (in order): a description of "Making Earth" from 1970; two excerpts from "The Lagoon Cycle" (1985); the opening section from "The Serpentine Lattice" (1993); a shortened version of the central text of "Greenhouse Britain: Losing Ground, Gaining Wisdom" (2008); and from "On The Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland" (2018). Each piece was given a brief introduction that aimed to provide context. The introductions also aimed to draw out themes from the piece, and to identify how it connected with previous texts and how it was currently relevant. Each reading was supported by projections of one or two images from the associated works. The performance concluded with a recording of Helen Mayer Harrison reading from "The Seventh Lagoon" (1985), a piece she read regularly at the Harrisons' own performances. The Harrisons were friends with several key couples at the heart of the ethnopoetics movement in California in the 60s and 70s. This movement focused on the importance of performing poetry, primarily in understanding oral traditions. The Harrisons echo this when they say, "Poetry comes from the long oral tradition that is most evocative when designed to be spoken or read aloud." (Harrison and Harrison 2007). In another text they say, "The idea was to present a vision that would explode in the mind of the interested person. The aesthetic discipline was to find the linguistic means to do it. The work is a chant and was made to be read aloud." (Harrison and Harrison 2001). The work of the Harrisons is widely interpreted within the visual art tradition, particularly in relation to enviromental art. It has been included in most major exhibitions of environmental and ecological art, and discussed by critics and theorists. However, the literary and poetic aspect of their work has been given less attention; the effectiveness of the work as poetry - able to be spoken, let alone performed by others - has not been particularly considered at all.


DOUGLAS, A. and FREMANTLE, C. 2019. How big is there? How long is now? Readings from selected texts by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison. [Performance]. Performed on 30 March 2019, UNFIX festival, Glasgow.

Exhibition Performance Type Performance
Start Date Mar 30, 2019
Deposit Date May 30, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2019
Keywords Ecology and art; Environmental art; Poetry; Performance art
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