Brazil and the nature economy

•February 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

My current exploration of ‘ the ecological’ age as a social concept for cultural programming was inspired by my recent visit to Brazil. I had the opportunity to be resident in a community in Bahia for two months. The community of artists come homesteaders and agriculturists included DJ’s and dancers, fashion designers and jewelry makers, circus performers , writers and visual artists. They came from all over the world including South America, Spain, France and the UK. Residing in Bahia for most of the year or for as much of the year as they could afford, they had bought land, built homes, constructed personal irrigation systems, planted vegetable gardens and were living in nature, using natural materials, organic resources and their own imaginations and creativity to make a living and work a life out. I would call these people pioneers of the emerging vision of ‘the ecological age’. Yet for one thing, there disconnect from the digital society.

Choosing as they did to live as much as possible outside of the urban world and to live ‘locally’, they were inspirational to be among. Bahia provided these creative people and families with a low-cost lifestyle which in turn enabled them to exist as artists and creators in the world. Locally their livelihoods were funded by cultural tourism but many often and some less frequently had to visit the city or other countries to make an income by doing other things. Here we had social progressives, pioneering new approaches to lifestyle which are more connected to natural cycles and the rhythms of nature that urban life or the 24 hour digital world, eeking out a living through art and tourism yet separated and disengaged from the connected thinking and practice that will lead society to making the transition to the ecological era.  It is common to find sub cultures not engaging in technology or digital art, as if new media was the antichrist or only for pleasure and communication purposes not lifestyle or education. I would expect that in the ecological age, our attention will have turned to being human and not digital as the digital will be part of the economy of reality – and perhaps the physical and natural world.

For some members of this community, the removal of the technological, global and digital from daily life was most definitely welcome and a positive choice or rather a life decision made, to be outside globalised economies and practices. It is worth noting here that there was some engagement with technological culture and it took the form of Internet (Facebook and Skype) and electronic music parties. I often went some distance (8 – 10k) down the road or to a nearby village cafe to use internet facilities which were patchy and rudimentary,  in the old style and likely to shut down with storms and monsoon weathers at any minute. This got me thinking about the relationship between ecology and economy and the ways in a partnership between tourism destinations and the outdoor digital arts might be able to give us the connective tissue we need to link the worlds of art, environmentalism and the digital society more naturally and integrally to develop new thinking around the local and global life and the nature/culture disconnect.

Thanks to James, Mariana, Sebastian and others for their inspiration, hospitality, generosity and vision.

Tags: bahia

Looping the Loop

•June 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

(Better late than never blog – lost in drafts folder) Manchester may  have failed to host the 2012 Olympics but on May 19 2012, Trafford and Salford were celebrating the start of Games Time with Looping the Loop, a cultural event created for our Olympiad programme in the Northwest. According to the Manchester Evening News, Manchester failed to get the bid because of Manchester’s reputation for rain but at Looping the Loop there was only sunshine, international cultures of the world and 6000+ people celebrating the 2012 Games. Spectacle, family entertainment and world class dance were blended with sport and comunity events to create an opening event for the communities around The Quays and all its wonderful sites and spaces.

The event contained a diverse mix of work, local and international and of mixed quality and craft, spanning the playful, spirtual and digital. I fell in love with trance dance again, an old obsession reinvigorated and taken to new heights, passions, experiences through the extraordinary work of Ziya Azaya. his truly talented world class artist from Turkey is other wordly operating in warrior physical performance territory. His work is enchanting. Ziya is a dance artist who spins round and round in a circle continously and durationally in contemporary dervish style, echoing the pulse of the earth and its spirit inside us. The magnitude of his work overwhelms as he weaves a dance all encompassing in its beauty, power and grace. The crowds watching something so intimate in a space so public were stunned.

Looping the Loop also played host to a range of new local and regional work created for the Cultural Olympiad, including Mechanical Games, Handprint and the series of Lets Go Global All About Us commissions. It also included a specially made finale event by Walk the Plank  which used the river as a play space to draw attention to the start of the Games and Olympic artwork commissioned for the bridge. The artwork designed by Matt English  launched at Looping the Loop and remains on the bridge until the end of the Olympic games as the region’s symbol for the 2012 Games, honoring Old Trafford as an Olympic venue.  Walk the Plank brought colour, fire and life to the water and bridge, bringing the Quays alive but the spectacle needed more content and scale for the space it had to fill. Learning for next time.

