Hi, my name is Diane Lewin and for the last couple of years I’ve volunteered two afternoons a week in the bookshop at Swedenborg House. During that time I’ve been introduced to many worlds: Artists in Residence, literary talks, film festivals and art exhibitions, interacting with customers in the shop, wrapping book orders for Amazon and our own website orders, and, of course, giving people directions to the British Museum, the nearest tube station, Covent Garden etc. etc…
I have given Nora administrative support for most Society events, particularly with the Artist in Residence programme and the annual Short Film Festival. The first artist I encountered was Paul Tecklenburg in 2010, who had an exhibition of objects weighing 21 grams, the weight that a certain doctor stated was lost from the body at death. (pictured, left).
In 2011, the photographer Madeline Waller was the Artist in Residence. She took portrait photos of various people connected with the Swedenborg Society in and around Swedenborg House; in corridors, the basement, the Gardiner Room and Wynter rooms and the neoclassical hall. I had my portrait taken down in our cavernous basement! (We hire out Swedenborg Hall, and other function rooms to lots of different groups that access them through the bookshop, so there are lots of people tramping over the wooden shop floor at midday).
Most recently, the storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton staged 4 performances throughout her residency in 2012. Sally brought about our first performances for children in the hall: ‘The White Bear King’ in December 2011 and ‘Tales from the Firebird’ in July 2012. She then went presented storytelling performances for adults: ‘Eros and Psyche’ and her final piece, ‘Night Visit’. Sally used to pop into the shop to talk about her projects and I enjoyed our interesting and fun chats. Sally may be taking ‘ Night Visit’ on tour so watch this space.
There have also been exhibitions that have made use of the extensive archive material stored at Swedenborg House. I found some of the letters especially fascinating. These were part of an exhibition ‘Remnants’ in February 2012, curated by Jan Evans supported by our own archivist workers James Wilson and Alex Murray here at Swedenborg House. The archive is open to those who wish to use it for their own research- just contact email@example.com. The archives, as used by various researchers, often lead to in depth discussions that take place at locations all over Swedenborg House leading to different ideas and viewpoints being expressed and discussed.
A book launched at the Remnants exhibition was A History of the Swedenborg Society: 1810 -2010 by Richard Lines. Other book launches during my time here have included the major new translation of Heaven and Hell by Ken Ryder (launched both in London and in Manchester) and Norman Ryder’s immense Bibliography of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg, volumes I and II (notice the same name – well, the authors are brothers).
We launched Blake’s London: The Topographic Sublime by Iain Sinclair in November 2011 and for several months this little book was in the Top 10 bestseller list at the London Review Bookshop. Blake’s London was reviewed in The Times, Telegraph and Camden New Journal. The text is a revised version of a lecture given at Swedenborg Hall. We had lots of Iain Sinclair and William Blake fans suddenly beating a path to the bookshop door! In July 2012, we launched another book with Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling, Several Clouds Colliding, with a special performance by the authors in the hall, inspired by artefacts from the Swedenborg Archive which feature in the book.
In November 2011, I enjoyed meeting the novelist Marina Warner when she gave a talk at Swedenborg hall entitled Stranger Magic to promote her book on the Arabian nights, which has since won many awards. I also loved the series of events featuring experimental music from Macgillivray. And throughout the last year I’ve been listening to Ophir’s Opus Operatutum (2011), the latest album from Anders Hallengren (President of the Swedenborg Society). In 2011, we also had Jozef Van Wissem, an international lute player to perform his Swedenborg-influenced music in Swedenborg Hall.
Annual events at Swedenborg House which I have enjoyed include The Bloomsbury Festival each October and London Open House each September, where the general public are invited into many of the architecturally interesting buildings in London. If you are lucky your visit can coincide with an unexpected event as when I visited Pushkin House last year (opposite Swedenborg House on Bloomsbury Way) and was present to hear a piano recital in the upper room there!
One of the highlight events of the year for me is the annual Short Film Festival, where filmmakers are invited to send in films on Swedenborgian themes. The best ones are shown on the Festival night and a winner is selected and presented with the prize for Best Film. We have had judges such as Gareth Evans (film curator at the Whitechapel Gallery) and Jeremy Millar (artist and film maker) in 2012. Although the hall is packed (capacity 100) on the film night itself, the work of reviewing, logging and primary assessment of the films, running order, notification of the judges and winners has been going on for months prior to the film night. I would know as I’m the one that has logged the films as they arrive, for the last couple of years! It’s really exciting when each new film entry arrives at the shop and we check it out. Some may have tenuous connections with Swedenborg but are very watchable and well made. We also see experimental and comedy films. We usually get about a few hundred entries for each festival, widely differing, and that makes for a good festival.
We have also had a series of films by one outstanding filmmaker each year. In 2012 it was Ingmar Bergman with The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Through a Glass Darkly. The 2011 season featured Robert Bresson with Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped and Pickpocket. We’ve also screened unusual single films such as Patience (After Sebald), a tribute to the writer WG Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn; a lovely poem of a film that unfolded in soft shades of grey to give time and place to a landscape. Last year we showed a film by Michael Whyte about a closed order of nuns living in Notting Hill called No Greater Love. The director attended the event, and explained after the screening how he had asked the nuns to allow him access for the previous ten years, before being allowed almost complete freedom to film within the Carmelite monastery. The atmosphere in the hall, when the film was shown, was very quiet and respectful of the nuns way of life and the choices they had made.
I would like to thank all the staff who work at Swedenborg House for making my time here ‘something completely different’ from anything else I’ve done before. The many weird and wonderful conversations were unexpected and very enjoyable. Special thanks to Nora who runs the events with Stephen and is usually ‘on duty’ in the bookshop.
If you have read and enjoyed this blog, why don’t you:
- Go and visit your local bookshop and support them. Get into a conversation with them, ask what they recommend. Meet interesting people there OR visit small quality bookshops in London especially in Bloomsbury to experience the literary sense of the place.
- If you have influence or just work for any type of organization: a large corporation, bank or small business or museum, try to promote an Artist in Residence programme. There may be some funding from the Arts Council and the knock-on effect for workers and artists themselves may be a good outlet for the creative nature that London has always had, but now is in danger of being stifled for lack of investment. You never know, your next Artist in Residence could be a great painter or photographer of the 21st century!
Thank you for reading,