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The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society

Apologies for the time that has passed since my last post. As things have opened up, life seems to have got busier for everyone.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Robbie Humphries
Robbie Humphries

The last series of posts that I wrote featured the SILTings festival and the many ingenious ways that LV21 found to continue bringing high quality cultural experiences to Gravesham, despite restrictions on indoor events and social gatherings outside.

Well we’ve come a long way, and on 28th October LV21 are hosting their first onboard ticketed performance since lockdown in March 2020, and it promises to be a most interesting and entertaining evening.

The Plant is a ‘devised play’ with live traditional music, written by Greg Lawrence and Jeremy Scott, directed by Dave Turner, and performed by other members of The Plant Assembly Theatre Cooperative .

The Nissan car plant in Sunderland

It explores the impact of the Brexit referendum and the divisions it intensifies in an imagined community.

Based around a car factory, known as The Plant, the story has at its centre a young couple, Maddie and Niall, and their attempt to build a life together in the shadow of change.

Three performances, the first on LV21, pay tribute to Robbie Humphries, the play’s original director, who died of cancer in February 2019, before he could see his vision realised.

 

How it all started
In 2016, after the UK had voted for Brexit, Greg Lawrence, a writer living in Whitstable, wrote a short story Heads or Tails in the Darkness about a young couple. One had voted leave the EU while the other voted remain. The story explored  the impact of their differences on their relationship.

Sunderland votes to leave the EU

From that story grew the idea for a play, inspired by the experiences of the workers at the Nissan car plant in Sunderland, before and after the EU referendum.

On Brexit night, Sunderland was the first district to declare for ‘leave’. This was a surprise to many people, as Nissan was the main employer in Sunderland  and employees had  been warned time and again, that a vote to leave could jeopardise their jobs. Nissan said that World Trade Organisation tariffs would render its business in the UK unsustainable.

Greg  Lawrence was intrigued.  ‘I thought, wow, I wonder what’s going on there?’

Fascinated, Greg followed the developing situation in Sunderland, thinking that it might be a possible source for a story, and he wasn’t disappointed.

In the weeks following the ‘leave’ vote, behind closed doors, Nissan and the Government held talks about the future of the car plant.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Developing the script through improvisation
Developing the script through improvisation

‘I got an image in my head of these people waiting outside the negotiations for a decision that was completely out of their hands,’ Greg explains. ‘And the fragility of the situation, where someone else is making a decision and your entire future is hanging on it, reminded me of so many things that have happened in our past – the primary industries going and all those communities being broken and dying out.’

Greg approached Jeremy Scott, a musician, writer and an academic at the University of Kent, and two theatrical professionals, Robbie Humphries and Dave Turner, to discuss turning his ideas into a play.

‘Rather than just writing the script myself, I wanted to develop it through improvisation, using lots of theatrical devices and tools to see how it would grow,’ Greg explains. ‘And based on a couple of very powerful theatrical productions I’d seen, I wanted to explore how we could use music  to help set the scene – the time and place.’

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Jeremy Scott and Greg Lawrence
Greg and Jeremy wrote the script in  pubs and drinking holes in Whitstable

All three collaborators loved the idea. They contacted a group of local actors who already met regularly to improvise, and secured some rehearsal space through Jeremy’s connections at the University of Kent. Then, once a month The Plant Assembly Theatre Cooperative got together to work on the project.

Later, after they had secured funding from Arts Council England to perform the play across Kent, the Cooperative held auditions, drawing their cast from Kent and South London.

The process
Robbie Humphries was to direct the play. It was his job to explore, through improvisation, the impact of Brexit and the issues it stirred up for the factory, the community and individual characters.

‘We had a few characters in mind,’ says Jeremy Scott. ‘There was a young couple, Maddie and Niall, from very different backgrounds and with opposing views on Brexit, who have come together in this context and tried to forge a relationships. Then there was Niall’s dad, the union representative; Niall’s best friend; the factory manager, the local MP and the workers themselves.’

Niall

The improvisation sessions were filmed,  and afterwards Greg and Jeremy worked together to select the most interesting parts of the improvised dialogue, and turn them into a written script.

These extracts, Are You Calling My Workforce Diesel, illustrate how much the final production drew upon the improvisations of the actors. In these clips they are: Jane Bowhay, Adam de Ville and Grant Simpson.
Improvisation

Performance

Production was fluid and dynamic process. As well as receiving footage of the improvisations,  the writers were able to feed ideas for the narrative back into the improvisation process, via director, Robbie.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Maddie and Niall
Maddie and Niall

‘We realised that we needed a scene where the two main characters meet for the first time,’ Greg remembers. ‘So Robbie worked with the actors, using a drama technique to get that for us. He did the scene three times – one where the characters weren’t allowed to say anything, one where the couple could use just one word, and a third where they could talk normally. For the script Jeremy and I preferred the second option, as we liked the use of body language and movement in the play. It was lovely, so natural and romantic.’

There was also a research angle to the project. A cast member, Jonathan Fitchett, was studying for a PhD looking at improvised dialogue and how it can become dramatic, and interesting to people in a theatrical setting. The videoed improvisations fed into that research and the outcomes of the research helped inform the acting and writing process.

From script to performance
After about a year, the script was ready and the Cooperative took stock.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: First performance script-in-hand
First performance: script-in-hand

‘The first reading of the play that we did was about three hours long and it was awful!’ Greg laughs. ‘So Robbie suggested that we perform extracts from the whole, just enough to give a sense and the essence of what the play is about. So we did that and we thought that it worked really well as a piece in itself.  Sadly, Robbie passed away by the time of the performance in April 2019. And although we developed it a little more since, that version is pretty much what we have now.’

The final play, which lasts about 90 minutes,  now contains some written elements, others taken directly from the improvisation sessions, and some that are a little bit of both. The writers have also quoted verbatim, some remarks from the people of Sunderland, about the referendum, the vote and the negotiations.

In April 2021, the Cooperative performed The Plant, script-in hand, to some acclaim, as part of the Union season at the Gulbenkian  Arts Centre at the University of Kent.
Performance

The music
An essential element of The Plant is the traditional music, so much so that the writers refer to the music as ‘the  seventh cast member’. Four musicians perform on the stage throughout the piece.

‘I’d always wanted to write a musical but I have no musical talent,’ Greg laments. ‘Jeremy on the other hand plays and sings in folk bands and is fluent in folk music – its chords, its lyrics and its significance.’

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Musicians Martin Kember and Jeremy Scott
Musicians: Martin Kember and Jeremy Scott

But the play is not a musical, both writers insist. It is a play with music.

‘The cast perform the music themselves, but it is definitely not a singing and dancing number,’ Jeremy says. ‘In The Plant the songs and tunes don’t come from the characters, except on one or two occasions. Rather they come from the air. They bring out some of the central themes and are the voice the community, retelling their lives, stories and experiences, which are just as relevant now as at the time the music evolved. Just as you might use a soliloquy in a play to expand on a particular theme, the songs and tunes in the play are the soliloquies of the people.’

You can read more about how music is used in the play and listen to some of the songs used, here.

A long time coming
The Plant has been a long time in the making. It started with Brexit in 2016 and although performances were booked for 2020, these were cancelled because of Covid. The Cooperative kept the spirit of the production going online during lockdown but inevitably with such a long break, some participants moved on.

But the delay also had some very positive consequences.

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: Director, Dave Turner
Director: Dave Turner

‘When Robbie passed away in 2019, we lost our director but we were lucky that the actors rallied and stepped up to help put on a great performance,’ Greg says. ‘We really wanted Dave Turner to take over as director but Robbie and Dave were best friends and, at the time, Dave felt that, emotionally, he just couldn’t do it. Later, he did feel able to take on the role and has directed the current production, which I’d always hoped he would do.’

Robbie’s wife, Becks Hill, has also returned to the production, as Maddie.

‘So every step along the way has been a sort of tribute to Robbie,’ Greg smiles. ‘We’ve mentioned him in programmes, in the script, everywhere we can. The Plant is a tribute to him and everyone else who has been with us along the way.’

The Cooperative believe that five years on from Brexit the play will still appeal to a wide range of people, as the themes and issues the play explores are timeless – they have persisted throughout history, are still relevant today and will continue to be so into the future. Also, the writers have been careful to keep the play balanced. It is neither pro-leave or pro-remain.

‘In fact it’s not really about Brexit at all,’ Jeremy explains. ‘It’s about what that debate has done to us as a group of people and how we negotiate our way through it. It’s about questions of Englishness, belonging and identity and I think these will come to the fore more and more as we move forward.’

‘The play also looks at ideas of community,’ Greg adds. ‘The communities that I knew when I was growing up are not there as much and I think we need them back. They are there but we need to appreciate them, nurture them and be part of them to make them work, and the play explores that as well.’

Future plans
The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: PosterThere are three performances of The Plant at the end of October (dates below) and the Cooperative is applying for more funding to tour the production nationally in the future.

‘I was watching a documentary about Julie Walters talking about the early days of the Liverpool Everyman,’ Greg says. ‘She said they would rehearse a play, jump in the back of a van and turn up at a pub, jump out, put the play on, jump back in the van and go to the next venue. And that, for me, is what theatre is all about. That idea of theatre as education. Theatre that talks about politics, enlightens people and gets communities involved. And I think  that’s what we should be doing with this play.’

The writers see The Plant as only the beginning of a journey.

‘What I want to do eventually  is to take the idea of this play into other communities and leave them with it so that they can do their own version,’ Greg explains. To say right, here’s an idea – you’ve got a community, a set of characters, there’s a division, there’s an aspect of fragility and there are these themes – now you do what you want to do with it. It could be any issue – vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, anything. These are such divisive times. We’re living in a binary world at the moment. You’re either in or you’re out. Yes or no. There’s no grey.’

The castThe Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: cast
Becks Hill as Maddie
Harvey Almond as Niall
Paul Marlon as Gary
Denise Wilton as Jane
Jonathan Fitchett as Geoff
Lauren Mills as Gemma

 

The Plant: Creating Theatre for Society: ImprovisationMusicians
Tom Horn
Martin Kember

Performance dates
LV21, Gravesend  – 28th October 2021 – SOLD OUT (all ticket enquires to the Cooperative, please)
The Churchill Theatre, Bromley – 29th October 2021
The Aphra Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury – 30th October 2021

Links
The Plant Assembly Theatre Cooperative – https://www.plantassemblytheatre.com/

 

 

 

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Tania Holland Williams: Changing the Shape of Opera

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
Imagine you are standing on a street in your town. What would it take for you to feel that you were in the presence of opera, that you had suddenly stepped into an opera house?

Fat Lady Opera: The Invisible Opera House - Nightwatchers
The Invisible Opera House – NightWatchers

It was this question that Tania Holland Williams, founder of Fat Lady Opera, asked the people of Folkestone in 2019, as part of her company’s first commissioned project The Invisible Opera House.

Have a think about it. We’ll come back to it later.

Early influences
Tania grew up and went to school in Folkestone. As a small child, she fell in love with music and the theatre. Her father was ‘a mad keen rock and roll addict’, and Tania was introduced to classical music by two inspirational people – her school music teacher and her classical guitar teacher.

‘I had one of the most eclectic teenage record collections,’ she laughs. ‘My first album was Morricone’s Fistful of Dollars. And while I still loved Abba and all the pop stuff, I also had Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.’

Tania Holland Williams ©Brian Slater
Tania Holland Williams ©Brian Slater

While she was still at school, Tania joined FHODS – the Folkestone and Hythe Operatic and Dramatic Society. She loved the sense of belonging that she felt with her new theatrical family. And when she left school, to her parents’ horror, she took a degree in Clowning and Performance at Middlesex University, singing in jazz clubs at night.

It was Tania’s singing teacher who first suggested that she should audition for the Royal College of Music Opera School. She went along and was offered a postgraduate place. Suddenly Tania was on track for a career in opera.

‘With my background in clowning, I found opera a bit puzzling when I first started working in it,’ Tania admits. ‘I discovered that opera likes to put up quite a lot of barriers. It’s got this weight of heritage of the right and wrong way of doing something. If you do a Mozart opera, you’ve got several hundred years of people who’ve done it before telling you how it should be done.’

Germany and the Grand Tour
After  graduating from the Opera School, Tania was awarded a scholarship to study opera in Munich.

