Tuesday, 1 July 2014

NPO Funding Announcement


We have a really exciting, ambitious programme of performance, mentoring and partnerships planned for 2015-18, which we’re now hugely looking forward to delivering as an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. 

We’ve been well supported by ACE over the last 3 years, and the stability now afforded to us by being an NPO will allow us to plan even further ahead, put more time into development and support other artists and arts professionals in new ways over a longer period of time. 

We would like to thank Arts Council England, and the many people who supported us in developing the programme of work for our National Portfolio application, and everyone sending us their good wishes. We really appreciate it.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Monthly Film: TESTCARD POLAROIDS




Looking back, twice.

In October 1995, Third Angel presented its first piece of work, Testcard. (You can read more about its origins, here.)

A pretty big show for a first project. A 72 hour durational performance for The Workstation in Sheffield. Two performers (Rachael Walton and Phil Richford) lived in the public gaze for three full days and nights; you could visit them live in The Workstation foyer, 9am – 9pm, watch them through the windows at night, as they slept, or check up on the via “CCTV” video links in shops and caf├ęs around the city.

They lived in long thin rooms, with clear plastic walls, separated by a corridor. Each had their own little kitchen area, bed, living room, TV. They watched endless rolling news channels, computer game animations, CCTV footage of each other and the audience; they had newspapers and pizzas delivered.


For one hour each evening, a ticketed, rehearsed performance evolved out of the durational piece, Testcard Stories: new video work, distorted film dialogues, long lists, quiet monologues.

A big project for a first show. We called in all of the favours we had earned in the two years we'd been in Sheffield, and spent a lot of favours we hadn't yet earned. We got a small grant from Sheffield City Council's much missed Community Arts Fund, loads of equipment and technical support from the northern media school, and trust and respect from The Workstation.

Somehow the show caught the zeitgeist and we found ourselves on page 5 of the Guardian, part of the local news questioning if it was art and discussing the possibility of hosting an edition of TV-am - which sadly (?) didn't happen.

Phil’s task was arguably the toughest one. Just live, and watch this weird TV channel we had created for him. Ignore the audience completely. Rachael’s task was to turn the gaze back on the audience, and to document the people who watched her. She took a Polaroid photograph of as many of her visitors as she could over the three days.

**
In 2002 Third Angel moved into our own studio space in Brookfield Yard in Nether Edge. Sorting through the hoarded gear from many shows, we came across the collection of Polaroids taken during Testcard. Chris suggested we document Rachael looking through them, remembering what she could about them, and the audience who came to see her.

Strangely enough, we’re now looking back at this film, over a longer time than Rachael was looking back at the Polaroids. A strange, genre-defying piece, at least in part about Chris’ exploration of form, and questioning of what can be documentary/documentation, as much as it is about the original show.

Naturally, I asked him to reflect on the film making itself. Over to Chris:
As you can probably tell, we shot it quickly with not much equipment. What you see was the end to quite a long process of working with the Polaroids and understanding how they could best be represented on the screen. Before we sat down in the rehearsal space in Nether Edge, a few days after the move from the Site Gallery, there had been a few attempts at making a short film based on the pictures. They were clearly all dead ends whilst I was making them and I didn’t show them to anyone else. I shot them on VHS and then degraded the image even further – shot them on dv and then saturated the colours to the point of incomprehensibility. Looking for a way of making sense of the images, their tactile quality and the aesthetic of the Polaroid* that is rapidly fading from our collective memory. 
It was clear, in the edit suite, staring at another dead end of ideas, that memories were the way into the Polaroids.  
I’m on one of the Polaroids and that Polaroid was in the film, then out, then in, then out. I don’t remember the final reason why I went out – it may well have been to keep the time to a certain defined length. 
With much of the film work, they often appear, in retrospect, to be sign posts on the way to somewhere else. Testcard Polaroids has echoes in the most recent piece, Postcards From Florence, that we screened last September in Sheffield’s Light Night. If you know some of the other work then you’ll be able to recognise its imprint on those as well. 
That’s not to say that this was the somehow the progenitor of the memory based pieces, it’s more of an early try out of ideas had been kicked about for a while. 
Watching it now makes me want to make another thing in 4:3 on low grade mini dv, before that aesthetic too begins to fade.
*Alex’s footnote: I remember that we got given a load of Polaroid film at knock down prices by Harrisons Photography in Sheffield. These are the “Party Polaroids” with the balloon borders…

**

Testcard Polaroids
A film by Chris Hall
Featuring Rachael Walton

Testcard was created by
Rachael Walton
Phil Richford
Alexander Kelly
Robert Hardy
Chris Hall
David Mitchell
Hilary Foster
Jacqui Bellamy
Emer O’Sullivan
with a lot of favours from friends and colleagues.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

I choose today’s stories on the train.


