Lar in Focus: An ongoing series of blogposts exploring and demystifying some of the processes undertaken by artists developing works for commissions.
With Vinzenz Stergin and Louise Fazackerley
‘Unwritten’ is a new collaborative sound-based work by Austrian Composer, Vinzenz Stergin, and Wigan based poet, Louise Fazackerley. The piece is a tight-knit audio excursion into an almost 2000-year-old figurine found near Frindsbury, Rochester (UK). The narrative of the work is told from the perspective of a Roman woman and the thoughts she had whilst preparing dinner for her family. Unwritten is the first of 10 ‘audio-artefacts’ being developed for ‘Ten Songs for a Lar’, a Kent-Medway Museums Partnership project funded by Arts Council England.
Both artists had previously worked on collaborative projects and commissions but had never worked together before. In fact, Louise and Vinzenz began developing work for ‘Unwritten’ without even knowing each other. Even now they have yet to meet in person.
Why collaborate? How do you find the right person to work with? What could go wrong? Vinzenz Stergin and Louise Fazackerley discuss the thinking behind their track, having faith in chaos, and the excitement of the unknown.
When I came across the call out for the Lar commission, I thought it was a very interesting and a fascinating opportunity to have an object inspire a new piece of art. All objects have a story to tell: a pencil found on the street; the concrete on London Bridge; an ancient artefact dug out of the ground. They have a power, stories, and histories that we can tap into, learn from, and share.
I started some research into what a Lar is and how they were used, and I was naturally drawn to the domestic setting in which the object inhabited. This research led me to explore the role of women within the Roman household and the parallels with Lar figurines around themes of silence and unheard voices. It was interesting to think, okay, this is an everyday household item, found in connection within a home, but we have only one very narrow story that is told of its existence. I thought, how fascinating would it be if we could travel into this little statuette and listen through its ears to what it would have heard, many, many, years ago.
I then started to think about who would best tell this story. I really wanted to collaborate with a poet, partly because I had never collaborated with a poet before. I actually decided to create a shout-out via social media and put up a brief message on Instagram. Luckily, through a mutual friend, Louise and I were put in contact with each other. We didn’t know each other before. It is one of those beautiful, random things. We seem to have forgotten, especially as artists, and with the current need to live and create in a perfect world, that we can sometimes just let things happen and trust in others. I, of course, had a look at some of the other work Louise had created and I really believed that we could make something special.
My work is normally about unheard voices and particularly working-class voices. I quite often work with others and I love collaborating. I work a lot with musicians, dancers, visual artists. Collaborating is very integral to my practice as a poet. For ‘Unwritten’ we started by doing quite a lot of research separately all the way from academic papers to BBC bitesize. I was looking for anything which explored the role of women within Roman society. I found out a lot about the power that women had and the power that women did not have. But to be honest, it felt a little disingenuous to state we clearly understood the cultural concepts within the current context as the stories felt so far back in time and there are so few refences to women in literature. So I thought, biologically, women were universally mothers, and I liked exploring what it would be like to be a mother in a Roman-British household.
I wanted to find a story that connected to the everyday activities of a household. To capture, within a snapshot in time, everything that this figurine would have had experienced and witnessed, and somehow express the energy of these encounters. The fact that this object is a vessel to these stories, this thing I can hold in my hand, it makes you reflect on the nature of time. What is time? What is ‘a long time ago’? Whether or not 2000 years is conceived as a long period of time is dependent on the scale that you are working and thinking within.
There was also something that stood out about the physicality of the Lar and the way in which he is looking away. There was a description within the object’s early records which noted that when the Lar was first found it was described as a cupid figurine. As much as the object is not actually a cupid, Unwritten is also not a love story. I was also drawn to the idea of power play, of the gods with humankind, but also to refences of the man of the household making libations to the Lar and thinking, ‘but does she get to make libations?’ Questioning features throughout the work. Just as historians and archaeologists are piecing together the fragments of history, Vinzenz and I are also putting together a narrative, but it’s still based on a degree of uncertainty and an element of imagination.
