Unlimited festival: An interview with Liz Carr

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Actress, stand-up comedian, broadcaster and international disability rights activist Liz Carr talks to us about disability and the arts ahead of the premier of her new show, Assisted Suicide: The Musical.

Why do you think it’s important to laugh about a traditionally dark, taboo subject like disability?

To me, as a disabled woman, disability isn’t taboo or dark; it’s my life and my experience of living in a disabling world. My creative work is really just me talking about what I know best: my life. I think it’s important to laugh at all the messy and difficult aspects of being human, including disability.

As new government cuts to disabled people meet continued cuts to the arts, does this increasingly make being a disabled artist an impossible task?

Obstacles to work are becoming increasingly tough to overcome – cuts to the fund that provides employment for disabled people, and increased rationing of social care budgets means many don’t have assistance to get in and out of the house. Cuts to the arts mean fewer grants and venues less willing to take risks, preferring instead big names that are guaranteed seat fillers. There’s less appetite in many ways for new work and work by unknown or emerging artists – and this impacts on many of us, including disabled people.

Liz Carr explores the complex and controversial subject of assisted suicide in her new musical Assisted Suicide: The Musical. Book your tickets for the performance here.

 

 

 

 

Southbank Centre’s Roof Garden Cafe now open again

The sun has shone and the rain has fallen, and our award-winning roof garden is in full bloom.

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Fall in love with the city, nature and Southbank Centre in the tranquil surrounds of the wildest roof garden in town – and what better time than during the opening of our  Festival of Love.

Come along and take part in the exciting workshops that are part of the festival. Wake up with the sunrise on Saturday with a morning yoga course , followed by clay-making with our renowned potters Freya and Yolande Bramble-Carter.

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Bring your smartphone or SLR and learn the tricks and secrets to portrait and landscape nature photography in an up-close garden experience with photographer Ollie Smallwood.

There’s so much to see and and enjoy in our garden, thanks to all the love the Grounded Ecotherapy volunteer gardeners put into the garden every week to make it a hub of nature and wild flowers. Come along, admire the views and relax in our hidden-away roof garden.

QEH Roof Garden – Spring Update

An update from one of our garden volunteers…

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Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden has now reopened, and visitors are returning. Among them are regular fans and first-timers who have never seen it before.

It’s always exciting to greet people when they arrive. Visitors are blown away to find a wildflower and vegetable garden growing peacefully at the top of the yellow staircase. They are amazed to hear the story of how this mature garden flourishes on what was once a bare concrete plateau. That story begins and ends with Grounded Ecotherapy: Recovery for people and places, which created and continue to run the garden.

Only two thirds of the garden are open to the public this year. Work overhead on the Hayward Gallery building means the shady woodland area over the bridge is temporarily out of bounds.

You might think our resident birds would have chosen to nest elsewhere in greater peace, but the blackbird is raising a brood (first clutch of eggs already hatched) in the pergola where the tiny yellow roses of rosa banksiae are already in full bloom. It’s lovely to hear the parent birds singing among the leaves, right beside people sitting and chatting at the tables.

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We also have hedge sparrows nesting, and the first butterflies and bees are returning. If it weren’t for the garden and the food and shelter it offers wildlife, then birdsong and the hum of bees would rarely be heard anywhere in the concrete canyons of Southbank Centre.

The popularity of the garden grows year on year, and last season was another hard one for the lawn. Coupled with a wet winter, the wear and tear of thousands of feet took their toll and the garden needed re-turfing while it was closed.

Once again, this hard task was made much easier for Grounded’s volunteer gardeners by the invaluable help of the GoodGym runners, who appear to positively relish the challenge of bringing the heavy rolls of turf up to the garden from the delivery area downstairs. No light task in any sense, and one for which we are extremely grateful.

The wildflower meadow is already lush and green, its many species of native wildflower each poised to break into full bloom at their appointed time. The trees are in leaf, and red campion, yellow charlock and the delicate white flowers of greater stitchwort are all out.

Despite a winter during which we often couldn’t get into the garden because of the renovation works, the vegetable boxes are now looking beautiful, having been prepared and given a layer of new compost. Onions, garlic, coriander, potatoes and some salads have been planted, with tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins and many other crops to follow.

As well as our normal public visitors, on a sunny Friday 13 May Grounded Ecotherapy’s gardeners played host to part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Us. This day allows Southbank Centre workers to choose from a huge list of activities and get a taste of something new.

Over 50 people chose to learn more about gardening from Grounded. Total beginners and greener fingers alike came in both the day’s two groups, and they all had a great time getting their hands dirty.

They learned how to make funky pots from recycled plastic food containers, and how to sow into them the tiny seeds of mixed salad leaves and oriental salads such as mizuna and mibuna. Afterwards, they were able to take home for their own windowsills a crop that can be eaten as microgreens. They also planted pea shoots to take home for later consumption as a delicious cut-and-come-again crop.

