Archives for category: Outdoor Community Arts Practice

 

the end is nigh

THE NEW RISE OF SOCIALISM AND THE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE ARTS TO HEAL OUR POST BREXIT DIVIDED SOCIETY

The result of the EU referendum to Brexit, the subsequent splintering of our two main political parties and a resurgent support for the socialist politics of Jeremy Corbyn present us, the proletariat, with an unprecedented opportunity.  Before I continue, I must nail my colours to the mast.  I am an unashamed European and I believe our nation’s decision to leave the EU is flawed.  However, rather than looking back and joining the blame game, I choose to look forward and concern myself, not with the ramifications of extricating ourselves from the EU (which I’d rather we didn’t have to do) but with suggestions as to how we fix the divides in British society which the polarising  EU referendum laid bare. The referendum spotlighted rifts between the generations as well as between the urban cognoscenti and those that live on the “edgelands” of our major urban centres.

The leave campaign’s slogan was to take our country back and I agree it is time to do so.  However, I have no desire to take our country back from the Europe that helps us economically, socially and environmentally but from the Neo-Liberals who continue to bleed us dry.

To quote Noam Chomsky, we continue to live in a neo-liberal “shrivelled conception of democracy” where rulers are drawn from a self-professed “elite guardian class” with the sole aim of “protecting the minority of the opulent from the majority”. (Chomsky, N Truthout (book excerpt), February 11, 2016, https://chomsky.info).  This was the lion’s roar of defiance that brought about Brexit.  Fuelled by years of unprecedented attacks on the working classes through austerity and an appalling campaign of fear from both sides that failed to address the proletariat’s huge concerns about inequality, a post-referendum Britain finds some, feeling most oppressed and isolated, resorting to hate crime to make themselves heard.

So what does all this politicking have to do with me, a 50 year old entrepreneurial community artist, street performer and single mother, living in my owner-occupied council house in Wakefield, West Yorkshire?  What does it have to do with the arts?

Firstly, I have been brought to tears reading report after report about the rise of xenophobic and racist incidents and, secondly, I believe in the ultimate power of the arts to heal.

On the weekend of Brexit, I found myself at Somerset House in London.  Appalled by the plight of so many refugees drowning in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas over the last three years, I finally had an opportunity to launch a new community engaged outdoor arts show called Driftwood there. Driftwood explores with host communities how we prepare ourselves to welcome newcomers into our midst.  The irony of performing a new show for the first time about welcome, when we had voted to close the borders of our nation did not escape us. The performance was profound, with our audience visibly moved.  Driftwood is intrinsically a “role play”. The performance seeks the audience’s help to provide sanctuary for a boat full of newcomers who have had the most horrendous of journeys.  In doing so, the performance creates a temporary community and re-ignites that temporary community’s concerns for humankind.

And here is the key to opportunity : art explores what it is to be human and community-engaged art brings people together in a shared community experience. If socialism is the political and economic theory that advocates for the means of production, distribution and exchange to be socially organised, then community engaged art is a both a humanitarian and socialist construct.  King Leopold II, wrote to Queen Victoria that “dealings with artists … require great prudence; [as] they are acquainted with all classes of society, and for that very reason dangerous”.  I do not believe that artists are dangerous, but the fact that they are “acquainted with all classes” makes us very useful as we begin to reshape our post Brexit society.

Driftwood by Faceless Arts with TLANG photo by Tony Glossop Smaller Silk Painting at Falcons Drive, Castleford

There is documentary evidence to prove the healing power of the arts. Community engaged artists are at the forefront of helping older people and their families live with dementia.  The NHS is increasingly seeing non-pharmacological interventions through the arts as cost effective solutions to helping people with both long term mental and physical illnesses.  Such creative interventions concentrate on the whole person in their environment rather than the symptoms, enabling the patient to find coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with their long term ailments, drawing on creativity and community support to alleviate symptoms and mitigate the need for medication.

If the arts can help to heal an individual, then the arts can, and does, heal communities too.  In my own work with Faceless Arts, I see on a daily basis, the power of Outdoor Arts, events and festivals to bring communities of all ages, faiths and cultures together in public spaces, redefining these spaces for future community use. I see the ability of the arts to reach out to communities less well served, (those most abused by neo-liberal ideology) using the arts to celebrate their unique heritage and roots thus re-affirming a sense of identity and belonging.

