Demons land: a poem come true

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: English Faculty

Abstract

*Demons Land: A Poem Come True* is a collaborative scholarly and artistic project that explores what it might mean to build a world or a life in the image of a poem, or to understand history as being structured like a poem. That poem is Edmund Spenser's *Faerie Queene* (FQ), perhaps the single greatest work of the English Renaissance. We make a multi-media exhibition telling the story of an island in which FQ comes beautifully and terribly to life.

FQ is a hallucinogenic masterpiece, erotic, ravishing, strange, and frequently very savage. Inspired by militant Protestant zeal, the poem was written in Ireland during the 1580s and 1590s, when Spenser served the English crown during the most violent years of the Elizabethan conquest. It presents an unbuilt world, and asks on what principles we might create a virtuous person and a reformed society. Spenser's mission in Ireland failed. His poem both reflects and tries to redeem this failure, offering a model of the necessary future as much as a diagnosis of the present. Hence the imaginative premise of our project: that subsequent global history, a repeating mission of conquest, education, and colonization, can be understood as a tale of this poem coming differently, imperfectly to life. It has long been understood that FQ, in its claim to change or to model lives, is an exemplary Christian humanist poem. In our project, FQ becomes the text of unfinished modernity.

The questions we ask are very basic. We are all familiar with the idea that a poem might reflect or record history. But what if it predicts history? What if history is itself structured like a poem? And we can extend these questions to life itself: what if lives happen as they do in poems, where they only have existence if they are seen, or only matter if they are sympathized with? What if each individual life is not a self-sufficient experience, but an allegory of something other? What if metaphors are true, or life is organized in rhymes, stanzas, endlessly repeating rhythms? The question becomes: what does it mean (for society, or history, or a life) for a poem to come true?

Questions such as these cannot really be tested in conventional scholarly forms. They need a correspondent creative experiment. The only way to achieve this is through knowledge exchange, exploring how different crafts and disciplines - poetry, painting, film, music, masks, puppetry, and creative literary criticism - can combine to embody a poetic vision.

First, we translate FQ into a new story called Demons Land, told in the first instance in a critical fiction by Palfrey. This is the story of the Collector, a Romantic who around 1800 vowed to remake an island at the bottom of the world into a poetic utopia. Demons Land becomes a shadow history of Britain's most notorious colony, the prison island called Van Diemens Land. Like Spenser's mission in Ireland, the Collector's dream failed: not because his world failed to be like the poem; but because both the poem and the land were other than he thought. They had indigenous energies, lives, untapped implications that his discipline hadn't imagined.

We then animate this story through the arts of film, painting, soundscapes, music, prose, and puppetry, which come together in an exhibition/installation telling the history of the experiment.

As well as an online version, we will exhibit in locations whose own history speaks to our project, adapting our narrative to each host. The first showing will be in the gardens and temples of Stowe National Trust, designed in the early eighteenth century as an architecturalised Faerie Queene - like Demons Land, a place made in the image of the poem, as an act of political critique and fantastic idealism. The second showings will be in Scotland, in the Gothic Mount Stuart house on Bute - another monument of beleagured idealism, and an island whose semi-disappeared history mirrors that of Demons Land - and in Glasgow, the great port of empire.

Planned Impact

This project already has footholds in several communities - academic, artistic, poetic, theatrical, musical, educational, heritage - founded in the collaborators' everyday environments. The project will encourage innovative new interactions, and offer models of working practice for secondary school students and teachers of art, literature, history, and film.

Follow-on Funding will ensure the success of exhibitions in both UK and Australia. The debut exhibition will be at the NT Gardens and Temples of Stowe in spring/summer 2017, the property's busiest period (60,000+ visitors), forming the centrepiece of Stowe's 2017 theme, "Lost Worlds", with a constellation of smaller exhibits and performances; and be the focus of Stowe's contribution to the National Trust's *Eight Great Properties*, showcasing the country's most unique heritage properties. They anticipate visits from 20+ schools. Stowe will produce a new map of the grounds, a souvenir pamphlet, and host a parallel interactive exhibition for children. The exhibition will be widely advertised via the National Trust, and in *The Conversation*. The second host is Bute's Mount Stuart House (July-Aug 2017), in tandem with a major site in Glasgow (being negotiated). The exhibition will be at the heart of the House's 300th anniversary celebrations, publicized by a £250,000 campaign and linked to coterminous artistic residencies. Visitor numbers should increase 50%. They will advertise the exhibition among local and mainland schools and literary/artistic communities.

