• Streetlife London Residency at the London Metropolitan Archives

    Last year I was Artist in Residence at London Metropolitan Archives for a major arts engagement project called Streetlife London. In the post below this one you can see more about how the project came about and my process while I was researching, exploring and creating. The project was devised by myself and the interpretation team at the LMA, and involved digital and printed art works, creative writing workshops, sessions with school groups and public engagement, performances and a one day conference about artists in archives. I have been back at the LMA recently reading from the collection I created, and showing and talking about the film I made during the residency at the LMA Spring Arts Festival, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about the outcomes of the project.

    So why Streetlife London?

    The streets of London have changed the world. Their significance is huge and far reaching. They are the site of joy, of tension, of political movements. They are London at its most social and at its most volatile. They are cultural and exciting and they are wild and dangerous. From fashion innovations that have sparked global movements to riots that have changed the political landscape, the streets of London are a vital flashpoint of the contemporary moment.

    As an artist, that is really exciting to explore, there is so much potential in this subject.

    The scope of the project was wide in terms of the timescale- medieval to present day. While I haven’t lived in London for 700 years, it does sometimes feel like it. Especially when having to do anything that involves taking the central line on the tube. But one of the biggest discoveries has been that many things that would have happened on the streets of London 700 years ago still happen, and often with only superficial differences. Despite the ever changing landscape of London as a major world city, the constant is how people relate to each other in shared spaces; the streets.

    I worked with LMA staff to research the themes of London’s street culture and society to approach interpreting items in the archives creatively and artistically. This led to fascinating discoveries and conversations and meant that my process became collaborative with the experts at the archive. An unusual fan shaped souvenir from the rambuctious and risky Bartholomew fair I found in the collections, for example, led to conversations that illuminated the lived experiences of Londoners coming together in Clarkenwell to let off steam with drinking, dancing and general debauchery. Bartholomew Fair was a bit like the Glastonbury Festival of its day, with a surprisingly big murder rate. You can find out more about that beautiful item, conversations around it and the discoveries I made from it in this short video.

    Throughout the residency I worked with groups to use the themes and discoveries of the project for workshops and events. Because I researched a range of collections, I used items from the film collection as inspiration during creative writing workshops, for example. Using early film footage of pageants in London, my favourite being a post war Lord Mayors Show with women aboard giant potatoes for 'health and beauty ' and a procession of dairy product costumes, I worked with groups to help them develop their skills and create from these stimuli. I also found school and college groups loved the Bartholomew Fair stories, and were inspired by these to create their own creative writing and poetry in sessions I led. The artists in archives event bought together people from organisations all over the UK for presentations and a panel discussion about the benefits, challenges and outcomes of artists interpreting and working with archives.

    My engagement with the film archives led to the creation of a digital piece exploring the changing landscape of shared social spaces. I was thinking a lot about how London is always shifting, and how currently that is most profoundly felt in the privatisation of public spaces and issues surrounding gentrification. So with that in mind I created a film based around a documentary from the early 1970's that focussed on London markets. Splicing that archival item with contemporary footage I shot in markets around London, the piece asks questions about the commodification of London streets. You can see the film here.

    During the residency I developed a collection drawing on my explorations of the archives. The result is Cries of London, a book of poetic works with the archival items that inspired them beautifully integrated into the design. It includes a piece evoking the tensions and sensory aspects of riots, inspired by a handwritten account of a 1792 riot in Mayfair that included sword fighting and a high body count. London has been considered a fashion and style capital for a long time, and I was delighted to find that this extends to the medieval period. When I discovered a street fashion illustration from 1450 of some rather well turned out gentlemen I created a piece in response. In the Bartholomew Fair collection I found a number of bill posters advertising different entertainments. I was really struck by these sideshow acts, by the variety of them, by the imagery and hyperbolic language used to sell them. And then by the stories and the lives that must have been behind them. So I created a series of inter-related pieces that explore this. Click here to find out more about Cries of London.

