Talk to Me - book installation R D Laing

I like listening. I like listening to people talk. I do a lot of it. Next week it will be my job to listen. I will sit in a gallery and listen to its visitors. I don’t know what I will hear or indeed if there is anything I will be able to use. This isn’t my usual way of working. I’m usually in control. I usually work alone, in my kitchen. And yet, taking oneself out of one’s cocoon is sometimes a good thing. Or at least, it can be.

It isn’t nosiness, this listening (though of course, I am interested in people, who isn’t?), it’s about speech, about what is being said, and how. I love the vernacular, the ordinary chitter chatter that goes on with all those missings out. So much of the meaning is carried through by gesture, by intimate knowledge, by intonation. How does one get all that across in a written sentence? That will be my challenge, I suppose.

I like to collect speech fragments. I have little sketchbooks full of them. They are like bubbles in the air. Like the washing-up liquid bubbles that we used to form by blowing through those plastic circles on sticks. I loved them. It was magic to me. See how big I can do them. Will they burst? What is said is so different to what is written down. The ownership is lost. What is said becomes rootless.

I like to listen to conversations in public spaces. Many of us behave differently, at least initially. We are made self-conscious. We may alter the words we use, or change the timbre of our voices. We try to say what we think we should, particularly in galleries, I think. It’s all about what we like, what makes us comfortable or vice versa. And the spaces are so open, so exposing. Literally.

The gallery I shall sit in next week is relatively small. I can’t hide. And there is to be a sign, warning the general public that I am there. They did the same thing in The Walker Gallery in Liverpool.There is an art journalist wandering around with a tape-recorder, or something similar, the notice said. I attracted stares, that’s all and people tended to clam up as I approached. Who wouldn’t? People tend to clam up anyway when they think they can be overheard. And I don’t blend into the background very well. Perhaps I should wear black.

We shall see. All will be well. If I give myself over to the experience something will come. It always does.


The sun has shone this week. Glorious. There is no better place to be when the sun shines, she said. How could I not concur? Though, it is busy. He hates it. It’s my town, he says. Yes, it is. It is.

The flat is ours.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.