‘My dad, who is Austrian, was in the army, and we’d lived in Germany for a while when I was first born,’ Tania explains. ‘My Gran spoke Austrian dialect German, so I felt  an affinity with the German language and I’d always wanted to go back there. Then when I was there, it just seemed like a really great place to do opera. There’s an opera house in every town and there’s an appetite for opera that there just isn’t in the UK.’

Tania Holland Williams
Tania Holland Williams

After she completed her course in Munich, Tania joined the company at the Opera House in Weisbaden. She felt at home immediately.

‘Like at FHODS, the opera company became like my family,’ she says. ‘It was just what I’d been looking for. They had some amazing guest directors. And I really felt I was learning my craft.’

After three years with the company,  both Tania’s singing teacher and conductor, Jonathan Nott,  whom she’d been working with, advised her to move on to broaden her experience.

‘They said it was time for me to get going, basically,’ Tania remembers. ‘So I did move on, but I don’t think I went in the direction that perhaps I should have done, or that they thought I was going to!’

While she was studying in Munich, Tania met  Canadian artist Bonnie Bews and they had became good friends.

‘We’d had this idea of touring for years,’ Tania explains. ‘Bonnie paints beautiful Arthur Rackham-style  pictures on glass, and I’d recorded an album of British songs by Vaughn Williams and Britten, so we decided to tour Canada and Europe together. We knew we’d never make any money from ticket sales, so we decided to sell Bonnie’s paintings, and agreed a cut.’

The tour lasted two-and-a half years. Tania returned to the UK afterwards, exhausted vocally and physically, and in need of a job.

Tania Holland Williams
Tania Holland Williams

Back home
‘When I came back to the UK, I landed with a bit of a bump,’ Tania says. ‘Because I’d been working since I left college, I assumed that I’d walk straight into something reasonably well-paid. But all my connections had moved on. And it took me several years to re-find a way back into opera.’

Eventually, Tania began touring with small-scale opera companies, earning extra money singing oratorios. But after the richness of her experience in Germany, she found the repertoire predictable and uninspiring. And although the oratorios paid well, it wasn’t the opera she craved.

‘I began asking myself what I was doing it all for,’ Tania says. ‘I felt like I’d taken risk after risk with my career, and then to find myself doing really conventional stuff – I wasn’t sure that was really me. I think if I’d stayed in Germany I would have continued singing because there, there was a sense that my practice was continuing to develop, whereas over here, I was just ticking boxes.’

Disillusioned, Tania took the difficult decision to retire from singing for a while and she started to look for a ‘normal 9-5 job’, where singing wasn’t a big part of her life.

Tania Holland Williams ©Brian Slater
Tania Holland Williams ©Brian Slater

Her first job was in Thurrock, managing the Creative Partnerships programme, which placed artists in schools to help develop young people’s creativity.  She loved the job.

‘It was an amazing few years,’ Tania says. ‘Although I wasn’t performing, I was working every day with creative people – recruiting  and training artists, engaging and prepared the schools, and then mentoring the projects as they rolled out.’

But in 2011, with a change of government,  it became clear that funding for Creative Partnerships would end. Tania moved on again, this time to a part-time role raising funds to support  the Royal Opera House’s move to High House Production Park in Thurrock. Although she was extremely successful, raising 5.2 million pounds in just 8 months, Tania’s heart just wasn’t in it.

‘I really hated the work,’ she confesses. It was very political. It was affecting my mental health. It was a million miles away from theatre-making and it was breaking my heart being that close to creativity but not being a creative. I remember thinking, I’ve got to change this.’

Tania Holland Williams: The Importance of Elsewhere - Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James
The Importance of Elsewhere – Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James

A sense of belonging
At about the time that she took up her post at The Royal Opera House, Tania set up a company called Curious Planet . The plan was to use Curious Planet  to continue to work with some of the artists she had met at Creative Partnerships. Fortunately, as her work at the Royal Opera House came to an end, Creative Planet started to gain a little bit of traction.

Tania invited 12 artists to join her new initiative and, as part of a visioning exercise, asked them to consider what they might do, as artists, to maintain a sense of wonder in the world.

Two of the artists, Wendy Daws and Peter Cook proposed a project called The Importance of Elsewhere, inspired by a Philip Larkin poem of the same name. Their vision was to create an arts space that was welcoming and totally inclusive.

Tania Holland Williams: The Importance of Elsewhere - Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James
The Importance of Elsewhere – Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James

‘A big problem with funding is that it, unintentionally, creates silos,’ explains Tania. ‘For example Kent Association for the Blind where Wendy worked, is an association for people with vision impairment so their services, their clubs, their activities bring people with poor sight together. But there aren’t many places that are able to say, you can come if you’ve got sight loss, or if you have a learning disability, or if you’re elderly and a bit physically frail, and your access needs will be catered for. Generally, building relationships and making friends, is about sharing a positive interest, not because we share a common characteristic. So the conversation then became about, how can we create a space that is like that.’

Tania Holland Williams: The Importance of Elsewhere - Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James
The Importance of Elsewhere – Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James

To succeed, The Importance of Elsewhere needed access to a large empty space, with smaller breakout areas. It all seemed a bit of a pipe dream until, one day, Tania attended a meeting to discuss the Old Registry Office in Chatham, which had been bought for residential development. Because building work could not start for several months, someone at the meeting suggested that, perhaps,  it could be let out to artists in the meantime. The space was exactly what Tania needed. She put a proposal together, got some funding, and The Importance of Elsewhere moved into the  building.

Tania Holland Williams: The Importance of Elsewhere - Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James
The Importance of Elsewhere – Chatham Registry Office ©Stuart James

 

 

‘It was only for a few months, but I would have loved it to have lasted longer, because it cemented where Curious Planet was going to work best,’ Tania says. ‘Artists from different disciplines came together and created spaces that encouraged creative exchange between communities from diverse backgrounds. Members of the public came as participants, or as audiences, or simply to look around a space that had special memories for them – perhaps they’d got married there or they’d registered a birth or a death there. It was such a refuge and I think, actually, I’m still looking for a place like that, where people feel they belong.’

‘One of my big beefs about the big opera houses and theatres now,’ she continues, ‘is that they are highly functioning commercial organisations, and although the quality of the work is stunning, they are not places where people belong anymore and I think audiences feel it, and that for me is hugely sad.’

Tania Holland Williams: Byre Opera - Handel's Xerxes ©Felix Diemer
Byre Opera – Handel’s Xerxes ©Felix Diemer

Bringing music home
Curious Planet  continued successfully until 2012. But by this point Tania was, again, beginning to feel a little removed from the creative process. Instead of performing and leading events, increasingly, she was writing contracts for other artists taking part in Curious Planet projects.

But new opportunities were just around the corner.

She received an invitation to sing  from a friend in Scotland. He was working with a local theatre and wanting to begin to programme opera. He wondered if Tania might also be interested in directing.

Despite not having sung for some time and never having directed professionally before, Tania said yes. Soon she was directing regularly and touring productions around Scotland with Byre Opera.

Tania Holland Williams: Byre Opera - Handel's Xerxes ©Felix Diemer
Byre Opera – Handel’s Xerxes ©Felix Diemer

Tania found that she loved directing and although many of the operas she was directing were from the standard repertory, she found that, as director, she could make a difference to the way an audience experienced the production.

‘I’ve always trusted that the audience will come with you no matter how strange or weird the work you’re presenting them with, if you’ve done the work and if the spirit within the work is right,’ she says. ‘I’ve never been frightened to look the audience in the eye. There is a sense that we are sharing this moment in time. There’s a contract that you enter into when you are performing, particularly in small spaces.’

Tania’s ultimate ambition was to produce new and exciting work and to engage new audiences who wouldn’t normally sign up for contemporary opera. However, she was keenly aware of the barriers that she would need to break down.

Tania Holland Williams: The Opera House Next Door - The world’s first Escape Room opera experience ©Brian Slater
The Opera House Next Door ©Brian Slater

‘It’s really tough to do contemporary music and opera,’ she explains. ‘I think the problem with contemporary music as opposed to contemporary visual arts  is the commitment required. If you’re looking at a piece of contemporary art and it doesn’t hold your interest, you can just move on. But with contemporary music, you have to buy a ticket. And you’re trapped – literally trapped if you are sat in a concert hall. And if you’re not offering people Mozart or Beethoven or a familiar composer. You’re basically saying, come and trust us.’

If new audiences weren’t going to come to see contemporary performances, Tania decided that the contemporary performances would have to come to them. She set up a project called Davey Jones’ Locker which took new music into people’s living rooms.

Tania Holland Williams: The Opera House Next Door - The world’s first Escape Room opera experience ©Brian Slater
The Opera House Next Door ©Brian Slater

 

‘We went to over 60 living rooms in Kent,’ Tania says. ‘The idea was to find an adventurous home owner who liked music and ask them to pull together an audience of about ten people. Then two instrumentalists, or a singer and an instrumentalist would come and give them the most interesting, thought-provoking, wonderful evening possible.’

For the project, Tania commissioned very short pieces from living composers, each lasting just a few minutes. She then used various devices to provoke conversation about this new music.

Tania Holland Williams: The Opera House Next Door - The world’s first Escape Room opera experience ©Brian Slater
The Opera House Next Door ©Brian Slater

‘We might say, this piece hasn’t got a title so we’d like you to think about what the title might be so that we can feed that back to the composer. Or we might use different instruments, or ask the composer to write three different endings, Tania explains. ‘They were all things that allowed us to say to an audience, this piece has been written specifically for tonight – so people knew they were getting something special, just for them.’

The legacy of the project took Tania by surprise.

‘It was a really, really rewarding project,’ she enthuses. ‘And quite wonderfully and unexpectedly for me, I ended up feeling really back immersed in a world of music again. So in 2018, I launched Fat Lady Opera, which has pretty much taken over my life. It’s been joyful!’

Fat Lady Opera: The Invisible Opera House - Nightwatchers
The Invisible Opera House – NightWatchers

The invisible opera house
So back to the question that Tania posed at the beginning of this blog. What would it take to turn your town into an opera house?

Fat Lady Opera’s first major project, The Invisible Opera House set out to find the answer.

‘I wanted to show that Folkestone, where I grew up, could become an opera house, so I set up “opera enquiry hubs” to ask people what they thought were the essential ingredients of opera,’ Tania says. ‘There was a general consensus that you don’t need the massive building surrounding the opera, but there are some key ingredients, such as big stories and a certain style of singing.’

Working with SparkedEcho Tania devised and delivered a series of interactive activities designed to introduce audiences to contemporary opera as a relevant and accessible art form. 

There were workshops – including an updated, community-led version of Carmen, set outside a vaping shop.

‘It was the first and only time I was a Carmen with a baby doll attached to me for the whole time,’ Tania laughs. ‘Even when I was murdered by Don Jose, I was still carrying my baby! It was brilliant, anarchic and exactly the way opera should go!’

Tania also directed a short musical theatre piece called Belongings, written by composer, Samuel Bordoli and lyricist, Bill Bankes-Jones. The piece, inspired by items of luggage carried by the KinderWagen children fleeing war in WW2 and the more prosaic commuter experience, was realised in Customs House in Folkestone Harbour, at the junction with the railway lines.

The project culminated in a community performance, NightWatchers which, through choruses and sea shanties, told the story of life and loss in a fishing community during a rescue in a storm, out at sea. The cast of 45 from schools, Age UK and local choirs, rehearsed  in Folkestone Harbour, and performed there, in November, to an audience of over 400 people.

Tania is now working on the next stage of The Invisible Opera House, planned for 2022.

Tania Holland Williams: Persephone's Dream ©Claire Shovelton
Persephone’s Dream ©Claire Shovelton

Dreaming through lockdown
For Tania, the involvement and engagement of the audience is as important a part of the production process as the performance itself. But more than that,  she feels the presence of an audience is necessary to validate her as an artist.

”As a performing artist and particularly somebody who really revels in ensemble work, I wonder, am I still the artist person that I thought I was if I haven’t got an audience?’ Tania asks. ‘I don’t mean I need an adulatory audience, but I do need that immediacy of energy exchange. I love the moment when the audience’s eyes open slightly wider and they’re there, in a new place because the lighting’s changed. They’ve forgotten about what went on in their own lives earlier in the day because they’ve suddenly come into the space that you’re in.