Looping the Loop was a partnership venture between Trafford and Salford City Council and the organisations who work on The Quays and the first time the Quays had delivered an event across all its venues and spaces. Looping the Loop worked because it took the public on a creative journey around the impressive backdrop of Media City, The Lowry, Imperial War Museum, Salford University and Old Trafford.  Admittedly it  was quite an event to pull off and not a big budget affair. One of its clear achievements was the engagement of local communities, both as creators of events for the day and also as audeince.  It felt like a local affair with regional scope and world class elements..  The decision to do a big event in the vicinity of the Olympic Zone was the right one. The day ran smoothly, it felt integrated, it mixed a range of programme in ways which worked well for the range of audiences and interests that were undoubtedly here. It also pointed towards a future direction for The Quays – a home grown approach which mixes local, regional and national aims and skills to deliver something which can relate to all in what is an under utlised location for everyone.

Big, Bold and Sublime: London 2012 Festival weekend

•June 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My weekend of London 2012 festival events was a pretty out of the ordinary affair. My experience made the journey up to the games more than worthwhile. Why we play with ideas and the value of artistic experimentation was more than verified and transparent to me this weekend.

Diversity is a very good thing when it comes to the arts and this weekend I saw events designed for a crowd of 10000 people and groups of five.Both offerings were part of the festival putting paid to the idea that major events only serve the spectacle of big gigs. Wrong. They serve lots of worlds in one world, big, small, bold and intimate and they place art inside and  alongside entertainment. Witnessed.

The opening night of the festival on 21 june was a proud moment for the northwest, cumbria and lakes alive who pulled off a spectacular new show. Despite the appauling weather conditions, the show went on and 9500 people remained for the duration,  illustrating just how good this show was and how courageous artists and the public can all be. On the nighshift was a stunning display of artistic dexterity blending fireworks, dance and music into a magical and otherworldly show that sent shivers down the  spine. I admittedly missed the feral freedom and chaos of les commandos perucs precious work but I imagine the spirit of this production was tamed by the weather conditions not its artistic intent.  Superbly executed and wonderfully viseral, it was a great way to kick off the festival and it will be a fine way to end the olympiad in Preston. Dripping wet and put in front of a video camera at the end of gig by Mike Todd, wanting a post show response for his film, Why we Play, I went home to bed smiling and proud of all that Lakes Alive have achieved. It is hard to remember this is only their fourth year. Impressive.

The following day I went to liverpool to see the second day of The Humble Market Trade Secrets exhibition at fact. Like On The Nightshift it was a new artistic and international collaboration and also coming to Preston at the end of the games to close the Cultural Olympiad programme. Rough around the edges still at the beginning of a four year project and a live performance in progress, Trade Secrets does stands up and alone as an exhibition well worth giving some serious time too. The exhibition for groups of five people invites the public to enter into a conceptual marketplace which questions our validity for a more Brazillian world. Participants are placed in intimate connection and side by side inside a carnival taxi, then taken on a journey to a place called Philosophy Hill and to the Intimatron. Political, personal and provocative, it explores our relationship to mass consumerism and beliefs as products. This exhibition will develop into a performance event at preston for 25 people and will involve real time exchange with characters from brazil.I am coming back for more. And more…..

Afterwards I took the AND mini bus to Manchester which was full of journalists and went to the Abandon Normal Devices Festival launch. We arrived late but in time to see the exhibition by US artist Stanya Kahn and world premiere of Swandown by filmmaker Andrew Kotting with Ian Sinclair. With experimentation as its core concern, the AND festival programme twisted my view of art and film once again and pulled off the feat of delivering two major exhibitions in Manchester at Cornerhouse and at FACT in Liverpool across the same weekend. Who says Manchester and Liverpool cant collaborate!

Art that makes you think is the AND Festival’s speciality and for Olympic Year, the festival has been bold and commissioned works which respond to the theme of success and the olympics critically _ if you are anti The Games, go see Swandown and Trade Secrets and poetic justice awaits you. After screening Swandown, AND  organised a delightful moment _ an inpromtu swan pedolo sailing down the rochdale canal with an opera singer wearing a white gown. Of course the pedalo was open source controlling the sound and lighting from within its structure courtesy of the brilliance of local artist collective Redock based in Liverpool.

The next day was about all about the Torch and I watched the flame wind its way around the city of manchester and Sir Chris Hoy take the flame down Deansgate. The London 2012 relay shows that the Olympic torch is not about gold medals but about communities coming together and supporting people who have made a difference to them. People were very excited and happy and there were lots of people lining the streets. Manchester was indeed one big party on Saturday.

The Torch Relay also visited Manchester’s statue of mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing on the centenary of his birth and I must admit, I gave the evening torch celebration a miss in favour of going to see the UK premiere of the AL and AL  film, The Creator. commisisoned by the AND festival and about the life of Alan Turing. Yet another extraordinary Cultural 0lympiad commission, this long form short  film  is quite remarkable in its vision, intelligence, story telling and craft. If Alan Turing was alive today he would be AL and AL. Errie! 

