New SPACE in Bristol!

 

SPACE is a new satellite initiative of The Island. Today is the preview of their new exhibition, SynBioExpo, collaboration between art and science which explores the possibilities of CRISPR, a new technology to edit our DNA, and the consequences of it.

Today at 6:00 will be launched SynBioExpoat at the SPACE Bristol. This is a collaborative exhibition between the Bristol-based artists Imogen Coulter, Claudia Sticker and Theo Wood and researchers at BrisSynBio, the University of Bristol’s Synthetic Biology research network. Tonight the artists and the researchers will discuss the exhibition and the possibilities of CRISPR, a new technology able to edit our DNA, opening a conversation with the audience to share ideas and point of views.

SPACE is a new satellite initiative of the Island in Old Market Street. Trinity Community Arts have been running 6 West Street for nearly 5 years, under Bristol City Council’s Community Asset Transfer initiative, aiming to support the regeneration of Old Market. With the mutual scope of giving new vibes to local activities, The Island took SPACE (Sounds- Performance- Art- Community- Emergent) to offer an open hub to promote creativity in Bristol with exhibitions, workshops and talks.

 

The core of the initiative is offering a place to share ideas and presenting works that lead to an exploration of reality to question our society from unexpected angles. By opening the space to activities and artists on the edge of the usual channels, SPACE wants to create an alternative environment to think about our society working with the local community. Often we see the structure of our society far from our range of action, but starting our observation from a local point of view we can discover a different vision and think about it in new ways.

Example of this intent was Barrier, their preview solo exhibition. The show was a collection of paintings from the raising artist David Foord, who is still exhibiting at the Tobacco Factory until the end of May.

For David, observing is an act for questioning the reality we are living in, and he translated this idea using his paint as a tool to critically explore our society and analyse how systems of belief shape what we see, driving us in our conception of reality. Working around themes such as national identity, a proliferation of barriers and private propriety, through his paintings David made us reflect on how our beliefs play a strong role in our construction of reality. Without even being aware of it, we manipulate what we see, our landscapes, following a scheme silently articulate by the system of ideologies that we feel closer to us. We decide our scale of relevance in the reality we are living and we follow it to judge and classify the others around.

David offered us an alternative vision on this order, without criticizing or taking a stand to give us an answer. He uses painting to highlight aspects of reality with unusual eyes, giving us the chance to think about what we see in a different way. Reflecting on these thematic is assuming even more relevance today, when ideologies are playing every day a stronger role in defining our identity.

SPACE, with a completely different exhibition, is offering today another occasion to have an alternative vision on aspects we feel innate in our society, giving us an example of the power of local activities towards the tendency of our world.

 

 

 

 

 

Othello

It is the last night for the Othello directed by Richard Twyman, Artistic Director of English Touring Theatre. The show is a contemporary version of the Shakespearian tragedy for the 2017 season of Shakespeare and Classic Drama by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory Theatres.

 

Since February is on the scene a contemporary version of Othello, interpreted by Abraham Popoola, Norah Lopez Holden, as Othello and Desdemona, just graduated to the RADA; Mark Lockyer, as Iago and Piers Hampton in Cassio’s role. In a minimal, modern and symbolist key, the cast tell is the sequence of events that will lead to Othello’s tragedy.

The performance offers us a demonstration of the actuality of the theme that crosses the story; but what we can learn from Othello’s story?

Othello was performed for the first time in 1604 in London. It is based on Un Capitano Moro(“A Moorish Captain”), a story written by Giovan Battista Giraldi Cinzio, a disciple of Boccaccio, in 1565. In the Italian version, the texture of the plot is already delineated, but it was Shakespeare who gave name and form to the immortal characters of the original tragedy. Othello, the Moorish, is strong and brave; Iago, jealous and mad; Cassio, loyal but too weak to help his friend, and Desdemona, whose innocence remained uncorrupted until the end.

