Aug 072010
 
The re:bourne team rounded out a very busy week of pre-event prep with a lively whirl through Sittingbourne history courtesy of Peter Morgan, who surely should be classed as a regional, if not national, treasure for his encyclopaedic knowledge of Sittingbourne and Swale. The former Sittingbourne Mayor and Kent Councillor treated us to an eloquent recitation of the area’s remarkable history at the Heritage Museum, itself a fascinating repository of artifacts and history, some of which date back to the area’s Bronze Age residents. Among the many wonders of the Museum is a recreation of a WWII-era home (that’s Peter on the right).

What was perhaps most inspiring about hearing Peter and visiting the Museum was to know that the building housing the Museum itself was, not so long ago, derelict to the point of near-demolition. Crumbling and mould-wracked, its floors strewn with spent syringes and needles, the former shop (dating back to at least the 18th century) was a hollow shell of itself. Through the efforts of Peter and others, though, it was revived and now plays host to school groups, community events and–when you’re as lucky as we were–the occasional private tour.

Hearing from Peter about the area’s rich past was a great way to look forward into the coming week and give us more motivation to make re:bourne worthy of the history that has come before. We hope you’ll come along and see what the future holds…

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Aug 042010
 
Across both re:bourne event days, Swale-based visual artist Dean Tweedy will create a temporary public artwork–with the help of re:bourne audiences–that will pay homage to Sittingbourne’s maritime history. His reflections on the project thus far:

“My life as an artist can sometimes be a solitary affair, spending many hours painting away with only my thoughts and Radio 2 for company. Re:bourne gives me an opportunity to not only work with some of the many great local artists that I have met since moving to this area, but also to meet the public when we take art into our neighbourhood and celebrate the good in this town.
“Sittingbourne is rich in history but recently, partly due to the recession, it seems that it is slowly eroding away as shops close down and people go to out-of-town supermarkets or shop online. Many of the locals feel Sittingbourne is starting to be overlooked and forgotten. This will only happen if we let it, and I hope that by making use of empty spaces for events like re:bourne we can raise awareness of the town’s heritage and also the developmental possibilities of this area.”

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Aug 042010
 
Teynham-based artist Sioux Peto of Polka Dot Arts, whose work ‘A Garden of England’ features in re:bourne on 13-14 August, offers this perspective on her re:bourne experience thus far:

“Working within a festival concept has opened up more opportunities for local artists than we would normally be given and has also allowed us to work amongst other artists in the comfort of our hometown. We are using this experience to evaluate what the general public thinks of our work, and about the arts in general, something we would not have otherwise been able to achieve.”

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Aug 022010
 
Sparky, a lively and very animated character who has been making friends throughout Kent this year, is looking forward to making a special visit to Sittingbourne during re:bourne on 13-14 August. Here, one of Sparky’s friends, artist Ciaran McKay, talks about his re:bourne experience to date: 

“Since being part of this project, I have visited Sittingbourne a few times and have noticed a number of shops either boarded up or closing down. However, I noticed that two of the shops that were still doing good business were local butchers and bakers, two trades that i would imagine have been part of the town as it has grown over the centuries. On one of my visits I overheard two people commenting on the downfall of the high street, highlighted by disappointment in their voices. I thought to myself that I hope they are around during re:bourne to witness something special on the high street…maybe a new beginning for the renovation of this historic town.”

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Jul 302010
 
Wendy Daws’ ‘Shadow Catching’ will be part of re:bourne on 13-14 August. Her thoughts on the project thus far:

“For me, Sittingbourne has been somewhere you drive by on the way to somewhere else. I’ve not had a reason to visit the High Street, but it has a fascinating history and I’m very happy to be immersing myself in it.”

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Jul 292010
 
Today we’re posting the first of several bits of reflection from some of our re:bourne artists about the process of creating their re:bourne work; its impact on them as artists, and their hopes for its effect on Sittingbourne, Swale and beyond. We’ll post some random shots we’ve taken of the event site over the past few months of working there to accompany each bit of reflection…a small, slightly random bit of associative virtual art in advance of our big, non-virtual event on 13-14 August.

The following is from Swale-based artist Julie Bradshaw, whose interactive work ‘Tide & Time’ will be on our programme:

“Taking part in re:bourne has excited and enthused me. It has acted as a catalyst in making me more determined to raise the profile of Sittingbourne and Swale as an area to host art events that are both challenging and enjoyable, contemporary and traditional, and which would have people from many different locations wanting to visit and participate.”

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Jul 072010
 
I surely won’t be the only culturista blogging today about the convergence of arts and technology, having just returned from the very enjoyable Shift Happens conference. The challenge with emerging from such a whiz-bang, upbeat, the future is NOW (dammit!) kinda event is that one can feel quite dazed, in much the same way that too many Christmas presents or too many sweets can make you feel a bit ill at ease (or just plain ill).