One of the other Cultural Olympiad events I also managed to fit in was Atelier Zero – our very own Olympic village and public play space in the heart of Manchester at Piccadilly Basin, made by CUBE and the Office of Subversive Architecture. Lots to do and play with here and it was nice to see that the Swan Pedolo had found its way to the site through a collboration between AND and CUBE. I got the chance to pedal the swan and set of an explosive – going from seeing thousands of them at On the Nightshift to letting off one little one all by myself. Grand.

I did return  to the torch party at Manchester Town Hall and to see thousands of people waving the sponsors branding about and dancing and singing along to  local band, The Courteeners which were superb. Then I went off to a free party with some of Africa’s finest musicians bringing the 2012 Cultural Olympiad to Manchester’s streets. My weekend was well and truly capped by Seckou Keita live at The Printworks, sharing lots of good vibes and bringing the warmth of the African soul to Manchester.

This weekend the Northwest celebrated world class artistry from France, Brazil, West Africa, USA and uk. The festival weekend was  a truly international affair of super good artists doing what they do best _ making us feel.  Damp and exhausting but hey, illuminating, inspiring, thought provoking and so much fun!

Call to action: Get self-accredited as a London 2012 Citizen Journalist and start blogging

•May 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Games Time officially begins 18 May and today the North West hosted the pre games national meeting for #media2012 at Museum of Science and Industry. This nationwide newswire for citizen journalists has hubs across the UK and a media centre in London during games time. Now is the time to get yourself accredited as a London 2012 Citizen Journalist. Details on how you do this are at

In terms of reporting, the focus is on the cultural and community aspects of the Games. All official London 2012 events in North West are listed on Four big moments to cover are 19 May opening event, 29 May torch arrival in North West, 21 June opening event, London 2012 festival in Windermere and 7 – 9 September regional closing event in Preston.

Report on what the Games mean to people in North West, on the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, to generate community coverage and international profile for what happens outside London.  Get interested to affect the core narrative of London 2012 and ensure people here about what the games did for people and meant to the North West. Report on the games here and post your stories on social media, tagging your content #media2012 Join #media2012 and you champion open media culture within the Olympic context, become more than a mere spectator but a producer of the London 2012 experience and you help to portray an image of Britain, the North West and the Games that tells of the real experience, on the streets and in community.

Media 2012 is an independent project supported by the Cultural Olympiad network of programmers and unbranded to ensure that the values of open media culture can be upheld within the Olympic context. Mobilise everyone you know to get out and about across the summer and blogging about the torch relay, Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival events. Share your opinions, tell us what is happening on the ground, tell us what you think of how the north west is contributing to the games, help us paint a picture of contemporary british culture through the games. Report on areas such as protest, politics, heritage, architecture, torch relay, Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival events. Sign up to we play challenge to post your blogs there and your photos. Don’t forget to tag everything #media2012 so we can aggregate a people’s record of the games across whole of uk and create a uk wide community of social media reporters and citizen journalists as a legacy of this games. The torch starts its relay this Saturday. It’s time to get active, participate and make use of open media culture to comment, report and critique London 2012.

Sport and Art outside the Cultural Olympiad

•April 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Over the last month I went to see two events in Liverpool that were inspired by the 2012  year being host for the Olympic and Paralympic events. These were arts events generated by local, Liverpool artist groups and it was right and proper that they were not branded Cultural Olympiad. Despite that they were both excellent, of high quality and would have ticked all the boxes for inclusion, there was something about their context, artistic intent and raw response to the values of sport through art, that suggested they were best left unbranded. Part of me felt sad about that too – not all work is right to place under the spotlight of the mega national arts brand of the moment. In this case it was not  the work-nature,  the events were totally appropriate, it was  the context. I did wish though that both these events received more profile for their inspiration and contribution to the North West response to London 2012.

The events were

Music performance and themed sports night by Kazimier: a regular monthly Krunk night with a sports twist which saw two members of the crew do a stunning music set,  drumming and playing instruments whilst running at the same time. It was a marathon of body, mind and musicality. As one of the 500 plus audience standing in front of this feat of the imagination, I was inspired to jog like they did all the way through the set. Like them, I made it. Complementing the live performance was a film, featuring the wider Kazimier crew running their way around iconic sites in Liverpool. A great one for the tourism industry. Featuring special effects which did very strange and creative things to the act of running, I would say De Coubertin would have been totally  inspired by their vision of the games as a marriage between art and sport.

