The Art of Disruption

Programming

How to present what you do, as a freelancer/contractor? How to be both descriptive enough to be credible, yet keep the door open to new collaborations? As François Matarasso puts it: “In this neoliberal world, where people are commoditised, a freelancer must be ready to stand in the shop window, if not the auction block, in his best clothes. We’ve all got an elevator pitch now.”

In a perhaps misguided attempt to cover all grounds, I’m currently using ‘Events Manager, Audience Developer and Translator’ on my business card. My ‘services’ page also lists Programme Management & Coordination, Research and Copywriting. I could go on – but I’m not sure that adding more specialities would make my achievements and skills look any better. In fact, such an enumeration is not even reflecting what I do overall.

That’s why I’m using ‘Cultural Producer’ on my ‘about’ page and on LinkedIn: because it’s not just describing the different parts of the process, but how they’re all converging.

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

I like this definition, used by someone called Gina Tarantino in her Penn State University blog:

A creative cultural producer is a professional that plans, designs, organizes and manages artistic projects that have a cultural impact on the public that will interact with them.

Play Me I'm Yours, 2012, Toronto (Mexico piano, University & Dundas)

Play Me I’m Yours, Mexico piano (Toronto, Canada 2012)

And even more this one, developed by London-based creative company Nimble Fish to describe their own practice, which they felt was not accurately reflected by the categories “Theatre” or “Theatre-in-Education”:

Cultural Producers establish, implement and manage a self-generated creative vision, typically outside the purview of traditional performance or gallery spaces. Cultural Producers are rarely restricted to a single artistic form, preferring instead to work with whatever combination of forms best suits a particular idea or theme. Cultural Producers often seek to animate or re-interpret public spaces in the context of the communities they serve, and consequently their work often has a strong component of community participation or co-creation.

City-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau

Jour Inondable, city-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau (Tours, France , 2012)

Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation commissioned a 2007 publication titled “The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible” to “celebrate and explore the role of the producer in the arts” through 14 portraits of creative individuals.

One of the featured producers is Helen Marriage, co-founder of Artichoke, “a creative company that works with artists to invade our public spaces and put on extraordinary and ambitious events that live in the memory forever”. Artichoke will probably forever be known for the Sultan’s Elephant (see below), but they’ve also created, more recently, the city-wide night-time Lumière events in Durham and Derry-Londonderry, the giant spider in Liverpool and One & Other, Anthony Gormley’s Fourth Plinth Commission project.

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (2009)

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (Durham, UK, 2009)

In 2012-2013, Helen Marriage was awarded a Loeb Fellowship by Harvard Graduate School of Design, to “study the intersection of design, public art and urban infrastructure”. She has since embarked on a series of talks and seminars on the topic of cultural disruption and ephemeral urbanism, and her recent presentation at the Ramsay Gardens Seminar series is summarised on International Futures Forum’s website.

She retraces the 5-year journey to get permission to close streets in London and stage a huge peripatetic performance, recalling the shifting point that made it all possible and the self-discovery that ensued:

For the first three years the answer was always no. But in the end the mood shifted:  from “why would we do this?” (a plea for justification, outcomes, evidence) to “why would we not do this?” (an enrolment in playing a part in producing something magical).  Helen’s message – “it will be fantastic and you will be really proud” – finally struck home.

In retrospect, she realised that she herself had been the problem. She had been asking an impossible question – in asking for permission. They could not possibly say yes. But once it got into the minutes that the event was scheduled to happen, everyone assumed that somebody else had given authority and from then on their role was to help.  It was a valuable lesson and one that she now follows always: her job is to take responsibility, to be the bearer of risk for everyone involved, which frees them up to be as helpful and creative as they can without formally ‘owning’ the project themselves.

Artichoke: Sultan's Elephant (London, 2006)

Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke & Royal de Luxe (London, UK, 2006)

Reviewing The Producers for a-n , Charlotte Frost surveyed a number of established cultural production agencies (listed below). Despite clear differences, such as the diversity of organisational structures, she finds them to share three key functions:

  1. Matchmaking collaborative relationships: combining artists and artforms, often assembling a custom back-end team, and bringing together projects and venues, funders and other supporters.
  2. Providing the necessary time and space: directly by providing physical space (Artsadmin) or virtual platforms (Furtherfield.org), and also through committing to the long-term durational process (Artangel).
  3. Being the “risk absorber” (Steven Bode, Director of FVU): “Every project starts from square-one in terms of the producer having to find creative partners, a venue and, usually, funders” (Electra Co-Founder and Director Lina Dzuverovic); “Its very important that all of us, Artsadmin, Artangel, Forma, and everyone else… keep encouraging new work to happen, if we don’t, everything will get very stagnant. That is, what is inspiring and compelling for us, and it is something that I would reiterate to Arts Council England, this experimental work influences the mainstream and feeds everything else.” (Judith Knight, Co-Founder and Director of Artsadmin).
Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