Tania Holland Williams: Persephone's Dream ©Sarah Booth
Persephone’s Dream ©Sarah Booth

‘Of course, there is a reward in believing that that I’ve created a good piece of work,’ she continues. ‘But the reason for doing that work is because you want it to reach people. You want it to communicate and without an audience, it’s an incomplete transaction.’

For the creative industries, the last 18 months have been littered with ‘incomplete transactions’ as COVID regulations limited audience involvement and companies sought new and innovative ways to continue their work.

‘At the time, we were just trying to find ways to maintain connections with people, while still thinking about opera and theatre,’ Tania remarks.

During lockdown, Fat Lady Opera  produced Persephone’s Dream at the Cockpit Theatre, with Tania directing.  It was a hybrid work, based on the legend of Persephone, featuring live operatic performance, and a 2-D virtual Chorus of Curious Eyes performing in a Zoom grid, which marked the boundary on stage between the living and the dead. At the time of the performance, the theatre was allowed an audience of only 40, so the opera was also filmed and made available online.

Tania Holland Williams: Persephone's Dream
Persephone’s Dream

With obvious parallels to the lockdown that everyone was experiencing at the time, Persephone’s Dream moves through the different stages of sleep, exploring the purifying power of isolation, as well as its dangers.

‘In the first section, the doors are locked the windows closed, everything is secure, I’m in my house now thank you very much,’ Tania recounts. ‘Then there is an increase in drowsiness, and certainly for me during lockdown, everything seemed to go into a sort of muffled slow motion.

Tania Holland Williams: Persephone's Dream in rehearsal
Persephone’s Dream in rehearsal

 

 

Next, the piece explores the REM dream state through a scene called “Resistance”.

‘It captures the strange hand based strictures that were cropping up, Tania explains. ‘Sing Happy Birthday twice when you wash your hands, clap the NHS, don’t touch your face.’

After that comes “purification”.

‘There is a stage in sleep called “sleep spindles” where the brain is cleaning itself up, Tania says. ‘For me, that was ritual, the idea of acceptance, trying to make a new normal part of our understood world.

‘The final scene is “threshold”, so waking up again and realising that the world has changed and it has become greener. And the audience is left with the question, if you are going to wake up and cross the threshold, do you really want to wake up at all?’

New commissions, new skills
Following the success of Persephone’s Dream, Fat Lady Opera received two new commissions – Twelve Points of Tide and A Song for Kent.

These commissions presented a new challenge for Tania who had rarely been commissioned as a composer. And there was still the ongoing COVID restrictions to wrestle with.

Twelve Points of Tide is a mini opera, written by Tania for the cello and for herself as singer. It explores the corrosive and additive qualities of tidal movement, through the eyes of Mona, Minor Goddess of the Silty Waterways.

Mona has a superpower, she can hold back the tide, for a while at least. But as she combs the shore carrying her burdensome haul, her Shipping Forecast itch gets stronger. The piece, which explores guilt and loss and the urge for release, is structured around seven ‘shipping forecasts’ that range across Thames Estuary locations along the Gravesham riverfront.

Shipping Forecast 3: Skimming Skin

Shipping Forecast 4: Fret

You can hear six of the seven Shipping Forecasts and download the libretto here.

Tania Holland Williams: Walking Each Other Home
Walking Each Other Home

‘I’d never really call myself a composer because I don’t think I’ve earned the permission to be called one yet,’ Tania admits. In writing Twelve Points of Tide, I ended up joining a sort of cello mentoring group to learn to write. I feel my knowledge about string writing has definitely come on in leaps and bounds!’

Twelve Points of Tide had it’s debut at the 2021 Estuary Festival, played over the tannoy from LV21 , and with the music available to listen to online. Tania hopes to produce the work as a fully staged opera in November this year.

Song for Kent was commissioned by Sound UK as part of the national Song for Us project , which celebrates lives and communities through music.

Despite, COVID restrictions, Tania saw it as an opportunity to  involve the audience, as part of the process, right from the beginning.

Tania Holland Williams: Walking Each Other Home
Walking Each Other Home

‘The brief was to write a song for Kent, based on people’s experiences last year,’ she says. ‘I wanted to make it interesting, relevant and meaningful – a celebration of friendship and kindness against the backdrop of the isolation and solitude brought about by lockdown.

‘I was inspired by the Ram Dass quote, We’re all just walking each other home. If we can be comfortable with the fact that we are solitary entities that make our way through the world then, if we can be gracious and give a wave of encouragement to other entities as we pass them, that’s a life well lived.’

Tania Holland Williams: Walking Each Other Home
Walking Each Other Home

To kick start the songwriting process for Walking Each Other Home, Tania organised a series of group walks along the Kent coast. She also organised ‘companionship telephone calls’ for those unable to join the walks.

‘I just wanted people to get outside again in a space that’s welcoming,’ Tania explains. ‘It was very informal. We chatted and every now and then we stopped to sing. And those that didn’t want to sing just looked around, or took photographs and listened. I made lots of notes about what people said – those really profound and interesting comments, along with the mundane, and I incorporated them into the libretto.’

The content of Walking Each Other Home ranges from the big question – What is the most important thing on a long walk, boots or socks? (Tania says ‘socks’) – to more reflective remarks.

Tania Holland Williams: Walking Each Other Home
Walking Each Other Home

Tania was particularly affected by a telephone conversation where a woman described visiting the sea as ‘standing on the edge’.

‘She told me, it doesn’t sound like a safe place, but it’s not the end, it’s a space for possibility,’ Tania recalls. ‘And I’d been thinking about life as a long journey and that we’re all on the road to ‘the sea’ and it crystallised for me into a section of the song called ‘the parting of the ways’, which is a reflection on loss, and how the rites of grieving have been hammered because we haven’t been able to be with people.’

‘Having the audience there right from the start has given it an interesting and different perspective,’ she continues. ‘As a director, you want to be telling people, this is where we are going and what we’re doing. But actually, not knowing where the piece was going to lead was freeing. And with the process as much part of the final product as the final product itself, it has just been joyous!’

A Song for Kent will be performed live aboard LV21, by RiverVoice Community Choir and Fat Lady Opera Community Chorus, during the Gravesham Waterfront Weekend, on Saturday 7th August 2021, from 2.30 – 3.30pm.  A streamed recording will be broadcast at 12.30pm on 11 August 2021 at www.asongforus.org

Links
Fat Lady Opera
https://www.fatladyopera.com/
 
Walking Each Other Home
Instagram: www.instagram.com/walk.ingeachotherhome
Tania invites you to send in pictures of your walking boots!
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

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SILTings: Shrimpers and Mudlarks; Fish and Ships

Duncan Grant: Bawley boat in Bawley Bay
Duncan Grant: Bawley boat in Bawley Bay

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
This is the third of my blogs about the SILTings creative programme, which runs next weekend (Friday 4th – 6th June 2021) online, aboard LV21  and the surrounding quayside, and at various locations around Gravesend town centre.

If you missed the last two blogs you can catch up here and here.

I do apologise to those of you who got an unexpected preview of this blog, yesterday afternoon. I pressed the wrong button. This is the final version!

Shrimpers and Mudlarks
For the main part of this blog, we’re back with the Shrimpers on Bawley Bay in Gravesend, but this time virtually and through the medium of dance, captured on film by by dancer/choreographer Daisy Farris and artist Nicola Flower.

During the 19th Century, shrimpers would catch and cook brown shrimps aboard Bawley boats and bring in their hauls to sell at Gravesend market, or at the various family run shrimp merchants around Gravesend at that time.

Duncan Grant: Warners Shrimp Merchant, Gravesend
Duncan Grant: Warners Shrimp Merchant, Gravesend

My Great Aunt Hilda used to work in Warners Shrimp Merchant on Cross Street, near the river in Gravesend, preparing shrimps to sell to tourists in Rosherville Pleasure Gardens.

More than ten years ago, visual artist Nicola Flower, heard about the Bawley Bay Shrimpers and the story stuck with her.

In 2014, Nicola met contemporary dancer, Daisy Farris. The two women had  applied, separately, to produce work for IN-SITE, a regeneration project taking place along the Rochester riverside. Both artists were successful and the commissioners paired them up.

 

The rest is history.

Duncan Grant: Shrimpers
Duncan Grant: Shrimpers

‘We made our first piece together,’ remembers Nicola. ‘And then we just kept coming up with ideas of other things that we might do together.’

Although the women have very different backgrounds, they also have a lot in common.

‘We’re from different artistic disciplines but we’ve both got an interest in each other’s work,’ Nicola continues. ‘So Daisy’s definitely a visual creative artist as well as a dancer and I’m interested in the things that I make as a visual artist coming alive. And we both really like is storytelling.  We’re very interested in narrative, but neither of us is overly attached to that narrative being true.’

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris: She's Like A Forest Fire...Unstoppable
She’s Like A Forest Fire…Unstoppable

 

Although Nicola and Daisy both continue with their own artistic endeavours, they enjoy the support and challenge that comes from their collaboration.

‘Collaboration is so stimulating,’ Nicola says. ‘I’m very excited with my own ideas but I love it when there’s something to butt up against. It takes me out of myself and it makes me think and respond in a different way.’

 

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris: She is Like a Forest Fire...Unstoppable
Blue dresses hanging from Chatham’s Anchorage House

Their first collaborative work for IN-SITE was a dance performance and installation, She’s Like A Forest Fire…Unstoppable. It championed interesting characters from the Medway area and, in particular, featured a woman known locally as ‘Bluebell’.

Bluebell was an eccentric who, in the 90s, was often seen walking between the Medway towns, dressed entirely in blue.

The production drew on people’s memories of Bluebell and featured oversized blue dresses to capture her essence.

In homage to Bluebell the blue dresses were hung as an installation at Anchorage House, Chatham.

‘Artists can challenge the hierarchy in history and give a voice to people who are not usually thought of as heroes,’ says Daisy.  ‘Bluebell was flamboyant, ritualistic and joyous, but she experienced exclusion from society. Through our work, we wanted to celebrate a compelling and universal character and elevate her status.’

Since then, Nicola and Daisy have continued to collaborate on site-specific works, often linked to rivers.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: 'The Great Thames Disaster' performed on LV21 ©Gigi Giannella
‘The Great Thames Disaster’ performed on LV21 ©Gigi Giannella

In 2018, they toured their production The Great Thames Disaster performing it in venues on the route that ill-fated passenger paddle steamer, the SS Princess Alice would have taken along the river.

The SS Princess Alice sunk in 1878, following a collision with a collier ship, The Bywell Castle, near North Woolwich Pier, on the River Thames . It was carrying 700 passengers returning to London after a day at the seaside.

650 men, women and children died in the incident – the greatest loss of life in any Thames shipping disaster.  The tragedy led to the collapse of the Sheppey tourism industry at that time.

Nicola Flower: Flotsam
Nicola installing ‘Flotsam’ on LV21

 

 

 

 

Following the accident, it is reported that a flotsam of male and female apparel covered the surface of the Thames.

As part of her research for the project, Nicola created a large-scale drawing of this on the deck of the generator room, aboard LV21.

You can see a trailer here for The Great Thames Disaster dance performance, which Daisy choreographed and which involved members of her company, Daisy Farris Dance Collective.

Collaborating in a crisis

Mudlarks at Bawley Bay, Gravesend
Mudlarks at Bawley Bay, Gravesend

It wasn’t until 2018, that Nicola’s idea for a dance performance based around the shrimpers of Bawley Bay and the mudlarks, who scavenged in the Thames for items to sell, started to become a reality.

‘Initially our idea was that this would be a performance with multiple costumes and dancers from Daisy Farris Dance Collective,’ explains Daisy. ‘We were having a very exciting conversation with Päivi Seppälä, co-owner and director of LV21, about producing it for what was going to be SILTings Festival 2020, and then within a month it all stopped because of the pandemic.’

 

‘Then, later, when the second wave of the pandemic arrived, Päivi told us that although the festival would go ahead in 2021, realistically, we weren’t going to be able to have a number of dancers and we weren’t going to be able to perform in front of an audience,’ Nicola continues. ‘So we started to think about an online alternative, something that has a legacy. We had made a film previously,  in 2015, so we decided on that, with the hope that, perhaps, we might revisit the performance as a live event in the future, when we’re allowed to.’