They helped the garden by planting all the sunflower seeds and runner bean seeds we saved from our plants last year. When they look out Royal Festival Hall’s windows this summer, or visit us, they will see the fruits of their work.

It was great to meet everyone, and they told us they’d had a brilliant time, which is our best reward. Thank you Southbankers, and a special thank you to the kind afternoon group for helping Grounded pack away our equipment, thus saving us many hard slogs to our store.

So the garden is poised to plunge into another Southbank Centre summer. As life seems to get ever more hectic, gardens are becoming less a luxury and more a vital necessity. Grounded are very proud that the roof garden has been able to remain open while the major renovation works carry on all around (and underneath) us. We hope the garden will once again provide a haven of quiet and beauty for many in the middle of the busy city.

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CGI? They Just Do It With Computers, Don’t They?

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Artist Alan Warburton, whose latest work Soft Crash is a computer generated exploration of the mechanics of financial corruption, discusses the use of CGI in films and art.

In 2014, the boss of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, surprised many when – as one of the most revered traditional animators in the world – he failed to condemn the CGI-heavy films of recent years. His assertion that “there’s nothing inherently wrong or right about a method, whether it be pencil drawings or 3-D CG” must have disappointed many purists who see Miyazaki as a stalwart of traditional craft film-making. Similarly, crafty British ceramicist Grayson Perry in his BBC Reith Lecture championed the use of digital tools – CGI especially – and the possibilities it affords a new generation of artists.

Why is this so surprising? Well, for a long time, CGI has symbolised all that’s wrong with the digital, an industrial light and magic show beloved by advertising and commercial film but despised by traditional artists who think it soulless, film technicians who resent it’s perceived lack of craft, and film audiences who grow tired of the endless destruction porn in CGI blockbusters. As consumers we resent the onslaught of addictively perfect images in a world where our cars, houses and food – even our bodies – can’t quite live up to the eerily glossy shots on buses, billboards or Instagram.

Maybe it’s the pervasiveness of the CGI image that irks us. Or maybe it’s because the digital has displaced so many analogue practices. In his 2013 book Software Takes Command, artist and digital theorist Lev Manovich argued that software has absorbed and reconfigured techniques from cinema, animation, photography, sculpture and painting, synthesising them into a powerful new software “metamedium”. If that’s true, no wonder so many traditional craftspeople resent CGI.

Or perhaps it’s that CGI images are inherently slippery: they masquerade as photographic, yet underneath their glossy, seamless surface are wireframe shells, hollow and insubstantial. CGI doesn’t age and acquire the patina of a Rembrandt and it has none of the traces of economical brushwork. You can’t see the ingenious joinery as you might with a beautiful piece of furniture. There’s no evidence of labour. It’s all illusion, all spectacle, a little like table magic: if you can’t see the labour – the joins – you assume it’s a pretty cheap trick. Well, it’s not.That’s the thread that I like to pull on as an artist working with software. I want to expose the trick, not simply to demonstrate that The Wizard of Oz is just a frail old man with a loudspeaker, but because CGI is the most complex and ideologically persuasive medium that has ever existed. It’s exactly because we can’t see the joins between a photograph and the digital mirage that it has such power. When something is both powerful and invisible, it’s up to artists to expose the apparatus.

Unlike the code that software is made of, the effects of software are not binary – it doesn’t just work or not work, and that’s why many contemporary artists have moved past simplistic notion of “glitch” to an infinitely more interesting and sophisticated mode of investigation. Software is a spidery, ambiguous apparatus that reaches through society and culture at all levels to shape our behaviours, practices and beliefs. CGI itself is complex, expensive, time-consuming and difficult to master. The impenetrable CG image masks a complex reality of representational bias, human-computer collaboration, software politics, soft power tax incentives, 24/7 render farms, international trade deals, mineral extraction, gender imbalances, bankruptcy and wage fixing. It’s far more than nerds clicking buttons, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry whose influence continues to proliferate.

Contemporary digital artists tend to look past the tech-liberation hyperbole of software “enabling creativity” and try to understand how certain functions and features are prioritised and optimised over others. It’s easier to blow up a CGI building with presets, for example, than it is to create a realistic tree. Or, as I discovered on a recent project working with digitally-generated crowds, CGI hordes are really good at marching in legions toward a grisly death, and not so good at representing anything that doesn’t involve mass conflict. It was during the research phase of this crowd simulation project (an ENCAC residency at French theatre humainTrophumain) I came across an online library of motion capture data with categories like “Women’s Movements” and “Gay”. That’s right, just “Gay”. In 2016. You don’t have to look very hard to discover that software is political. The scary thing is that software is as much a creative tool as it is a machine for reproducing ideology. Investigating the overlaps is where it gets interesting.