If Only sport and art night by Liverpool Improvisation Collective. A series of short  movement based pieces by artists, ballroom champions, boxers, Thai chi practitioners and contemporary dancers illuminated the parallels and differences between art and sport, focussing on the body and movement as the shared space and site for creativity and expression. This was one of the most beautifully curated nights of performance I have ever seen.  Solos, duos, groups and mass participation all roles into one and shedding light on the diversity and variety of movement based art in sporting and artistic practices, the evening asked: is it sport or is it art? This comes as no surprise as part of the duo creating the evening was Mary Prestige – a leader in the new dance movement in this country, ex Olympian herself and resident in Liverpool always pushing the boundaries of the medium of dance and the potentials of the body.

Getting to handover humbly……

•April 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It is really not enough to  only fulfil the brief you are given when you are working on something like London 2012. The values which define this mega sporting event are about pushing the boundaries – of what is capable of being achieved, what we know has already been done, what lies just in front of us that we can reach, what you not being asked to do.  I can personally can never stick to a brief – I have to move beyond it and extend it. One of  the things I set out to do at the start of my role and work as the North West’s programmer for the Cultural Olympiad was to also go beyond the boundaries of programming for the Cultural Olympiad. It struck me that it would be fun to start programming into the next major event for arts and culture through  the Cultural Olympiad  and  sow the seeds of connection to the next Olympic and Paralympic Games – Rio 2016. This road is London~Derry City of Culture 2013, Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the  Rio 2016 Cultural Olympiad which runs from 2012 – 2016.

Inspired by the concept of the ‘handover’, from major event to major event, rather like a relay, I started work back in 2008 on the development of an international project that would connect the UK to Brazil and enable real time engagement across distance and place through immersive live performance and telepresence art.  The starting point was a collaboration with Vancouver 201o and one of its curators, Malcolm Levy. Four years on, this project has become  a production called The Humble Market – a cross disciplinary production conceived and created by UK and Brazilian artist. Commissioned for the 2012 year of the Cultural Olympic programme, the Humble Market forms part of a trilogy of events  –an exhibition  in Liverpool (Trade Secrets Exhibition), a performance in Preston at WE PLAY Expo (Humble Market Performance) and workshops and experiments in Derry as a trailer to the evolution of a larger scale version of the Humble Market performance which will at the end of this year, consolidate its first year journey and integrate its parts into a touring production that will be seen in Derry in 2013. The ambition of course is that this production keeps growing, expanding and generating links that enable it to form part of Glasgow’s 2014 programme and its ultimate destination of Rio’s Cultural Olympiad.

The  journey of the handover concept to its first stage realisation in Humble Market  is a journey of 4 years which takes the concept to a starting point and tipping point for a further 4 years. It is an example of how major events can talk to each other and connect and co-produce, working in partnership with artists and local communities that exist and lay between them. Connecting the different values, perspectives and needs of artists, producers and major events is no mean feat and it needs an architecture that is fluid, responsive to different needs, locations and sites and most importantly a creative concept which can grow and evolve though the input of artists and partners as they come on board at different points and stages in the journey. There is something remarkable about this – it tells the story of something bigger – the evolution of a sustainable commissioning and producing methodology for major events which is organically grown and community connected. Rather than being either top down or bottoms up in its approach, this is an altogether different structure – something new and built through emergent processes (of producers, artists and major events) and random behaviour and rapid demands within big and small networks.  Capable of supporting a near as integrated network as is possible to achieve, The Humble Market framework is a  ‘body’ oscillating between and connected to multiple  micro structures and macro structures, I would propose this is a model for what 21st century co-production looks like.  Inter-authored by the many, connecting diverse communities and global reach. In a process like this everyone leads and  the direction comes from a shared vision of the values and belief in placing innovation into the mainstream.When major events hold hands and the participants involved in the production come from independent, institutional, micro, small, medium and large scale structures, what you get is the potential for the many to communicate to the one and the one to communicate to the many.

There is along way to go but today I am celebrating a goal achieved – of programming beyond the confines of the Cultural Olympiad and before the Cultural Olympiad is over.

Here are details on the trilogy of Humble Market events happening this year as part of the Cultural Olympiad programme in the North West. All three elements are also London 2012 Festival events – that in itself is something of a success too.

 The Humble Market –  Collaborative International Production

Created by Persis-Jade Maravala, Jorge lopes Ramos, Zecora Ura Theatre Network, Alastair Eilbeck and James Bailey, the Humble Market is a trilogy of events experimenting with digital interfaces and telepresence in an artistic, theatrical and participatory context, connecting the UK and Brazil. What do we value most when faced with the challenges of global consumerism?  Enter the Humble Market to find out.