Within the piece I wanted to play with the different voices of the women and not just a portrait of a subservient housewife. At one point it really started to become quite an angry piece and through working together we realised that we needed another layer of emotion and we decided to introduce some humour and levity to the narrative.
A big moment for me was when I heard for the first time a very particular line in the work that Louise delivered (you’ll hear it in the track). It was so powerful I felt this statement needed to be without any music at all. The words required relative silence around them to allow them to have as full of an impact as possible. It needed its own space to breathe. Decision making can be steered and influenced by these types of moments. Following that there is then a very particular noise, which is actually the sound of me beating a metal sheet. Very often I use found sounds I have recorded from items and places that I have come across in the street. I was improvising to Louise’s narrative and I came across this sound recorded years ago. It just fitted perfectly with the atmosphere and imagery she had created. Working collaboratively, you receive external triggers, images and thoughts that can allow you to have more freedom to re-explore and integrate your own practice within, and in ways you may not have considered before.
After reflecting on the object and Louise’s words it instinctively led me to create this pulse-like beat, almost a heartbeat, but it needed to feel like it was eternal – that it could go on forever and that it was embedded and emanating from the object. It is quite a simple piece really. We start somewhere, we change the perspective, and then we go out of that perspective again. It is just a snapshot in time through our interpretation in words and music.
I love collaboration because something new happens that would never exist otherwise. It is a big risk to work with someone that you do not know. It has been said, from other collaborative projects I’ve worked on, that the tone of my emails can seem very stern and blunt. I don’t have a particularly gentle email voice – which to some could be instantly off-putting. Working collaboratively in this way, and especially with a stranger, really requires a leap of faith, especially as you are taking something that you really care about and are sharing it with someone else. I think the creative process is often quite an organic development. You get to know someone, you know their work, you like what they are doing, and a natural fit arises and you just think, ‘let’s make something together. It will be fun’.
This was certainly a leap of faith. It was obviously more of a risk by not knowing each other, but it also makes it more exciting. I had a gut feeling that it was going to work out really well and I don’t know why. There is definitely more of an excitement and buzz of not being fully in control of every decision and process. It’s like trusting the universe again and whatever it may throw at you. Having faith in chaos.
We set ourselves very clear and solid boundaries of what we were each doing and how much time we had to deliver each piece of the process individually. It’s always dangerous to be given the freedom to mess around with something endlessly and begin to overthink what you’re trying to do. Working in the way we did also allowed for the work to feel fresher and more natural somehow.
It’s really good to work with someone that works and creates in a very different way to you. We all have different processes and different methods in the ways we work. It does of course require you to be very respectful of each other and to honour what you said you were going to deliver and when. If you both believe in a strong idea, at that moment in time, you can throw that idea around a bit and it begins to develop itself. If we took longer on creating the piece, or maybe thought about the project again in a years’ time, it is possible that we may feel like we should have done something different. But working this way also becomes its own snapshot in time, of where we were, individually, and collaboratively, at that particular moment in time.
Previous Collaborative Projects by Vinzenz Stergin and Louise Fazackerley
12 Photos 12 Tracks started as a solo idea but then grew again into a collaboration after Stergin had been working on the project for over a year. The project was developed with his newly formed band, Ode To Lucius:
Music videos often become ever growing collaborative productions. Stergin’s video for the song ‘I’m Gonna Take it All’ saw him collaborating with animators, actors, directors, lyricists – and the general public.
Louise Fazackerley: https://www.louisethepoet.co.uk/
Hawk Dance Theatre invited Louise to write some family-friendly poetry for libraries. 22 performances and 19 libraries later- the first leg is complete. Accompanying Louise were dance artists Josh, Emily and Helen, and musician Lee Affen:
New Roots was another innovative crossover collaborative dance poetry project with children, young people and adults in Runcorn.
Find out more
The KMM NPO is a group of four museums (The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Canterbury Museums & Galleries, Guildhall Museum Rochester and Tunbridge Wells Museum & Gallery) funded by Arts Council England (ACE) to work together to deliver excellence in the use of collections and to inspire learning, creativity, and wellbeing to existing and new audiences in their communities.