So to hear respected craft-based artists championing CGI is refreshing and unusual, especially in the midst of a Western obsession with nostalgia for simpler, more authentic times. For a long time, CGI has been a symbol of industrial depersonalisation, a heavyweight tool reserved for specialists: engineers, researchers, film studios and geeks. But as independent artists embrace technology and CGI starts to expand into more avant-garde and difficult-to-classify practices, we might start to see the naïve idea of software as an apolitical creative tool start to disappear. The risk is that if artists can’t keep up with the 21st centuries greatest magic trick, we’ll quickly lose something valuable in our relationship to images and truth.

So, CGI. They just do it with computers, don’t they? Actually, it’s not that simple.

Soft Crash is at Southbank Centre from Sat 25 Jun – Sun 3 Jul as part of Power of Power festival.

PLAYING THE POWER GAME – LILIANE LIJN

 

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In 1974 I created a piece of performance art which looked at the politics of identity and power.

‘I called the event Power Game. I intended it to be a farce depicting the absurdity of power. There was no script, no actors, no rehearsals. The farce occurred through people’s normal behaviour and their reactions to the situation in which I placed them. The Print Room of the Royal College was the gambling room. I borrowed a set from the ENO and invited 15 people, choosing them especially for their differences in occupation and income. I asked them to come formally dressed or in imaginative alternative. With the invitation, I enclosed the rules of the game. They were loosely based on the rules of Chemin de Fer.

‘Liliane Lijn 1974

I use the concept of ‘the casino’ as a metaphor for a capitalist democracy, a society in which everyone supposedly has an equal chance to succeed. The idea to base the game on Chemin de Fer (the French casino game preferred by James Bond) looks back to when, at the age of 14, my father, an inveterate gambler, would beg me to accompany him to the casino to bring him luck.

Principally concerned with the power of words and how people interpret meaning, depending on their interests and preconceptions, Power Game investigates the politics of identity and power. Essentially a piece of unrehearsed theatre, Power Game is also a game in which fifteen players sitting around a table pit their wits against each other defining power. Is one word more powerful than another? Can words be powerful? Can we subjugate with language, seduce, conquer, vanquish with sound, with a vibration of our tongue?

For that very first staging of Power Game in 1974, I asked the invited players to be prepared to gamble on the meaning of words. Derek Jarman, who was then just beginning to make his super 8 films, had worked all weekend to come with enough cash to play. He came dressed in a white tuxedo. Michael Kustow, then director of the ICA, came as a four-star general and sat with Patrick Seale, the political commentator and art dealer, at one end of the table. They seemed to dominate the game from the very beginning of the evening.

Asking people to gamble with real stakes quickly converted what might superficially appear to be only a game into a very real situation. Although played with actual stakes, words are used instead of numbers and the winning word is chosen by a majority vote of the players seated at the table, who are not at that time betting. Anyone who has entered the casino can place a bet on a word but the right to vote is given only to the players invited to sit at the gaming table. To enter the casino, it is necessary to exchange money for gambling tokens. On exiting, money is returned in exchange for tokens. Just as in real life, those who prefer not to participate, can watch the proceedings in the adjoining café bar. Drinks are served at the table by cross-dressed waiters, since those who serve the powerful are not always who they seem.

Power Game uses words divorced from the syntax of a sentence or phrase. Individual words seem to resonate in a similar way to images. I am not talking about words bringing images into the mind but about a more abstract resonance by which a word can become an image. TABLE is no longer related to the structure that stands in a room and supports our everyday. The word suddenly freezes, its remembered meaning dissolves and it is an image. Words do this by freeing themselves from their syntactical matrix, their embedded meanings and the habitual context in which they are used. At this point, they can be transformed. Cutting up and mixing unconnected texts was a way of doing this and visual or Concrete Poetry was another. Syntax is all about the position of words and their relation to each other. However, by considering the position and relation of words on a page divorced from their syntactical meaning, unexpected meaning can be revealed.

Language empowers. How much blood has been spilled over Freedom of Speech? There are many ways to disempower and to take away the ability or the freedom to speak out is always the first to be used in a dictatorship. When people are able to communicate, energy flows between them. One might even say that there is an equality of power enabled by discourse. Inequality arises when one person speaks and all others merely listen. In a democracy, there is not only the freedom to speak out but also the freedom to write, to meet to discuss and to disagree. The freedom of dissent. These freedoms are powerful, when organized into voting systems, unions, into associations in which many disparate voices unite into one coherent declaration.

Synonyms for power are control, dominance, command, rule, authority, influence, wealth but also strength, force and energy. We have electrical power and spiritual power, the power for good as well as for evil.

