For the last twelve years, Tom Marshman has been making performances which take a prism to everyday experiences, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary. Since 2008, he has been making work through conversations with people who do not regularly engage with contemporary art, including older people, prisoners, and residents in sheltered accommodation. Tom’s new show, Move Over Darling, premieres at Arnolfini on 19 August, as part of Pride Bristol. We asked Tom to talk about how he developed the show and why these stories are important to tell.
My latest project started during Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender [LGBT] History month (February 2010) where I interviewed gay and lesbian adults living in Bristol about their personal and social histories. The intention was to generate material for a new text based performance. From these conversations, I would incorporate fragments of stories, traces of memories, coded language and gesture into a show at Arnolfini, as part of Pride Bristol.
The final performance is called Move Over Darling. I wanted to explore this group of individuals’ relationship to Bristol through recent history, from the 1950s to the present day. In the work, we renegotiate the city, mapping layers of history onto places that might be familiar to different individuals in different decades. You could say the work is a remembered chorus. In many ways the bars of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s – The Scarlett Coat, The Radnor Hotel, The Oasis (to name but a few) – weren’t too different from the bars of today. There were also the marches and protests that hold potent memories.
Often I would interview the participants for the project in their homes, where rooms stood as testimonies to their full lives, with photographs of their children or lovers, badge collections and empty chairs for lovers long gone. In one person’s home I stood in wonder as I looked at the table with the telephone on it; the telephone that not only took all the daily calls for a single parent’s family but also took the calls for Bristol’s first gay and lesbian switchboard/helpline service.
One of the things I asked was for the participants to tell me about a song that reminded them of a particular time in their life. The songs they chose varied from Diana Ross to Ethel Merman to Patti Smith! As I’ve been working towards the final piece, I’ve set up the chosen tracks as a playlist on my iPod – and I listen to it all the time now. It seems to transport me to a different time. These are now soundtracks to people’s lives. Different life stories unravel in my mind as the melodies play. I find myself listening to this playlist whenever I get the chance. You could say it’s well and truly got under my skin.
I want to make sure Move Over Darling remains authentic to the individuals I interviewed and to their stories, but I also have to ensure that the finished work is relevant to a wider audience, not just to the participants and not just to the LGBT community. But this is not about compromising ideas. The kind of work I make is about humanity, and that – I think – makes it universal. The stories are diverse: family secrets, confessions, triumph against the odds, first sexual encounters… They’re what all our lives are made of, and that’s what makes the stories so alluring and touching.
For me as an artist, it’s also about finding new ways to tell these fascinating stories. In essence these recollections are abstracted and re-formed into a monologue, though monologue feels like an unhelpful term for this piece, as it is many voices through one – and there lies the challenge of constructing the work. The animation of these stories is done through many devices. I have a plan about working with edits of the sound recordings from the interviews. I am constructing clothes patterns out of old maps, in an attempt to bring out the relationship to places in the city that the groups remember. Some of these creative processes I’ll only finally work out during my production residency at Arnolfini, in the next couple of weeks.
There is an urgency to capture these particular individuals’ stories because they belong to a counter culture and a lot of these stories have been kept out of the public realm. In some respects the project has been about the ways that subversive cultures have to keep shifting. Gay culture is often perceived as something for the young, forever changing and evolving. So to remember things that remind us of the past, where we come from, and where we’ve been, seems an important thing to do. An important thing to do for all our futures.
Tom Marshman is an Arnolfini Associate Artist and a member of Residence
Move Over Darling is at Arnolfini at 7.30pm on 19 August, as part of Bristol Pride. Further information and tickets are available from Arnolfini Box Office. Move Over Darling was made with mentoring support from Peggy Shaw of Split Britches and is funded by Arts Council England.