The video below shows the LIFT Festival production of Haircuts by Children, an “aesthetically scintillating experience”  developed by Toronto-based culture production workshop Mammalian Diving Reflex that has already been re-created in 30 cities.  Artistic Director Darren O’Donnell explains:

Haircuts by Children involves children between the ages of 8-12 are trained by professional hairstylists, and then paid to run a real hair salon, offering members of the public free haircuts. The project invites the consideration of young people as creative and competent individuals whose aesthetic choices can be trusted. While providing atypical entertainment for the public, Haircuts by Children also shifts the traditional power dynamic between children and adults, creating a safe social space where children and adults who live in the same community can meet and share a unique creative experience together. The idea that kids should be allowed to cut our hair evokes the same leap of faith, courage and understanding required to grant children deeper citizenship rights. For many it is actually less terrifying to contemplate allowing kids to vote.

Links:

UK

artangel.org.uk
artichoke.uk.com
artsadmin.co.uk
electra-productions.com
forma.org.uk
furtherfield.org
nimble-fish.co.uk
upprojects.com

CANADA

www.mammalian.ca

FRANCE

www.lafoliekilometre.org
www.polau.org

Jeppe Hein, Follow Me, Bristol, 2009. Photo: Jamie Woodley­. Courtesy University of Bristol

The New Rules of Public Art

The Long Read

Public Art Now

Demand new rules for public art now!

An organisation born in Bristol, UK, Situations reimagines what public art can be and where and when it can take place. We like to think and reflect on what happens when the spark of an idea is lit. We test out new ways in which to share those ideas through new commissions, events, interviews, books and blogs – just like this, The New Rules of Public Art.

Sign-up here to receive a link to download your free ‘The New Rules of Public Art’ poster or scroll down to get hold of your very own rulebook. In the meantime enjoy, share and debate The Rules.

THE NEW RULES OF PUBLIC ART

Rule no. 01

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO LOOK LIKE PUBLIC ART.

The days of bronze heroes and roundabout baubles are numbered. Public art can take any form or mode of encounter –…

View original post 887 more words

Sleepless Night, Healthy Cities: the Nuit Blanche charter

Spotlight

It’s Nuit Blanche everywhere tonight: in Toronto, where I currently live, and where I’m hoping to catch, amongst others, Your Temper, My Weather, an intriguing exploration of collective meditation and bees at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the giant Ai Weiwei bicycle installation outside City Hall (where, ironically, the current mayor is not known for his love of alternative transportation); in Paris, where it all started in 2001 (or so the legend goes, but it appears that Helsinki’s Night of the Arts and Nantes’ Les Allumés have been paving the way since 1989-1990); in Brussels, where intrepid urbanites, smartphone in hand, can take part in an interactive game called Raiders of the Lost Archive; in Metz, where one of last year’s piece was this mesmerising all-night video mapping of the markings left by mysterious deep-sea creatures called paleodictyon nodosum, projected on the Centre Pompidou-Metz (below); and possibly elsewhere, as the number of participating cities keeps growing year on year, although some celebrate their participatory art extravaganza at other dates or under other names, such as Light Night in Liverpool.

Given the success of the event, an umbrella organisation, Nuits Blanches Europe, was created to enable participating cities to share their experiences and exchange projects and artists. The project does not seem to have its own website, but I found the following charter on the Nuit Blanche Brussels website, in English and French, which articulates the civic impact ambitions of the initiative:

(English)

  • NUIT BLANCHE is a free cultural event open to all which takes place every year from the end of the summer to the beginning of autumn and lasts one full night.
  • NUIT BLANCHE gives pride of place to contemporary creativity in all its forms: the plastic arts, projections, installations, music, performance art and street theatre, circus arts and travelling shows.
  • NUIT BLANCHE turns the spotlight on public spaces from every angle: places normally closed off or abandoned, peripheral locations or even prestigious or heritage sites, are revisited in a unique way by artists.
  • NUIT BLANCHE allows organising cities to reflect together on how life after dark in cities is currently changing and to put in place appropriate services and methods of organisation (local economy, signposting, lighting, safety, services, etc).
  • NUIT BLANCHE provides an opportunity to promote environmentally-friendly mobility: easier access for cyclists, use of the tram, public transport, river buses.
  • NUIT BLANCHE encourages interaction between city centres and outlying districts.
  • The partner cities of Nuits Blanches Europe decide on a joint artistic project to be implemented each year with a view to developing exchanges not only between cities but also between artists and European audiences.