The tragedy was already controversial at the time it was written, but it assumes even more relevance today. It deals with the familiar themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance. As in the original version, the tragedy as portrayed by Richard Twyman started in Venice, with Othello who secretly married Desdemona and pretended to be Christian to be accepted by others. The story moved to Cyprus when Othello was called to protect the island from a Turkish attack. Even today, a strong cultural divide between Greek and Turkish influences is still prevalent in Cyprus, meaning that there still exists a live debate about the identity of the island. In the background, the theme of religion silently crosses the whole performance, making us reflect on how religion, cultural origin and tradition still play a necessary role in our judgments and beliefs.

The peculiarity of this version of the play is, however, the presentation of human feelings alongside the race thematic. The characters achieve this by being relatable to a modern audience, allowing us to deeply empathise with their experiences. Presented with a casual and smart contemporary style of costume, Othello and Desdemona are two young people that we could meet in Bristol during a night out. Iago is older, however, his mannerisms make him seem like the grandfather you always wanted to tell you a story. Cassio could be your good friend who always ends up making a mess with his life, and being unreliable despite his good intentions.

The story follows the original plot but, because of the simplicity of the presentation of the characters, you feel you could be in exactly the same position as them. The play reminds us how much we are conditioned by other people’s opinions, not only on how we think about racial issues, but also on our personal approach to relationships. Instead of believing in the words of Desdemona, who continually professed her love and never lied to him, Othello was contaminated by the opinions of others around him. Instead of trusting her, he chose the easier option of accepting the predictable story that was presented to him as the truth. And at the very end, when he finally discovered the true web of deceit that had been constructed around him, he asked to be remembered for who he really was, before the germ of jealousy had infected him.

But can we really cross this line between before and after? Can we distinguish the authentic ‘self’ from that which is corrupted by false ideas? Do these false ideas remove our responsibility for our actions?

 

We are influenced every day by other opinions, and we form our own one about politic, society, culture and relationship. However, even when we are hardly influenced by someone else, it is still our own “self” that makes judgments. We are still there, and our actions are still our own responsibility. This version of the tragedy made us reflect on our fragility: we live in a world of “social fear”, and we are so scared to be hurt or betrayed that we end up forgetting that trust is the only way to really get close to others and authentically get to know them. But trust means risk. It means to expose your self in a position where you are fragile, where you have any control on other people’s actions, but just hope and wait to see if your trust has been placed in the right hands.

 

The world we are living in is getting faster and smarter every day more. However, there is not a fixed time or an app we can use to classified human feelings or different personalities. Too often we forgot that the time and the “categories” we set up for our society it is our own structure, and this isn’t necessarily the world is supposed to be. Othello chooses to not wait and see with his own eyes if Desdemona was telling the truth; he couldn’t wait, he had to make a decision and determinate for her how it was supposed to be.

 

Probably, on a smaller and less dramatic scenario, we all act in the same way with the people around us. Maybe the strengths of this version of Othello is making us realise that often we were blind in our judgment because we can’t wait to see the whole scene or leave to the others the chance of showing how they really are. We focus only on details we feel relevant, on the characters we can easily recognise, like race, religion or background, constricting the people around us in a label that works for us. Because labels make us feel safe.

 

Maybe we can learn from Othello’s mistake and try to be braver. Try to trust the one that we have around, with their defect and beliefs, with their mistakes and imperfections, with the complexity due to different origins and backgrounds. And finally, accept that we are not perfect either. There is no path, religion or way of acting that will make us perfect, that will guarantee us always the right choice, as we are all human. Scared, imperfect, silly humans. Perhaps, it is indeed in this imperfection that we can find who we really are.

 

 

Free Falling – Hagit Yakira

For the last show of the season, Hagit Yakira Dance Company came to Bristol to present “Free Falling” after touring around England. The performance was an exploration of different anxieties based on the autobiographic experience of the choreographer, Hagit Yakira, as dance movement therapist.