Now, more than ever, “classless” artists need to grasp the opportunity to re-engage our disenfranchised citizens by delivering projects that bring people together creatively and socially.  We need projects that bridge age, faith, culture and language barriers.  We need to use the arts to be with people and provide the space for people to be with others.  We need the arts to listen to people, support them, help them to express themselves, help them to help themselves and each other and we, as artists, need to find any and all creative means to reflect these views and experiences of our communities in the “edgelands” back to our new government.

In doing this, we use the arts to begin to re-build our society – a society where people rather than profit is the priority.

In order to do this important work, artists need financial and infrastructural support.  I feel confident that, as with many creative community interventions, the long term benefits will far outweigh the costs.

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13/11/14

Short Ships by Faceless Arts

The Farrell Review – the Role of Artists and the Arts
Brief Presentation for a Meeting of Arts and Built Environment Practitioners
Beam / The Orangery, Wakefield 13 November, 2104

Outdoor Arts & Public Realm

In thinking about today’s meeting, I thought I might share some of the thoughts I had on the Farrell Review. I have three different perspectives by which to contribute to the discussion today.

Firstly, I am an Outdoor Arts Practitioner and Educator. As founder member of Faceless Arts, the majority of my outdoor and community arts practice for the past 25 years has been about bringing art and people together in the outdoors, using visual art and performance to creatively explore senses belonging, identity and place.

Secondly, I’m board member of ISAN, the London based national development organisation for Outdoor Arts in the UK. At ISAN we regularly deal with issues of policy in the public realm in order to support the work of our members which comprise artists, programmers, producers, festivals and local authorities.

Thirdly, I have just completed a post graduate research project at Leeds University about creative outdoor arts experiences as nurture rather than instrument. During the process of practically mapping creative arts experiences, I applied a few seminal socio-philosophical theories to contemporary outdoor arts practice, such as Rancière (the Emancipated Spectator), Bourriaud (Relational Aesthetics) and LeFebvre (The Production of Space).

Public Realm is of course social space, shared space, the space of our audiences and participants. Street artists animate the public realm by what Bourriaud calls a social interstice – an interruption in the everydayness of people, inviting them to look afresh at the environment of the public realm, its inhabitants and its functions.

However, LeFebvre argues that much of our urban and suburban public realm is produced to control. It is an increasingly privatised and homogenous space bogged down in a risk averse culture of consumerist economics. This iteration of the public realm, its design for perceived needed contemporary functions bring a host of challenges for the street performer, such as:

– A drink fuelled night time economy
– Impractically designed /misconceived public spaces leaving them underused and maligned– eg soul-less, overdesigned spaces, ubiquitous central sculpture, or “plop art”, as Andrew Knght calls it http://www.rkl-consultants.org.uk/
– Public space as thoroughfare – places of transit rather than spaces to linger
– Traffic – noise, poor air, increased risk
– The desolation of the high street when the shops are closed

To subvert these difficulties, street artists are truly imaginative, they create ;
– Giant spectacle works that bring cities to a halt
– Visual non verbal poetic works that touch audiences emotionally and draw them into a narrative
– Community engaged and co-authored site specific works
– Intimate and immersive works using digital technology sound and light
– Family friendly works adding to the linger factor for people of all ages
– Naughty confrontative and subversive work, which sparks thought or simply interrupts the tedium

The report talks about place based planning and design. In my opinion, place based design to date has been the servant of destination marketing and I am not sure of its success. In a scramble to make place destinations to boost our flailing local economies through tourism, we have forgotten the people who use the space daily, the people who live in our villages towns and cities, who’s experiences in public realm are the making of place. These opportunities for co-authored shared experience are the nub of what Rancière analyses in The Emancipated Spectator as the Sensus Communis – or a sense of communal experience.

Cardiff Bay, Salford Quays and Newcastle Quayside are examples public realm design and urban regeneration that work for me both as street performer and visitor. Cardiff Bay is controversial and has its problems. See Jones the Planner. http://www.jonestheplanner.co.uk/2011/03/cardiff-bay-blues.html. The positives include:
– Intensive mixed uses and traffic free.
– Spaces flanked by theatres and concert halls, restaurants and shops, places of work, leisure and policy making – the Welsh Parliament is in Cardiff Bay.
– Accommodation for artist studios and the creative industries
– People live there.
– Functional yet exceedingly flexible to host huge outdoor arena style events or small intimate quirky animations.
– Breathing, working, living, play spaces.
– Intriguing spaces for discovery and play.
– Alive night and day and frequented by people of all ages with people of means spending their cash in bars and restaurants whilst cash strapped young people and families walk, play or picnic.

