During Lockdown, a creative project I was especially pleased to work on was a film-poem in response to telephony from a d/Deaf and marginalised perspective. Working with poets Nadia Nadarajah, DL Williams and Serge Neptune was a joy and although for the most part we had to create and collaborate remotely, we felt like a very close-knit group. I managed to meet up with Nadia once in the summer at The Serpentine to talk about initial ideas. It felt so refreshing to chat away in BSL (me a lot slower than Nadia!) and later we moved collaborative discussions via Zoom (as everyone does these days) and had two wonderful interpreters, Becky Barry and Anna Kitson, through Access to Work scheme.
The commission from Nottingham Trent University was to respond to an object on the Science Museum website. I was asked to find poets I wanted to work with and approached Nadia, DL and Serge because I am excited about their work as innovative artists and poets. We wanted to explore telephony from the perspective of crossed lines of communication; broken communication; feeling marginalised; and crucially a d/Deaf perspective because of the problematic history of Alexander Bell and telephony for the d/Deaf community.
I asked poets to consider the refrain, ‘In the House of the Interpreter’ and respond to telephone calls that might be one sided or lead to a break down in communication or emotional challenges. We were inspired by a pair of Bell telephones on the Science Museum website which had a wonderful collage feel with their own history expressed through cards and digital information. Drawing on the line ‘The House of the Interpreter’ from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), the final poem explores the role of sign and interpretation for those who have been ignored, misheard or forced to speak a different language. Filming separately and adding captions had its separate challenges and we each went through a few different takes and some painful hours getting to grips with captioning software.
Reflecting on Alexander Graham Bell’s complex relationship with the d/Deaf experience, the poem considers alternative interpretations of the history of science and technology, and we are incredibly proud of the result which explores difficult parts of d/Deaf history, including Bell’s support for the decision to ban sign language at the Milan Conference in 1880.
Throughout the project, we were supported by Dr Sarah Jackson, Associate Professor in English at NTU, and we were thrilled with the piece, which we hope you enjoy. You can also see how other artists have explored their relationship with the telephone through new artworks inspired by the Science Museum collection. They include Tone Transmission by Aura Satz; Grandma’s House by beatbox artist Danny Ladwa; Soil Voicemails and Other Trans-Species Calls by Maya Chowdhry; and The Phone and Phone Booth Assemblage Considered as Mise en Abyme by novelist Will Self.