 

The show began in silence. The two dancers on the scene started moving around, always connected, in a circle of movement without direction. Air Hunger, the opening section, was an exploration of an anxiety attack and how our body reacts to it. The absence of music amplified the sense of isolation and suffocating lack of air, the dizzying feeling of spinning around, being stuck in a cycle of confusion.

After the interval, all four of the dancers were on the scene. Even in the distance, the dancers were always connected to each other as they moved through space. Free Fallinginvestigated the fear of falling. This is a feeling that all of us have experienced at some time, as it is deeply connected with our everyday ambitions and challenges. It is a psychological fear, which in some scenarios can prevent people from moving forward, as any steps they attempt to make could result in a fatal fall without chance of recovery.

Both sections were characterized by repeated portrayals of the idea of falling and being rescued. This theme evolved throughout the show and the feeling of not seeing a way out developed, which intimately resonated with the audience. However, it is the redundancy of the very act of falling that can open up the possibility of a way out. We are constantly afraid of falling, and indeed of failure, but it is often this fear that allows us to appreciate the presence of those around us. The performance closed with a single performer who stopped dancing and walked away off the stage. The others followed behind him, leaving him the space to find his own path to recovery.

The exploration of these anxieties came from the choreographer’s experience as a dance movement therapist. Since she founded her company in 2007, Hagit Yakira has always focused her studies on autobiographic research, working on communicating the emotional aspects of the kinds of experiences that everyone can empathize with. The stories she illustrated to us deeply touched her as a human being. According to her philosophy, she mixed choreography with improvisation leaving the dancers free to choose how to interact with each other following her directions and produce physical displays of emotions and feelings natural for them. The freedom she left to her dancers has been also left to the audience. The structure of the choreography offered a key to empathize with your own sensibility and create your personal story, without being driven by an “easy interpretation” because of the nature of her experience.

 

“Free Falling’ will be again on tour in Autumn 2017. In the meantime, I had interviewed Hagit to know about her performance and work.

1 – The core of your work with your Dance Company is focused on sharing autobiographic stories and on the physical exploration of emotions and feelings. What inspired you to research and work in this direction?

The autobiographical aspects are there as a source for creating relationships between the dancers and me during the process. They are there to create a bond between the dancers and me, and build a trust – mental and physical trust, and in order to give the work the depth it needs, the honesty it needs, and the rawness. I truly believe that this kind of work, process and journey create depth, connection and ownership; it creates a real sense of care, thus the dancers care about the subject matter as much as I do, it makes the process about the dancers as much as it is about me or my ideas of the subject matter; it makes it about us, about our meeting points, our connections and affect on one another. What I mean is, is not that the work is about us, there is something bigger than that in the work, but the process is about the moment – or moments we meet – and how we meet and how we develop together – and this gives the work a real depth. This belief or even insight and understanding comes from my background as a therapist I think. I want to note that what we share in the studio stays in the studio. I don’t add it in the choreography itself, what we hear in the studio is not something the audience will hear, in that way it isn’t about sharing those personal stories on stage, not at all, but actually about something more abstract and poetic.

I am a great believer in emotions and feelings. The idea of what affects us sensually, physically, mentally. Our relationships with others, and how these relationships affect us and transform us as human being. I understand the world through my emotions, through my feelings. I first feel. And this is why my work is also and always about emotional journeys. My work is an extension of the woman I am.

 

2 –Free Falling particularly reflects your philosophy as choreographer and teacher. It is based on your memories, on your individual experience as a dance therapist. Because of this intimate connection, how did you feel working on this show? Has it been different comparing with your preview works?

My work is always personal and always emotional. I see emotions and the idea of creating an affective experience for the audience and the dancers as a concept, an intellectual concept and a sensual one, and this is something I always explore through the different subjects I look at in my choreographies. What is different in this work is the fact that I feel more secure in my practice, and therefore can take more risks and stretch my comfort zone, and the comfort zone of those who collaborate with me. I feel I can go deeper in my practice, go more into details, make it more profound and articulated.