  • The Humble Market: Trade Secrets – an exhibition at FACT, Liverpool from 22 June – 26 August 2012 as a prelude to the performance in Preston. Embark on a journey of discovery with interactive market stalls.
  • The Humble Market: Immersive live digital performance that brings Brazil to Preston on 7 – 9 September 2012. Oscillating between intense spectacle and intimate encounter, The Humble Market challenges notions of theatre as performers and audiences push the borders of urban life, identity and social ‘under-standing”.
  • The Humble Market – Place at the Clock Tower and Peace Bridge in Derry as a trailer to the performance touring to Derry in 2013. This event showcases experiments and workshops in telepresence by local and international artists and serves as a portal to The Humble Market for audiences in Derry on 7 – 9 September 2012. (181)

Credit – The Humble Market is a co-production between Abandon Normal Devices, FACT and Derry- Londonderry – City of Culture 2013, commissioned by AND, FACT, WE PLAY Expo and Derry- Londonderry – City of Culture 2013 and funded by Legacy Trust UK, Arts Council England and London 2012 Festival.  

This blog is a response to some professional critique I received around the creation of development paths for projects which create mega structure as the ultimate construction – a potential over the top apparatus at a time when there is great need for simplicity of production on the ground?  Surely this is only a negative if the journey works against the ground of practice and engagement  in emergent, collaborative processes. Surely micro-development processes and building infrastructures are not opposites. Personally I am not a fan or advocate for either/or thinking. Building local and international communities of interest simultaneously through bridging structures – big and small – is the modern approach that takes art into the marketplace. I imagine that if you want to keep art in the margins you might well have such a reaction to mixing ecological approaches with  super-structures. What the world needs know is  synergy and mixed approaches founded in 21st Century not 90’s thinking.

Cultural Olympiad in the North West moves into 5th gear with The Global Rainbow

•March 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Last night was a real moment for Cultural Olympiad in the North West – we opened the final  straight to London 2012 with Yvette Mattern’s The Global Rainbow. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be part of a world which enables humans to project the spectrum of the seven colours of the rainbow from Preston across the North West. Why Preston? This is the city where the North West will end its four-year endeavour in WE PLAY Expo – the North West’s finale celebration over the final weekend of Paralympics (7 – 9 September 2012). Expo will be weaving some amazing new large-scale productions by AND, Blaze and Lakes Alive, plus Alastair Eilbank and Jamie Burns Handprint and Mike Todd’s new documentary Why we Play into the heart of Preston’s  Guild festival over what will be an amazing three days of Olympic inspired celebration – our finish line here in the North West.

Finishing lines are meant to be crossed through so all these productions do have a life after the games and will be touring across the UK and outside our borders and/or online as living reminders of what a bloody amazing job artists in this region have done – in the name of breaking new ground and through the platform of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012

Produced by the highly talented, visionary and professional Amino; The Global Rainbow runs in Preston until Sunday 11 March – and it’s really not to be missed – and best experienced as part of your normal journey. It’s on from 6pm til midnight. You turn a corner and you see it, sit on the train into and out of Preston and you see it, you can be driving on the M6 and you will see it. People have reported seeing it as far as Hebdon Bridge  when it opened last night – so that’s maybe 60 miles and like a real rainbow – you don’t know when it might appear in your sight line – halfway across England.

This is a rainbow made out of lasers and created by an artist and it invites people to go visit  (for info on all things London 2012 in the North West this year) and sign up to WE PLAY Challenge – a journey in three dimensions (physical. social and digital) leading people down the road to WE PLAY Expo – our 2012 year events for the Cultural Olympiad are invitations to travel, meet new people and have new experiences. But not only that ….people can clock up reward points for going to things and connecting with each other online and they can also record and document their personal journey through events by uploading photos and making comments. In the North West we want people to dialogue with our programme, share their opinions and views and take the journey together – its always good when experience is shared – so imagine what it might be like if everyone in the region get on board with the WE PLAY Challenge – that is one hell of a big community and one hell of a shared experience.

But there is even more…. this is a games that is in 3D….so…

People are invited to upload an image of their handprint and be part of co co creating a public artwork made out of digital hands which will be seen by thousands at our WE PLAY Expo, unveiling on 7th September 2012. In the online and social environment of the Challenge, your handprint avatar wants to play, promoting interaction and collaboration between players, with the artwork and with the programme of events in the region. Imagine if everyone in the north-west and every artist and partner who has contributed to the Cultural Olympiad over the last three years uploaded their handprint – we will co create the biggest public art work ever made in this region. I would be well proud of that.

8th March 2012 kicked off the final straight in the North West – that feels soooooo good. Only six months til the finishing line… but those six months offer a journey . A unique journey that you can ONLY experience in this region and only ONCE… check out the web site and see the extraordinary, special, strange and mind-blowing worlds of creativity and innovation that are going on in the North West from now………Sign up to the WE PLAY Challenge. Put in your hand………..Experience London 2012 in the North West as a journey in three dimensions.