Such feelings are, of course, largely misplaced: tech, whether high or low, will not save your arts company from bankruptcy or propel it to a BAFTA, if such things motivate you. Twitter, immersive 3-D, motion capture suits…all merely tools, like a shoelace or a crab pick. But that’s an increasingly heretical view these days in the arts. While no one is likely to brand you as obsolete if your kitchen lacks a crab pick, if you’re out of step with the latest tech there are some who think you might as well float skyward and explode in a shower of light, a la the grim 30th birthday ceremony in Logan’s Run. I’m only half-joking here. At Shift Happens, one breathlessly overconfident speaker asked, in a very shouty way, who amongst the crowd did NOT have Twitter or Facebook at the centre of their life. After a moment, a brave woman limply raised her hand. The speaker was gape-jawed; in the crowd, a silence reigned like that of deep space. If there was an App for virtual tarring and feathering, I would have feared for the brave woman’s virtual life.
For all I know, this Twitterless wonder is a shit-hot artist (I never found out: a dozen men in bright white hazmat suits immediately rappelled from the rafters and bundled her away, reportedly for radical reprogramming). But isn’t it enough to be a shit-hot artist these days, tech or no? I ask not out of Luddishness, having worked for years in the Silicon Valley in jobs that brought me into daily contact with the bleeding edge of purportedly world-changing technology. I have my Twitter and Facebook, my AudioBoo and Beejive. And of course, I have my blog(s).
But there’s an increasingly noisy little voice in my head urging me to turn off (my iPhone and laptop), tune out (of Twitter, Facebook, Skype, WordPress, Posterous, etc) and drop away from a race I’m not likely to win, nor ever find myself interested enough in to try. The race, I think, is for me to become sufficiently one with my technology so that it guides my personal, professional and creative life, every bit as much as I guide it. To win the race, one has to surrender to the race itself.
Here’s an idea. Maybe it’s time for an antidote to events like Shift Happens and its inspiration, the much-moneyed and ultra-hip TED. Maybe a conference not with high tech or even low tech, but with NO tech! Just minds, hands and voices…y’know, old school, keeping it r-e-a-l. Hmm, this might have legs. A quick round on my Twitter feed, and it should develop nicely.

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Jun 172010
 
Q: When is it better to have your delicate, multi-media experimental show in a blaring, bustling shopping mall than in a lovely studio theatre?

A: When it’s designed and promoted that way.
Alas, we found ourselves on the wrong side of this equation at the recently-concluded Pulse Festival Fringe in beautiful Ipswich. I know it’s considered déclassé by some to admit that one’s show has anything, ever, than a stellar, Earth-shatteringly successful run. But let’s face it, you learn as much from what doesn’t work as the opposite…even, as in our case, when what didn’t work is largely the result of the mercantile equivalent of deux ex machina.
Let me declare at the outset that the tumbleweed blowing through the ranks of empty seats at our ‘Burning Out’ shows had nothing to do with the folks at Pulse (we love you guys! honest!) Pulse had the great idea of taking its offerings straight into the commercial heart of Ipswich, grabbing a nice empty shop space in the Buttermarket Centre. We were one of several shows in that space, to be offered free of charge, with us and the Pulse gang working the tiles to convince the Buttermarket’s bag-toting legions to stop in, take a load off, and experience something more interesting than another overcooked Starbucks latte or a manic crowd-surf through New Look.
And then, just before the Pulse programme opened, the unthinkable happened: the centre leased the shop. Out went our show, and it is to the credit of our Pulse friends that they managed to squeeze us into the New Wolsey Studio and hoof around some amended posters and flyers. But of course it wasn’t the same. A free, unticketed show only works if you’ve got the venue, promotion and environment designed for it. We were pleased and gratified by those folks who did come and see us, and our talkback sessions after the shows were lively and, for us, very encouraging indeed given the experimental nature of the show, our first created via our new Re:Authoring Project. But we’d looked forward to the rustle of shopping bags tucked under seats, the murmuring of slightly confused but intrigued voices, and after all was done opening the doors and ushering our dazed but hopefully happy audience back into their gleaming capitalist playground.
Even now, I’m not quite sure whether to be heartened or saddened that commerce won over art. No one can be against some new jobs, which presumably what our eviction produced. But is the better use of a mall–that collective watering hole for the modern masses–as a purveyor of culture or a perpetuator of consumerism? Maybe there’s a happy medium. If you’ve found it, let us know. Meanwhile, there are other slack spaces to commandeer, if only for a while.

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Jun 052010
 
We can finally (finally!) talk about the exciting gig we’re going to lead this summer: a site-responsive, slack-space, community-driven happening in Sittingbourne (Kent) that we’re calling re:bourne. Nominally, this is a community festival…but it’s so much more. Re:bourne has narrative content, hidden spaces, surprises, interactivity and wonder; it’s visual, aural, performative and experiential.
All of it, though, is in service of a very clear and important goal:  to allow the people of Sittingbourne and Swale to re-experience a familiar and economically-challenged part of their community (we’re using an entire section of the high street as the event space, including unused commercial spaces). More, the community will have created and directly inputted into what results in the final event. While we’re leading it, they’re creating it. When we’re gone, they will carry on with what’s been created.
The ‘we’ in this context is more than Nimble Fish; we’ve partnered with a new Kent-based arts organisation called Workers of Art, which includes some friends and colleagues we’ve known and respect for some time now. We’ve never embarked on a collaboration on this scale, in which we are joined at the hip artistically and financially. Scary? Sure. The level of communication required to keep all of us on the same page is remarkable. But as previous posts have underscored, we think this is the way of the future in the cultural sector.
Watch this space: we’ll be blogging a lot about re:bourne itself, the process of collaboration, and any number of things brought to light therein. Let us know what you think.

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