The principal impact here will be in the form of increased understanding of, and imaginative engagement with, both the specific sites and the heritage sector more broadly, opening up their histories to renewed awareness and scrutiny, and revivifying their contemporary relevance.

The exhibitions and related publications will be widely publicised through partner websites (eg TORCH, National Trust, Bloomsbury's *beyond criticism* series, Stowe, Bute, participating museums and universities). We anticipate considerable press and radio coverage. There will be a sophisticated digital iteration of the installation, funded independently, ensuring continuing worldwide access to the project.

AHRC funding will facilitate public impact well beyond the period of the funding. In Oct/Nov 2017 the exhibition will travel to Brisbane, Sydney and Perth as part of Palfrey's ARC Distinguished Visitor Fellowship. It will tie in with a major 2017 exhibition in Brisbane on the History of Ecstasy. There will be interviews/features on ABC Radio National. With sound producers Overtone Productions, we will make a submission to Radio National's Radiotonic and Soundproof programmes.

We are negotiating about 2018 showings at Sutton House, Hackney; Strawberry Hills House, Richmond; and the Ashmolean. We wil approach MONA museum in Hobart, tailor-made for our project. We will use Tom de Freston's 2016 Creative Fellowship at Birmingham University to explore exhibiting at RSC's Other Place. In the longer term the exhibition should find a permanent home in a suitable museum.

An important pathway to impact of the project (although not specifically funded by any award) will be its two major book publications. Bloomsbury will publish a critical fiction by Palfrey, marketed as a crossover title between trade/academic (following Palfrey's forthcoming novel, *Macbeth, Macbeth* (Bloomsbury, 2016). We are talking with Faber's Matthew Hollis about a *Selected FQ*, the aim of which is to find new readers among schools, colleges, and the general public. The books will be sold/advertised at the exhibitions, and the exhibitions publicised through the books.

Tom de Freston's paintings will be exhibited separately at Breese Little Gallery in London.
The project film will be entered into short film categories at appropriate festivals (eg Sundance, Tribeca, Berlin, SXSW, BFI London, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Norwich, Leeds).

Publications

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Palfrey, S (2017) Demons land

 
Title Demons Land 
Description Original Demons Land play. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact None yet, to be put on in April/May 2018 and beyond. 
 
Title Demons Land Instabook 
Description A new iteration of the Demons land story through Instagram. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Only went live two days ago, but already has many followers. 
 
Title Demons Land: a poem come true 
Description 30 paintings 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Many comments in Stowe evaluation. 
 
Title Demons Land: a poem come true 
Description 45 minute film 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Screenings at Stowe National Trust, UQ Museum of Art, UNiversity of Sydney and Western Australia, Tasmania Centre for the Arts, Old Fire Station oxford. 
 
Title Demons land: a poem come true 
Description Book (20,000 words) to accompany the exhibition at Stowe National Trust. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Widely consulted by attenders of exhibition. 
 
Title Demons land: a poem come true 
Description Installation/exhibtion at Stowe NT & Old Fire Station 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact 100+ evaluations at Stowe. 
 
Title Painting 
Description Large painting developed during Australia trip 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact It will be displayed at Cairns Art gallery 
 
Description The Demons Land project pushes at the boundaries of creative and critical practice in exploring one simple proposition: what might it mean for a poem to come true? what if we understand modern history as a poem come true? and what if individual lives must also be modelled on this poem? Thinking about these things raises fundamental questions about the forms and purposes of poetry, the forces that determine societies, the possibility of otherwise of freedom. The biggest innovation of the project is that it seeks to animate and embody these questions in new interdisciplinary works of art. In this way, what make doesn't merely discuss or reflect upon our foundational questions: it reenacts them. This is a new model of embodied, 'immanent' criticism. The work itself - both as verb and noun, process and product - is at once the means and the focus of discovery.

