Provocations and response

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I was delighted to participate in a project and exhibition, Excappare, in October 2023, devised and curated by Charlotte CHW (a Cerebellum project). Each artist was paired with another (unidentified) artist, and was sent an image of a work made by that artist as a provocation. Each artist was asked to respond to the provocation with a new piece of work made in response.

The provocation I received was a poem:

A sudden coat of
The daughter of
Cuprammonium Rayon
A figure of deeply stained
An enigma shadow
crossing paths
"Is it a Geppetto puppet?"
Whispers the Other
Or is it Death
Stuck in an eternal
Shroud of derelict fabric,
ancient and drifting
A crinkled, tumbling Wraith
Floating in the fine warm air
Like a rare
Phantom posy
Of a summers dusk
now past

By Stephen S. White

The work that I made in response to this (then anonymous) provocation was a drawing: Transformation (Black Poplar).

Cally Trench: Transformation (Black Poplar)

Cally Trench
Transformation (Black Poplar) (2023)
Pen and ink on watercolour paper
53 x 76 cm

Certain words and phrases in the poem evoked in me thoughts about metamorphosis, and the drawings that I have made recently of my human body changing to that of a bird. In particular, the reference in the poem to amber reminded me of the story of Phaeton's sisters, who were turned into Black Poplar trees while they mourned for him after he lost control of the chariot of the Sun, usually driven by his father Helios. Their tears were turned to amber.

The poem also refers to Geppetto, the creator of Pinocchio, one of many examples in stories and myths of inanimate material being changed to human-like life: the Golem, Frankenstein's Creature, Galatea, and so on. For Phaeton's sisters, however, the process is the reverse: they are changed from human to non-human, to living trees. How would it feel to find yourself in the middle of that transformation? To watch your hands sprout leaves, buds and catkins? To know that you will never be human again? My drawing Transformation (Black Poplar) places the viewer in the position where that change appears to be happening to you.

One influence is Victorian scientific textbook illustrations, giving the drawing a spurious air of old-fashioned scientific accuracy. Black Poplars, once common in Britain, are now on the endangered list: they are stalked by Death and may soon be mere Phantoms from the past, seen only in botanical diagrams.

The provocation I sent was my drawing Metamorphosis (Duck).

Cally Trench: Metamorphosis (Duck)

Cally Trench, Metamorphosis (Duck) (2021)
Pen and ink and watercolour on watercolour paper
Each drawing 40 x 30 cm

The work made by Stephen S. White in response to my (then anonymous) drawing was a painting, Red Bill II.

Stephen S. White: Red Bill II

Stephen S. White, Red Bill II (2023)
Oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm
Photo: Charlotte CHW

The provocations and responses were exhibited in Excappare at St Andrews Mews, Hastings: 7th-27th October 2023, as part of the Coastal Currents Arts Festival. Thank you to Charlotte CHW. Instagram:@cerebellum_arts

Work by Cally Trench and by Stephen S. White in Excappare

From left to right:
Cally Trench, Metamorphosis (Duck); Stephen S. White, Red Bill II;
Stephen S. White, A sudden coat of Taffeta; Cally Trench, Transformation (Black Poplar)
Photo: Cally Trench

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