INSPIRATION EXCHANGE: LIVE COLLISION 2014
Project Arts, Dublin, 25 April

I choose today’s stories on the train. Inspiration Exchange has a bank of stories – in my memory and listed on our blog. The stories are mine, or have been given to me by other people. Gradually the balance of the library is shifting, as the proportion of stories told to me by other people, that I feel able to re-tell, grows.

On the day of an Exchange, I see which stories come to mind first. Which stories do I feel like telling today? And this is slightly odd, bittersweet perhaps, because as I write out each card, I am thinking, I hope I get to tell this story today. But I know that I can’t tell all of them. It’s a task with a built-in disappointment.

I’m suddenly aware, on the train to Manchester Airport, that later today I will meet some people for the first time, and they will tell me stories. I wonder if it is still chance that we will meet, or are our paths already set to converge? And the stories that they will tell – are they already in their minds, are they current, or will they think of something they haven’t thought of in years?

I arrive at Project Arts Centre. The Live Collision team show me to my table in the foyer. I like the table very much. I lay out my inspiration cards. I have one too many to make up the 6 x 5 grid that the table demands. I choose the story that won’t get chosen: ABORIGINIES VS. THE SAS.

At 3pm we open the Exchange.


I immediately swap THE BEAUTY OF THE PROOF
A story about maths
For BOMBAY SAPHIRE
A story about the noise of a city, a city that says ‘I’m here, here I am, I’m behind you’, about running up the stairs all the way to the seventh floor, and about meeting a hero.

I swap +44(0)1369 870 212
Which is the number of a phone box in Scotland
For PHONE A FRIEND
A story about an accidental phone conversation with a stranger helping people to understand that they are not their governments.

I swap STOPPING PEOPLE DREAMING
For CELLO PRODIGY
A story partly about the difference between wanting to practice and having to practice.

I swap HOW THE CHURCH BELLS WORK
For THINGS THAT DON’T HAVE MASS
In which a famous television astro-physicist and ex-popstar explains that the idea of “the Speed of Light” is incorrect and it would be more accurate to talk about “the Speed of Things That Don’t Have Mass.”

I swap DENDROCHRONOLOGY
For INSIDE OUT SHIRT
A story about how in the midst of a difficult, tragic situation for a family, the onset of a grandfather’s Alzheimer’s, the daughter, who is an artist, finds something compelling in the action of him buttoning up a shirt inside out. A story, perhaps, about finding something to hold on to.

I swap DESIRE PATHS
For a story about solitary confinement
Which I swap for another story about solitary confinement
Which I swap for THUMB’s UP
A story which explains the difference between physiotherapy and occupational therapy: in the case of a quadriplegic patient, paralysed from the neck down, the physiotherapist helps him to move his thumb, and the occupational therapist helps him to us his thumb to smoke cigarettes.

I swap AN ESCAPED LUNATIC ON CANNOCK CHASE
Because it’s about the midlands,
For DO YOU TELL SOMEONE THAT YOU SLEEPWALK ON A FIRST DATE?
In this story you are a sleepwalker. On one occasion, staying in Thailand, you find yourself in the middle of the jungle three miles from your accommodation, having woken up everyone in your hostel on the way out…

You suffer, your whole life, with night-terrors, narcolepsy and sleep paralysis. You climb out of windows and fall ten feet, naked, into snow. You wake up teenage twins, standing naked on their balcony, trying to get back in to the hotel. You piss in the corner of your bedroom, and onto the feet of the grandfather of those startled twins.

And over all of this hovers the question, when you start seeing someone, at what point do you tell them that you might get out of bed during the and walk around asleep…?

In this story you ask your date: So, are you a heavy sleeper?