 

3 – During the show, often the dancers helped each other using their bodies or using the clothes to suggest the right movement. How much your job as therapist influenced the quality of movement you have been worked on with your dancers?

It is more the way I wish to see the world, or the beauty I can sometimes see in the world – support, help, relationships, connections. This is something that the choreographer in me and the therapeutic interest I have mingled together. The movement quality is what interests me as a choreographer and not so much as a therapist. The therapeutic side in what convey the subject matter, the empathy, the emotional journey I want to choreograph. The movement material, quality and structure are my choreographic choices.

 

4 – The experience you had as a therapist is unique for you, and your dancers come from a different background. How have you worked together to translate your memories into dance and built a choreography readable by anyone?

I have to say that I am or at least I was a dancer/performer my self and I work as a dance teacher as well, in that way my dancers and myself have also a lot in common. My experience as a dance movement therapist was fairly short – and even though it does (and very much so) influence my work and the way I see the world, relationships, art, it isn’t the only thing that shape my work as a choreographer. On the contrary – my experience as a dancer/performer  and my experience as a teacher have a very big impact as well.

I never wanted my dancers to translate my memories – not at all! I wanted them to find their own sense of falling and recovering. I wanted to see where the subject matter meets them. Their physical and mental interpretations of the subject was much more important to me than my memories or their understanding of them.

As for my memories, I think I can answer it in this way: I wanted my choreography to convey something I find very humane: it is the subtlety in emotions, the complexity of feelings, and the way I perceive the notion of recovery: slow, detailed, comforting, supportive as well as chaotic, scary and desperate.

 

5 – Free Falling will be on tour again in Autumn 2017. There is anything you would like to change or investigate more deeply until then?

The evening keeps changing all the time. I have already changed the costume, I took the sounds away in Air Hunger, I changed the timing of the interval; it all happened during the tour.

I believe there will be more changes. I want to see how I feel when I see the piece again in the autumn; we are taking a short break now, and will be back to tour the piece in the autumn. I want to see how the works – the choreography ‘meets’ me and the dancers after that break; how I feel when I see the work again after the break. I think only then I’ll know what needs to be changed and rework. In that way it is a never ending story of choreographing; as long as I develop and change throughout the tour, so does the work…

 

 

 

Borderlands: Rise Exhibition

Last week Borderlands presented “Rise Exhibition” at the Hamilton House to promote The Mentoring Project, funded by People’s Project, in partnership with ITV and the Big Lottery Fund. Refugees and asylum seekers have presented the artworks for the exhibition, prepared during Borderlands’ twice-weekly Drop-in sessions.

 

Borderlands is charity based in Bristol that works with refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world. The members organised a week of events in Hamilton House to promote the Mentoring Project and celebrate the work done by the charity. Since it started in April 2016, The Mentoring Project has been training volunteers as mentors for asylum seekers and refugees, to provide support with orientation, English language and integration into the community.

The exhibition has been launched on the 3rd of March with speeches from Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, and artists from Borderlands. During the past week, additional events have been organized to offer a wider overview of the refugee culture with music nights, short films and talks.

‘Rise Exhibition’ illustrated the solidarity and the connection that has been formed within the community of Bristol. During the past two months, refugees and asylum seekers worked with the local artists Hannah Kirmes-Daly for painting and Joyce Nicholls for photos to present the artworks at the exhibition and tell us their personal stories.

Portraits, painting and photos made us reflect on what it means to leave behind your own origin to adapt to a different culture and the difficulties of being in an unknown place without your family. However, the main feeling coming up from the exhibition was hope and the strong relationship that has been forged between the members of the charity and those asking for help. Last week wasn’t only a celebration of the members of Borderlands but also a chance for the refugees to present their own culture through food, art and music.

