The Unruly Page: Judit Bodor, Emma Bolland and Tom Rodgers in conversation







When I set out to interview Judit Bodor, Emma Bolland and Tom Rodgers earlier this month, my aims were twofold: firstly, to capture their thoughts (and processes of thought) on the eve of their new exhibition (The Unruly Page), and secondly, to record something of the dialogue between the collaborators.

Over the last year, I’ve found this dialogue to be unique, organic and vital to the development of the MilkyWayYouWillHearMeCall project; it has enabled a practice wherein the roles of artists and curator are constantly shifting through intuitive, responsive and decisive acts. The sourcing and the shaping of The Unruly Page, for example, was a process in which all three collaborators were equally engaged (something I witnessed first-hand during the installation).

Click on the orange ‘Play’ button to listen to the interview


The interview is, I think, faithful to Judit, Emma and Tom’s voices, and also to the relationship between their voices. The structure is provided by three questions:

‘The fictions of the page are not contained.’ What is it specifically about this project (or this phase of the project) that suggested ‘unbound’ or ‘unruly’ modes of presentation?

How do you think your roles within the project have changed over the last year?

What has surprised you most about the development of the project?

Apart from a few minor cuts, the interview is presented as it occurred at York College on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 March 2013.

Brian Lewis, Sheffield, 12 March 2013

The Unruly Page

York College Gallery

Sim Balk Lane, York, YO23 2BB.

2nd March – 28th March 2013

You are invited to attend the Private View on Tuesday 5th March, 5-7 pm

The Language of The Studio. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

The Language of The Studio. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

‘The Unruly Page’ is the second exhibition of MilkyWayYouWillHearMeCall, an ongoing collaboration between artists Emma Bolland and Tom Rodgers and curator Judit Bodor. The project uses David Peace’s novel, 1980, as a starting point to explore myth-making as method connecting visual art, curating and writing practices in approaching past events through our current understanding of them.

“This exhibition presents fragments of the research process using theoretical and physical deconstruction of existing texts and visual documentation of our visits to sites. We use these fragments to rethink and eventually rework our experience of the novel in a new form of a non-linear publication. In this process the exhibition format helps us in problematizing what a ‘publication’ might be, with reference to the orthodox and constrained concepts of a bound and ordered narrative of images and texts.

The Layer Of Our Hands - Drawings & Texts in The Studio. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

The Layer Of Our Hands – Drawings & Texts in The Studio. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

It is clear now that the material has not obeyed, and is disrupting and resisting linear narratives, insisting upon a nomadic inhabitation of an aberrant and scattered codex.  In the gallery scraps and scrawls and fragments intrude upon the considered aesthetic of drawings and photographs, in a re-enactment of the unpredictable process of research.”

Judit Bodor, Emma Bolland, Tom Rodgers, 2013

The Unruly Page runs from 2 March to 28 March 2013 at York College Gallery. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday (9am – 5 pm) and Saturday (9 am – 12 noon). Entry is free. Private view, 5 March 5-7 pm.

Searching / Researching - The Darkened Studio. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

Searching / Researching – The Darkened Studio. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

The Other Compass & The Other Stars

We are both storytellers. Lying on our backs, we look up at the night sky. This is where stories began, under the aegis of that multitude of stars which at night filch certitudes and sometimes returns them as faith.

and our faces, my heart, brief as photos, John Berger 1984

Site visit

‘Joan’s Rose’. Site visit. Photograph: Tom Rodgers

6 November, 5 pm
Somerset House, London

A discussion session hosted by Emma Bolland and Judit Bodor about Empathy and Uncertainty in Creative Practice as part of ‘Redrawing the Maps’, a week of conversations, collaborations, screenings and workshops inspired by the work of John Berger. Redrawing the Maps takes place between 5-10 November 2012, in spaces around the John Berger: Art and Property Now exhibition at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House, London.

‘… Milky Way You Will Hear Me Call …’

Exhibition and talk event

Emma and Judit at Lewisham Park, Leeds, July 2012. Photograph by Tom Rodgers

Wild Pansy Press Project Space
School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies
Old Mining Building
University of Leeds LS2 9JT

Opening times:
4-26 October 2012
Monday – Thursday 10 am-5 pm, Friday 10 am-4 pm

Private View:
Wednesday 3 October 2012 6-8 pm

 Talk event:
Monday 15 October 2012 6-8 pm

Places are limited. For information and to book please contact


Emma Bolland

I created the text below using cut-up sentence fragments taken from each chapter of ‘1980’, a novel by David Peace. With the kind permission of the author.

Out of the shadows the darkness, and for a moment the living soul is here, eyes still open.  Lord, break off these hard veils and give relief to the pain that swells my heart and rains down blows upon my flesh.

Dark Grass – Prince Phillip Playing Fields at Night: Photograph by Tom Rodgers 2012

Who are these faceless people from the silences?  The tears they first wept, made for them in crystal freeze from the shadows of the sun.  To the place you spoke.  Wasteland.  The darkest.  The farthest.  It is hard to hear, here among the dead.  If you are not weeping now, do you ever weep?