AND FESTIVAL 2011 – mind bending art, film and digital culture

•October 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

What makes a good arts festival? What makes a unique and new cultural experience? What does a regional festival of new cinema; digital culture and art in the Northwest have to do with a major sporting event hosted by London 2012 and about elite sport? Answer: Diversity, difference and debate around the human condition and human potential framed within a platform that celebrates both innovation and excellence and promotes the best examples in their category.

The third edition of AND was like no other arts festival I have ever experienced in over twenty years internationally. Its focus on taking a curatorial journey into the outer limits of belief gave the festival a fulcrum from which to spin out to the past and back to the future, with each event carefully chosen and sited to explore and expand perspectives on the theme. Our experience and understanding of festivals are often linear and programmed within a genre and with a community of partners and artists recognised as belonging to a field or sector. This year’s AND festival transgressed this rule. It did not constrain itself to art or film, to digital culture or new media, live performance or theatre, sport, science, politics or history, psychology, biology, tattoo culture, electronics or religion. Neither did it constrain itself to working only with institutions or independents or only with international artists or regional artists or local communities – it connected them all and more in as near an integrated platform as is possible. We need radical interdisciplinary thinking and partnership working across all levels and arenas in order to understand and advance our society and this edition of the AND festival  showed us how festivals can  operate across different geographical, social and cultural structures, processes and territories. By exploring the theme of belief, AND engaged with multiple perspectives on human expression and offered us a study in human play and its relationship to art, experimentation and development, locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

My journey into the AND programme began with the drive in screening of Nic Roeg’s film, ‘The Man who Fell to Earth’ in Preston’s market. Still insanely topical, this seminal film remains a dispiriting vision of humanity, illuminating the part of humanity capable of overriding compassion in the name of advancement. The film’s sociological approach to science was only enhanced by the setting of the film in Preston’s market and the drive in experience – a truly sociological approach to play.

My next engagement with AND festival was some five days later at the performance of ‘The Modes of Al- Ikseer’ by Harminder Singh Judge on the Festival launch night in Liverpool. My jaw dropped when I entered into the performance space at The Black-E and was flooded in a visual feast of ancient religious imagery. At its centre the lone body performer slowly turned 360 degrees evoking a techno pagan landscape in which the body was a canvas for visual trickery and the digital age. Mesmerising for a while, the performance told the story of a Hindu myth and portrayed the body as a networked display board for global communications. The performance was earthy, spiritual and digital. It utilised the body as an object and offered another dispiriting vision of humanity.

Around the corner from the Black-E, the Chinese arch provided a really rather regal site for A Small Cinema in Chinatown – a collaboration between AND and Re Dock. This outdoor film event beneath Liverpool’s famous Chinatown arch complete with velvet seats, suited ushers and popcorn manufactured by people, cycling two bikes was a cinematic feast and temporary gathering place for a diverse community that night. Packed out on a very hot evening, it screened Chinese classics voted for my members of the community together with a selection of local and internationally shorts that looked at Eastern Perspectives on belief. I did my share of popcorn making with a companion from the Legacy Trust UK and it felt fitting that we should both be cycling for art as people involved in the cultural programme for London 2012. It was enjoyable to participate in an experience reminiscent of the old days of old cinema and then have my AND journey take a swift about turn into the future and to ‘Atalonia’ – a theatrical tour and ‘descent into the centre of the Earth’ at Pilkington’s Warehouse.

The brainchild of the Kazimier creators of extraordinary club nights, this was a beautifully human and handcrafted Dr Who experience. The journey into subterranean realms was a visual feast with dance, music, operatic interventions and craft. Inviting the suspension of disbelief, Atalonia Tours was a play space for adults and a unique, original and impressive creative experience. It was also a major achievement and labour of love, hand build by people from Liverpool, constructed out of found materials and honest in intent. With Atalonia, Kazimier rise to the challenge of producing something large scale, extending their very successful party nights formula into a new and higher realm of fiction and theatre. I departed the event dizzy from being spun round and around in a time capsule with a real sense that I had truly travelled through time.

My journey of discovery into concepts, research and experimentation in art and science continued on with a visit to The Game of Life at Makeart Studio which was a talk led by a group of Damanhurian’s and about their collective dream and how they hope it can contribute to the growth of humanity as a whole. Damanhur is laboratory for the future founded in 1975 and a world authority on time travel. I visited their community in February 2011 and it was good to see their secret mission being debated as part of the AND festival before moving on to visit the shop hosting Pigs Bladder Workshop on Bold Street.

