Incandescent was an open-air, ambulatory reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own orchestrated within the quadrangle of the Grand Square at Royal Naval College site, University of Greenwich. It was a collaborative live event organised by Bernice Donszelmann, Lucy Gunning and Helen Robertson.
Participants: Letizia Binda-Partensky, Luc Biorn, Eva Biorn, Lian Biorn, Aliki Braine, Marsha Bradfield, Bo Choy, Nicky Coutts, Joyce Cronin, Judith Dean, Bernice Donszelmann, Freya Edwards, Cath Ferguson, Rose Gibbs, Tim Gough, Alex Gough, Lucy Gunning, Julie Hill, Katrine Hjelde, John Hughes, Vanessa Jackson, Lara Kester, Lidija Kononenko, Mary Maclean, Louisa Minkin, Liz Murray, Charlotte Oppenheim, Silke Panse, Will Pham, Tim Renshaw, Stephanie Robertshaw, Helen Robertson, Rachel Robertson, Misbah Siddique, Jo Stockham, Steve Taylor, Lee Triming, Megan Watkins, Barbara Zanditon
Written in 1928 A Room of One’s Own begins with the image of the female writer intercepted by a uniformed and indignant Oxfordian beadle and excluded from walking on the Oxford grass reserved for the (male) Scholars and Fellows. In the spring of 2017, thinking about that Oxfordian quad and that beadle, we began to walk around the quadrangle of the Grand Square at Greenwich, to read Woolf’s text to each other and to think about the conditions of an artist in the present day. This was the starting point of the project.
In the text Woolf both looks back in time and (optimistically) imagines a time 100 years in the future. There she imagines that women’s writing will become untethered from the empirical and psychological impediments of her world to date and that she will have scope to realise the ‘incandescence’ of a Shakespeare: brilliant, androgynous and unobstructed. In 2017 we are moving toward the projected date of Woolf’s dreamed of future. A Room of One’s Own is a feminist text but the questions it raises around artistic horizons and obstructions resonate well beyond the specific object of her reflections.
On the day, we invited participants to assemble in threes to walk around the quadrangle reading Woolf’s text out loud each in turn and passing the text within the group. The pace and duration of the reading was left up to those involved. The walking and reading participants wove discretely in and out of the various groups who occupied the Square over the day’s span – tourists, students, workers, even a wedding party. The entire text was read aloud over the course of the day in, at times, quite spectacularly adverse weather conditions.
Through the participatory process of the reading, the text became rhythmic and live. Our act of reading it aloud inflected the site and was inflected by it. Its contemporary relevance within the wider contemporary politics of power, gender, class and race – which in this moment of political instability are coming ever more into focus – made itself felt in an acute and bodily way.. Via a collective movement of bodies and voices, the event re-actualised the spirit, the profound meaning and the challenge of Woolf’s text within the context of the here and now.
We thank all those who participated in the event, especially those die-hards (of which there were many) who stayed the duration and completed the reading of the entire text. It was an intense, addictive and singular experience.
Incandescent took place in conjunction with the Plan Un-plan exhibition organised by Outside Architecture at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Greenwich from 14.07.17 – 09.09.17