    This residency was incredibly rewarding, in the work I did enabling people to develop their creative skills, in collaborating with LMA staff and in finding such inspiration in the collections. One of the purposes of the project was to show how the LMA collections can be drawn upon artistically and creatively, and I feel we were able to achieve that. I am also thrilled that the outcomes of the project continue to have an ongoing presence and relevence. This week I will be at Guildhall Library talking about the digital piece I created 'London Markets.'

    Since Streetlife London I have been Artist in Residence in a number of schools around London, for an LMA and City Of London project drawing on the work of Medieval scribes to inspire artistic engagement with historical sources and help develop the creative skills of the students I worked with.

    To find out more about my residencies and creative engagement work please do get in touch on ndkfield@gmail.com

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  • I’ve been working with the London Metropolitan Archives as Artist in Residence for the last few months, and it’s been great! The project I’ve been working on is called Streetlife London: From Chaucer to Banksy. Yes that’s right, 700 years of London street culture and history to play with. I’ve loved the challenge, and the possibilities.

    If you don’t know about LMA, let me tell you a little bit. It essentially holds the history of London within its walls, and London is a place with a lot of history. In my first week I got an extensive tour of the building, with miles and miles of shelves packed with many fascinating items, and so many things to discover. The archivist who showed me around introduced me to some personal highlights, including the original plans for Tower Bridge, a poignant log book with photographs from a Victorian orphanage, and a collection of beautiful playing cards from the middle ages. Immediately I was struck by the opportunities for exploring lived experience, but also how much there is to tackle in terms of materials alone. In the early stages of the project navigating an artistic path through the archive became the biggest challenge, particularly because this is the first time many of the collections have been approached in this way. And, realistically, it’s hard to get inspired by the parish admin records of Hammersmith in 1792. But then I started to find the real gems that spoke to me, and that’s when things got exciting.

    Streetlife London came about through discussions I was having with the development and interpretation team at the LMA about ways to get people engaging artistically with the collections. Generally people use the archives for academic research, or for discovering more about their family history. With this project one of the aims was to demonstrate how this rich material can inspire, or be translated into art and creative projects. The streets of London, the culture and history of the public lives of the people of London, seemed to me a thrilling subject. The streets of London have changed the world, they are both iconic and ordinary, volatile and cultured, they are the vital beating heart of the social city. Rich territory indeed. So we devised the Streetlife London project.

    My way into the project was to approach the collections thematically. I started thinking about the kinds of things we see now on the streets of London, and what they might have been historically. I began researching around pageants, fairs, markets, protests and street fashion. From this starting point I was able to find a path through the archive, and made discoveries that started to inspire ideas for new pieces. I realised also, how the archive is reinvented and rediscovered each time someone finds a route through it, each persons navigation of the archive is unique.

    Through the archives I have discovered hand scribed accounts of ancient riots, depictions of fierce Medieval street style and remnants of the lives of people who appeared in street fair side shows. It’s been quite a journey. In the next few posts I’ll reveal more about it.

    The streets of London will never seem the same again.

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  • Edinburgh Festivals 2015: Performing, Seeing and Being

    I’m writing this on the train back from Edinburgh to London. It’s only been two and half weeks since I set off for the festivals, but I’m struggling at the moment to remember anything before landing on the cobbled streets and attempting to trundle along them with a cartload of luggage. Looking out from one side of the train the sun is beginning to set, from the other the full moon is rising over the dusky sea. In between the two, I’m just starting to realise how immense this experience has been.

    My luggage included a blue wig, a preppy outfit, a boho outfit, an ornate floral headdress and a lot of grey netting. But more on those later. Edinburgh is, of course, stunning right out of the station. I always forget just what a handsome city it is, and how the particular light plays on the architectural features of the old city and the gold and granite tinged landscapes that surround it. This was to be my longest stretch in Edinburgh, and it had been looming large in my mind for months. I arrived in Edinburgh to be part of the excellent Forest Fringe programme, with two performance pieces, I Show You A Mirror and Be My Friend. Both about to be journeys of discovery.