Pigs Bladder Workshop is a year long programme of artistic enquiry by artist John O’Shea’ and a Wellcome Trust funded project exploring the medieval origins of our national game. One for the sports fans at the festival and lovers of art and science, the project is engaging with cutting edge scientific processes along the way and will culminate at AND 2012 in the cultivation of a uniquely captivating sculptural object, a football made out of living cells. In the shop, the public could have a go at making a football out of Pigs Bladders, see the film made of the game of football using a pigs bladder which AND hosted at Egremont Crab and Sports Fair the week prior and behave like a proper sports fan and buy some Pigs Bladder Football memorabilia. Contextualising this project and the AND focus on belief was the accompanying AND Salon on Fanaticism. This panel discussion chaired by Dr Andy Miah took a look at what it means to be a fan in the 21st Century and joining John O Shea in conversation was James McKenna of Spirit of Shankly, a Liverpool supporters union that since its inception in 2008 has tried to close the gap between supporter and club. For an arts festival engaging with sport, the most interesting question arising from the debate was the idea that supporters should decide what happens to their clubs. Looking at this from the arts venue view point is food for thought indeed. If arts audiences ran our venues, what art would we get?

As a committed AND fester, I participated in most of its programme over the weekend and there were way too many events to comment on here but some special experiences worth commenting on include the ‘Zee’ Exhibition at FACT – an immersive experience that leaves your physically and mentally altered, out of body and out of mind. All I will say is that they give you a tissue at the end and you need it.

‘Primate Cinema’ at the TAO art Gallery was cinema at its most sublime. An Arts Catalyst project made by Los Angeles based video artist, Rachel Mayeri, it was the result of years of working with Primates and studying how they respond to different types of media and what genres interest them. Billed as the first movie made for chimps, it made a great contribution to the new cinema programme. Included as part of the experience was another AND Salon, Simian Safari conducted on a bus touring around Knowsley Safari Park amongst Lions and Baboons. By the end of it I could scarcely see the difference between me and the chimps.

Dopplereffekt’s ‘Neutrino’ is also worth a mention for its fabulously comprehensive lecture on experimental physics, enhancing my understanding of the farther reaches of science. Using astrophysics lectures as the basis for an audio visual experience, it was a cooperation with AND Festival and the Max Planck Institute of Astrophysics. I had the joy of being there with the Damanhurian’s and our discussion added a layer of significance and meaning to the theories performed through Neutrino.

The screening of Finisterrae by director Sergio Caballero was a pilgrimage par excellence – hypnotic, absurd and visually captivating. A cinematic marvel of performance art on screen, it was a meditation on the end of the world, the end of life and the land of the living.

Likewise, the AND Salon on Reality Management was very inspiring with Author of Mirage Men, Mark Pilkington presenting a superb overview of a labyrinthine story of deception and paranoia during the cold war and how governments may have encouraged cults and fringe beliefs to distract from issues of real importance. He was joined by cultural theorist Mark Fisher in a feisty debate chaired by Roland Denning.

~media2012 also had an outing at AND, the festival providing a networking and gathering place for this ever increasing community of bloggers and citizen journalists who are interested in reporting on the London 2012 Games. I also interacted with the journalists, hacks and hackers who took part in the Media2012 and Scraperwiki workshop exploring the new tools which help ambitious newshounds break new ground. The challenge they had was not with the new tools but with finding their way through the labryinth of  2012 web sites to understand what was going on in the cultural programme for London 2012.

And, last but by no means least, a tiny little piece tucked away in a porn booth inside a sex shop. You go inside the shop, enter into one of the booths, put 2o pence in the slot and see something you would not expect – a short video piece of disaster porn, with buildings going up and down in frenzied sexual excitement. Titillating, surprising and no need for tissues – which you get at Zee.

I don’t recall going to a festival like this ever and I enjoyed the visionary intersection of craft, content and context – evidently the best art mix. The partnerships AND generated made such a marvel of a festival possible and must be commended – they resolutely illustrated the value of crossing boundaries and of forming collaborations between institutions and independents and of having wild cards amongst safe bets in a programme of work. As a result, the AND audience was broad and diverse, mixing specialists and generalists, uniting small scale communities into a bigger AND community – an audience defined by its interest in going to things that happen in the city and in different and diverse disciplines, modern ideas and topical mind bending art and debates.

In the Northwest the cultural programme for London 2012 has a focus on experimentation, participation and collaboration and the AND festival courtesy of funding from Legacy Trust UK is one of its gems. It seeks to engage people in the best art, exciting topical debates and in experience that is beyond the usual, normal and every day. In every way AND was ‘Olympian’ and a credit to the ingenuity of the North West and the imagination and vision of artists everywhere. As a platform for experimentation in both art and the festival format, AND has, in its 3rd year, found its feet and proves that it is possible to combine innovation with excellence and deliver a diverse programme that is coherent to a broad audience. AND is a hybrid product for the 21st century – a community connected spectacle for the mind of international standard and significance. I imagine there will be more than a few complaints if there is no AND 2013 in Liverpool.

