Thousand year old riddle inspires interactive artwork

red field contrasting with bright blue sky. Telegraph cables in distance

A thousand-year-old riddle has brought together printmakers, historians, a poet and a filmmaker.

Riddle 57 from The Exeter Book has inspired artwork which has been used to create an online interactive version of the riddle.

Double Elephant Print Workshop invited visual responses to Riddle 57 from The Exeter Book – one of only four surviving manuscripts of Old English poetry and probably the oldest surviving book of English poetry in the world.

Poet Jacob Polley wrote a series of prompts as inspiration for artists whose contributions have come from around the country, and further afield. These visual responses have been used in an animation.

Three experts were invited to translate the riddle, and viewers can now select from a range of possible meanings to create their own modern-day version of Riddle 57. With seven lines, and three different translations, there are 2,187 possible versions of the riddle.

Each translation is an interpretation of the original meaning. This is interesting enough with a regular poem, but with a riddle, possible solutions may be closed off when the translater makes choices about the words to use. The writer of the riddle was playing with words to intentionally misdirect the reader, so each translator has to make decisions about what the original writer wanted to say.

Poet and Professor of Creative Writing, Jacob Polley said:
“These artistic responses to the riddle 57 are new interpretations of a text that’s lasted over a thousand years, showing that the mysteries of the riddles can provoke and inspire extraordinary creativity today.”

Emma Molony, Project Manager, Double Elephant Print Workshop said:
“We’re interested in how the language and imagery from a riddle that’s a thousand years old can resonate today and inspire new work. This has been a really positive project for us to focus on during isolation. It’s been a new challenge for us to pull it together collaboratively online with project partners locked down across the world.”

The interactive animation of Riddle 57 will be online from Thursday 20 August.

The project has been funded by The National Lottery through the Arts Council England Emergency Response Fund and is an Exeter UNESCO City of Literature Associate Project.

Published by Gillian Taylor PR

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