    I Show You A Mirror is a totally new piece, an experiment. This is uncharted territory for me, I have generally avoided experimenting with performance outside of the protection of the studio. Also, I usually start with a crafted text and build a performance around that, for this piece I started with performance questions and took it from there. But, somehow for this piece at this point it felt right to bring an audience in and try it out. The questions, the explorations in the piece feel urgent and there’s an exciting challenge in creating something with spontaneity in mind, a liberation too. So, I fought my tendency to plan and rehearse everything to the most minute degree, and allowed myself to trust the process and the moment. So here’s one of the reasons I’m so delighted to have been part of Forest Fringe, it’s pretty much the only space for genuine experiment during the Edinburgh festivals. Of course, there’s experimental performance in other places, but Forest Fringe allows and enables artists to experiment without the pressures inherent in the adjacent festivals, and gives audiences the chance to see and experience theatre and performance at its most raw and elemental within a programme of fully developed work. It’s a dream opportunity, so I ran with it.

    I Show You A Mirror is about bodies and the denial of expression of self through them; denial from without, and subsequently from within. It starts hidden and personal, veiled and whispered. Then, it becomes a question, and a kind of dance class. Can we, myself and the audience, reclaim and defy those moments where we’ve been told we can’t be fully ourselves in our societal bodies through the medium of vogueing? That beautiful, glorious and utterly defiant dance form created in the queer dance halls of 1970’s Harlem by people who were so determined to be themselves together, despite everything set against them, they changed the world. Should we give that a go?

    There was so much discovery in doing this piece in this context. People did jump at the chance to try out vogueing as an act of defiance, perhaps informed and inspired by my journey to discover the origins and soul of the dance form, or they didn’t and they just watched. Both of which felt like good outcomes in different ways. I had insightful and engaged conversations about the piece afterwards, which I really valued. By the third and last showing I felt ready to think about this piece beyond the experiment. I got a bit teary on a street in Leath leaving the Forest Fringe venue, Out of the Blue, after the third show. I felt very fortunate.

    Some performance reflections from the Edinburgh festivals. I saw Anna Calvi with her band and an orchestra at the International Festival, and it was slickly gorgeous. I also saw the Robert LaPage piece, my first LaPage experience. People around me clearly flipped out over it, and it looked great, in a way that didn’t appeal to me particularly, but objectively it looked great. But I have a thing about over-tech in theatre, and I always think if the tech collapsed the piece should still work, and I don’t think this would. I’m also a dealer in life story, and this was the story of a life, but nostalgia is something I’m wary of, and this felt nostalgic in places. In others it was indeed inventive and irreverent and when the ideas meshed it was insightful, but too often the ideas were more like distant cousins than close sisters. Plus, if I can predict your rhyming couplets correctly before you say them, despite all your flashy tech, I’m essentially at a bad poetry slam. And that happened unforgivably often.

    Next up, was my one to one performance piece, or a performance for one, depending on how you want to dress it. I had given this a test run at Latitude Festival and it had legs, so I was really excited to see how it would unfold in the Edinburgh Festivals context. It’s a piece that explores questions of friendship in a world of fractured selves. People choose something to take me to see at the festival, entirely their choice. And they have options to choose from about what I turn up looking like, and how the conversation starts.

    This piece became a journey in a number of ways. It became a journey through the festival that was not my own, but that I was complicit in. Each performance became a journey, as all these negotiations around a burgeoning friendship emerged, as the questions in the piece began to resonate with each person who took part, as we both made discoveries about our lifelong relationship to friendship. I saw a lot of performances I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, I got taken to a hip hop circus, a lot of comedy, a drag monologue and shared a retro walkman playing a taped story over diet cokes. I loved experiencing the festival in this way, and I also loved meeting the people who booked the piece, and having such open, generous and thoughtful conversations around friendship. There’s a lot going on with that piece. I need time to let my thoughts on it shake down, but I’m hugely grateful to the people who took part for jumping so fully onboard, illuminating my thinking on the subject and engaging so whole heartedly with my questions about what friendship means and is. Oh god, I’m going to cry on the train.

