When I saw the opportunity to apply for an Aberdeen Art Gallery micro-commission, I knew I had to apply. The Art Gallery has been a staple in my creative diary for years. Hailing from a working-class family, I cannot stress enough the importance of having free cultural spaces to explore. Time spent in the Gallery with my nephew, friends and on my own have shaped our lives. Writing about these experiences felt right, so I ignored my inner saboteur and wrote an application. After obsessively checking my emails for weeks, I got the call offering me a micro-commission.
Delighted was an understatement and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. Every writer has a different process. My default setting is ‘natural scribbler’. I doodle in the margins, draw arrows, score bits out. All my work is handwritten. I’m choc-full of ideas, but my downfall is lack of discipline and time to refine beginnings into polished end results. Commissioned work is different, of course. Nothing’s more motivating than a looming deadline.
Many writers fear a blank page, but I love it. Sitting down with a brand-new notebook conjures exciting possibilities – it’s my favourite part. I started free writing, which involves timing yourself scrawling like a mad person without stopping or taking your pen off the page. From these sessions, some nice ideas and directions begin to appear. Covid restrictions meant that I couldn’t visit the Gallery, but the AAGM website was a great resource. Images make excellent prompts.
Lines and stanzas become the bones of three poems, with the possibility of a fourth. Putting meat on them means transferring to a larger notebook. I work with two notebooks to create drafts – it’s easier than flicking pages back and forth to copy. Some editing happens here. I try out different words, read it aloud, test the rhythm of the poem. Reading a poem in your head is one thing. Hearing it is essential for me.
After two ‘sculpting’ sessions, I have what I call a ‘first draft’. I’ll only type up a poem when I’m happy with the basic structure of it. Every poem that comes to me is different. One might have five ‘digital incarnations’ V1, V2 etc. I have a poem at V28, and it’s still not finished. I may never finish that one. It’s important I get it exactly right. I keep every version. Looking back at old processes and poems is fascinating and I can see progress in my work.
With the draft versions committed to the cloud, this is where I tinker with punctuation and form. As a spoken word artist, I’ve much to learn. My early work was all about how it sounded rather than appeared. On the page, every space, full stop, and mark means something and hopefully, adds to the poem. Refining your craft takes years.
Looking at poems for too long is counterproductive. If I’m getting annoyed at a poem, that’s when I know to leave it, let it percolate for a while. Forgetting about it for a week or so does wonders. Commissions can be tricky but if you plan out your writing time, you can factor this part in. Planning is better than submitting a piece I’m not happy with. I’ve made three poems for the commission. Two ‘poem-y’ page poems and a performance one. The fourth required extensive research and reading and I’d run out of time.
Filming in lockdown was challenging. All creative projects are learning curves. Finding ways around these obstacles is part of the work. With restrictions being lifted, I can get into the Gallery to film, which was my original plan, so it’s worked out fine. I have text, audio and a film version of each poem.
I’m fiercely proud of my North East heritage and the thought of my work being included in the collection still makes me a wee bit misty-eyed. It’s such a big deal for me and so exciting, I can’t wait to see what the other artists have made. The AAGM team have been so supportive, helpful and are with you at every step of the commission. So, if you’re thinking about applying for the next round, ‘jist dae it’ - as my Grunny used to say “Fit’s fur ye winnae ging by ye.”
About Jo Gilbert
Jo Gilbert is a writer and spoken word artist writing in Doric and English. She is a multiple slam winner and has written poems and spoken word for film, art installations and festivals. Jo was awarded an Aberdeen Art Gallery Museum of the Year Micro-commission in Round 1.
Aberdeen Art Gallery Museum of the Year micro-commissions
Aberdeen Art Gallery is a winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 and we’re sharing our award with Aberdeen’s creative community.
We invite creative practitioners with AB postcodes (artists, makers, musicians, dancers, designers, writers and performers) to submit proposals for micro-commissions to make new work that responds to the collection through explorations of identity, intersectionality and representation.
We use the term micro-commissions to set the scene for all involved – the finished works might be small scale, and the time spent developing and producing does not have to be long and drawn out - this is a chance for you to respond quickly to this opportunity.
Round 2 closes on Sunday 9 May at 23:59hrs. For more information and details of how to apply, go to: