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Marie-Anne McQuay, Curator has a few words to say about Aaron Williamson's escape from Spike Island / 20 May 2010

shepherd struck by meteors drawing

Anonymous medieval wood prints of unwitting shepherds flattened by meteorites.

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As this is Aaron Williamson’s last missive from his residency on the Island of Spike, I am stepping out of his third person narrative and addressing you, the blog reader, directly.

I can now confirm that everything he has relayed thus far – even his outlandish claim to have forged a bowl from meteorite – is true. Although his proposal to remodel Spike Island as a feminist Utopia has yet to come to pass. That, I hope, is just a matter of time.

Whilst both The Affligare Unit and Aaron’s residency are now complete, conversations between us continue apace. This is far from the end of the project, since The Unit is poised for further manifestations.

We are now both working towards a future tour in which his fantastical artifacts make their appearance within a museum, where they can work their otherworldly magic on ‘real’ ethnographic collections. In parallel, Spike Island will publish ‘The Forgotten History of The Affligare Tribe’ by the esteemed ‘Dr A P Williamson’, a text written in academic style that weaves together fiction with fact. Essentially, this is the other half of the work.

This text has evolved in parallel with the objects and draws from many sources, including Borges, Poe and Roussel, as well as Bruegel’s scenes of beggars and anonymous medieval wood prints of unwitting shepherds flattened by meteorites.

With this latter source in mind, it is also worth noting that humour, or more specifically, black comedy, is key to Aaron’s practice. Whether slapstick or sly in delivery, his use of humour undercuts our expectations of the outsider personas he adopts in his performances (a retrospective of which is screening until 6 June 2010 in the gallery).

In this new body of work humour is used as a device that draws us in to marvel and smile at his absurdly believable artifacts. Aaron’s work leaves us then to ponder the serious implications of a ‘forgotten’ disability history - and who has chosen to forget.

As well as these remarkable outcomes, remarkable particularly since The Affligare Unit was produced in the space of just three months, the residency has been an incredibly rewarding collaborative experience for myself and for others too. Aaron has thrown himself into the culture of the organization and, in the process, also extending his fan base across the city, charming curators, students, junk shop owners and iron workers alike.

He has sampled the local cider (vowing never to touch it again), attended and given talks and is currently much missed around the building. I, for one, need to break my habit of walking into his former residency studio and flicking the light on and off as a visual equivalent of a knock on the door, lest it disconcerts the next residency artist who inhabits that space.

I’d like to conclude my interjection by thanking Aaron for his commitment to his three month stay on The Island (fear not, we have bridges and roads for those of you hoping to visit) and to Shape for brokering this opportunity through the Adam Reynolds Bursary.

The best residencies are those that feel as if they end too soon and I think that, between Spike Island and Aaron, this feeling is mutual.

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