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris: Shrimpers and Mudlarks. Research
Exploring ideas: Using props

COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing rules made life difficult for all artists. But for Nicola and Daisy, who were collaborating on a project, the effect could have been devastating. Lockdown restrictions made life more difficult – they spent a lot of time on Zoom, which was a lifeline – but there were also liberating factors that in the end, they feel, made their work stronger.

‘Pre-COVID, the outcome of this project would have been very different,’ says Nicola. ‘For me, the creativity we’ve tapped into has been exceptional because of the pandemic.’

Daisy agrees.

‘Although it didn’t feel like it at the start, I think the pandemic was a bit of a blessing in disguise,’ she says. ‘We really honed in on what we as artists wanted out of the project. Sometimes that can end up being pushed to the back because you are committed to having to produce certain outcomes. But because nothing was happening, all expectations went out of the window and we were given more free rein than we’ve ever had before.’

During 2020, Gravesham Borough Council created a series of small grants Make It in Gravesham to support artists to continue to work during lockdown and to stimulate public engagement when public performance and face-to-face, participatory events were not possible.

Nicola Flower and Dasy Farris: Shrimpers and Mudlarks -illustrated postcards
Illustrated postcards captured memories of Bawley Bay

Nicola and Daisy were successful in receiving some funding through the scheme.

‘That was a real challenge because we suddenly realised that we didn’t know how to do that!’ Daisy laughs. ‘Nicola and I spent hours and hours Zoom together thinking about how to make work. And in the end it was great because we engaged people in ways that we never thought we would and we worked in ways that we never imagined.’

The pair made videos for nursery and primary school children, for LV21’s Think Up cultural education programme, focused on the sensations and movements associated with shrimping and mudlarking on the Thames.

Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks. Research
Nicola Flower: Capturing movement in drawing

‘In the primary school video, Daisy would do some movements that shrimpers and mudlarks might have done on Bawley Bay – manual work, the playful wrestling actions of the mudlarks – and I would do a drawing showing the children how to draw the shapes that Daisy made,’ Nicola says. ‘Our nursery video tried to  recreate the sensations that you might experience on Bawley Bay – so, the sound of pebbles, the movement of heavy objects – using plastic bottles or dropping stones in water. And we also sent illustrated postcards to the elderly communities in care homes and sheltered accommodation, which they returned with written memories of Bawley Bay.’

The artists combined elements of their research into Bawley Bay, with children’s drawings, and the stories and memories of elderly care home residents to inspire and inform their final creative piece.

‘It was a way in to the performance itself,’ explains Nicola. ‘Our projects often start with heritage, but it’s not in-depth heritage. We like a suggestion of heritage, so we draw on snippets of information that could be urban myth, or a memory, or even something half-remembered.’

Building the performance

Woman on Bawley Bay, Gravesend
Woman on Bawley Bay

The Shrimpers and Mudlarks performance was inspired by a photograph from Fishermen from the Kentish Shore by Derek Coombe. It shows a woman standing alone on Bawley Bay looking out to the river from the bank of the Thames. It is the only picture of a woman in the Gravesend section of the book.

‘We are two women making work and we often tend to lean towards the femininity of work,’ Daisy explains. ‘We think the shrimper women were responsible for selling the cooked shrimps when they arrived in the Bay. We thought this kind of job would be messy and tiring and probably a bit smelly, but we wanted to capture a little bit of the vulnerability of the woman alone on a beach through the dance performance.’

Shrimper
Shrimper

Nicola is a textile artist and created the costume for Daisy to wear in the dance performance. It was the first time that she had created a costume specifically for her to perform in.

‘We had a conversation fairly early on about whether we wanted the costume to be a very realistic costume of a late Victorian era, or a modern take on that – and that’s what we’ve gone with,’ Daisy explains.

‘I started to construct a garment very intuitively, from ideas to do with worn and torn, patchwork fabric with layers that you can move in to do a manual job,’ explains Nicola. ‘And then I had an idea that I’d like to make a big cape that was encrusted with pearly shrimps – much more beautiful than she would have had – but a nod to the fact that her whole livelihood was the shrimps.’

Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks costume

[Nicola’s costumes for ‘Shrimpers and Mudlarks]

Nicola drew on the skills of the Gravesham community to embroider the shrimps, and also made an enormous fabric ‘net’ from recycled sari fabrics and scarves donated by members of the Rethink Gravesham Sangam group.

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris 'Shrimpers and Mudlarks' Embroidered shrimps

[Embroidered shrimps]

Finally after months of working together virtually, at Easter this year, Nicola and Daisy had the chance to spend a week together in St Andrew’s Church in Gravesend, to try out their ideas in practice. It gave them an opportunity to review  the project and decide what worked and what did not.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks rehearsal
Rehearsing in St Andrew’s Church

‘You can immerse yourself in the creative process, but there’s a tipping point where you have to have a bit of an honest conversation to see if it is really going the way you want it to,’ Nicola explains. ‘And definitely there was a moment that Daisy and I recognised that less is more and we knew we’d found  the “sweet spot”.’

‘That’s where collaboration is really helpful,’ Daisy adds. ‘We started off with a lot of props – we had this big megaphone, we had big shoes, builders’ bags and rope, all of which was trying to get me to move in a way that was evocative of manual labour. But it just takes one of you to be brave enough to say, “I don’t think we need that” and then you begin to see things differently.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks
Rehearsing in St Andrew’s Church

‘It’s a lot harder to make those judgements when you are working on your own because you’re too involved in what you’re doing to know what enough is. So we had a conversation towards the end of that week where we agreed to just put the props to one side, to do less, to let the art speak for itself and trust that what we’d brought to it already was enough.’

The final performance, which was filmed on Bawley Bay over a weekend, depicts scenes spanning a day. Daisy dances alone to a specially commissioned score, composed by musician Aleph Aguiar.

In her cape encrusted with pearly shrimps she moves to reveal glimpses of her patchwork dress underneath.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: 'Shrimpers and Mudlarks'. Filming on Bawley Bay
Filming on Bawley Bay

As the day, progresses her demeanour changes from vulnerability to strength, until finally the dancer discards the cape to reveal a giant skirt of patched fabric, which she uses like a heavy shrimping net, laying it out on the shore and then pulling it in.

As the end of the day approaches, lights in her cape and nets evoke the golden glow of shrimps and mudlarking treasure.

The costumes Nicola created for the performance will be on public display at Gravesend Library window throughout Estuary 2021.

The film premiers online on Friday 4th June 2021, and will be screened in various public places over the coming months. But you can see it here!

 

Fish and Ships

Duncan Grant: Boats and Buoys
Duncan Grant: Boats and Buoys

Between 4th and the 12th June, I’ll be gigging alongside the Gravesham Urban Knitters in Fish and Ships as part of the Gravesham Estuary Fringe Festival.

Inspired by the river, the Gravesham Urban Knitters have made over 50 small knitted fish and 50 miniature knitted boats. These will be exhibited, alongside some of my boat pictures on board LV21 during SILTings (4th to 6th June) and along the quayside on the 12th June.

 

Gravesham Urban Knitters: Fish and Ships
Gravesham Urban Knitters: Fish…

 

You might know the Gravesham Urban Knitters from their other projects around Gravesham. These include a knitted 4-foot high model of the Gravesend Clock Tower, and a whole pod of knitted Benny the Whales, when Benny was in Gravesend. They’ve  even knitted bikinis for trees!

The group meets at Gravesend market on Thursdays from 10am – noon. If you’d like to join them just turn up or contact them via their Facebook group. Meetings are COVID safe and you’ll be welcome, whether knitting or crocheting is your thing.

At the moment, the group are making flowers to decorate part of the town centre for Blooming Lovely Festival in July.

Gravesham Urban Knitters: Fish and Ships
Gravesham Urban Knitters: …..and Ships

If you want to give it a try before you commit, or if you just want to have a go, why not go down to the quayside between 11am and 4pm on 12th June, pick up a free craft pack and join Gravesham Urban Knitters in Worldwide Knit in Public Day.

If knitting isn’t your thing, why not join me instead and create your own souvenir postcard using cyanotype printing techniques.

Further information

Shrimpers and Mudlarks
Aleph Aguiar
Website: alephaguiar.com

Daisy Farris
Website: dfdcollective.co.uk

 

Nicola Flower
Website: nicolaflower.co.uk

 

Fish and Ships

Gravesham Urban Knitters
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/graveshamknitters

Duncan Grant
Website:
http://www.duncangrantartist.com
Gallery:  http://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop

See also my other SILTings blogs SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine and SILTings: Filaments Art Collective on LV21

Festivals

SILTingshttps://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

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SILTings: Filaments Art Collective on LV21

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
In the dark winter evening of February 2020, just before the even darker days of the first lockdown, Winter Gathering, a community festival produced by
LV21 for Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, brought a welcoming glow to Ebbsfleet Valley, a new town in Kent.

Ruth Payne: Welcoming Hands, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet 2019
Ruth Payne’s walk through double arch of welcoming hands

I was there leading a Small Town collage workshop, with fairy lights twinkling behind a sheet of my ‘Small Town’ Liberty print fabric.

But the real magic of the evening was created by illuminated art pieces commissioned from Filaments Art Collective, a group of five Kent-based artists – Elizabeth Burman, Karen Crosby, Rosie James, Ruth Payne and Linda Simon.

Visitors were greeted by Ebbsfleet residents from long ago, depicted in old photographs projected large across the community centre, before joining the Gathering via a double arch of welcoming hands, made from latex gloves lit by fairy lights.

Elizabeth Burman: Miniature light boxes, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet 2020
Elizabeth Burman’s miniature light boxes

 

Inside, was a display of tiny, intimate light boxes, allowing pinpricks of light to filter through vintage photographs while, in contrast, an interactive, life-sized reflective textile work lit up with the flash from a phone camera.

Winter Gathering was Filaments’ second group exhibition. The women had known each other through local art networks for years before the opportunity to exhibit together arose.

Their first collaboration, a two-night event at St. Mary’s Church at Burham Kent, in January 2020, was called Filaments. It explored thread and light and opened to the public only after darkness had fallen.

Rosie James: Reflective textile installation, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet, 2020
Rosie James’s reflective textile work lit up at the flash of a camera phone

Installations used textiles, installation, candlelight, reflective materials, light boxes and projections, and the whole was created and curated to complement the church.

Afterwards, the artists agreed that the name of the show encapsulated their work perfectly, and adopted it as the name of their collective.

Filaments Art Collective‘s work is site specific, telling stories about locations and the people and activities associated with them.

‘We approach a brief in our own unique way,’ explains Linda Simon. ‘Some of us are textile-based artists, others focus on projection and light, so we each draw on our particular interests to interpret a brief. But our work is not completely individual. There are always threads that link everything together.’

Exhibiting aboard LV21 for SILTings

LV21 with Linda Simon's 'Tethered'
Filaments are exhibiting on LV21 as part of SILTings

After more than a year when they’ve been unable to exhibit together because of COVID, Filaments are finally bringing their magical, creative touch to LV21 in Gravesend, as part of SILTings  – a programme of new artwork and performances created in response to the forgotten stories and hidden histories of the Gravesham riverfront.

‘Filaments is one of the jolliest artist collectives I’ve met and a joy to work with,’ says Päivi Seppälä, co-owner and director of LV21. ‘The site-specific nature of the group’s work and the invisible thread that runs through their collective, yet distinct, approach and which joins their individual practices together, fits the collaborative concept of SILTings perfectly.’

Elizabeth Burman, artist, LV21, Filaments
Elizabeth Burman: Magnetic light boxes on LV21

Originally SILTings was due to take place during Estuary Festival in September 2020, so the initial commission ideas were focused on outdoor projections and illuminated artworks to brighten up the dark autumn evenings.  But all this changed when the festival had to be rescheduled for May/June 2021 when the evenings are much lighter.

‘Filaments were unfazed by the challenge,’  Päivi  continues. ‘The group quickly responded with clever new ideas inspired by local stories and created a wonderful body of new bespoke works for people to enjoy both on and off the ship.’

