Another Rat Flat – Spacex Gallery, Exeter Festival, Exeter, UK.May 1976.
In the early spring of 1976 I decided I wanted to make a piece of work in memory of the American poet, Lew Welch, whose work I had admired for many years. An opportunity arose during the Exeter Festival of that year. I transformed an old shed in the backyard of Spacex Gallery, turning it into a place for Lew to return to. I provided him with a desk, some paper, pen and ink, and a few other comforts to make him feel at home.
It is strange that as chance would have it I finished the work and opened it to the public exactly five years from the day Lew disappeared. I called the work Another Rat Flat in memory of another hut named Rat Flat which Lew had in northern California and in which he wrote some of his poetry.
The door to Another Rat Flat was barricaded. Visitors could only peer in through the bars of wood across the doorway. A cord from the bell on the desk connected to a bell pull at the door. I imagined if Lew Welch was to visit my hut it would be because he heard the “ring of bone”.
The painted sign at the top reads: A place to return to – a time to come home. Next to a photograph of Welch, beside the doorway, was the following note:
On 23rd May 1971, Lew Welch, walked out of the cabin of his friend Gary Snyder in the Californian hill country of Nevada County. He took with him a revolver. He walked into the forest leaving behind a farewell note and scattered poems. His body has not been found. Perhaps today he’ll return to this small room and hear again the Ring of Bone.
A poem by Lew Welch:
I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through
and then heard
“ring of bone” where
ring is what a
Visitors who looked into the mirror could see their own face.