Pics courtesy of Dr Andy Miah – thank you, my camera is bust – and a couple of web sites!

Groupo Pujal a hit in Maryport

•August 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On Monday 29th August, I went to see the Lakes Alive presentation of K@osmos by Groupo Puja, a group from Spain/Argentina who presented a high-octane Ariel show in Maryport harbour followed by fireworks from pa-Boom. This was the third Lakes Alive spectacle event for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad in this town and all of them have been world-class. The firework display on this night was particularly special and enchanting, helped by the wind to create a painting in the sky which drifted in a horizontal direction across the dark night sky, The whole experience was enchanting, enriching and well received by the audience.

Pre show, I walked the full length of the site where the audience were standing in anticipation and although the event was very well attended, the audiences seemed lower than last year and there was plenty room for more. Given that I had just arrived from Solfest – an annual music festival 8km away which attracts a Cumbrian, wider regional and national audience of 5000 + including the local community for Maryport and a crew and free tickets, bringing the audience up to 8000, I wondered if more than a few of the Maryport locals were just too exhausted to come out for the Lakes Alive event  after three days of magnificent fun and mayhem at Solfest.

This got me thinking about the development potential in this part of Cumbria and the potential for partnership between Lakes Alive and Solfest that remain unexplored but which could support a greater 2012 legacy for Maryport and the Cultural Olympiad.

The annual Solfest,is a music festival with  a strong family focus – there was probably at least 1000 people under the age of 14. As part of the summer season of festivals around the UK that cater to our human need to play and be free from everyday reality, this festival includes street arts activity:– strollers, small-scale acts and workshops from the street arts sector are all in the Solfest mix, revealing its interest in programming and supporting the outdoor and street arts sector. What it lacked was anything spectacular and of international quality in the street arts strand. This evidences an opportunity for collaboration with Lakes Alive. Solfest is not a free event which is the Lakes Alive ethos and this may be one of the reasons as no doubt is that they engage with the same audience to some extent, but I did wonder why Lakes Alive were not at the very least running workshops there by the artists they were presenting the day after Solfest finishes.  Flying  8 plus international artists into Maryport for less than 24 hours seems extravagant when there is a real opportunity close by for the artists to come in a day or two earlier and do some skills development work with both a local, regional and national audience. Individuals, communities and families who live in Maryport go to both Lakes Alive and Solfest so it would have made sense. No doubt more investment by the Allerdale Council or the Arts Council would have been required to cover the costs but it would have been a small investment to enable Lakes Alive to reach both a wider audience with their programming and make a deeper and more lasting legacy from London 2012 within the local community.

The K’osmos performance was amazing and awe-inspiring but I did feel that the people of Maryport deserve more than a 45 minute piece of spectacle once a year. Inspiring social change in the local community needs development activity as well as major events. Community Engagement is a local authority priority and I hope that one of the legacies of Lakes Alive working in places like Maryport will be the ongoing development of projects which connect participation to spectacle and support cross sector working between the public and commercial sectors – an annual collaboration  between international events producers like Lakes Alive and a commercial festival like Solfest is something Allerdale Council could embrace and enable with the support of the Arts Council. It’s a Big Society model for arts development and programming in the UK. We need projects like this and Maryport is fortunate to have this potential on its doorstep.


•July 26, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Lakes Alive drew a diverse community of 6000 people plus to Whitehaven Harbour on Saturday night for an aerial concert by French Group, Trans Express.  The event was beyond magical and world-class. This large scale and free event called Maudit Sonnets was presented by Lakes Alive to mark one year before the start of the 2012 Olympic Games. There could not have been a more suitable and proper cultural event for the annual countdown as it was truly Olympian – in imagination and at the physical level.  Superbly choreographed, we watched in awe as musicians played and bodies danced in a structure which hang from the night sky as a musical human chandelier – a feat of mechanical engineering which was simply awe-inspiring and treat for lovers of the surreal   The concert ended with a fireworks display from pyrotechnic experts Pa-Boom which incited enthusiastic shouting and clapping from what was quite clearly a fully satisfied and star stuck audience. ‘I have no idea what it was about but it was good wasn’t it’. We all know what excellence looks like.  I wonder if Whitehaven realise how lucky and how rare it is to have something this good and this well produced. If you were not a fan of outdoor spectacles before the show, you would be now. Lakes Alive is quite incredible – they just keep going from strength to strength and developing the skill of placement – they know exactly what work to place in what site and how to reach and develop a non regular and non arts going audience. This was an elite event for the community and (to quote the Arts Council’s mantra)   great art for everyone. So, it can be done…..