Stare into her, and lie together under the big trees.  Still breathing, the starless endless black smelled so sweet, so clean, like a flower almost bursting underneath her.  The damp dew and the flattened grass: tall trees watching my brown hair for the last time.  Know this face, love me; all my leaves gather in this mournful forest.  She cannot remember: she is: and she will never find suffering equal to this.  There is no greater pain than to remember in our present grief past happiness.  Save me.

Who is this one approaching, who without death dares walk into the kingdom of the dead, hands opening?  More powerful than grief, the sphere that circles all.

detail from Constellation: pen, ink and gouache on paper: Emma Bolland 2012

The snowflakes are dancing on the radio.  As we ascend, hear me cry.  Milky way, you will hear me call.

Crown and Target


Lewisham Park, Moreley – Photograph by Tom Rodgers

WORK: A Love Letter

Emma Bolland

‘… our toil and labours daily so extreme, that we have hardly ever time to dream …’ Mary Collier, ‘peasant poet’, from ‘The Woman’s Labour’ (1739) 

‘… look at your hands, your peasant hands, your big ugly hands …’ mother (c. 1977) 

‘… this is the world now …’ David Peace, from 1980 (2001)


Factory, Manor Street Industrial Estate. Photograph: Tom Rodgers

Dear J—–

We all sell ourselves a little… sometimes we get to name our price, and sometimes not. What we have, what we are, and what we endure; exchange value, use value; the Stankhovian accumulation of the seconds, the minutes, the hours, and the years. Sometimes, just to live is an act of heroism. (Seneca, c. 4BCE-65CE)

That night, in that place, that place that was made for moral pursuits, for the sanitation of mind and body, that place that was bestowed by D——, for the benefit of his workers, that place that is the stark simulacra of the lost (and imagined) pastorale that has been obliterated by the mill and its smoking stacks, that night, in that place, you looked across the grass, across the paths, above the pitiful trees that mock an imagined forest, that night in that place you looked up to the clock that was the black sun that fronted the factory wall. That was your time.

On this day, now, in this time, we stand in the spot we imagine you to be, and look around us. The clock on the factory wall is fallen; all that is left is a dark and circular void, a shadow of a place where time has been. It is a shithole, we say, an ugly shithole. We say we are sick of the drizzle and the flatness and the ugliness of these places made for a prescribed and moral leisure doled out in meagre portions by those who own our time, and we count our blessings that we can leave this place, and that the makers of these places do not own our time. We count our blessings that we can leave and not return, and that we can make, in part at least, our work, our time, our own. And I give thanks that my hands, my big ugly hands, my peasant hands, can work, and write, and love, as I would wish. And I look at my hands, and I love them.

My hands, gilded. Photograph: Tom Rodgers

But can I say, J—–, that I love you, I love your hands, I love you for the work you did, because you had to, (I wish you had not had to), and I love you for the fact that you took this place, and, (for want of a room), spat in the face of those who prescribed its usage, and hurled your supposed vice at their supposed virtue. (I wish you had not had to, I wish you had not had to).

Emma X

drawings on the studio floor

Layered drawings scattered on the studio floor. Emma Bolland. Photograph: Tom Rodgers



Communication Workers Union Resolution For The TUC Women’s Conference. Scarborough 2009

Conference calls on the Government to decriminalise prostitution. While the activities of women who work as prostitutes are subject to criminal prosecution then they are less able to access support and help from agencies when they need this. The criminalisation of those who work in the sex industry also creates a division between working class women who are all combating poverty and sexism. We believe women who work as prostitutes, are entitled to the support of women trade unionists not our collusion in their repression.

Grab Hold

Tom Rodgers

Grab Hold

Grab Hold


Emma Bolland

‘… spectacle, histories, voices, bodies …’ Peggy Phelan, from ‘Uncovered Rectums: disinterring the Rose Theatre (1997) 

‘… the splintered trunk pours words and blood so eat my leaves in this mournful forest …” David Peace, from 1980 (2001)

‘… my hand, a fallen rose, lies snow-white on white snows …’ Algernon Charles Swinburne, from ‘Before the Mirror’ (1864)


Emma and Judit searching the ground at Manor Street Industrial Estate. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

The drawing board is a map with no references. It’s whiteness, the white paper upon it a seductive snowy labyrinth; a plane that is entirely a vanishing point: an oubliette: a place to forget, a place where one is forgotten. Eye and hand, looking and doing, psychic and physical condense into a vortex of attention that tips me snow-blind and spellbound through its surface. The obsessive processes of my drawing and the solitude of the studio, allow me to conceal and anaesthetise both my flesh and my senses; to fall into a reverie of repetition that both stops and stretches time as the pen walks the invisible paths of the paper. I enter into the poetic and primitive state that is the ‘trance-like suspension of normal habits of thought’ (Robert Graves 1948). It is only the tracings of the ink that can tell of the body that was once here, that can sound a faint echo of my presence. I am secure in this invisible tomb, safe, firm-footed beneath the paper’s slippery surface. The sight of my work does not require me to be seen. At the endgame of this strategy the drawings themselves require no witness – for perhaps, this doubled process of concealment and display is of and for myself, fulfilling the contradictory desire to be both present and absent, the wish to see ones life, and the wish to refute the inevitability that in truly seeing life one faces death…

