New on Festival Bytes: Concrete & Conflict: Re-imagining Place through a City of Culture

16 April 2013

In his first blog post entitled “Concrete & Conflict” blogger Jonathan May explores Derry-Londonderry as an example of re-imagining place through a City of Culture. Jonathan May is Digital Producer LIFT, the London International Festival of Theatre. He participated in EFA’s Atelier for Young Festival Managers in Ljubljana in October 2012. Read an excerpt of his article here below; the full article is available on Festival Bytes. 30 years ago the parade ground at Ebrington in Derry-Londonderry echoed to the sound of soldiers marching on what was one of the most modern military forts in Europe. In this City of Culture year for Derry the former barracks are once again full to capacity - but this time with locals and visitors eager to participate in a parade ground which has been transformed into the city’s newest public entertainment space. Excited by the prospect of creating new stories with local artists, dancers and musicians in Derry-Londonderry, LIFT jumped at the chance to take part in the exciting year-long programme of cultural activity as part of the City of Culture 2013, many events of which will be held at Ebrington. LIFT is a festival that has been championing public art and performance for over 30 years. One of the key missions has been to use London as a stage, taking brave international artists and supporting them to create unexpected art works in public space. The Participation Producer Erica Campayne, who’s been working in Derry for the last nine months as part of LIFT’s commission with the Hofesh Shechter Company, believes cultural events have a unique way of re-writing how we relate to locations in the city. “Culture can often allow people who live in the city to walk the streets differently, to travel to areas that they might not normally go and to see their locality in a different way. You likely tread the same ground without looking up or around. Theatre and carnival allow us to see our surroundings differently and to create a fresh relationship with a location. I think it can also give you different memories about a place that you’ve visited. If you have a particular experience you might go back there at another time and trigger that memory, make you feel differently about it.” Derry’s City of Culture team have a magnificent view of the historic walled city across the river Foyle, as well as Ebrington, the former parade ground, which until 2004 were shielded by corrugated iron and barbed wire during 30 years of the Troubles. Two years ago a pedestrian Peace Bridge was built across the Foyle, encouraging people in to each others communities. The bridge has in many ways transformed the city, and despite the often one-dimensional story presented by the press unable to look past the city’s history of conflict, the City of Culture team are keen to make a different statement about Derry-Londonderry. This type of transformation brings to mind LIFT’s 1993 launch event, where the then empty former power station at London’s Bankside was transformed by artists Anne Bean and Paul Burwell using the chimney as a gigantic flame thrower and the flat roofs on each side as flaming drumworks. Twenty-five drummers created powerful shadows up and down the chimney while welders and remote-controlled helicopters carried flares and flaming ropes on pulleys to the chimney on each side. The whole work plugged into the energy that the power station, which had lain disused and ready for demolition for many years, had once created, to conjure an intense urban song to the city. Legend has it that Dennis Stevenson carried a flyer of the event in his pocket, using evidence of Bean and Burwell’s theatrical illusion over his next few years as Chair of Tate Gallery looking for new premises and in 2000 saw the Bankside power station transformed into one of the world’s most acclaimed galleries of contemporary art. “I think art gives something a soul, a feeling to a physical space,” Erica says. “The City Of Culture is accelerating change in the city’s fortunes by driving a step change in the economy, principally through the tourism and creative media sectors. Changing the army barracks into a cultural centre is a major way in which they are doing that. And by putting the bridge there and giving a reason for people to go and walk a route they hadn’t walked in 30 years. What I love about my work with LIFT is that I get to enable artists and other creatives, many of whom represent a younger perspective, to have a voice that is often counter cultural, they can rewrite the script and re-imagine place.” (...) Read the full article on Festival Bytes.