The Filaments exhibition runs throughout the SILTings weekend, from the 4th-6th June 2021, and is one of four Creative Estuary commissioned creative cultural projects with Estuary-based producers and artists, to contribute to the Associated Programme for Estuary 2021.

More details about how you can visit the exhibition in person or virtually can be found below.  But for now, sit back and meet the artists.

Elizabeth Burman

Elizabeth Burman, artist
Elizabeth Burman

Elizabeth decided to study art when her youngest daughter went to primary school. Her background is in pottery and printmaking but her work for LV21 draws on her passion for old ephemera and discarded photographs.

‘An afternoon leafing through strangers’ once treasured moments in a junk shop is heaven to me,’ she says. ‘I love rummaging around the all the unusual objects, textures and images and I feel I replicate the mishmash of paraphernalia when I make collages. It’s instinctual to me to place particular shapes and colours beside one another. The manipulation of photographs and paper materials fascinates me, particularly as we increasingly move towards a paperless culture.’

Elizabeth Burman: Filaments on LV21, 2021
Elizabeth’s illuminated fish tins on LV21

 

Elizabeth’s  work for SILTings focuses on Bawley Bay, which is a tiny piece of riverside adjacent to St Andrew’s Church in Gravesend, next to where LV21 is moored. It was once the heart of Gravesend’s fishing community.

The Bay was named after the shrimp boats that used to moor there. During the 19th century, over  a hundred Bawley boats worked from this one small stretch of the river. Gravesend was a tourist resort then and Victorian tourists loved the local delicacy of brown shrimps.

‘Bawley’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘boiler boat’ because the shrimps were cooked on board so that they were ready to be sold as they were landed. My Great Aunt Hilda used to work in Warners Shrimp Merchant on Cross Street, near the river in Gravesend, preparing shrimps to sell to tourists in Rosherville Pleasure Gardens.

Elizabeth Burman, artist, Filaments, LV21, 2021
Another of Elizabeth’s illuminated fish tins on LV21

For her first installation for Filaments on LV21, Elizabeth used old photographs of people enjoying Gravesend as a riverside holiday destination. She mounted these in magnetic fish tins, to be displayed on the steel surfaces around the lightship.

‘I made holes sporadically around the photos with pins, and put a light in the back so they’re like little light boxes,’ she says. ‘When I visited the LV21, I took some of the tins with me and they were sticking to the boat walls wherever I went. It was fantastic. It was like the whole ship was a gallery. I’m going to make as many as I can and put them all round the ship and move them around every day, so the display is constantly changing.’

Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier
Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier

 

 

Her second installation references Gravesend’s shrimping heritage directly. She has constructed a magnificent chandelier, made up of over a thousand hand-made paper shrimps. The chandelier will hang in front of the base of LV21’s lantern tower in the lower deck space and will be lit to cast mesmerising shadows on the walls.

Karen Crosby

Karen Crosby, artist, Filaments
Karen Crosby

After working in retail for 25 years, Karen Crosby’s life changed direction when she took a new job in a secondary school. Seeing that she was good at art, the school placed her in the art department and then supported her to get a BA so she could become an art teacher. She was an ‘A’ student. Her BA degree show, a film Traces of Snodland Mill was showcased for the Platform award 2012, at the Turner Contemporary in Margate.

After her BA, Karen went on to do a Masters, where her success continued. In 2015, her MA work was selected for the tour of France, as part of a cross-border collaboration between Maison de l’Art et de la Communication in Lens, France and 51zero Festival  in Medway, Kent.

With her MA completed, Karen left teaching and set up as a professional artist, working from a studio in Sittingbourne, Kent.

Carol Crosby, artist, Traces of Sittingbourne projection
Karen Crosby: ‘Traces of Sittingbourne’

‘It was while I was there that I got my first funding to do some projections showing old photos of Sittingbourne  in the places they were originally taken,’ she recalls. ‘I love playing with images, mixing the past and the present. Using projection is simple and interesting and it looks great.’

From there Karen was commissioned to do a similar projects in London’s Brick Lane, featuring people and cultural change in Brick Lane over a hundred years ago. Another projection event, The Last of the London, took place at the derelict site of the old London Hospital in Whitechapel Road and told the story of the hospital.  Point of Arrival was a series of projections at the Tower of London, charting the arrival into Victorian London of Jewish immigrants,  fleeing persecution and hardship in eastern Europe.

 

Karen Crosby: Last of the London - A tribute to the former Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road
Karen Crosby: Last of the London projection
Karen Crosby, Point of arrival projection, Tower of London, 2019
Karen Crosby: Point of Arrival projection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her work  with Filaments on LV21 is also a projection. Like Elizabeth, Karen is using old photographs.

Filaments, LV21, 'Ivy Rose'
Ivy Rose on holiday in Gravesend

She had intended to research people who worked or lived near or on the River Thames at Gravesend, but COVID made that difficult.

Instead, she used photographs of the famous Gravesend riverside family, the Sutherlands on their Bawley Boat, The Thistle, which is now being  refurbished in Faversham, along with pictures of sent in by the daughter of Ivy Rose, whose late mother spent her WRAF leave in Gravesend, with friends, during WWII.

‘I like things that dissolve that you can’t quite see,’ Karen explains. ‘I took some film of the water and  it was a really sunny day, so I’ve got lovely, sparkly water reflections. And I’ve put old pictures of boats, places, people, shrimpers, going in and coming out, so they look like they’re submerged in the water.’

Karen’s projections will be shown in the engine room on LV21, which houses the lightship’s original rotating lantern.
‘When the lantern is on, its moving light will make the images appear and disappear as well, so it should look quite magical,’ Karen says.

Rosie James

Rosie James, artist, Filaments
Rosie James

Rosie worked as a radiographer for years while she was, as she puts it, ‘faffing about’  trying to decide what to do with herself. She then studied for a degree in textiles and an MA in Art Textiles at Goldsmiths, before going on to teach fashion and textiles.

It was attending a course about a subject that she didn’t want to teach and which, as it turned out, nobody wanted to learn, that determined Rosie’s future artistic direction.

‘Someone asked me to teach free machine embroidery which I didn’t do and I didn’t have a clue about,’ she laughs. ‘ But they insisted that I teach it, so I did a week’s course in it at City Lit in London and it was brilliant! And as I was doing it I was thinking, Oh wow! I can do lots of things with this. The course I was supposed to teach didn’t happen because it didn’t get enough students but by this time I was off – I’d just decided that this was brilliant.’

Rosie James: Ripley Wedding detail
Rosie James: Ripley Wedding detail

Rosie’s stitched drawings pictures often feature people and crowds but more recent work has seen her, increasingly, finding ways to make statements through her work.

‘When I’m stitching figures, I have lots of loose threads dangling off them, Rosie explains. ‘And I’m becoming more and more interested in using these loose threads to actually say something. So they’re becoming bigger and bigger and more part of the scene’

In her exhibition The Power of Stitch at Ideas Test in Sittingbourne, Rosie used the trailing threads as power lines connecting pylons to stitched images of women sewing

I  was linking the loose threads to pylons that were creating energy,’ she says. ‘So basically, the women were powering the world through their sewing.’

Rosie James: The Power of Stitch Rosie James: The Power of Stitch Rosie James: The Power of Stitch

Rosie James: The Power of Stitch

Olive Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

For her Filaments installation on LV21, Rosie has used thick cords and threads and various coloured fabrics to produce four large-scale stitched sails, featuring the Sutherland family and their Bawley Boat.

‘I used the photos of the Sutherlands – Eileen, Olive and Bill – to stitch drawings on old dinghy sails and then I thought they needed some words,’ Rosie explains. ‘There is a poem by TS Eliott called The Dry Salvages, which is beautiful and has some lovely words around work – about bailing and hauling. So I used those words to get across the poetics of what the people are doing. The words are appliquéd on in watery, slithery, shiny colours.’

For SILTings, two of Rosie’s sails will be hung the outer hull of LV21, billowing in the wind for passers-by to see, while the other two (Eileen and Olive) will be inside as a backdrop to one of Karen’s projections, featuring an image of the Sutherland’s Bawley Boat The Thistle disappearing into the water.

Rosie James, Filaments, LV21, 2021Rosie James, Filaments, LV21, 2021

Eileen Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

Rosie’s embroidered sails, inspired by old photographs, are installed inside and outside the lightship

Ruth Payne

Ruth Payne, artist, Filaments
Ruth Payne

‘I am currently obsessed by diatoms and coccolithophores,’ says Ruth Payne. ‘The smaller things are, the more I love them. As soon as Päivi mentioned SILTings and stories, I thought instead of doing human stories, I would explore the life cycles of the tiny things that live in the water and make up the sediment and the silt of the Thames Estuary. They’re what everything else is based on. The things that I’m drawing are what the shrimps and other water life would be eating.’

Ruth Payne: Digital Collage - Digidiatom 2
Ruth Payne: Digidiatom 2

Ruth’s installation on LV21 with Filaments has arisen through her collaboration with Dr Anna Freeman, an environmental scientist. It involves intricate, enlarged drawings of microscopic images of phytoplankton, which she uses to play with ideas of scale and importance, and how we often conflate the two.

Ruth’s  digidiatoms are a series of magnetic digital collages of diatoms that will be fixed to the inside of Lv21’s hull

Ruth Payne: Installation for SILtings, LV21, 2021
Ruth’s installation on LV21

 

Her main installation for SILTings, however, is in two parts. Each is laid out in a circle on the main deck  in the lightship’s Recreation Room.

There are 6 drawings of diatoms on circular mirrors.

‘Diatoms float encased in silica shells – their own little glass houses – they are found in all water habitats, and around the world, diatoms are responsible for producing a large part of the oxygen that we breathe today,’ Ruth explains. ‘They are stunning!’

The mirrors, which reference the surface of the water and the structure of the organism, also use the viewers’ reflected image to place them within the work, so they become part of the organism’s life cycle.

There are also 6 drawings on plaster.

‘These are the coccolithophores, which live in marine environments, but flow up the estuary with the tide as far as Gravesend,’ says Ruth. ‘I’ve magnified images of these beautiful little organisms onto plaster using carbon paper. They have little plates made of calcium and when they sink to the bottom of the ocean floor, over millions of years they are compressed to form chalk, limestone and gypsum crystals, which are the materials that make up the plaster that I’ve cast the discs from.’

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth Payne: Diatom Campylodisca, Coccolithophore Emiliana huxleyi and Diatom Stephanopyxis

Ruth has been working as an artist since she graduated in 2002.

Drawing has become important to her over the last few years, but Ruth’s work also includes large-scale installations, digital collage, performance and textiles. Her work is often associated with the psychological charge of difficult domestic environments or the impact of invisible illness, and the psychology of creativity.

Ruth Payne: House
Ruth Payne: House

 

‘I have a fascination with psychology that feeds into my work,’ Ruth explains. ‘For a long time I seemed to be making work that you physically could go into and hunker down. I was making the shelters for me but I wanted to share them so people could escape the sometimes difficult outside world.

 

Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid
Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid

‘I made an installation called ‘House’ which is a 6 x 6 ft house shape of rough timber. The walls are constructed of patchwork fabric offcuts, which were destined for landfill. Inside are handmade cushions and blankets and a little bowl of sweets and you can go in, get cosy and hide.

‘And I also made another translucent patchwork structure Pale Cuboid, filled with 42 of my haiku that I’d written out many, many times on little bits of tissue paper. And they were like leaves. Viewers can go inside and sit on the stool and leaf through the haiku. It is a space to reflect, to be outside of the usual world.’

 

‘But of late, that kind of work is sort of passing through,’ she concludes. ‘I’m concentrating more on drawing and the building blocks of life, on ecology, the natural world and how we humans inhabit and interact with it.’

Linda Simon

Linda Simon
Linda Simon

Linda Simon has been working as an artist since she graduated from UCA, Canterbury in 2013. Before that, she held various positions in IT which, she believes, have influenced the kind of work she makes.

‘I often work with encoded information and I like to use alternative communication systems,’ she says. ‘So when Päivi was talking about the ebb tide flag system that is used by the Port of London Authority to alert people to the dangers of the estuary, I was immediately drawn to that as a possible subject for my SILTings installation.’

