Thursday, May 19, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Sudley (remode of Sudley House)

                                                                   for Scott Thurston

Suddenly. You are inside the house. Standing in the old entrance. The garden hall or vestibule. The little Corot landscape’s here. All pictures domestic scale. The Holman Hunt propped on an easel. A magnifying glass swinging on its string. One painting shifted a little to the left to fit another in. The nightmare of George Holt’s handyman. Trade with Brazil. Florentine swelter. Crackling through the horse chestnut leaves. Crisp. Liquid electricity. Doric columns rise either side of the fireplace. The faint tinkle a chime. A tintinnabulation of the silence out of which a painting may be conjured. Into which it might disappear for the ambulant solitary in performance for a group walking far from the Paris Commune. A tornado of options. Poplars. As though time has ceased. Moments stretched. A loose bowelled cow flaps its flanks:  chiaroscuro whisper. We pick up. Each other’s senseless sense and fly with it. Rough of a sensibility. Bull’s spittle dribbles on stones. A rumour a promise. Unconfirmed broken. Autumn shiver. Beasts dung the tilled field. Fecund chill. Enter. Gainsborough over the fireplace. The latest purchase. Perspective distorts the carpet’s intention. Poems were written at this desk. Liberty spelt out. The tomb long open and the trees crouching for a peep. Tall windows: granite melody in a haze. The channel. Silt bank. Catches light from over the water. Wish for mist. On the distant Welsh hills. Or mountains. The single hammering at 1 o’clock you mistake for the butcher boy’s sharp bell. In the name of God silence pierced her side high and plaintive as a silken moth. Posed but never poised. A dreamy girl with a creamy neck. Ready for a ball or bell. Who has no servant to call remove the dying flowers their odour sickens. She should know these things you don’t. She’s designed to be merely cherished. After death, bookmarks mark. Wisdom, a crumple of promises clutched in sweat. The cobbler bangs out his unspoken love for her on the soles of her broken shoes. Byron might have imagined her. Shelley would have mirrored her. But she’s tucked away that unique thing a fake. Insert her into the language of which she is composed. Trees weave. Time is a turning page, every quarter of an hour. A slow three-decker telling of empty dandy chairs lusting the wrong way round. Chime. How do tall shelves of books become a Library? At the sarcophagus your writing will be prophetic. What will be. When it is done: Unitarian, Liberal, Philanthropic. Someone will slouch in your creaking armchair and frown at your words. Its marbled blanks. Desiccated edition of Cowper’s Poems. Dropping brown powder from its spine. Into your lap as you turn the pages. Curtained secrets. Of quiet decay. Exposed to light, crumples. Breathless wind-chimes. You were looking for a remarkable symbol. Trudging the green lane. To the front doors you have already forgotten. A silver glow behind the nets. Illumines the desk upon which the bills were once paid. Archive of illegible documents preserved in paint. Ribs blush over a riverine council. Of peasants. The drought. So perfect that any blemish would turn the day septic. The title sprinkled from this book. Tinkling. Angel dust flaking from the walls of a fresco. During a riot, something. To be something. Must be darker than darkness. Viol burns its madrigal. Out into a room which is not a room. The unseen inhabits the scene. Dwarfs the people. Undiminished not quite vulnerable. In the oil sketch. Measured chimes of human anthems. Weirs crash upon Venetian thoughts. She’s suddenly seen you. From the new entrance. Entranced fascination. Opening your hatch you admit such pleasure. Delirium soaks the tedium, etiolated and brittle. Bristles of genre. Lavender alive with bees swaying after the storm. Amber glow rises from polished boards soaked into scarlet walls. Somebody watches you from the balcony.  A flicker of interest in your lack of interest. Your room a tumbling red cube for his pitching vertigo. The window at this diagonal. Nine more steps. The morning room saw the child stamping and stamping on the ants. Trees, the slate-grey Mersey. Industry at its shore ‘ruralised by distance’ in the Romantic conceit. That other blue distance. Welsh mountains. Or hills. Slit the morning post beneath the woodblock variegations, the Pre-Raphaelite dazzle. The tinfoil-crackle tones of Tennyson and Browning. Play them this morning’s lesson: the dust that rises from a beaten carpet. A knocked up bit of greatness. A hand on a keyboard, too many naturals. A fantasia in black and white, the temple (again). Without even a Fra Fillipo Lippo wink at you. A startling eye looms in the magnifying lens. A falcon dives. Rips into the neck of the dove, this premature Transfiguration. Bays picked to shreds. She threads beads. Roses, the tiles at her bare feet. As though a wish could fall true on this marble. Breasts ghosted through thin robes. Poised as a sponge of poison squeezed into your limpid pool. Past the Italianate marble fireplace with the Holt crest, Schloss Rosenau. It’s an isle, an aisle of light. Sufficient to allow divinity or human majesty its approach. The radiance of patronage. A smeared palette. Or the palpitating shade which you cannot penetrate. They are not human enough: boy tensing his fishing rod, girl floating on collapse. Their scattered picnic. Crouching mendicants at some filthy game. Fawning before an oblivious consort, they scratch away the cracked sky to find Margate sun. The ‘lighthouse’ is a white-hot brushstroke a blemish on the skin of night. With what confidence could you mount those steps to the promise of a quayside? It comes out with a whitened misty sky and a double rainbow. Spectral retribution. Painted over. Not over. When it returns the painting has darkened. Less lightning burst than rainbow. Obliterate the eye’s asperities. Look close Cousin George in the magnifying glass. The eye looms. The beginning of his interest in Surrealism. Reading to yourself. Reading yourself. A monstrous porthole. This rectangle, no larger than a servant’s mirror. Black is a shade of white. Clouds, sails, sea-crest. Black-tipped gull comes to rest. In the rest. Say you are rendered. Wordless the memory of a memory of men. Loading a ship dreamt about, stark. Bonington’s moment for as long as you dare. Look away. Listen. Tear the image as though it were rotten canvas. An old painting a dead sail. Part the net. Curtains. If anyone is watching. A triangle. With both your hands, either side. Watch yourself from behind. This is the view they built here. The sloped lawn, the billowing trees. Afar: the same hills or mountains without features. A study, a framed tangle of light.


This text is the latest 'remode' of a piece that has had a long life (and a life largely online since its first enactment). ‘Sudley House’, as it was originally entitled, was realised as a guided tour/performance at Sudley House, Mossley Hill, Liverpool, in four shows on 6th and 12th November 2004, with Scott Thurston as second voice and presence. Props included recordings of Tennyson (1890) and my 1793 edition of Cowper’s Poems (Vol I). I would like to thank Scott; and Jane Duffy and Alex Kidson of the National Galleries of Merseyside for allowing me to act as Visiting Scholar to Sudley House, and to the latter for his whistle-stop private tour of the Emma Holt bequest. Thanks to all the staff at the House for making my writing visits so pleasant, and for the smooth running of the performances. I readily acknowledge monies from the (then) Edge Hill College of Higher Education School of Humanities and Arts Research Development Fund to enable this work to be developed in its original form. The full performance text is available on Great Works at Many thanks for Peter Philpott for publishing it. The first remode was largely prompted by the re-hanging of the works and thus the rendering fictive of my movement instructions and narrative. It was omitted from my Unfinish (Veer Books: 2016.) This version may be read here: The second remode – this third version – was made in March 2016. ‘Cousin George’ is George Melly. There are several quotations melted and re-formed in the text, particularly Ruskin on Turner, but also Turner’s detractors. More on my work here.

Photos of the first performances (c) Andrew Taylor, 2004