Research + Work

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Research + Work

Street paintings, 2018

Mark Harris

This is one of some 50 works made on streets of East London early in 2018. The text “into the violent belly of the ocean depths they went” is from Édouard Glissant’s 1997 book The Poetics of Relation. Glissant was a Martinican poet and theorist whose fierce writing on the evolution of Caribbean languages out of the violence of slavery I have found especially moving. The texts of these paintings, invariably quotations from poets, but sometimes also from artists and theorists, is spray painted through stencils on to trash which is left where it is to be taken away by the waste collection agencies. The pieces are documented with video and photography. For a change, I have decided not to post anything online of this work. The trash surfaces are used as found, and not moved into any other position. I never work on anything permanent, unlike other graffitists. After decades of looking after work I’ve made in the studio it’s a relief to let things go like this. But my attraction to the transience of the work really has something to do with the instantaneity and lightness of poetic language. I’m increasingly quoting Caribbean writers like Dionne Brand, Kamau Brathwaite, Aimé Césaire, Edouard Glissant, and M. NourbeSe Philip. I am of Trinidadian and British descent so inevitably the work is also a reflection on complicated family legacies in the context of histories of slavery and the richness of Caribbean literature and music. The ecstatic nature of much Caribbean writing, its powerful imagery and intense delineation of sensory experiences, is understood in relation to the poems’ often dismal content concerning histories of slavery. I work outdoors in plain view and greatly value the conversations I have with passerby, the majority of whom are of Asian, Caribbean or African descent and who are very open about their interest. These encounters with non-art audiences have becoming an important aspect of this project of siting poetry temporarily in public spaces. I generally find this public interest particularly honest, informed, and engaging.