Linda Simon: Fluffy flags
Linda’s fluffy flags are based on the International Code of Signals

However, while Linda was researching the fluvial flow warning systems and finding very little information, she stumbled across the International Code of Signals – a series of nautical flags used to communicate vital information to sea-faring vessels around the world.  She decided to design a series of flags to be hoisted up aboard LV21 for people to view from the shore.

‘I had been using a traditional latch hook rug tufting method to interpret a number of drawings I’d made by using a set of rules determined by the throw of a dice. The strong graphic elements used within the flag imagery really lent themselves to translation using the latch hook method, and thus my ‘fluffy flags’ were born’.

Linda Simon: Fluffy Dice Drawing No 8 with the original Dice Drawing

‘I love the fact that each flag is a letter or a number so you can spell out individual messages, but also that each flag or pair of flags have their own distinct meanings,’ she says. ‘So my fluffy flags are composed of two flags, and each pair has a different meaning. I chose meanings that either amuse me, such as ‘I am on fire’ or that can be read metaphorically to reference situations we’ve found ourselves experiencing this past year. For instance, one says ‘No-one is allowed on board’. Another says, ‘You should not come any closer.  I also did a combination of eight flags that spelled out ‘StaySafe’’

Linda Simon: Fluffy flags on LV21
Linda’s fluffy flags on LV21
Linda Simon: Fluffy flags 'Stay safe'
Stay safe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Simon: No Entry
Linda Simon: No Entry

‘Often finding an unusual material is the starting point for my art,’ she explains. ‘I’ve been working with safety materials for the last three or four years. Some of the work I’ve made for the ship uses hazard warning tape and I’ve made two big signs – No Entry and Caution which are going to be used to help direct visitors around the lightship.’

Linda’s final piece for SILTings is a flag constructed from yellow plastic barrier mesh and red and white hazard tape, entitled Tethered. It was conceived during the first lockdown and refers to the restricted feelings experienced by many people during this period.

Linda says, ‘It just felt so perfect for LV21 and I’m thrilled to be able to fly it from the flagpole at the stern of the ship.’

CLICK TO EXPAND THE VIDEO

Further information

Filaments
The Filaments exhibition runs from 4-6 June 2021 and can also be viewed online. There will be a limited number of facilitated 30-minute group visits to see the artworks aboard LV21 between 12 – 4pm each day,  if C-19 restrictions allow.

Pre-booking is recommended as places are very limited.

Details of how to book will be available from 28th May on the event website . For any enquiries please email TheCaptain@LV21.vo.uk.

A series of live online IGTV recordings will provide a digital tour of the artworks with behind the scenes interviews with the artists and audiences during the festival weekend.

There will be accompanying creative activities, and meet the artist opportunities. Resource packs can be picked up along the quayside between 11am-4pm on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th June.

A short video featuring all SILTings artists and their artworks will also be released online after the event,  later in June.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/filamentsartcollective
Instagram: @filaments.art  https://www.instagram.com/filaments.art/

Future exhibitions:
– LV21, Gravesend as part of SILTings  – 4th-6th June 2021
– St. Mary’s Burham, Kent – October 2021

 

 

Elizabeth Burman
Instagram
@Eliza_ink
@thedailyink
@earth.spinned.and.fire


Karen Crosby
Website:
http://www.karencrosbyart.com/
Instagram:  @karcro1
Facebook:  Karen Crosby Artist & Photographer

Rosie James
Website: http://www.rosiejames.com/
Instagram: @rosiejamestextileartist

 

Ruth Payne
Website:
https://ruthpayneartist.wordpress.com/
Instagram: @ruthpayneart
Facebook: Ruth Payne

Linda Simon
Website: www.lindasimon.co.uk
Instagram: @linda_simon_artist
Facebook: Linda Simon 

 


SILTings
https://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

See also my first SILTings blog SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

 

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SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

At 11am on Saturday 5th June 2021, blue porcupines will start to appear at various secret locations around the streets of Gravesend. The porcupines will hide in plain sight for a week.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine 1, mixed media scupture, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine 1, mixed media scupture, 2021

Together they form a two-mile trail around the town. But to discover the porcupines and complete the trail, porcupine hunters must decipher a series of clues.

The trail starts at LV21 and to take part you will need your smartphone, so that you can communicate directly with the Blue Porcupine HQ.

Each blue porcupine that you discover will reveal a password which, when keyed into your smartphone, unlocks a video clue. If you solve that, it will lead you to the next porcupine.

You can complete the trail in one outing or you can tackle it in stages, over the week.

And if you are not up for a walk or you’re not in the area, well there’s no excuse. You can also follow the trail remotely, from the comfort of your own armchair, via Google Streetview. The online resources will also go live on June 5th.

All you have to do is find and photograph all the hidden blue porcupines, to win a chance to become one of three, first ever porcupine hunters to be inducted into ‘The Order of the Blue Porcupine’. Inductees will be presented with a rosette at a special ceremony aboard LV21 on Saturday 12th June.

The mysterious blue porcupine

Gravesham Coat of Arms, 1975
Gravesham Coat of Arms, 1975

The blue porcupines marking the Trail are inspired by the mysterious blue porcupine that has featured on Gravesham’s Coat of Arms  since medieval times.

On the current Coat of Arms, originating from 1975, it appears as a ‘sea porcupine’ – a heraldic mythical creature, part porcupine, part fish – and stands opposite and facing ‘Invicta’, the white horse of Kent.

On Gravesend’s first Coat of Arms (circa 1568) the porcupine appears as a land creature , with legs rather than a fish tail and a chain around its neck, at the helm of a boat.

 

Image from 1568 Coat of Arms, reproduced on the gate of Milton Church, Gravesend

This earlier Coat of Arms has been described as:

…..a boat with one mast….a sail furled, proper, rowed by five rowers hooded and cloaked, with oars and anchor, steered by a porcupine, azure, chained and quilled…

As far as I know, there are only a few places around Gravesend where you can find the original Coat of Arms. It is reproduced on the gate of Milton Church; there is a magnificent mosaic in Gravesend Market; and it can be seen embroidered on banners in St Andrew’s Church.

It has been said that the imagery on this Coat of Arms inspired Edward Lear to write his nonsense poem The Owl and the Pussy-cat.

Mosaic in Gravesend market

Edward Lear’s father, Jeremiah Lear, lived in Gravesend for many years, so Edward was a frequent visitor. Lear senior was buried in Milton churchyard in 1833, although the plot is not marked.

When I was a schoolboy, the emblem moved around the town, emblazoned on the chests of scruffy youths, including my own, on the blazer badge of Springhead School. I didn’t realise the creature steering the boat was a porcupine, though. I thought it was a bear!

Duncan Grant: Springhead School
Me as a Springhead yoof
Springhead School blazer badge
Springhead School blazer badge

 

The porcupine is native to the Americas and Africa, and is also found in Italy, so how on earth did it come to be on Gravesend’s Coat of Arms?

Well, one explanation might be that there was a link to the Sydney family of Penshurst Place in Kent, who added the porcupine to their family crest in the 16th century, as a result of a connection with King Louis XII of France.  In France the porcupine was a symbol of invincibility and Louis XII adopted a porcupine as his personal emblem.

Tomb of Frances Sydney, Countess of Sussex in Westminster Abbey
Tomb of Frances Sydney, Countess of Sussex in Westminster Abbey

In particular, it’s use on the Gravesend Coat of Arms could be a tribute to Sir Henry Sydney and may refer to his authority in governing and regulating barges and boats on the Thames at that time.

The River Thames has always been a leading character in the history of Gravesend, so the portrayal of a boat on the Coat of Arms is not unexpected. A bit of searching on the British History Online website provides a possible explanation for the rowers.

Order of the Blue Porcupine - Sarah Sparkes and James M'Kay
Order of the Blue Porcupine – Sarah Sparkes and James M’Kay

 

 

In 1377, Richard II commanded the sheriffs of Kent and Essex to erect beacons on either side of the Thames, at Gravesend and Farnedon. These were to be lit to provide early warning of enemy attackers coming up the river.

Unfortunately, the beacons proved useless. Soon after they were in place, the French sailed up the Thames and plundered and burnt Gravesend.

To help the town to recover from its losses, Richard II pronounced that the people of Gravesend should have the sole privilege of rowing passengers by water from Gravesend to London, a journey known as ‘the long ferry.’

It is probable that the rowers in the Coat of Arms represent the Long Ferry rowers, although why they are hooded is unclear – although, you’ll probably have noticed, the hoodie remains a very popular item of clothing in Gravesend even today!

The Trail of the Blue Porcupine
The Trail of the Blue Porcupine was devised collaboratively by Gravesham-based poet and spoken-word artist James M’Kay and London-based artist Sarah Sparkes. Sarah made the porcupines, while James worked out the trail and devised the clues that porcupine hunters will solve as they walk.

LV21
LV21

Although they have both been fascinated by the blue porcupine for some time, James and Sarah had never met or worked together until they were introduced by Päivi Seppälä of LV21. She commissioned them to produce the trail as part of SILTings  – a programme of new artwork and performances created in response to the forgotten stories and hidden histories of the Gravesham riverfront.

SILTings runs from the 4th-6th June 2021, and is one of four Creative Estuary commissioned creative cultural projects with Estuary-based producers and artists, to contribute to the Associated Programme for Estuary 2021.

Sarah Sparkes as the Blue Porcupine in Hell or High water on LV21, film by Gary Weston
Sarah Sparkes as the Blue Porcupine in Hell or High water on LV21, film by Gary Weston

Sarah Sparkes is a visual artist and curator, whose work is inspired and informed by myths, folklore and, particularly, ghost stories. Currently, she is painting 101 ghost stories in 101 weeks. She also runs the visual arts and creative research project GHost which explores guests, ghosts and hosts, through seminars, exhibitions, screenings and performances.

Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 20 - 'and this is where I saw it' Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 20 – ‘and this is where I saw it’ Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021

‘Myths are histories that have become stories,’ she explains. ‘They travel lightly by word of mouth from generation to generation. The hierarchy will put things in writing and say, this is our history, this is what you have to believe. But folklore is a way that everyday people can own their histories and carry them forward.’

‘And quite often, they stand testament for things that have been suppressed or repressed,’ she continues. ‘Folklore is where that stuff is hiding. That is why these stories are so powerful and that’s why, I think, the blue porcupine is such a powerful character.’

Sarah first encountered the blue porcupine  back in 2013 when she visited Gravesend with a group of walkers and artists to plan the Inspiral London Walk which finishes in Gravesend. Inspiral London are now partners on the Trail of the Blue Porcupine and are also listing the Trail on their website.

Banner in St Andrew's Church, Gravesend.  Photo by Sarah Sparkes
Banner in St Andrew’s Church, Gravesend.  Photo by Sarah Sparkes

‘I was walking around Gravesend and I saw in St Andrew’s Chapel, a banner with this extraordinary creature, like a big rat at the front of a boat, and I wondered what on earth it could be,’ Sarah remembers.

The mystery of the blue porcupine caught her imagination and she began to research the heraldic symbolism, its place in the history of Gravesend and how its story might be developed and made relevant through art.

‘I like the idea of art that is really centred in the community and captures people’s imagination,’ Sarah says. ‘Art that makes people see something about where they live, celebrate it, embrace that and then make work about it themselves. I really want to make this magical, wonderful creature, the blue porcupine, a significant part of Gravesend, for the people of Gravesend.’

The Blue Sea Porcupine, Sarah Sparkes, Gouache on paper, 2020
The Blue Sea Porcupine, Sarah Sparkes, Gouache on paper, 2020

In 2020, Sarah was invited by curator, Caroline Gregory to contribute to Hell or High Water a weekend of art on LV21, exploring transitions, adversity, survival and transformation.

The art that Sarah planned, Azure, Chained and Quilled, was a performance piece portraying the blue porcupine being released from its chains and navigating the lightship to safety. Sarah made a blue porcupine puppet and head dress for the performance, which moved from the Gravesham Arts Centre, along the Thames foreshore and on to the deck of LV21.

Because of Covid the event took place virtually. Sarah’s live performance did not go ahead but it was filmed and is still available to view.

