This weekend I found myself surveying the Belgian battlefields at Waterloo and soaking up the atmosphere of the annual Brussels Jazz Marathon. The continental mini-break wasn’t just any old weekend abroad, however: it was this week’s contribution to my New Year’s Resolution of 2011, given to me – as is becoming traditional – by my best friend. Knowing that I was facing a tough year ahead in my personal life she determined that I was to ensure that positivity and vibrancy featured in the coming year by commanding me to experience something new each and every week. Rules were established via an inevitable haggling process over what was allowable but variety was key: experiences might be grand or humble, planned or spontaneous, solitary or communal, significant or frivolous. Documentary evidence must be kept by way of witness to (and souvenir of) the tale of my year of All Things New.
The resolution is now nearly half-way through and I am beginning to see what this year of new experiences is teaching me, what it’s giving me, how it’s bringing me back to life and getting me through almost without me noticing.
All of which has got me thinking about the possibility of translating this healing and invigorating approach to my professional life. Having found myself in the position of needing to help steer a theatre company through its own ‘annus horribilis’, I wonder whether a similar approach could be adopted by a cultural organisation staring into the abyss, and, if so, whether it might yield similarly encouraging refreshment. It would of course be a brave company to embrace the experiment – as I’m myself finding, the levels of organisation, creativity and upfront expense required can be daunting and time-consuming, but if my own experience is anything to go by I can’t help but think that there’d be benefits to reap. When change is forced upon you, to dare to go one step further and invite yet more newness into life is an empowering move.
I love the idea that for a theatre company, say, this might mean changing the way you recruit your creative practitioners one week or trialling the use of Open Space technology for your staff meetings the next. For me, it’s the little things as much as the big things which are important in encouraging new habits of openness, positivity and forward momentum: sharing lunch together on a Friday, for instance, or changing to a supplier of Fair Trade paper. They’re helpful because they re-set patterns and re-calibrate norms without presenting too much of a painful challenge; they’re easy wins which give courage for embracing bigger changes.
That said, there’s no doubt a fine line between encouraging radical levels of openness to organisational change and welcoming in a damaging level of instability. And it probably takes a braver producer than I, or one in a better position to command buy-in from an entire organisation, to achieve this weekly schedule of new experiences. But what’s important is that experiments aren’t as scary as people think: their not working means nothing more than that they didn’t work. Trial of something new doesn’t have to equate to immediate wholesale change in the long-term, but I do think the process of habituating an organisation to change and newness can usefully reveal, and perhaps helpfully re-shape, its values.
The Cleansing of Constance Brown is looking good in Potsdam.
BE Festival are crowdfunding the last bit of cash needed for the festival which is due to take place 4-10 July:
We have secured an enormous amount of support-in-kind from the major Birmingham arts organisations but we are facing a £2000 cash shortfall to be able to fully realise the 2011 edition in its current form. Your help will give the next generation of UK and European performing artists a platform to show, explore and develop their work
Coming away from home can be inspiration. Here in Potsdam we have encountered some fantasy version of the Stan’s Cafe / @ A E Harris situation.
Soon after the wall comes down a group of dancers pile out of West Berlin into Potsdam, squat a venue and make dance pieces there. They change homes a few times over the years, their residence gradually growing more official. Their dance pieces become successful, tour internationally and win awards. They invite other people to make and present shows in their space.
Finally (though who knows, perhaps it is not final) they move into a run down industrial unit, in a beautiful location beside a lake close to the centre of town, the City Council invests heavily in the area, converting the surrounding Gas Works and Military Establishment into a series of arts venues and whilst they are doing it give the dance company the means to do up their space.
Fabrik is not just a dance company but a major dance venue. They have a beautiful studio space as the square centre of a building with the surrounding spaces adding a technical workshops, two small rehearsal rooms, administration offices, four bedrooms for visiting artists, showers, toilets, kitchen and sizable bar. It is breathtaking.
The company still has a couple of shows out on the road. They run dance workshops. Host companies and program the Tanztage festival, which runs over a fortnight, bringing companies in from far and wide. The festival spills out of the Fabrik venue into a number of the surrounding venues including a very large room in which we are building The Cleansing of Constance Brown.
It’s quite a story.
It was tempting to relax in the warm evening air with friends beside the lake drinking a long cool German beer or two, but when you have a show on in a festival it is often tough to get to see other people’s shows in that festival. Here was a chance, I took it and glad I was.
Daniel Abreu is a Spanish Dancer/Choreographer, his solo dance piece Perro is riveting, witty, flirtatious, charged with life. His limbs appear to be those of different people, he transforms into a stag, gravity shifts, his limbs blur, he is a horse perhaps, he is a hundred different people for an instant. The piece is stripped down and minimal for passages until he presses the accelerator and whirls into overdrive. There is poise and flare and acting. The lighting is simple, bold and effective; the music distant and seductive and not always in charge.
