I am standing with Aaron McPeake in the centre of his residency studio at Spike Island as he turns the dull, soft light of a Tibetan Singing Bowl over in his hands. At our feet, lined up on newspaper against the wall, rows of green wax moulds listen, mutely holding the shape and size of the original song which, once cast in bronze, they will recast arranged to their own tuning. A chorus of material and residue, navigational markers in McPeake’s making.
Behind the bowls, propped against the wall are casts of writing slates, a keyboard and its slate replica, bronze fish strung up mid-leap, canvases, bells, bricks. The studio is, McPeake explains, a broad net of loose ends being tied together and throughout his time at Spike Island, he is in the process of casting this loose net over his new work.
A casting. A recasting.
While writing a poem the hot wire of thought welds together strange chunks of this and that […] For of course poems must include hot things; if all the hot things are removed the result cannot be poetry since it is the job of poetry to remain open to the whole catastrophe.
Kay Ryan, ‘Specks’ in Poetry Magazine, September 2013
McPeake compares the making and reception of art with writing poetry. This is where I must announce my arrival; I am a poet and also a studio holder at Spike Island and as a practitioner, I am fascinated by the hot wire that McPeake’s draws between art and poetry. He centres this connection on the visual imagination operating within both and in the molten motion of McPeake’s bronze pours and the long song of burnished bowls lined up in his studio, I am reminded of the “singing light” that Dylan Thomas writes under in his poem ‘In My Craft or Sullen Art’.
Because the poem is, etymologically-speaking, ‘a thing made’. It is, concentrically, the thing and also the trace of the making of the thing. McPeake’s methodology at Spike Island prioritised a material learning or re-learning, centred on making, and re-making. He returned, as the first in his family to learn to write on paper, to his mother’s school chalkboards. He composed a tongue-in-cheek response to The Forgotten History of the Affligare, a pseudo-academic publication produced by Aaron Williamson, the previous recipient of the Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary. He recast his bronze bowls from the same Tibetan singing bowl given to him by a friend who had died some years earlier. The very facture and fracture of that net of connections spread wide.
Dylan Thomas’ line in full reads “With all their grief in their arms, / I labour by singing light”. And for McPeake, it is also the very labour of working with new materials and testing unfamiliar manual processes – the graft and the craft of it - that is that is illuminating.
And, of course, there is the singing light of the bowls themselves, humming through the dark teak baton that runs around the rim.
The poem as residue, the molten process of the poetic.
A light that sings like bronze sings.
Tibetan singing bowls are used to signal a change in activity or to mark time. An ending.
Or a beginning.
At the start of McPeake’s residency, a bell cast in bronze is gifted to the Sculpture Studio at Spike Island. It is to be used to alert artists to the making of tea.
A bell is a summons. A peal. A knell.
Or an ending.
I am standing with Aaron McPeake in the centre of his residency studio at Spike Island. At our feet, the Tibetan Singing Bowl. As we turned it, ringing the side with a knuckle and listening to the close air taking on the shape of its song, the bowl span out of McPeake’s hands. Metal on concrete. McPeake crouches to inspect it, raps the side of the bowl, laughing. A crumpled sound. The cracked metal, the laughing. I remember that the bowl was a gift from a dead friend and I offer my apologies and I look to the bowls that have been cast from moulds of this torn original and I offer my apologies. McPeake waves a hand, laughing. It is, he explains, almost appropriate, almost hilarious that the bowl should stop its song, now, here, as the net of loose ends settles. An ending. A beginning.