Behind You by Robin Bell

Mass media in the form of newspapers has also been the inspiration for Robin Bell’s work, entitled Behind You! In what he calls a ‘perpetual newspaper’ the combination of photographs and poetry form the equivalent of tabloid stories covering many different topics and aspects of contemporary life. The reason that this is ‘the one and only newspaper that you will ever need’ is that the terse poetic form and simplified photos are intended encapsulations, almost summaries, of the varieties of issues we encounter in daily life. The poetic form used here is a ‘cordiform’, fashioned after the human heart with its four chambers. Like the heart, the four chambers (stanzas) are divided by a space. Each cordiform has twenty-four syllables, and these are divided between the four sections, which the reader reads in small groupings, first reading down and then across and down. The spaces between clusters of text make the reader more conscious of the eye’s movements, drawing attention to the gap between words, suggesting a slight hesitation like a breath or a heartbeat between the tightly crafted words. The images, like the poems themselves, are both humorous and serious at the same time. Most of the images are spherical or circular in nature – abstractions that offer links to wholeness and completion, while subverting the processing of identification by subject alone. The cricket ball, for example, doubles as planet earth. And finally, in a return to the significance of the newspaper medium which inspired it, the work invokes the rapidly-changing nature of the news industry as a sign of our times. Currently, many newspapers are having financial difficulty. The cost of printing, the ecological impact of paper made from trees, the immediacy and pervasiveness of the internet culture as a means of sharing news as soon as it occurs, all combine to indicate that the newspaper as we know it might not endure. In raising such issues, Bell’s work is also a discussion piece. Maybe the state of our culture is such that we do not need or cannot afford commercially printed mass media.

Robin Bell, Born: Wartime Dundee. He worked in New York, London, France, Perthshire. Awards include: Sony Award Best British Radio Documentary, Television and Radio Industries Club of Scotland and Creative Scotland. He is the author of two Scottish best-sellers and translated the poems of Mary, Queen of Scots. A solo art exhibition is Drawing the Tay, and his latest book is entitled How to Tell Lies (Fables on the G8).