You may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote about reconstructing the domestic soundscape of Catherine Dickens for a commission. I’m happy to tell you that the exhibition launched early in May and that you can now go and see/hear it in person! It’s open until November 30th and has had coverage from London Live and Look Up London. I was particularly made up to read Katie’s thoughts on my sound pieces as her comments reflect my intentions for the work which is the best thing you can hope for as an artist. Thanks for listening, Katie!
“The sound installations are remarkable. They create a haunting, evocative mood and – as cheesy as this will sound – you really do feel a presence of Catherine.”
– Katie Holmes, Look Up London
My sound pieces were commissioned as part of a larger exhibition – “The Other Dickens: Discovering Catherine Dickens” – which carries through the home that Catherine and Charles shared at 48 Doughty Street. As well as hearing the sound pieces in situ, at the exhibition you can see a combination of rarely-seen objects including personal items and letters and photos of Catherine’s friends, acquaintances and relations. It was wonderful being in the house in the days leading up to the exhibition launch and seeing the many material ways in which Catherine’s memory manifests. I especially like seeing her letters framed on the wall, photos of her friends in the cloakroom, and that she at last has her own place at the Dining Table.
The exhibition was guest curated by Professor Lillian Nayder and is based on her 2011 biography of Catherine. It was fascinating to wander around the house with Lillian and hearing her speak with the press about Charles and Catherine. You can hear one of Lillian’s press interviews here as well as in the London Live clip above. Here we are standing together in the Morning Room, near the sound piece I created in celebration of Catherine’s needlework. You can see Catherine behind us, where she is depicted in an oil painting, sewing.
I have uploaded all the sound pieces I produced for this exhibition to Soundcloud so that those of you who cannot travel to London in person can Hear Catherine at home! However, we worked carefully to embed Catherine’s voice into the fabric of the house itself, and if you can make it along in person, I think you will enjoy the wondrous setting. As Katie Holmes says, “the house itself is a delight with plenty of interesting exhibits even if you’re not a die-hard Dickens fan”. In coming weeks I shall share the research and planning that went into producing each of the pieces, and I’ll also talk a bit about how the sounds have been situated in the lovely home in which Catherine and Charles Dickens once lived, at 48 Doughty Street.
For today I’d like to introduce you all to Rachel Moffat who is the voice of Catherine Dickens in all the sound works that I produced for this exhibition. Like Catherine in the 1830s in London, Rachel has a literary background, comes from a middle-class Edinburgh family, and has a young family. We had a very fruitful couple of days working together to bring Catherine’s written words to life and I really enjoyed the subtly different modes in which Rachel has given Catherine a voice as a storyteller, author, cook, mother, sister, wife, and seamstress. It was fantastic to share the joy of my research for this project with such a talented comrade. This is an interview with Rachel, featuring tiny excerpts of the different pieces produced for the exhibition.
One of the texts that has been central to this project is the cookbook What Shall We Have For Dinner? that Catherine wrote and which was published under the pseudonym Lady Maria Clutterbuck. The first section is a series of Bills of Fare – i.e. suggested menus for dinner parties of varying sizes. These are surprisingly rhythmic when read aloud, and they give good general insights into the culinary fare enjoyed by the middle classes in Victorian Britain, and also – more specifically – a sense of Catherine Dickens’s individual culinary flair. Although not much alike in terms of content, one of the closest sonic reference points for Catherine’s Bills of Fare is the Shipping Forecast with its similarly rhythmic list structure, specialist vocabulary and repeated words and themes.
With these ideas in mind, we experimented with Rachel reading out the Bills of Fare in the style of the Shipping Forecast; I hope you enjoy hearing Catherine’s Bills of Fare in this format as much as we enjoyed recording them!
If you visit the Charles Dickens Museum, you can hear these same words streaming confidently into this room.
Thank you for listening!