We are now developing a major collaboration with Australian indigenous artists and communities, enabling us to focus more specifically upon the political and historical implications of our project.
Exploitation Route Principally by encouraging more collaboration between academic researchers and artistic/creative individuals/networks; and thereby opening-up the possibilities for intellectual and creative discovery (the two going hand in hand). This links to the need to challenge the increasingly sequestered specialization of the academy, which tends to forget that before the professionalisation of university study of literature 100 or so years ago there was often no real distinction between creative and critical acts. Our project also offers a model for bringing literature alive in schools, a model which uses imaginative response not to run away from the challenges of great literature, but to enter these challenges more fearlessly,and to possess these works anew for the future. We have been developing ways in which active, syncretic creative processes in various artforms - poetry, literary criticism, fiction, film, sculpture, music, digital storytelling - can reveal and reinforce one another, as well as offering new interpretations of the poem that has inspired our project (Edmund Spenser's *Faerie Queene*), and new ways of understanding the nature of history (as being structured like a poem, a thing of repetition, rapture, top-down order and ground-up subversion). This allows our project to speak to many different places and times, not least anywhere that has been involved in imperial adventure and colonisation. Demons Land has already been shown in UK, USA, Australia, and Ireland. At the same time as we are introducing our methods to scholars and practitioners in different places, we will be bringing our story to the people who have helped make and who now inherit these various histories. We are now beginning to work closely with Australian indigenous artists and practitioners. One of the aims here is to engage with similarities and differences between European and Indigenous storytelling and understanding of land/country, by creating an exhibition that draws upon both Faerie Queene and Dreaming stories. I am also writing a major monograph exploring the critical implications of the project.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://demonsland.com
 
Description The Demons land film and sculptures were the headline act at the Ashmolean's Friday Night Live event in November 2016, for which the Ashmolean/TORCH produced bespoke Demons land posters and postcards. Reported/photographed in local press. The project has since has a major exhibition at Stowe National Trust for two months, and the film was shown in four Australian cities, including for 2 months at the *Ecstasy* exhibition at UQArt Museum. We have made a project website and Instagram-book which will disseminate the project further, and help us secure future venues for the exhibitions, film screenings, and performance of the project play. The evening events at Old Fire Station incorporated film, drama, sculptures and paintings, followed by an extensive question and answer session from audiences that included scholars, students, and general public. It is increasingly recognised that the Demons Land project is developing new ways of embodying literary research, and testing the possibilities of creative and critical practice, and of genuinely interdisciplinary work (entailing a syncretic collaboration between poetry, history, film, painting, sculpture, music, theory, philosophy). The project was designed to be a travelling exhibition, able to be adapted to different sites and histories because the basic story of colonisation is common throughout the world. This is beginning to happen. We have shown the film in Australia, Ireland, the UK, and the USA. We are now developing a major Australian iteration of the project which will adapt the story to the history of encounters between European and indigenous people. This will begin with pop-up exhibition at Bib n Brace in Brisbane and perhaps the Tanks in Cairns, in preparation for applications for major external funding.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Australia Research Council
Amount $12,000 (AUD)
Organisation Queen Mary University of London 
Department Centre for the History of the Emotions
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 09/2017
 
Description HASS University of Queensland
Amount $50,000 (AUD)
Organisation University of Queensland 
Sector Academic/University
Country Australia
Start 12/2019 
End 12/2021
 
Description REF Support Fund
Amount £1,750 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Description TORCH Creative Industries Seed Fund
Amount £2,875 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities TORCH
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 12/2019
 
Description TORCH Fellowship
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities TORCH
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 06/2020
 