(French)

  • NUIT BLANCHE est une manifestation culturelle ouverte à tous et gratuite, qui se tient chaque année de la fin de l’été au début de l’automne, durant une nuit complète.
  • NUIT BLANCHE privilégie la création contemporaine sous toutes ses formes : arts plastiques, projections, installations, musiques, arts de la scène et de la rue, arts du cirque et arts forains.
  • NUIT BLANCHE met en scène l’espace public sous tous ses aspects : lieux habituellement fermés ou abandonnés, lieux périphériques, ou encore lieux prestigieux ou appartenant au patrimoine historique de la ville, revisités singulièrement par les artistes.
  • NUIT BLANCHE permet aux villes organisatrices de réfléchir ensemble aux évolutions actuelles des nuits urbaines et de mettre en place des services et modes d’organisation adaptés (économie, signalétique, éclairage, sécurité, services…).
  • NUIT BLANCHE est l’occasion de promouvoir des formes de mobilité « douces » : facilitation de parcours à vélo, recours au tram, au transport en commun, aux navettes fluviales.
  • NUIT BLANCHE favorise les échanges entre les centres-villes et les quartiers périphériques.
  • Les villes partenaires de Nuits Blanches Europe décident, dans le but de développer les échanges entre elles et entre les artistes et publics européens, qu’un projet artistique commun sera mené chaque année.

The Art of Food

Programming

Food & Drink Festivals are popular fixtures of the social calendar, and in the course of my travels, I have partaken in events such as La Fête du vin (Bordeaux), Vijazz (Vilafranca del Penèdes), Manchester Food and Drink Festival, Toronto’s Winterlicious and Summerlicious – and possibly a few more that I don’t remember.

These are mostly business-led festivities, offering opportunities to sample wine, beer or food at reduced prices. Food (and drink) being the quintessential social binder, this type of festival is likely to be pleasant and convivial, as well as leaning towards the commercial and touristy side.

Food can also get eventful in large-scale gatherings, such as le Dîner en Blanc™ or celebrations organised by the French “fooding” movement. The convivial factor is also high up there, and the crowd is as much a part of the spectacle as what they consume.

If the art of food can be the subjet of a festival, what can an arts festival do with food? I’m not going to foray into Food Art for now, although for some interesting examples, I recommend a visit to La Milk Factory, a French dairy industry-sponsored creative lab run by a distant cousin of mine, or the work of Polish artist Milena Korolczuk, who carves out of bread small heads in the image of Marina Abramovic, Lenin, Jay-Z or Sartre, or else the dreamy Edible Vistas of Canadian-Hungarian artist Eszter Burghardt.

Instead, I want to feature three very different projects that have in common a playful yet experimental attitude to food. Two of them were recently presented by multidisciplinary arts festivals, and the third one is prime material to be expanded to a wider scope.

1. Future Chefs

Toronto-based Luminato Festival has offered a food-focused weekend for several years now, creating a street food market atmosphere by inviting local chefs to set up stalls and offer $5 portions to visitors. In 2013, they partnered with Mammalian Diving Reflex to revamp this traditional model and throw a few kids into the mix.

Mammalian Diving Reflex is self-described as “a culture production workshop that creates site and social-specific performance events, theatre-based productions, gallery-based participatory installations, video products, art objects and theoretical texts”.  They often work with children – such as in previous projects Haircuts by Children and These are the People in your Neighbourhood – to reverse social hierarchies and disrupt stereotypes.

Future Tastes of Toronto – At the Kids’ Table involved over 20 Toronto chefs and six classes of grades 4-6 students, meeting for workshops in the weeks leading up to the Festival. During the 2-day ‘performance’, kids promoted “their” chef to the public in attendance and animated the Kids’ Table, a large communal eating space.

2. Future Communities

In 2011, Manchester International Festival started Alpha Farm, an experiment to transform a disused 1960s office building into a vertical farm, with the help and for the benefit of the local community. This project was located in Wythenshawe,  Manchester, ironically one of the original “garden city” planned housing estates which would now probably qualify as a food desert. Hopes for a forthcoming urban harvest were high, and this 2011 video produced by ethical communications agency Creative Concern features experts from different fields drumming up the excitement about the project.

As the building proved too challenging to convert, MIF has taken the lessons learned to start the Biospheric Project in a derelict mill in Salford, right next to Manchester. The focus has now switched from vertical farm to agricultural lab, and the community engagement is even deeper, with many school visits, workshops, talks and open tours to introduce local residents to the innovative growing systems developed by the research team. The project is described as “part farm, part laboratory and part research centre, all embedded in the heart of an existing community”. According to this 2013 Guardian article, it is also intended to be a “legacy commission that will continue its work for at least ten years.” Salford’s Mayor describes the socio-agricultural experiment as a “flagship project” for the city, which is hoping to lead the way in new food growing systems.