I swap 36 DAYS LOOKING FOR STUFF IN THE FRIDGE
Which is a story, in part, about chance and serendipity,
For BARBERS CHANGE LIVES
In this story, two friends in Dublin are planning a trip to the States. He gets a Visa, but she is turned down. They decide that they will go somewhere else together instead.
He goes to get his haircut, and the barber is not long back from 10 years in Liverpool. The barber tells him it’s a great city.

So he asks his friend if she fancies going to Liverpool for their trip. She says she does, and they book into a hostel for a week. He stays in Liverpool for 10 years.

And for 10 years he talks about the barber as the reason he is in Liverpool.

He moves back to Dublin.

He goes to get his haircut. The barber is still there.

He tells the barber the story.
The barber’s hands start shaking so badly he cannot carry on cutting his hair.
What’s wrong? asks the friend.

The barber tells him that he is thinking about moving back to Liverpool. A friend of his has just died and her child is about to be taken in to care, and he thinks he should go and look after the child to stop that happening. He has given himself to the end of the week to decide. He’s been waiting, the barber tells him, for a sign.

I swap THE FLAT DADDIES
For MAFIA GRANNY
A story about the rebellion of squatting being appropriated by capitalism, about the young couple next door turning out to be sister and brother, and the abandonment of those siblings by the eponymous granny, when the cops come round.

The Exchange is officially closed, and I’m writing up the notes that I’m reading to you now, but I’m asked for one more story.

She asks for A PERFECT CIRCLE
And it turns out that this was exactly the right story for her to ask for, and serendipity has one more card to play today, and circles, cycles, and geometric shapes are connections waiting to be made, and we swap it
For YONI SHAKTI
A story about birth, control, the Mandala, geometric shapes, rice patterns, circles, and cunt power.

The Exchange is closed, but the conversations it generated continue that evening and throughout the next day.

Thank you.




This is a version of the ‘Story of the Day’ text I read out at the Live Collision LIVE ART PARTY at the close of the festival.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A man I met in Nottingham

As part of the build up to presenting Cape Wrath at West Yorkshire Playhouse’s brilliant Transform festival last month, I was asked to write a response to a set of questions, that was then posted as an “Introducing…” interview. It’s mainly about Third Angel in general, our relationship with Leeds, and Cape Wrath in particular. (You can read the whole thing here).

But the last question asked:
...tell us about a transformative experience for you or your company?

And the story that came to mind was one I’ve told a couple of times when teaching or talking about our work. I’d last told it as part of a performance called Serial Collaborator, at Northern Stage’s Stronger Together event, back in 2011.

For Stronger Together, a really great, timely event exploring (rather than just talking about) collaboration, I was invited by Erica Whyman, then Artistic Director of Northern Stage, to do a performance of some kind. I somewhat rashly proposed a performance in which “I talk about everyone I have ever collaborated with. In 20 minutes.” Erica kindly, and almost as rashly, said okay.

Once I was preparing it, I went through a process that felt familiar from making Class of’76, of initially wanting to talk about everyone equally, but then realising that that did no-one any justice, and wouldn’t be at all interesting. So the format evolved to become one in which I named everyone (I could think of) who I had ever collaborated with, and talked about some people in more detail in order to discuss different kinds of collaboration.

In amongst that I wanted to talk about students and audience members, and the ways in which they are part of the conversation of, and development of, the work. So in both instances one (or a few) individuals were able to stand in for their ‘group’. And the audience member to talk about was obvious to me, because he had changed the way we understood our own work.

[For various reasons to do with permissions, technical issues and me choosing to not use a mic, Serial Collaborator wasn’t documented, and stands as one of the very few actual one-offs we’ve done. I did intend to write it up, but it was never urgent enough… so its nice, after this time, to at least put up a story from it on here.]

And, after that slightly discursive intro, here’s the story.

**
2002. We are at Angel Row Gallery in Nottingham, presenting our show Where Have They Hidden All The Answers?

WHTHATH? (as we refer to it), is a one-to-one "interview performance", in which we tell the audience member the story of an urban legend, as if it is true, trying to convince them that it is researched fact - claiming we know the first instance of the story. Towards the end of the piece we ask the audience member if they know of "any stories like that", and if they could tell us one? 