Description TORCH KE Extension Fund
Amount £2,350 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities TORCH
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Description ANKA 
Organisation Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists
Country Australia 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We made a presentation about the Demons Land project to the ANKA AGM in Katherine, Northern Territory in November 2019, inviting participating Arts Centres to discuss collaborating with us on the new Australian iteration of the project.
Collaborator Contribution ANKA is the organization that coordinates Indigenous Arts Centres across northern Australia. Their CEO Christina Davidson wrote letters of support for (successful) funding applications to TORCH (Oxford) and HASS University of Queensland funds and subsequently invited us to the ANKA AGM.
Impact As a result of the introductions at the ANKA AGM we are now in communications with various Art Centres in Nirthern Territory, Arnhem land and the Kimberly region and will be visiting them later in 2020 to discuss the possibility of working together on the Australian Demons Land exhibition/event.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Exhibition/Events at Old Fire Station, Oxford 
Organisation Arts at the Old Fire Station
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Provided film, paintings, performance, talks.
Collaborator Contribution Provided gallery, theatre, marketing materials, signage.
Impact Events and Exhibition, April-May 2018
Start Year 2017
 
Description Tour of Australia 
Organisation University of Queensland
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provided film and other artistic materials, gave talks/lectures.
Collaborator Contribution Putting in film. Developing possibilities for future exhibitions. Acting as Australian agent/producer.
Impact Public screening of DL film at UQ Museum of Art, September-November 2017; at Tasmanian Centre for the Arts; and University of Sydney.
Start Year 2017
 
Company Name Demons Land Productions 
Description A company to oversee the production of Demons Land events and exhibitions, and to make new creative works. 
Year Established 2018 
Impact See http://www.demons.land.com
Website http://www.demons.land.com
 
Description Australia visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presented at AGM of ANKA (Northern Australian Aboriginal Arts Organization). Puropse was to introduce Demons Land project and identify potential collaborators on a major new exhibition/event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Australian tour 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talks, presentations, question and answer sessions accompanying screening of Demons land film.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.historyofemotions.org.au/events/the-critic-as-artist/?page=2&tax_1074=6996&date=2018-06
 
Description Cairns meetings 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Me and my team met a wide range of indigenous artists, scholars, practitioners and leaders in the Cairns region. We introduced our project and discussed how it might develop as a collaboration with indigenous artists. We identified potential collaborators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008,2019
 
Description Film screening CAA New york City 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Screening of Demons Land film at College Art Association meeting, New York City. Attended by audience of artists, art scholars. Extended question and answer session which continued betyond the event. Links to film and website sent to Berlin/Zurich curators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Film screening, Queen's Theatre Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Screening of Demons Land film at British Shakespeare Association conference, followed by questions. A number of the audience asked for links to the film and project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Film screening, RSC Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Demons Land film shown at the *Radical Mischief* conference at the RSCs Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon. The conference brought together theatre practitioners and scholars. The Demons Land team also held a question and answer session.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Instabook 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A new iteration of the project through the social media platform Instagram, serving both to advertise the project and to tell the story in new ways.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.instagram.com/demons_land_collective/
 
Description National radio interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 30 minute interview with national indigenous radio
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation to Australian art students 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Screening of film and discussion with Art students. They also wrote about the film.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Website explaining and presenting examples from the Demons land project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2018
URL http://www.demonsland.com
 
Description Public show 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An event at Ashmolean Museum publicizing research by the university to the wider community. We gave a talk, two screenings from the film, prefaced by two performances from the story; sculptures were displayed in the Ancient Green and roman sculpture room; and our project closed the whole event with a pageant through the museum wending with another performance in the central downstairs atrium..
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://torch.ox.ac.uk/simon-palfrey-demons-land-poem-come-true
 
Description Screening and Performance Evenings 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Three evenings at Old Fire Station, oxford, where we present a performance from the Demons land play, screen the film, and discuss the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://oldfirestation.org.uk/whats-on/demons-land-film-screening/
 
Description Talks to accompany exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talks to staff and students at oxford University, members of National Trust, postgraduate students of architecture and curation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/knowledge-exchange-showcase-presentation
 
Description Workshops in Brisbane 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 10 days of workshops with indigenous actors, intermedial practitioners, filming and painting in Brisbane.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019