 

James M'Kay performing his Poetry ay St Andrew's Church, Gravesend
James M’Kay performing his Poetry ay St Andrew’s Church, Gravesend

If you live around here, you may know poet James M’Kay from his live spoken word performances at venues in London and Gravesham, or through Reverb Chamber, the monthly neighbourhood poetry nights that he hosts at Cafe No.84.

James first encountered the blue porcupine when he moved south from Newcastle.

Over the last year, during his lockdown walks around Gravesham, James has occupied himself by inventing a parallel, fantasy landscape, imagining fantastical  stories about the areas he walks though.

He is excited by the lack of ‘facts’ surrounding the story of the blue porcupine because, he explains, it leaves space for people to imagine their own stories.

‘The blue porcupine is a Rorschach Blot,’ he says. ‘It’s a tool for telling stories, which can be whatever people want, to express however they feel about the place. I have my own ideas. I think I know why the porcupine is in that boat, who it is that are rowing, and why they are going away, but I don’t think I’m prepared to say just yet.

‘Everything I’m planning to do with Blue Porcupine is encouraging people to make up stories because I think a little playfulness is what we need after all we’ve been through recently.’

Before they collaborated, Sarah and James had each imagined different stories about the porcupine in the boat. To Sarah, the porcupine is female. James sees it as male, so they have agreed to use ‘they’ as a pronoun when talking about the porcupine .

Sarah is troubled by the porcupine being, apparently, tethered to the boat.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine Stencil, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine Stencil, 2021

‘The porcupine seems to be both a slave and a heroic figure,’ she say. ‘It has got a chain around its neck, like a collar, which I think is really sad. But yet it’s a kind of figurehead. It’s the navigator. It’s the seer. It’s finding the way. The oarsmen aren’t looking where they are going but the porcupine is.’

James disagrees. ‘Yes, the blue porcupine has a chain around its neck,’ he counters. ‘But I think it is a mayoral chain. I think the blue porcupine is in charge. He is steering the boat.’

James and Sarah are hoping that through the Trail of the Blue Porcupine, they will perhaps uncover new information about the story behind the porcupine, or that people will report new sightings of the image around the borough. They certainly hope that the event will stimulate many new imaginings of the porcupine’s story.

If you have any information or wish to share your stories, factual or imagined, please either comment on this blog or contact James and Sarah directly, through the links given below.

A Blue Porcupine Festival

Blue Porcupine Headdress, Sarah Sparkes, mixed media, 2020
Blue Porcupine Headdress, Sarah Sparkes, mixed media, 2020

For the future, James and Sarah are hoping to organise a Blue Porcupine Festival in Gravesend.

‘Ever since I saw the blue porcupine in St Andrew’s Chapel, I’ve had been harbouring this ambition to do a Blue Porcupine Festival in Gravesend,’ Sarah reveals. ‘I imagine it to be like Jack in the Green in Hastings with costumes, parading and everyone getting involved. When Päivi talked to me about doing this project, I sketched a costume based on the mosaic that is in the old marketplace and I imagined that at some time in the future, this could become part of a blue porcupine festival.’

 

James believes that the blue porcupine movement is going to have a momentum of its own.

‘I think we’re going to have trouble catching it!’ he says.

As the blue porcupine is part of the Coat of Arms, there are no copyright restrictions in relation to the use of its image.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine puppet, 2020
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine puppet, 2020

‘One of the things that I absolutely love about the blue porcupine is that it doesn’t belong to anybody – not to any particular community, organisation or group,’ James says. ‘If you’ve got anything to do with the Borough of Gravesham, you’re entitled to use the blue porcupine to tell whatever stories you want with it, which I think is great. I’m looking forward to Blue Porcupine Bitter, Blue Porcupine cocktails, Blue Porcupine tattoos. I think the people of Gravesham need to start running with it. It’s our porcupine!’

James has started the ball rolling. His blog is called Blue Porcupine Poems and Things.  And he has one more idea, inspired by his own experience of the success of The Angel of the North in bringing the community together in Gateshead.

‘The week before they put it up, everyone in Gateshead was saying, what a load of rubbish, but a week later they were calling it, “our Angel,”” James recalls. ‘So I think, at the very end of the promenade, that little bit that juts out, would be the perfect place for a massive 30-foot, major, iconic piece of porcupine art – illuminated at night obviously so that all the ships coming up the Thames would see it.’

‘That’s where I think we should be going with this!’ he laughs.

More Information

Order of the Blue Porcupine - Sarah Sparkes and James M'Kay
Order of the Blue Porcupine – Sarah Sparkes and James M’Kay

The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

The trail launches at 11am on Saturday 5th June 2021 on the quayside outside LV21 and is available throughout the following week. It is also available online. Clues for the Trail of the Blue Porcupine will go live on YouTube on Saturday 5th June 2021 

Join the Blue Porcupine Fan Club on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Blue-Porcupine-Fan-Club-100823918862979/

Follow the Blue Porcupine Instagram: @theblueporcupine

Sarah Sparkes: 'Azure, Chained and Quilled', on LV21
Sarah Sparkes: ‘Azure, Chained and Quilled’, on LV21

 

SILTingshttps://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

James M'Kay ©Tim Goddard
James M’Kay ©Tim Goddard

 

James M’Kay

Blog: Blue Porcupine Poems and Things
https://blueporcupinepoemsthings.substack.com/

Soundcloud: Poet and Reciter James M’Kay
https://soundcloud.com/mckay_poetry
https://grandbabybeat.bandcamp.com/releases

Sarah Sparkes 

Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 16 - 'Licht Und Blindheit' Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 16 – ‘Licht Und Blindheit’ Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021

Instagram: @thesarahsparkes

Website: https://www.sarahsparkes.com/blog/

GHost website: https://www.ghosthostings.co.uk/

Liverpool and Taiwan ghost stories:  http://www.theghostportal.co.uk/

Senate House Ghost Stories: http://ghostsofsenatehouse.blogspot.com/

New Art Projects: http://newartprojects.com/artists/sarah-sparkes/

 

 

 
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Griselda Cann Mussett: A self-portrait

Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: LLoyd George
Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: LLoyd George

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

I never met my grandfather, Ernest Hanchard Goodwin, as he died five years before I was born. But I grew up surrounded by his drawings, which were to be found in piles of sketches at my grandmother’s house. There are hundreds if not thousands of these drawings.

As his middle name suggests, he was part of a French Huguenot family, originally silk weavers. He had been born in 1870 in poor circumstances in Shoreditch in London’s East End, and had become so adept at drawing at a young age that he determined to make his living through his pencil, to support himself and his two sisters. He found work in Fleet Street as a newspaper cartoonist, working under the name of ‘Gee’.

Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: League of Nations, Mosul
Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: League of Nations, Mosul

Eventually through his contacts and with his intimate knowledge of the weaving of fine screens of silk, he helped devise a new method of printing photographs in newspapers – the half-tone method – and with that he made his fortune.

As I understand it, a photograph could be re-photographed through a silk screen which produced a new image composed of 1000s of tiny dots, not unlike the pixels we are familiar with today. And from those dots, the newspaper presses could produce credible black-and-white images.

Ernest Goodwin at Englands Lane Studios
Ernest Goodwin at Englands Lane Studios

Ernest married, had five children, and lived in amazing splendour in a house in Highgate, which is now part of Channing School. In the 1911 Census he is shown as a manufacturer of photo-process blocks.

But the marriage ended, acrimoniously, and he left his wife, giving her all but three shares in his printing company Gee and Watson, which enabled her to live in financial security for the rest of her life. She had loved his double-barrelled name, but he never used ‘Hanchard’ again.

He was then mixing with artists, writers and musicians in London – people such as Thomas Beecham, Martin Stainforth and Bernard Shaw.

Around 1919, he met the young woman who was to become his second partner – my grandmother as it turned out – though they never married. With her he had eight more children (including my mother) and they lived in Hampstead.

Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: The Caravan Man
Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: The Caravan Man

 

He seems to have stopped drawing around this time and started writing novels and plays instead. His writing was briskly romantic and swashbuckling – you wouldn’t know there had been a catastrophic war. Maybe it was too horrible to think about. But the books sold very well, especially in America, and are still available in reprint formats. He did illustrate at least one, The Caravan Man (1918).

He died during WWII, and eventually his creative work faded into obscurity, apart from within the family.

But I grew up knowing my grandfather had been ‘an artist’. I admired his drawings which were quick and compelling. He had a skilful way of capturing people’s appearance, their clothing, expressions, posture and humanity, exaggerated in some ways, but always interesting. What I learned was, all I needed to do was pick up a pencil. So I did.

Moreover, the family felt at ease with art. They were pretty bohemian. As a child I’d go with my parents into Kenwood House and I found I’d be staring at that Rembrandt, and that Gainsborough and that Vermeer and that Van Dyck and that Franz Hals and that Lawrence.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Amsterdam (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Amsterdam (2019)

Later when I was travelling round London as a young teenager, I’d go to the National Gallery or the Wallace Collection or the British Museum, looking and looking. I never dared go into any of the smart commercial galleries in the West End – they were not for the likes of me.  I read, bought or stole books with interesting illustrations –  in particular I loved Edward Ardizzone and Eric Ravilious, and, later, a book of African folk tales illustrated by Blair Hughes Stanton. However, even with all this immersion it never occurred to me that I might be an artist too.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Faversham Market (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Faversham Market (2019)

I was miserably aware that my drawings were becoming more and more formularised. The  art teacher at my school was a terrifying lesbian, tough and uncompromising. I wilted under her critiques and then fled the art department.

Most of my grown-up life was as an art outsider… loving art, but feeling totally inadequate as a maker. My own critical eye steered me away from sentimental imagery, or copying, and I took life classes when I could find them, but still, I could see how incompetent I was.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Brussels Cafe (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Brussels Cafe (2019)

I bought paintings and prints, as a distant and very humble worshipper might gaze at an icon. I read Gombrich, and John Berger, and went to the ICA and the Design Centre and the South Bank Galleries and the Tate and the Royal Academy shows.

I married, had a baby. At a babies’ music group I met another mum called Penny – she turned out to be Blair Hughes Stanton’s daughter, partner of Norman Ackroyd (later CBE, RA) and she and I became friends.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Harbour Street, Whitstable (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Harbour Street, Whitstable (2019)

She published a book of my poetry (Scar Lines, Penny Press, 1993). I wrote the words – but Kandis Cook made the illustrations.   Although I was coming to understand that, regardless of subject, in effect all art is a form of self-portraiture, it still didn’t dawn on me that I was an artist too.  I was in awe of artists.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Almshouses Organ Recital with Screen (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Almshouses Organ Recital with Screen (2019)

Not till I was in my sixties, and living in an art-rich community (Faversham) and getting to meet and know working artists of all kinds, did I start to question my own exclusion. Secretly I had all my sketchbooks, and some terrible canvases stacked up in a spare room – work I had done in solitary embarrassment.  What was wrong with me?  From raising my own two children I had developed the belief that all of us are born as artists… so why hadn’t I included myself in this list?  All I could do was make sketches.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Nathalie makes ratatouille
Griselda Cann Mussett: Nathalie makes ratatouille

Nathalie Banaigs – an inspired Parisian organising art salons and meetings throughout Kent, set up an event with an American art networker, Crista Cloutier, which I went along to. Crista spoke about her own art story, how she’d joined a big gallery agency after graduating from art school, and learned that while artists seem to believe they must starve, rich people crave art but don’t know how to choose what to buy… And at the end of the talk she gave everyone a large pin-on badge which said ‘Artist’. And I started to cry.