The guy sitting opposite me says, "No, I don't have any stories like that. But I can tell you about the most important day of my life, if you like?"

I realise that of course I would like that, even if the story isn't the "right" sort of story, the sort of story I think I'm looking for.

The man tells me that when he was little, about seven, his mum was really ill. She was dying, in fact. She'd had to start seeping on the sofa, too weak to climb the stairs. His aunt came to stay, to look after them.

One morning he came down stairs and his aunt told him that his mum had died in the night. He looked at her, lying on the sofa. He could see her hand sticking out from under the blanket. He wanted more than anything to go and hold his mum's hand. But his aunt told him he had to go and get the doctor.

When he came back with the doctor, there were more people around, and his mum's arm had been tucked back under the blanket, and he never did get to hold his mum's hand.

"I'm 52 now," he tells me, "and there isn't a day goes by that I don't regret that I didn't say something, that I didn't insist on holding her hand to say goodbye."

I'm not sure what to say to him. So I say, "That's an amazing story. Are you sure you're happy for me to share it with other people?"

"Of course I am,” he replies, “I wouldn't have told it to you otherwise."

And that was the day I understood, whatever story is that the person sitting opposite wants to tell us, that's the story we need to hear.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Story of the Day: Inspiration Exchange, York

We split the Inspiration Exchange up over two days for the No Boundaries 2014 conference in York, with a 'checking-in' half way through, rather than a summing up at the end.


Sometimes there's a quiet hour at the start of the Inspiration Exchange, but not today. We're starting at lunchtime.

I swap TAKE THE CAMERA HOME
For A VERY M1 CHRISTMAS

I swap 01369 870212
For FLINT & CHANCE

I swap AN ESCAPED LUNATIC IN CANNOCK CHASE
For MAMELA

I swap A 6B PENCIL
For THEY MISSED US OUT COMPLETELY

I swap BUILDINGS AS TIME TRAVELLERS
For CHAMBERS

I swap AMPERSAND & INTERROBANG
For TWO SIDES OF THE FENCE

I swap THE INSIDE OF A SAXOPHONE
For MONKEY VISIT

I swap 36 DAYS LOOKING FOR STUFF IN THE FRIDGE
For I AM CALLING TO TELL YOU...

I swap DENDROCHRONOLOGY
For INVENTING UNIVERSES ON PAPER (& MATHS THAT DOESN'T EXIST YET)

I swap LETTING GIRLS BE
For "NEVER READ A POEM SITTING ON YOUR ARSE!"

Although punctuated by a short break to eat cake(s) and drink tea, this feels like one long, discursive conversation. A conversation about being able to imagine a different future. About enabling other people to imagine a different future, for themselves, for their environment, for their homes. About enabling change to happen. About not being able to teach imagery to poets (or to anyone). You can't. Imagery is in you. Let's hope you've been paying attention, absorbing what you've seen. A conversation about remembering someone the way you want to, remembering beyond the grief of their passing. About the usefulness of metaphor. About the way artists and scientists do actually understand each other. About the importance of coincidence and how something external can feed into a creative process that changes the direction it is going in and then once the show (or whatever it is) is made, thinking back and wondering if that external thing hadn't cropped up, if you hadn't heard that thing on the radio (or whatever it was) that changed your thinking, what would that project have turned into? A conversation about the value of the unfinished story, about leaving space for questions, questions that can't be answered, about how sometimes you can over-explain something.

We realise that we are way over time, and outside the room of the Exchange, people have left, and the venue is being made ready for a party. Reluctantly, I close up for the night.

The next morning, I talk a bit about all of that (you can hear that - and lots more from the event - here), then I invite people to join me, and re-open the Exchange.

I swap MONKEY VISIT
For GLOOMY SUNDAY

I swap "NEVER READ A POEM SITTING ON YOUR ARSE!"
For THE FIRST YEAR SHE WASN'T THERE

I swap THE IDEA OF A RETRONYM
For TURN LEFT INSTEAD OF RIGHT

I swap THE FIRST YEAR SHE WASN'T THERE
For DYING FOR A FAG

I swap DESIRE PATHS
For THE RACE GAME

I swap AN 86 YEAR OLD AUNT WHO SMOKES 40 A DAY
For I ATE A SHEEP

And then we're done for the day.