Sightless Words

Darkness Visible is a new immersive, participatory installation by Sam Winston at the National Poetry Library, borne out of an experimental project in which he spent seven days and nights living and drawing in complete darkness...

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Situated at the intersection of fine art, graphic design, typography, illustration and sculpture, Sam Winston's practice is concerned with words and language, with writing and mark-making, and with looking and seeing. Over the course of his career, he has explored the communicative and performative possibilities of the act of writing, treating text as image and, conversely, considering how the act of drawing can communicate concepts not easily put into words (eagle-eyed readers will remember his Dictionary Story project, featured on Grafik in 2014, and his profile feature back in issue 156). For his latest project, Darkness Visible, Winston has turned his attention towards the creative potential of complete darkness, in order to investigate the impact that a lack of light and sight might have on his thought processes, emotions, and his work itself.

For Darkness Visible, Winston blocked out all light sources within his studio and spent seven days and nights camped out there, living and drawing in total darkness. “The idea of going ‘under’ or without images fascinated me,” he says. “I had read of yogis spending years in complete darkness and psychologists running light deprivation studies but for me the question was — what landscapes are available to the artist when they are only given an internal view for seven days?” 

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With only a large roll of paper, a pin to mark its centre, and some pencils for company, Winston spent his days sightlessly drawing, turning his experience in the dark into a tangible and eventually visible document. After emerging from the dark, he was inspired to develop the project further and share his experiences, commissioning poets, a composer, a photographer and a film maker to complete their own 'darkness residences' and create responses to their experiences in a variety of media.

The culmination of this work is a new exhibition and immersive installation at the Southbank Centre's National Poetry Library, encompassing Winston's works created during his initial experiment alongside writings in response to that experience, which cover the walls and floor of a specially-commissioned dark room within the Library itself. Soundscapes created by the poets Kayo Chingonyi, Emily Berry and Goerge Szirtes also feature, reflecting on experiences during their own darkness residencies, and a cinematic event exploring this further will also be held at the Whitechapel Gallery on 11 January 2018. Darkness Visible is open now and well worth a visit—who knows what you might discover in the dark?

Until 31 Jan 2018

National Poetry Library
Level 5 Blue side,
Royal Festival Hall,
London SE1 8XX

Entrance: Free

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