My hands, Judit’s hands, cradling Joan’s rose. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

… but this position can never be tenable if the processes, paradigms, and products of making stake their claims as art. These notions, of the artist and her practice are held in precarious tangibility only by the notion of the other, and not a distant other, but an intimate exterior presence who sees and thinks and feels, who engages, and who brings the agency of their own sensibilities to the actuality of the work. The work must be walked to, not executed, and walked away from. The existence of the work as ‘work’is contingent on its exposing, on its being given up and handed over. I must resist both ‘that form of ecstatically creative jouissance known as destruction’, (Eagleton 2009), and the pleasures of the pain of solitude, of the ‘Waldeinskeit’, of the sense of being alone in the forest. In the end, and at the end, I must not, I cannot, hide.

In the image there are three sets of hands, and three sets of eyes.  Tom holds the camera with which the image is captured, whilst Judit and I cradle the rose; our gazes an inverse triangle that centres on the flower. I see this image in triplicate. In the picking and the holding, in the moment of being; as an artist, in the seeing of the image and the knowing of its worth; and as my fearful self, the body that wishes to remain buried, who sees my own hands clumsy and dirty against the delicacy of Judit’s fingers and the pale softness of poor ‘Joan’s’ rose.  Hers is, after-all, the body, (sublimated into my own), that we are here to mourn – lost to us, bloodied, in the cold February of 1976, ‘snow-white on white snows’.  (Swinburne’s poem, from which this line is taken, was inspired by Whistler’s painting ‘Symphony in White No.2, or ‘The Little White Girl’, one of a suite of three paintings that depict the same model, Whistler’s mistress Joanna Hefferman as wife, mistress, and prostitute).  In the moment of facing Tom’s photograph, locked in a self-obsession that rivals that of my drawing, it is my own death, the death of my concealment that I see. I am lain upon the surface of the paper, no longer in the comfort of it’s grave.

Picking roses / pricking fingers – Joan’s name written on my hand. Photograph: Tom Rodgers.

The risks inherent in collaboration, (and by this I mean a tricksy friction, not an anodyne production of ‘artwork by committee’), are there for us all. The ‘power’ of the curator, the ‘authenticity’ of the artist, and the ‘narrative determination’ of the author, must all be given up for the more vulnerable positions of uncertain discourse and exposed sincerity, (a quality so easily ridiculed, and which therefore requires a great degree of humble courage to maintain). Our roles are confused, and we are in a sense curating, making, and writing each other, in ways that by necessity demand ‘ experiment and improvisation’ (Irving 2012), in a drama that has no script, and in a place that is not mapped. From a position of knowing, we must campaign both with and against each other to a place where we do not know. If these sentiments sound grandiose in describing an ordinary artistic endeavour, we would do well to remember that it is the ordinary that is in truth the most complex and conflicted of things, and also that art, like evil and humanity, is, perhaps, amongst those things which exist purely for their own sake (Eagleton 2009).

To walk with companions is to walk on fertile, but uncertain ground – and so to keep my footing I will daydream a night-walk; carry something of the sad and the solitary within me, (as will all my co-conspirators keep something of themselves to themselves). For some, for me, the dark places hold the richest seams. In the ‘Inferno’ of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, at the nadir of the inner most circle of frozen hell gravity inverts itself, and the traveller is led down through the bottom into the top, ‘… turned over, we went past the point to which all weights from every part are drawn …’, until, ‘… my guide and I followed that hidden route, to bring us once more to the light of day; and, with no rest from the fatigue of it, we clambered up, [s]he first, till finally I saw the glory of the hidden spheres …’.

Drawing board, with uncompleted drawing. Photograph: Emma Bolland.


Post script: ‘The Rose’.

The Brothers Grimm. Collected early 19th Century.

There was once a poor woman who had two children. The youngest had to go every day into the forest to fetch wood. Once, when she had gone a long way to seek it, a little child, who was quite strong, came and helped her industriously to pick up the wood and carry it home, and then before a moment had passed the strange child disappeared. The child told her mother this, but at first she would not believe it. At length she brought a rose home, and told her mother that the beautiful child had given her this rose, and had told her that when it was in full bloom, he would return. The mother put the rose in water. One morning her child could not get out of bed. The mother went to the bed and found her dead, but she lay looking very happy. On the same morning, the rose was in full bloom.

Re-working Images

Tom Rodgers

A process of searching and discovery is filling every aspect of this project. Searching through the imagined places of unknown activities, through the actuality of a new experience and through the physicality of being in a place. Discovering my reactions, both artistic and emotional, to the content, now partially imagined and partially known, of these places. Reworking my pictures prolongs this sense of discovery and develops my appreciation of what Emma and Judit are achieving.

Collage of photographic test strips by Tom Rodgers