They function similarly to the great civic spaces of the ancient Greeks – they’re our modern Agoras.

My final observation is about the report’s call for new levels of public engagement through “education and outreach in every village, town and city”. This is work that is close to my heart as I work in outdoor arts with communities, creating events on urban outskirts and rural borders. Faceless Arts recent use of strategic touring funds from the Arts Council has enabled us to work in with small isolated communities of West and East Yorkshire off the M62. Their public realm can be the cross roads, a park or Community Library Garden. Last year I directed The Empty Square and this year I made Follow the Diversion. Both these projects explore and celebrate stories of place as a means of encouraging communities to re-purpose their minimal public realm as spaces for community creativity and social gathering. These funds from ACE are welcomed by us as artists and by the communities with whom we work, who have limited access to high quality touring work. We also have to remember too, in this time of austerity and spending cuts, that street artists need access to funds and resources for continued innovation and that local authorities, town and parish councils need to be able to access a programming budget to continue to inspire people to use the public realm as a creative, playful social space of thus contributing their own memories of place to a democratisation of the public realm.

Bev Adams FRSA
Artistic Director Faceless Arts
Board Member ISAN (Independent Street Arts Network)

Follow the Diversion by Faceless Arts Bev photo by Amanda Crowther

I am fortunate that much of my job is about meeting and talking to people. It is about listening to people’s stories – what they enjoy doing, what they like about where they live and what they remember about the past.

In my day to day work, these conversations happen with people of all ages, all over Yorkshire. You see, it is my job to take these stories and work with communities to interpret them into community performances. I am a community drama practitioner and I work alongside fellow artists who are visual arts or music practitioners for an arts charity called Faceless Arts. The communities we work with form an important part of our team too. We believe everyone has the ability to be creative, that creativity can happen everywhere and that art helps you to feel better.

This summer I am working on a project called Follow the Diversion with four communities in the East Riding. We will work with each community for 5 days and on day 6 will present a new community play based on their stories and memories.

Follow the Diversion is about the sometimes bypassed, communities along the M62, nestled under flyovers and bridges and clustered in the shadows of power stations. Using the metaphor of children’s play, and oversized building blocks as our set and props, Follow the Diversion explores poignant memories, community identity and the importance of taking the time to stop and see what may be around you. Each Follow the Diversion performance starts with a commuter being diverted from the M62 who, after complaining that “there is nothing here”, is drawn by the participating community cast into a retelling of their collected stories and shared reminiscences of older people. As the commuter forgets their commute, we too, as audience, are taken on a colourful diversion of discovery into childhood games, rural pass-times, industrial heritage, war time reminiscences and modern day celebrations.

Follow the Diversion aims to highlight the participating communities on our own reimagined map whilst redefining outdoor public spaces for social and cultural gathering and complementing, or creating new, local events. Parks, town centres, galas and social club grounds are our venues and local people aged 8+ are our storytellers, performers, participants and audiences. In each community, we create a mini outdoor event with family arts workshops in SPACE TO CREATE – our pop up creative activity dome, professional performances of our gentle giant HERON and a community performance of FOLLOW THE DIVERSION.

Making use of a strategic touring grant from Arts Council England, Faceless Arts’ are happily diverted from the M62, taking the time to stop and listen, create and celebrate the beauty and history of four sometimes isolated, often overlooked villages and towns. The project begins in Brough on 4th August, travels to Old Goole, Howden and completes at Snaith and Cowick Heritage Day . There is still time to sign up and participate, so, If you are aged 8+ and fancy being diverted this summer, please contact Bev Adams or Charlie Wells at Faceless Arts on 01924 335985 email arts@facelessco.com

Dasein – being there and being present in outdoor performance

Being there, being present and moments of constructed conviviality in outdoor performance

Presentation for International Perspectives on Participation and Engagement in the Arts – Utrecht 20 June 2014

 

Outdoor Performers may wish to consider and develop skills in…

  1. Awareness (everything is material)
  2. Playfulness (the game of…, imagination & invention)
  3. Incongruity (what makes the performance stand out from the crowd)
  4. Audience Interaction/Involvement (it is their space)
  5. Space (within performance/between performers and audience)
  6. Sensitivity/Generosity/The invitation (to audience and performers)
  7. Place (responding to the place in which a performance takes place)
  8. Action (simplicity and clarity of, plus size, scale, focus and stillness)

“The Viewpoints are a philosophy of movement translated into technique for 1) training performers and 2) creating movement on stage

The Viewpoints are a set of names given to certain basic principles of movement; these names constitute a language for what happens or works on stage.