It was a concrete example of the main scope of Borderlands as a charity: making people feeling independent, giving them the chance to learn new skills to overcome a sense of isolation and exclusion. These people have been forced to change their life because of traumatic and unviable circumstances. However, even in England, they have to face suspicion, disbelief and racism, and too often they end up living on the edge of society, vulnerable to violence and abuse.

Borderlands is working around this pre-conceived tendency by building a safe space where people can feel welcome. In addition to the practical help, the real aim is forging a one-to-one relationship with the refugees during workshops and recreational activities. The exhibition celebrated the importance of talking with people and working on the social aspect rather than just the necessities such as a bed and hot meal. Playing on similarities and differences, art and music have been used to build a mutual ground between different cultures, a chance to open a conversation with real people rather than giving us a stigmatic overview. or to help break down the stigma, of a “problem of our society”.

Cause+Complexity

After a five days show, “Cause+Complexity’ ended at the Island on Saturday 25th of February. The multimedia exhibition was organised by the members of Bristol Homeless Forum to promote the Bristol Homelessness Awareness Week 2017 and raise people’ sensibility of homelessness in Bristol.

 

£ 306.00 is the average amount that a woman needs in Bristol for tampons in a whole year. The artist Amanda Atkinson left in a corner £306.00 in sterling coins, to raise the attention to a peculiar, humiliating, aspect of living on the street as a woman, that is too often ignored and left on the side. The work of art was part of “Cause+Complexity”, an art exhibition organise to celebrate the Homelessness Awareness Week 2017.

Bristol records the highest number of homeless people in the UK, outside London. Even though the number of rough sleepers or people without a proper home keeps increasing, the Bristol City Council’s budget for homelessness prevention has been reduced by 20% between 2011 and 2015, and further important cuts are coming up next year.

Several reasons make people end up living on the street: the rise of living costs; mental health; relation breakdown; eviction; Counting Court judgments; and, most important, the fact that too often people in difficult situations refuse to ask for help.

Facing the complexity of this problem, the Bristol Homeless Forum’s members promoted the Bristol Homelessness Awareness Week 2017 to raise awareness of homelessness on a larger scale.

Working on prevention rather than on temporary solutions, the idea is to encourage people to look after each other and take action. The help we can provide aims to highlight the importance of an early intervention and persuading people to access the support they need, but also in finding alternative ways to raise people sensibility about the problem.

“Cause+Complexity” responded to this philosophy. Local artists have been invited to investigate causes and complex circumstances that lead and, even worst, perpetuate homelessness in Bristol.

The exhibition aimed to offer an alternative view of homelessness accessible even to those who are not familiar with this problem, either as an artist or as a visitor. With a wide range of media, ranging from ceramic, illustration and collage, to photography and film, the artists responded to the same bottom line according to their own personal approach to the problem.

Several paintings, prints and photos investigate the causes and consequences of homelessness from different angles, while in the Projector Room, a documentary film and some short videos show life in Bristol as a homeless person, with interviews and true stories. The exhibition offered a wide overview of the complexity of the problem in Bristol, as the artists touched different aspects following their sensibility. For example, impressive and straight to the point is the installation by Maxwell Rushton, Left Out. It is made out of black bin bags giving form to a homeless person vindicating change. This piece shows how our society is bringing us to see people like rubbish, a waste that we have to leave behind because it can’t fit with our society’s demand.

 

Particularly interesting for the whole idea of the awareness week, it was the installation presented by Art4Change, “Why am I here, and you there?”. Already displayed last December in Arnolfini, the two mock houses installation is the pilot of a project started in 2016 by Frankie Stone and Mark Skelton. With the aim of engaging the public about the realities of homelessness in Bristol, this project truly engaged everyone, homeless, artists and viewers. One of the two mock houses is a collage created by homeless as result of a workshop ran at San Mungo’s, while the other one has been left blank with three question to answer for the visitors. Postcards with members of the public, homeless and service providers from the workshop have been left with the same questions, in order for all of them to be part of the exhibition itself or being spread across the city.

