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Eliot, Turner and Me: My experiences as an Intern at the Turner Contemporary

When I applied for the Internship to work with the Turner Contemporary, through the University of Kent, I didn’t fully appreciate the scale of the project I would be joining. I thought I would spend six weeks going through reference books and the archives, reporting back my findings to the gallery, and that would be the end of it.  How little I knew.  My initial meeting with Trish Scott gave me the first indication of my underestimation.  Rather than supplementing a team who were part way through the process of curating an exhibition, providing additional information or filling in blanks, I was to be the first researcher for the project: the pathfinder, the trailblazer….the guinea pig.  After an afternoon of whirlwind meetings with archivists and heads of departments I was feeling both overwhelmed and excited.  The enthusiasm shown by everybody, towards the idea of examining how literary works influence the visual arts, encouraged me no end and I couldn’t wait to get started

Over the next six weeks I explored the main collections of the Templeman Library as well as the archives of the Library.  The University of Kent has enjoyed a special relationship with the estate of T. S. Eliot and his former employer, the publishers Faber and Faber.  As such the Eliot Special collection that is housed in the library is a unique assembly of first editions and correspondences.  I was allowed access to this collection and began to build a greater understanding of the period of time that preceded Eliot writing The Wasteland.  Discovering the events of his childhood and learning about his upbringing revealed that many of the themes of The Wasteland were possibly present in Eliot’s mind even before he travelled to Europe. Not everything that I found was relevant to the project.  Quite often I spent time looking through documents or reading articles to eliminate them from the process.  I had to examine them just in case there was anything of interest or importance.

The library research was only part of the process that I undertook.  I also took part in the various Community Research Group events that have occurred at the Turner Contemporary already.  These have included a reading of part of the poem at the shelter where Eliot spent some time composing it and an evening of philosophical enquiry, where it was necessary to either agree or disagree with the previous speaker.  It is exciting to think that such a unique way of curating an exhibition is being developed at the Turner Contemporary and that I have the opportunity to be part of it.  Despite the fact that my internship is now completed, I look forward to remaining involved with the Community group until the opening of the exhibition.  This has been a very rewarding experience already and I eagerly anticipate the culmination of all our efforts.

James, Stage 2 English and American Literature and Creative Writing student

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