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Hannes Schüpbach & Stephen Watts | Explosion of Words

Friday, January 28, 2022 to Sunday, April 17, 2022
Opening Hours: 
Tue-Sun, 10am-4pm
Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ

Explosion of Words is a cinematic photo installation, extending frieze-like over 30 metres of the Nunnery Gallery’s gothic walls, celebrating the power of language. The exhibition is the culmination of Swiss artist Hannes Schüpbach’s (*1965) response to the lived spaces of east London-based poet and language activist Stephen Watts (*1952), who works between extensive research on poetry and his own contributions as a poet and co-translator from many languages.  

Approximately 1600 pages of Watts’ ongoing Bibliography of Modern Poetry in English Translation will be mounted directly onto the gallery’s four-metre-high walls as a background for Schüpbach’s space-spanning photo installation, creating a cosmos of world poetry. Watts’ Bibliography, which is 40 years in the making, will be transformed into a physical experience, creating a ‘storehouse of language’, reflecting Watts’ own passion for poetry in every tongue. In the nave space of the gallery, an excerpt of Schüpbach’s new silent film Essais (2020), with Stephen Watts, will also be on display. 

Watts’ Bibliography opens up perspectives onto the rich wealth of poetry that has been, and still is being, written or performed out of many different histories and environments, as well as exploring the many cultural issues involved in translation. An artists’ limited edition of the Bibliography in four volumes has been printed for the exhibition, which will be walked across London to the National Poetry Library as a celebratory performance event near the end of the exhibition.

The unique exhibition event programme includes many chances for visitors to experience poetry from many languages, including Bangla and Urdu, through poetry workshops, readings and family events supported by east London poetry groups. A panel discussion exploring Watts’ ground-breaking Bibliography will also be staged in partnership with Queen Mary University London.

An Evening of British Bangladeshi Poetry in Focus

Heartspoken Word Open Mic Night

Poetry reading: An Exploration of Contemporary Urdu Poetry

Walking tour: W.G. Sebald’s East End

Workshop: A Date Night with Poetry

Family performance: How Can We Tell It?

Panel talk: Explosion of Words | An Imaginary Library: Modern Poetry & Translation

First Thursday: After Hours Viewing

Performance: Celebratory walking of the Bibliography to the National Poetry Library

Performance: Explosion of Words – An Evening of Poetry, Music, and Translation

A two-part publication has been published to coincide with the exhibition: Hannes Schüpbach: Explosion of Words. Dedicated to Stephen Watts, with an essay by Jo Catling / Stephen Watts: Explosion of Words, 19 Poems, with German translations by Hannes Schüpbach (192 pages, 19.5 × 26 cm, designed by Raphael Drechsel, GREAT, published by Verlag für moderne Kunst, Vienna; RRP £28.00). The project has been supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and the Swiss Cultural Fund UK.

Read the exhibition leaflet, including details of all exhibition events.

Read our interview with Stephen, published in The Slice, about his time in the East End here.

Read Stephen Watts In Conversation with Hannes Schüpbach here.

Hannes Schüpbach  

(b. 1965 in Winterthur, Switzerland) is a visual artist. His recent work has mainly involved 16mm silent films, which are shown in museums as well as at major film festivals. In London, his films have been screened at Tate Modern in 2009 (curated by Stuart Comer) and in 2013 at the Zilkha Auditorium of Whitechapel Gallery (curated by Gareth Evans). In 2009 his recent and earlier work was presented in the solo exhibition Hannes Schüpbach: Stills and Movies at Kunsthalle Basel (curated by Adam Szymczyk). Several of his films, among them Erzählung (2007) L’Atelier (2007), the trilogy Spin / Verso / Contour (2011), Instants (2012), and Essais (2020), deal with the moments from which art is created. With his translation of 19 poems by Stephen Watts and the installation Explosion of Words, dedicated to Watts and his oeuvre, he continues his ‘reading’ of fellow artists.  

Stephen Watts  

was born in London in 1952 (of partly Swiss-Italian heritage), where he still lives and works in Whitechapel. He has published seven books of poetry – The Lava’s Curl (Grimaldi Press, 1990), Gramsci & Caruso (Periplum, 2004, with Czech translation by Petr Mikeš, reissued by Mille Gru, 2014, with Italian translation by Cristina Viti), The Blue Bag (Aark Arts, 2004), Mountain Language / Lingua di montagna (2008) and Journey Across Breath / Tragitto nel respiro (2011, both: Hearing Eye, with Italian translations by Cristina Viti), Ancient Sunlight (Enitharmon, 2014, repr. ‘20), and Republic of Dogs / Republic of Birds (Test Centre, 2016; new edition, Prototype 2020) – and edited several anthologies – Houses & Fish. A book of drawings with writing by 4 & 5 year olds (Parrot Press, 1991), Voices of Conscience (an international anthology of censored poets, Iron Press, 1995), Mother Tongues (a special issue of Modern Poetry in Translation, 2001), and Music While Drowning (an anthology of German Expressionist poems that accompanied an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, Tate Publishing, 2003). His numerous translations and co-translations include books of modern Kurdish, Georgian and British Bangladeshi Poetry as well as volumes by A.N. Stencl, Meta Kušar, Amarjit Chandan, Adnan al-Sayegh, Golan Haji and Ziba Karbassi (from Yiddish, Slovenian, Punjabi, Arabic, Persian). He has also curated bilingual readings at several exhibitions (including Emil Nolde, Joan Miró, Arshile Gorky, Renato Guttuso and Francisco Toledo). He has worked in schools and hospitals as a writer on issues of well-being and creativity. The Republics, a film directed by Huw Wahl and based on Stephen Watts’ book Republic Of Dogs / Republic Of Birds has been premiered in 2020.  Since 1980 Stephen Watts has compiled an ongoing Bibliography of Modern Poetry in English Translation. 

Header Images: Explosion of Words installation plan of Bibliography pages, courtesy Hannes Schüpbach and Hannes Schüpbach, Explosion of Words, 2020, number 10 of frieze of 24 photographs

Access Information

Nunnery Gallery has step-free access throughout from street level, including to the accessible toilet, and is service animal friendly. This venue does not have a hearing loop system.

Accessible parking is not available on-site but blue badge parking can be found 500m away on Fairfield Road.

If you have any questions regarding accessibility at this venue or event, would like to make us aware of any access requirements that you have in advance of visiting, or would like this information in an alternate format including Easy Read, please email

Travel Information

Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 10am-4pm
Address: Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London, E3 2SJ
Nearest station(s): Bow Road (District and Hammersmith and City lines) is a 6-minute walk away, and Bow Church (DLR) is a 3-minute walk away.
Bus:205, 25, 425, A8, D8, 108, 276, 488 and 8 all service the surrounding area.
Bike: Bicycle parking is located at Bow Church Station. The nearest Santander Cycles docking station is at Bow Church Station.

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