This project is particularly meaningful to the idea of keeping us from just giving a bed for a night or giving some spare change. Art4Chenge’s project showed us the possibility to create an environment where people usually kept on the margins can be free to share their experiences and, most importantly, learn new skills to start again and feel actively part of a community.

 

Cause+Complexity and Art4Change gave us an alternative to tackle the root of the problem that we too often consider to be part of the city routine. Art can’t offer a solution to the problem, but it has the capacity to deeply investigate the complexity of it, giving us a new key to read the problem. Through local projects and working on the peculiarity of the city, we can be closer to the people, rather than the abstract problem, and offer concrete help. We can act on preventing rather than dealing with the consequences, not only creating a second chance for these people, but also increasing our sense of responsibilities and opening our mind to a constructive critical spirit.

 

IBT/17: ‘STAND UP, STAND OUT!’

In Between Time 2017ended last week after five days of festival with dance, performances, music, live art and activism across theatres, galleries, city streets and outdoor spaces.

 

Since it started in 2001 as a part of a live project in Arnolfini, In Between Time became an independent organisation in 2009. From the beginning, the idea was to push out radical live performances from the usual art spaces to interact with people in alternative environments. According to this philosophy, 40 artists have been called to present cutting-edge pieces to involve visitors on a deeper, interactive level and challenge the canonical boundaries between disciplines.

 

The festival opened silently with Ghost Dance, a 12 hours dance by Lone Twin dressed as blindfolded cowboys. From Midday to Midnight the performers never stopped their dance, perfectly matching each other’s steps, with people joining them to dance against fatigue and pass time. Meanwhile, Lone Twin’s Beastie, created by children’s imagination, popped up unexpectedly to go around the city dancing with people and playing with children.

Arnolfini, the core of the festival, hosted talks, short films and participative performances. Some particularly interactive and innovative examples include Race Cards, a public forum project by Selina Thompson that exposed racial tension; Undress/Redress, a live performance by NoëmiLakmaier on the ambiguity between consent and tolerance in the act of being undressed and redressed by a man; and Vesper Time by Stacy Makishi offered an “evening prayer” to reflect on ageing and on acting before is too late. Finally, Triple Threat was a trash step-dubpunk morality play for the modern world by Lucy McCormick.

 

Various performances spread across other locations, like Workshyby Katy Baird, where the artist reflected on having, or not having, a job today and dealt with the relationship between labour, class and aspiration. A particularly interesting project was, that selected 45 Bristolians and individually coached them for this performance on stage, when the people met for the first time to dance together.

 

The performers also worked outdoors, on the city streets with Rita Marcalo’s project Dancing with Strangers: From Calais to England. Starting in the Calais”Jungle”, this project was the result of a workshop with refugees and it involved people on the street to dance with strangers. The festival went even further with Woodland, where the artist duo French & Mottershedcreated a meditative audio work in the woods with a self-portrait of the body after death.

The brave and risky programme reflected the mood of the work of the organisation over the years, focusing on the idea of making art to express meaning and actively involve people in the performance itself. However, the festival this year assumed a slightly different meaning. As the bravest festival yet, Stand up Stand out was not only a chance for the artists to present avant-garde pieces of work, but was also a call to take a position and stand up for what you believe regarding the global realities that we face as a society.

 

And this call to stand is not meant only for the artists, it is a call for everyone. Brexit, Trump, social injustice, gender, racism: these are important and unavoidable faces of the world we are living in. As much as our political situation is bringing us to reinforce the cultural and geographic boundaries, the art is blurring the boundaries between disciplines and art spaces to open up the possibility for taking art and culture in unexpected new directions.

 

It is hard, if not impossible, to provide a single solution to our global problems and change the world. However, the art can open a conversation between us, forcing us to reflect on our reality from unexpected angles. And, maybe, it can open our mind to the controversy that characterizes our society.

 

 

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