A moving new artwork which combines poetry and art was released on Thursday, 5 November to mark the start of the second lockdown.
‘Utterance’ is a collaborative project by Helen Mort and James Lockey for the ‘Off the Shelf Festival’ in Sheffield and funded by Off the Shelf, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Commissioned by WE Great Place and made in partnership with Hear My Voice, Barnsley Museums and Right Up Our Street, the project invited people in care to write letters to Helen sharing the impact lockdown had on them and their thoughts around it.
Helen then took their words to create a powerful new poem ‘Utterance’ which sat alongside a stunning piece of visual art by James Lockey.
Helen Mort, Poet said: “Working on the ‘Utterance’ project changed my sense of what art can do for us in crisis, where artists should direct their energy. Along with filmmaker James and supported by WE Great Place, Barnsley Museums and Right Up Our Street I spent months finding out about what life has been like this year for the elderly and for those in care homes, the vulnerable members of our society who have been spoken about frequently since March but who have seldom spoken themselves, still less been heard.”
“We asked them what has kept them going, what they would change, where they would go to if they could, what they would say to those in power. The answers surprised me. Their eloquence humbled me. I ran writing workshops in Doncaster where staff and elderly service users from Age UK described the autumns of their childhood, the people and places that defined their lives. I read letters from volunteers and care home residents who were angry, defeated, grateful, stoical. I tried to suppress the sense of injustice I felt on their behalf and focus on their words instead. I stitched them together into this poem, where all the images and ideas come from elsewhere: all I did was arrange them. ‘Utterance’ was curated by me and James, but it was written by the poets of South Yorkshire who spoke to us, lent us their words. Being a writer has felt like a precarious prospect this year, but if I’m able to take part in projects like this, then it’s still what I want to do with my time on earth.”
Gaby Lees, Hear My Voice and Barnsley Museums said: “Hear My Voice has worked on many projects over the past few years, designed to amplify the voices of seldom heard and under-represented people, but the Utterance project has created one of the most powerful and beautiful pieces of art I have seen. The partnership with WE Great Place and Right Up Our Street has essential and ensured that the artists, Helen and James, were able to collaborate with cared for older people and their carers even whilst Covid restrictions have been in place. We all hope that Utterance reaches far and wide – that it brings some comfort to those in the Care Sector, to feel that their voices can be heard, and that it may help those in power to better understand the emotional impact that their decisions can influence.
To find out more about the work of WE Great Place, Barnsley Museums, Hear My Voice and Right Up Our Street