Power Game asks an invited group of people, who may have what in our society is considered to be attributes of power, such as intelligence, talent, fame, wealth and notoriety, to place bets on their own choice of a powerful word in a restricted sampling of four words dealt to them as word cards. They then have to defend that choice, declaring why their chosen word is powerful. In so doing, they explore and communicate their definition of power.

It is only through understanding the multiple meanings of power that we, as individuals, can regulate it, both in the natural world and in our own society.

Liliane Lijn is an internationally renowned artist whose Power Game will be  performed at Southbank Centre on Saturday 25 June as part of Power of Power festival. For more information and to reserve a ticket for this free event, please visit:   http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/liliane-ljin- power-game-98125

Tribute to a Manchester music legend

Hannah Coombes explores The Bryan Glancy Stage at this year’s Meltdown festival. 

Alongside the impressive line-up of headline acts that took to the main stage in the Royal Festival Hall at this year’s Meltdown Festival, a series of extraordinary, but lesser known artists showcased their talents on The Bryan Glancy Stage. The seven acts selected to play were part of a meaningful creation by Meltdown curator Guy Garvey. Garvey named the stage after a ‘good friend and inspiration’ of his, The Seldom Seen Kid – or Bryan Glancy who died in 2007. When introducing Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards before she closed the stage on Saturday 18th June, Guy described Bryan Glancy as having ‘an unpaid official job of introducing all of Manchester’s musicians‘. The poignancy of how much The Seldom Seen Kid meant to Guy has been illustrated throughout the festival in his Case of Treasures; a selection of personal items that according to Guy ‘represent significant parts of my past and have travelled with me into my present’. This collection includes a Chinese cigarette case, which for Guy is ‘incredibly precious’ and the only possession of Bryan Glancy’s that he owns.

As Bryan Glancy served as a curator of meetings across Manchester’s music scene, Guy has brought together some of his favourite, uniquely talented musicians that he insists deserve to be heard – and what a selection he chose.

Saturday 11th June 2016:

 

Jalen N’Gonda

You Deserve What You Got –Jalen N’Gonda, filmed at Sofar Sounds London January 2016

 

Nerija

Kickstarter/EP Intro – from Nerija Music

 

Rozi Plain

Jogalong – Rozi Plain, Lost Map Records

 

Saturday 18th June 2016:

 

Palace Winter

Positron (live at Vibe Factory) – Palace Winter, Tambourhinocerous

 

SLUG

Cockeyed Rabbit in Plastic – SLUG, Memphis Industries

 

Joseph Lofthouse

Kerosene – Joseph Lofthouse, “Songs From The Wood” sessions by Tom Gradwell

 

Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards)

Skin and Bone – Heartless Bastards, OurVinyl Sessions

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Ashley Peart finds himself Beyond the Bassline

On the penultimate day of the Meltdown Festival I attended ‘Beyond The Bassline’ a male-only singing workshop run to get more men comfortably flexing their vocal chords.

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Now, I’m not really a singer, with my only experience being holding ‘show-stopping’ gigs in the shower but I was really interested in trying something new and seeing what the result would be.

Before arriving at the workshop, which was taking place in the St Paul’s Pavilion at Royal Festival Hall, I took a lift which had an alternative approach to lift music. As I moved up the floors, I was greeted with a harmonising choir that sung as you made it to each level. It was as if the lift were getting me psyched up to sing collaboratively but I smartly decided to preserve my vocal acrobatics until later.

As I entered the room a large group of males, made up of all ages, were being taken through some warmups by the charismatic Juliet Russell – a singer and vocal coach, tasked with making us into contenders for choir of the year. Positioned around the piano, with our voices suitably warmed (I was unsure about what sound would leave my mouth) we were handed the lyrics to the Elbow song ‘Great Expectations’ and got stuck in singing along. I had never heard the song before but it’s atmospheric and it was a great experience learning it alongside the other guys.

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There was a really calm and supportive atmosphere as Juliet guided us lyric by lyric, piecing together bass notes and airy harmonies. By the end, you really heard how powerful male voices sound together.

Halfway through, Meltdown curator Guy Garvey made an appearance to do an informative Q&A with the audience. He spoke about his song-writing process, why he chose ‘Great Expectations’ for the workshop, how he came to sing in his own accent and gave some brilliant advice for budding singers.

What I have really enjoyed about the Meltdown Festival is that it has exposed me to musicians I have never heard of, encouraged me to appreciate the beauty of art in its different forms and has pushed me to do things I wouldn’t normally do. Beyond the Bassline showed me why it’s so good to abandon your comfort zone and have no regrets.

Beyond the Bassline is usually led by the Southbank Centre’s singing initiative Voicelab, so men if you would like to sing more you can sign up for the next free session here – definitely check it out!

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