I was amazed when my husband (a musician and senior producer in BBC Radio 3) said, “Well, of course you’re an artist. I always knew that”.  Why did I not know myself?  But, that badge propelled me into a whole new life.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Queueing at Sainsburys (2020)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Queueing at Sainsburys (2020)

I started work in earnest. There are classes, all the time – and I saved my money and signed up: to Michael Foreman’s life classes, to Jacqueline Summer’s workshops, Hugh Ribbans’ print-making classes (where his mate Alan Burton, another print-maker, was amusingly teaching contradictory methods), Ashley Hanson’s abstract landscape workshops, Tracie Peisley’s feminist sculpture and drawing workshops.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Street sketch, concert under the Guildhall (2020)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Street sketch, concert under the Guildhall (2020)

I was talking with (and sometimes buying works from) Duncan Grant, Jill Holder, Bob Lamoon, Derek Steele, Georgia Horton, Amanda de Pulford, Max Kimber, Chris Blunkell, Mark Thatcher, Daphne Candler, Nicole Antras, Vicky Emptage, Ruth Dalzell, Tony Bream and the many dedicated and kind artists at Nathalie Banaigs’ meet-ups.  I had stepped into the arena.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Salzburg Evening
Griselda Cann Mussett: Salzburg Evening (2019)

All this was in real time and place, before lockdown engendered the thousands of online workshops which we see now. Now, when I had to grapple with that lifelong sense of inadequacy in the face of other people’s brilliance and competence, I started reacting quite differently… I was a student. I would be making mistakes. I needed to practise. I needed to learn new techniques. This wasn’t therapy now. It was work.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Dover Harbour
Griselda Cann Mussett: Dover Harbour

Trips abroad pushed me into obscure regional art galleries and museums and caves – finding Palaeolithic and Neolithic art and architecture, early Picassos and Monets and Manets, political and experimental artists in Spain, Italy, Corsica, the Canary Islands, Corfu, Malta, that people never heard of in Britain. The normal-ness of art was borne into me.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Canal (2020)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Canal (2020)

The internet started to offer more and more interesting teaching – some about techniques but some more highly organised, and popular. These were free workshops, preludes to paid courses, and so I found Nick Wilton in California, Tracy Verdugo in Australia and Louise Fletcher in Yorkshire and my studies with them (alongside thousands of other students) have been about how to paint abstractly… another big step forward.  I had previously tried making non-realistic work but found it hopelessly challenging.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Study
Griselda Cann Mussett: Study

It was already plain to me that since the invention of cameras, artists were no longer constrained to make realistic records of things, places and people.

For hundreds of years, ‘art’ had been defined by patrons rather than makers. Churches liked to see images of humans in mortal danger, peril and pain, saints and god himself, depicted at the first and last moments (especially popular if they were ghastly).

Monarchs and other rich and powerful people liked to see their faces, wives, houses, horses and fruit bowls captured forever, and that had defined what ‘art’ should be, apparently. That I had learned many years before, in Kenwood House.

Griselda Cann Mussett: The Last Day of Happiness
Griselda Cann Mussett: The Last Day of Happiness

But as the shutters clicked, artists could now turn their collective attention to other matters – the nature of light, the experience of time and emotion, the study of shapes themselves. So, since the lockdown, I have been learning (with these teachers) more about making abstract works.  Every penny spent has been worth it.

The small band of people who have been kind enough to like and even buy my earlier work (landscapes, still life studies, more-or-less realistic paintings) are I think perplexed by my forays into this new wild and wicked world. (I say, if you have not tried to make consistently good abstract paintings, don’t knock it).

Griselda Cann Mussett: The Road from Panel
Griselda Cann Mussett: The Road from Panel

I am coming to trust the process rather than seeking definite outcomes. I am at last letting go of the nagging worry about making things ‘which will sell’. I am doing what I love.

I have learned to put my works into public display through a website http://griseldamussett.com/ and via Instagram and Facebook, mistakes and all. I have to overcome a terrible nausea to do it – but that is the fight. The inner demons who say… who are you? But I know them now for who they are.

I have never stopped encouraging other people to start making art. I’m partway through writing a book called, So you want to be an artist fuck it?

Griselda Cann Mussett: Winnie's First Train Ride
Griselda Cann Mussett: Winnie’s First Train Ride

I think probably everyone is an artist. It gets bashed out of us at home, at school, in the world. How often have I heard people say ‘I can’t draw….’?  Well, unless you pick up a pencil and start, then that will always be true.

Visual arts are – powerfully – non-verbal. They require and develop parts of our brains which are scarcely recognised in our western culture. The state of mind I get into when I am making art (and I think other artists find the same) is a powerful primitive fundamental human experience.  It may, or it may not, provide us with a living, but ‘good’ art will speak to people forever.

My grandfather did manage to support himself, his sisters and then his young family for a long time with his pencil, but he made his fortune through the new technologies, not his drawings.  And then he reinvented himself, not as a visual artist but as a writer and as a businessman, because he had found himself with art when he was young.  His drawings look quaint now, of their time. But they’re good, or good enough.   My own paintings and drawings are so much part of me now I can’t imagine being without it all. I am my art. I am painting myself.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Charcoal Selfie (1978)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Charcoal Selfie (1978)

More information
If you would like to see Griselda’s work in person and you’re in the Faversham area, you can.
Her art show continues in the summerhousein her garden until 16th May 2021.  Viewing is by appointment only. Call Griselda on 0797 492 1913 or email griseldacmussett@gmail.com.

Website: http://griseldamussett.com/
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/GriseldaMussettArt/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/griseldaart/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/griseldamussett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gettin’ Giclée Wit It

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
For some time now, thanks to the high quality images taken by my good friend, photographer, Roger Crosby, I’ve been able to offer prints of all my artwork, as well as selling the originals. These high quality photographs were good. They looked pretty close to the originals, especially when they were mounted and framed.

But from now on, if you order a print from me, it will be a Giclée print, produced by renowned East London-based printers, The Print Space. The quality of their work is fantastic, so I think you’ll be very pleased with the result.

Duncan Grant: Books
Books: A giclée print I sold recently

Giclée printing has a number of advantages:

1.   The quality will be better. Often with a Giclée print, it is almost impossible to distinguish the print from the original.

2.   You’ll be able to order your prints in different sizes.
Most of my ink drawings are A4. Because I draw them on my lap, often in my van, it’s just a more manageable size. But now I will be able to offer prints in A3 or A4 formats.

I’ll be putting a price for A4 and A3 prints on my website but if  you’d like a bigger size, contact me and I can let you know if the quality of the original image will allow a bigger print and, if so, how much it will cost.

Duncan Grant: Kitchen
Kitchen: A giclée print I sold recently

It might take me a whle to update all the art on my website – there are hundreds of pictures up there and I’ve made a start – but A4 (mounted prints) will be £65 and A3 (mounted prints) will be £80. Add £8 for an A4 frame and £12 for an A3 frame. If you find you can’t order the option you want online yet, just get in touch and I’ll add the options to the one you want.

Similarly, if you would like a print of a picture that is a non-standard shape – there are a few – just let me know and I’ll see if it can be done.

3.   With giclée printing, the print stays in mint condition for longer. Because the type of ink and paper used for giclée prints, they won’t fade when they are displayed in normal conditions indoors. The colours should stay true for decades – I’ve heard 80-200 years from different sources.

So what is a giclée print?

Jack Duganne
Jack Duganne

The term ‘giclée’ comes from French and means ‘a spurt of liquid’. It was coined, in 1991, by  American printmaker Jack Duganne, who died last year.  He wanted to find a word that would differentiate fine art prints from commercial printers’ proofs.  Today, it is used to describe a printing process that uses large-format inkjet printers that can match colours and apply ink precisely, to produce exceptionally high quality prints of original artwork.

The ‘recipe’ for a commercial quality giclée  print requires four ingredients.

Duncan Grant: Norfolk Sun
Norfolk Sun: Another giclée print sold recently

First you need an image of  the piece of art that you want to print. That can be a digital image from a camera or a scan. The important thing is that the resolution must be high. Most digital images have a resolution of 72 DPI (dots per inch). For giclée printing, the image file will need to be at least 300 DPI. The greater the DPI, the more detailed your print will appear. If the DPI is too low, the print will lose detail and reproduction of the colours will be less accurate.

When it comes to printing, the type of ink you use is also very important.  Giclée printing requires ‘archival quality’ inks. These  are pigment-based,  rather than the dye-based inks that are usually found in inkjet printers. Pigment-based inks are permanent and are resistant to  light, heat and water.  So you can expect a giclée print to last a lifetime without fading or staining.

©ThePrint Space
©The Print Space

The quality of the paper used is the third element in achieving a successful giclée print.  My prints are  on Hahnemühle German Etching paper, which is a heavyweight, acid-free paper with ‘a slightly warm base tone’ and ‘a strong mottled texture’.  I have been really impressed with the finish. The texture of the paper means that it can hold more ink and it captures the light, resulting in a print that has strong colours and deep blacks.

The final ingredient to make your perfect giclée print is a great big inkjet printer – but not just any old inkjet printer. Traditional inkjet printers use the classic cyan/magenta/yellow/black (CMYK-4) colour combination, whereas inkjet printers used to make giclée  prints are able to hold up to twelve different coloured ink cartridges.

If you order a giclée print from me it will be despatched directly from The Print Space, but before it is sent, I get to see it online in a virtual room. I also get tracking details so I know when it has been delivered safely.

So there you are.  Happy Easter!

Here is a link to my gallery – off you go!  😉   https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/

©The Print Space
©The Print Space

Links to the images featured in this blog are:
Books
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/books-print/
Norfolk Sun
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/norfolk-sun-print/
Kitchen
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/kitchen-print/

All  printing images are  ©The Print Space
Contact them at info@theprintspace.co.uk or call them on +44 (0) 207 739 1060

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Invitation to Pull Up A (virtual) Chair with Anne Langford

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
You get to know the place where you were born and brought up, don’t you?

Duncan Grant: Brewery
My version of the old Russell’s brewery which was by the river

You know what you like and what you don’t like. And have a picture in your mind about what that place is like.

But it’s not often you get the chance to see that place through somebody else’s eyes.  As a proud born and bred Gravesender myself,  I’m very interested to see how our community is perceived by somebody – ‘an outsider’ – with a fresh perspective on the very familiar.

At the beginning of March, artist Anne Langford issued an invitation on Facebook for residents of Gravesham to get in touch with her. She wanted to hear about what it is that people living in Gravesham take pride in, and  what it is about the borough that makes them proud.

Anne Langford © Gary Weston
‘Pull Up a Chair, Gravesham’ is a collaboration betwen Anne Langford and LV21 © Gary Weston

Anne admits that she ‘loves chatting and is a little bit nosey’, but her request was not made just out of idle curiosity – something to keep everyone amused during lockdown – but to initiate a month-long Arts project that she is undertaking, in partnership with Gravesend’s independent, floating art space and performance facility, LV21.

The Arts Council England funded project, called Pull Up A Chair, is  a research-focused project run by Brighton-based organisation Quiet Down There, exploring how residents and communities participate in and enjoy (or don’t enjoy) arts and cultural activities. A longer term objective for the independent arts organisations involved – in Gravesham’s case LV21 – is to plan what more they can do to involve local communities in arts and cultural activities.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
To mourn the loss of her ‘live’ project, Anne I decided to burn a matchstick chair on the foreshore of the Thames – the river that connects her to Gravesham.

Pull Up A Chair  offers a new spin on the familiar concept of an artist-in residence: one that was developed through a collaboration with Apexart based in New York City.  In this model, instead of embedding an artist within an institution – a university, museum or art gallery, for example – artists are asked to immerse themselves in a community for a month, experiencing what it is like to live, work and play there.

Artists are paired with locations of which they have no knowledge, and which they have never visited previously. The idea is that they approach their work with no pre-conceptions about a place or its communities.

During their residency, artists are asked not to produce artwork but, instead to follow an intense programme of activities around the locality, to meet the people, and to report on their activity via social media.

 

The Gravesham project, which has a loose theme of ‘pride’,  is one of three linked residencies each of which has been affected by the pandemic.

In Luton, a collaboration between artist  Alex Parry and Revolution Arts has now been completed but was cut short by the pandemic.  And the project in Swale, Medway, with artist Chloe Cooper and Ideas Test,  was reimagined because of Covid, and took place in June 2020. You can read Anne’s reflections on the loss of Arts projects during the pandemic on her blogpost Resorcing the Ruins.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
This chair Anne found in the street has become the focal point of her virtual residency from her London flat

Pulling up a virtual chair
Anne Langford’s residency in Gravesham was due to begin in March 2020, but COVID put paid to that. Funding constraints meant the project had to be completed this financial year, so Anne has been challenged to develop the model even further, by looking at what can be a achieved through a ‘virtual residency’.  In fact, Anne has only visited Gravesend twice – once before the project started to meet everyone at LV21 and once, as part of the project, for a solitary walk around Trosley Country Park which she reported on in her blog. The rest of the time, she has explored Gravesham via her computer, from her home in East London.