The Viewpoints are points of awareness that a performer or creator has while working.”  Dixon, Michael Bigelow with Joel A. Smith, Anne Bogart: Viewpoints, p21 (1995)

“Viewpoints” for puppetry (embodied practice with thanks to Andrew Kim and Natasha Holmes)

1.    Breath

To be animate the object must breathe

2.    Focus or Gaze

The object needs to see and react/respond to stimuli

3.    Gravity/Weight

To be believable, the object must comply with the laws of gravity

4.  Articulation

Of limbs/head aids the puppet’s ability to locomote and physically embody reactions to stimuli.

Biomechanics is a system of physical actor training developed by Vsevelod Meyerhold in Moscow, Russia in the 1920’s.

In a recent work demonstration at Stage@Leeds (05/12/12) I showed the four stages that make up any movement in Biomechanics: Otkaz, Posil, Tormos and Tochke (Tochke is also known as Stoika). This is embodied knowledge I learned directly from Gennadi Bogdanov at GITIS Academy ,  Moscow

Otkaz means refusal or the denial. It is a ‘set-up’ or preparation for the main movement of the sequence, enacted by a movement in the opposite direction, like dancer bending their knees in preparation for a jump. For me, in the unfocussed environment of the outdoors, the Otkaz is key.  It is a visual signal to the audience that an action is about to happen.  It is also a visual cue for the ensemble. Without such a visual clue an important action could be easily missed. By playing with the length of Otkaz, or strengthening its impact through ensemble, Otkaz, the refusal can help focus action in the outdoors in the same way that an indoor director may make use of lighting.

Posil means the sending out.  It is the main action of the sequence and the execution of the movement set up by the Otkaz. I often refer to this as “Play”.  Posil gives the actor freedom to play, improvise and build in the unexpected. In the street, car horns hoot, babies cry, people walk across the space, props blow away. By using play, all of this material can be incorporated into the Posil. I therefore encourage the actor to play with and for the audience.  In the street, the actors are literally “playing” in the audiences’ space and I encourage actors to be generous with and sensitive to this.

Tochke means the full stop, or, if Stoika is used, it means the stance.  It is the completion of the movement – a stop-motion pose that serves both as the closure of the Posil and as the starting point for the next stage of the action.  For the audience, this is a moment of realisation and assimilation of information or, in the Brechtian sense, a moment of alienation, of recognition of the act or actor. It can also be a moment of shared emotion – a gasp, a laugh – or a moment of applause.

Tormos means the brake or resistance.  It is the element underlying the other three parts of the movement sequence and the physical control which allows fluid, precise completion of the action.  I also teach this as a gathering in of focus and energy and encourage the actors to use it as thinking time for the next action, so that when the Tochke is complete, the actor knows precisely what their next intention or action will be.  Tormos for me is vital.  Without Tormos, the actors will become tired and pacing of the production will feel relentless. Tormos prepares the way for the completion of action whilst drawing the audience in for the moment of realization mentioned above.

I argue that a heightened understanding of these 4 basic stages of biomechanical movement can provide rhythm and phrasing of any action, piece of text, entire script or even production.  When working with them as actor’s training, I ask actors to exaggerate the stages at first to increase awareness and imbed them in their movement vocabulary, just like a biomechanical actor would do through the learning and execution of an etude.  In performance, the stages are still present, but less visible.

Functions of Biomechanics in Ensemble outdoor performance

  • Training: developing physical, playful expressiveness
  • Communication: an unspoken visual language of intention and non-verbal cues
  • Clarity of action: for the actor and audience
  • Improvisation: aiding opportunities to interact with the unexpected, then return with ease to the score/script/action
  • Phrasing, rhythm and musicality:  for a line, script, action or entire production

As an director of outdoor arts productions, Biomechanics provides for me  a technique for training actors, a means of creating movement for performance; and a non verbal signalling language for an ensemble.