I loved it.
Previous and current Platinum artists visited SPILL Festival recently. The SPILL National Platform for emerging UK artists showcases innovative, daring and radical work created today by names of the future.
SPILL included a piece by former Platinum artist Harminder Judge.
The current cohort: Sarah Farmer, Mark Essen, Rob Jones, Nikki Pugh, Alexs Wojtulewicz and Lucy Nicholls have been working on ideas for the 2nd June, while considering how these ideas could be expanded and form part of their wider working practice and methods through peer discussion. The group have received guidance on their practice and research from the UK artist Kira O’Reilly. Kira’s career began in 1998 and her own work stems from a fine art background and employs performance, writing and biotechnical practices.
Below are collected insights into the thoughts, journeys and preparations of this year’s collective of Platinum artists in the lead up to their sharing at the Edge on the 2nd June 2011…
Rob Jones: My Piece
‘This has been a voyage of discovery for both myself and the company and I am proud and slightly scared to announce that the preview of this work’
Rob’s piece is an exploration into personal fears. This work is his first solo piece to date. The content of the piece encourages participants to explore their own personal fears and invites us to share and reflect on our own experiences and self-validation in society.
Rob has been experimenting in how the audience can engage with the content of the piece and his approach in discussing his own personal life with participants.
Nikki Pugh: Prototypes for Colony
Nikki has been in a place of experimentation to create the device that aims to gently nudge and augment people’s perceptions of the urban landscape.
Nikki has also recently completed a Pecha Kucha presentation in Coventry.
Pecha Kucha is a presentation methodology. It has been used in both creative and academic circles to focus ones ideas as it requires the presenter to provide sequence and structure their concepts or subject.
Pecha Kucha Night was devised in 2003 by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Tokyo‘s Klein-Dytham Architecture. Pecha Kucha events consist of 12 presentations with the participant having 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds.
Aleks Wojtulewicz: fr36ze
‘If the inside of your head gets pummelled with enough emotional blunt force trauma to splinter the psyche, you develop ways to punish the body, that fleshy prison which houses the pain’. Ron Athey
Ron Athey’s work forces the body to transcend it’s limitations by pushing the boundaries of endurance through artistic expression.
The physical acts in Aleks’s performance will explore how the human body copes under the stress and how the presence of the performer might shift throughout the piece.
Last week Aleks met with the internationally acclaimed artist Ron Athey. He used this time to discuss Ron’s practice and explore his own mental and physical approach to his preparations.
Aleks’s piece will be durational. His preparations alone will test his endurance. A rehearsal will not be required, this will be live.
Sarah Farmer: Cultural Amnesia: what we lost in the fire
Urban Resource Project (URP) is a research led project on the cultural ecology of the arts in Birmingham from the perspective of recent graduates.
URP is a line of enquiry into the sustainability of Arts graduates and early career artists (in the broadest sense) in Birmingham through the mapping and activating of information relating to cultural activity, support networks and potential resources for the arts.
The artists would like to hear from as many people as possible about any stories, information, images, anecdotes or paraphernalia of memorable events, galleries, spaces and venues that have occurred any time before 2009.
All input and feedback is welcome, please send feedback to email@example.com
Part of this initial work will be to re-construct and map out these spaces at The Edge on the 2nd June as part of the final Platinum 2 public sharing.
Lucy Nicholls: In Preparation for Death
In preparation for this highly emotive and personal piece Lucy has been researching the commodification of the ritual of funeral, while exploring death within its wider social and cultural meaning.
Lucy has been researching projects that focus on the same territory such as Quarantine ‘When you thought you were’. The idea behind this project questions why do we wait until people die to publicly celebrate who they are?
Since the sharing to an audience earlier this year, Lucy has been consolidating the experience and emotional response to her piece to further understand the audience dynamic and her own relationship to the content of the work.
Mark Essen: Club Hot Zeus; BAD MUSIC
John Napier and CLUB HOT ZEUS present BAD MUSIC.
In amongst his preparations for BAD MUSIC Essen has just been nominated for a new moving image award being launched by Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Charitable Trust this autumn.
Independent curators, critics and artists have contributed to a list of 30 artists working with the moving image and deemed to be of great promise. From this long list, four artists will each be awarded a £4,000 development bursary and an opportunity to work with Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Visual Arts on a showcase exhibition at the Jerwood Space in 2012.
We wish Mark every success in securing this opportunity and encourage you to experience the work of Club Hot Zeus; BAD MUSIC on the 2nd June.
As part of Fierce Festivals NPO Agreement with the Arts Council, Platinum or an equivalent Artist Development Scheme will be supported annually from 2012-13 onwards. Join our mailing list at www.wearefierce.org for more information.
June 2nd 2011 // 6.30 – 11pm
Friction Arts, The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Deritend, Birmingham, B12 0QH