Theatre of the Self by Delpha Hudson

After doing some research into BABE and their current online exhibition ‘It’s a New Day’, I discovered artist Delpha Hudson and her project ‘Theatre of the Self’ (https://www.delphahudson.co.uk/the-theatre-of-the-self/ accessed 30/03/21). It really intrigued me, so I ordered a copy of her project (limited run at 100 copies) and delved into it further.

The idea behind this project was for Delpha to reread her old diaries – 30 years’ worth – over 30 days. She would keep anything that she wanted to take forward with her, and then burn the rest. During this process, she took three photos for each diary – one of the diary, one of her reading the diary, and one of her burning the diary (these can all be viewed on her project Instagram https://www.instagram.com/theatreoftheself/ (accessed 07/04/21). This was a performance art project which she documented in a book.

There are many themes that run through this work, but the biggest thing that stood out to me was the value of writing at each stage of our lives and how these different versions of ourselves can be interesting to explore later. One of the comments Delpha made in her documentation of the project was that the concept of ‘self’ is “undergoing an on-going unfinalisable process and is waiting to be rewritten” (p30). The idea of exploring all these past versions of ourselves seems exciting; we are forever changing, evolving, contradicting ourselves and becoming new again and again.

Delpha’s project had a big focus on mental health. The cathartic act of only keeping what we want and disposing of the rest is a way of dealing with each moment, each memory and each thought from the past. We either believe this to be valuable and something to bring forward in our lives to be part of the version of ourselves now, or we don’t think it’s necessary anymore and get rid of it. That’s quite a liberating idea.

Also, Delpha placed importance on rewriting our stories to improve our mental health. With her little book documenting her project, there are four other books:

  • The Golden Notebook – a book for collecting all of our best bits
  • The Body Book – a book for connecting our thoughts, words and memories to our bodies
  • A Little Book of Smoke and Mirrors – a book to encourage creativity – “to discover how we see ourselves” (mirrors) and “to explore the ways in which we hide, distort and change who we think we are” (smoke) (p1)
  • The Little Black Book of Catharsis – a book to note down all the things we don’t want or don’t like and then burn (this book came with a match)

All these books provide prompts and ideas for what to write and fill them with.

I related to a lot of what Delpha talked about in her project. I have always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I was in secondary school that I started keeping a ‘random book’, as I called it; a book where I could splurge any thoughts, ideas, feelings or memories from the day. It seems that Delpha’s diaries were mostly writing and a commentary on her day – mine did document certain events, but were mostly a space for me to figure out how I was feeling, what I was thinking and to record anything significant. It was an artistic space too – I sketched, doodled, wrote down favourite lyrics and quotes, and experimented with poetry and words of my own too. It was halfway between a sketchbook and a diary – an artist’s journal perhaps?

Delpha talks about how valuable keeping a dairy is for developing a sense of Self and as a space for reconstructing who we are too, when big changes occur or events transform the way we think. I like how she is honest about the way we all lie to ourselves and contradict ourselves over and over – we are so many versions of one person, and I appreciate this perspective. It’s especially obvious when you read a piece of writing from many years ago – you can feel detached from that version of you, or might, perhaps, rediscover a connection with that version of you.

Her project is also about renewal, rather than being focused on destruction (as it might appear at first glance). I’ve been inspired to go through my old books, and have found pieces of text and art that I feel connected to. Some of these words and images came from times when I was feeling low or hurt or scared, but it makes me happy that, looking back at them, I am happy now and I can take inspiration from them. Something beautiful came from something horrible. I feel like they could inspire my final project. As Delpha states, writing can open up new possibilities and forces us to play an active role. It can also prompt us to have important conversations with ourselves about the past and the present, and take this understanding forward into our future.

To summarise, this project has inspired me to draw from my own past selves and writing and bring this into my final project. I like the idea of choosing parts to bring forward and transform into a piece of work I can be proud of. I have also found inspiration in Jean McEwan’s zine ‘I am blue sky’ (https://issuu.com/jeanmcewan/docs/i_am_blue_sky_zine accessed 30/03/21) as another very personal, diary-like project, with thoughts, feelings and quotes, poetically portrayed and accompanied by collage and drawings. My tutor has recommended some artists who use collage and play with text too, so I intend to explore some of these suggestions and see what other inspiration I can draw from for my final assignment.

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