The project is supported by Urban Splash, a developer that has led the urban regeneration in Manchester with its iconic warehouse conversions, and is meant to be a resource for the local community, with a wholefood shop that will eventually sell the Biosphere produce. Outside the mill, 70 fruit trees have already been planted, and a worm farm provides another bond to the local community, as worms are sold to fishermen at a low price in exchange for their compost. Inside, diverse growing experiments are ongoing, such as aquaponics (combining fish farming and hydroponics), and the roof top features beehives and chicken.

Project Director Vincent Walsh introduces the Biospheric Project (as part of an interview series):

And here is a quick rooftop tour by local journalist and tour guide Jonathan Schofield, with city views:

3. Future Tastes

It is anticipated that in 2050 the world’s population will exceed 9 billion people. The expansion of the world’s foodprint that is expected to accompany this population increase may exceed the tolerances of our planet’s ecosystems, activating unknown environmental and economic tipping points, and result in extreme food shortages. HOW WILL WE FEED EVERYONE WHEN THE TIME COMES?

By eating bugs, of course.

In 2011, Mammalian Diving Reflex and a host of collaborators presented a Toronto Nuit Blanche installation entitled Farmers’ Market 2050 offering the food of the future: micro-crops and micro-livestock, or, in plain English, algae and bugs. This vision of the future is based on the work of Third Millenium Farming, who are conducting research into cricket farming.

3MF has now partnered with Alimentary Initiatives to disseminate this research in a series of events called Future Food Salon, featuring live music and art installations, cricket-based food (such as burgers made out of chick pea and cricket flours) and a lively presentation by lead researcher Jakub Dzamba exploring urban and home-based cricket farming as a future alternative to current intensive agricultural practices.

This 3-minute video introduction does a good job of presenting problems and potential solutions:

And here is a video trailer for Future Food Salon, presented by Alimentary Initiatives’ founder Aruna Handa:

Finally, here are 5 reasons to eat crickets taken from Alimentary Initiatives’ blog:

  1. Nutrition. Crickets are nutritious. Cooked weight protein rates, gram for gram, are comparable to chicken and beef. They are also rich in omega-3 fats and high in iron.
  2. Sustainability. Cricket farming is more sustainable than 20th-century-style livestock rearing. Cricket rearing is less taxing on water resources, land resources, and produces less methane. Because insects do not produce fur, bones or hair, their ratio of feed to protein produced is excellent.
  3. Distribution. Cricket farming can be managed in a decentralized way. With Dzamba’s farms, which sit on a single square metre of land, and with his new counter-top prototypes, every household could become a producer, feeding their crickets kitchen scraps.
  4. Environment. Crickets are found throughout the planet, so the risk of an environmental disaster through the escape of crickets represents little threat to existing eco-systems.
  5. Ethics. Crickets can be euthanized in a humane manner by freezing them, which causes their metabolism to slow down, so that when they are cooked, they are asleep.

“An atmosphere of enormous goodwill”

Programming

I haven’t been writing about festivals for a little while, for the good reason that I was actually neck deep into one myself. I’m just emerging from a few intense weeks of planning that culminated in the 7th Luminato Festival, a multidisciplinary arts festival in Toronto for which I coordinated the volunteer programme.

While I will no doubt come back to volunteer management, a topic that I have addressed before, for now I want to get back into contemplative mode and to admire other festivals from a safe distance.

As I was busy training and scheduling 500 volunteers in Toronto, 200 horses and 3,000 sheep and goats were arriving in Marseille, this year’s European Capital of Culture. TransHumance, a flagship event of this year-long celebration of culture, was a huge participatory effort offering many ways to get engaged, from walking alongside the herds to contributing to the land art creations. The project still continues with some exhibitions and talks, and a book is due to be published, but right now the many photos and videos of the arrival into Marseille are beautiful to watch.

TransHumance, Marseille, 9th June 2013

The crowd assembling and waiting reminded me of another large-scale street spectacle I had seen during Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008, a giant spider called La Princesse created by French company La Machine.

La Princesse, Liverpool, 5th – 7th September 2008

To conclude, here is a quote by an audience member in Liverpool (found on Artichoke’s website, the creative company behind La Princesse and, perhaps more famously, The Sultan’s Elephant in London, in 2006).

I have never before witnessed an event on this scale which set out to, and manifestly achieved, the sole intent of making the world a slightly better place. No requirement to buy anything, no commitment to a cause, no politics, no promotion, no underlying propaganda. Just hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world gathered in Liverpool in an atmosphere of enormous goodwill.

Mike Kinley, audience member