    Some more performance reflections. I saw some stuff I really freaking loved. Sh!t Theatre’s Women’s Hour is a thing of glorious, anarchic rage, with a ton of genuine laughs. It made me feel dispairing, furious, horrified and entertained, which is a really interesting combination. I could watch them for hours, the genius of revoltingly mysogynistic online posts sung as stunningly beautiful close harmony, for example, hits like a truck. And I should know (but that’s another story.) I’ve had the joyous experience of spending a week in a clowning workshop with the Sh!ts, a lot of which involved weeping onto each others eyeballs (it was brilliant though) so I already knew they’re marvellous humans and wonderful performers. This was the first time I’d seen a full length show of theirs, and it will stay with me. Emma Frankland’s Rituals For Change is really quite a thing. An uneasy start with an axe and wood chopping slides into a compelling, visceral and textural journey into transformation. Emma is both entirely in charge of what is happening on stage, she builds a scaffolding tower and navigates it with magnetic fluidity, and entirely present and committed in the ritual that unfolds. It is beautiful, riveting, devastating, and astoundingly skilled. It never feels contrived, there’s a genuine urgency. One of the people taking part in Be My Friend took me to see Quizoola by Forced Entertainment, and the simplicity of the staging soon reveals the complexity of the concept. The constant questioning becomes surreal and sinister, the crudely drawn clown faces tragic, ridiculous and threatening. We both enjoyed the meta as the questions started referencing friendships while watching as part of a Be My Friend performance. I also really admired Jo Bannon’s Alba, a very concise and directional performance piece that plays with the gaze of the audience and the position of the performer, and becomes something of a visually poetic anthem of difference. I went to see the instillation by Young Vic Taking Part, Now Is The Time To Say Nothing, again I was taken there by someone as part of Be My Friend. We both loved it, it’s a really stunning piece that tackles issues of war, globalisation and depiction through the relationship of a group of young Londoners to the war in Syria. As myself and my new friend turned in unison under flutters of artificial snow, we caught each others eye and mouthed ‘wow’.

    You may have noticed that the majority of these were part of the Forest Fringe programme. This is no coincidence, it was bloody amazing. I would have been happy going and hanging out at the venue Out Of The Blue, which was like a wonderful bubble of buzzy calm in the context of a city besieged, and seeing brilliant stuff as a punter. Being part of it however, was sublime. So, thank you to the marvellous and incredibly dedicated and hard working Forest Fringe team, the delightful and committed volunteers, the supportive and friendly artists and the engaged and interested/interesting people who came to see, share and converse for making it happen.

    It’s rare, in a shifting landscape of criticism, didactic reflection and increasing commodification in theatre and performance, to have the opportunity to try stuff out and experiment in a context of acceptance that whatever the result everyone present is going to take something from it, so the result is ok. It’s enabling, it’s empowering and it refocuses on what really matters.

    The sun has now set, and the full moon has risen.

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  • Adventure/Misadventure- New production shots

    I wanted to share some production shots from Adventure/Misadventure with you, they've just come in.

    The first is from my reworked Dolly Parton number, the second is when I encounter a very mean frog indeed.

    Oh and the show got an excellent four star review today from whatspeenseen.com which is very exciting!

    I particularly like this bit:

    'Field is as adept a philosopher as he is an ‘imaginist’ and traveller, and that this show, as crazed as it is, is a thoughtful, well observed, and ethereal marvel.'

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  • Adventure/Misadventure- now on at Ovalhouse

    My new show Adventure/Misadventure has now opened at Ovalhouse!

    And what an adventure indeed. This is my second solo show and this time I have pulled out all the stops. There's my usual hot dose of poetic, evocative theatre and cheeky laughs, and I have worked with sound scores, live music and movement to create a multi-dimensional performance that's a sensory experience.

    The show draws on stories of travel, tragi-comic relationship fails and crap jobs to explore what freedom means in our hotchpotch, troubled but beautiful and fascinating world. It's a journey that has resonated widely with audiences.

    The show takes us on a whistlestop world tour that includes chasing Geisha through the streets of Kyoto, finding heaven at Rio Carnival, getting kidnapped and a subsequent nailbiting highspeed chase in Saigon. You'll find me rollerskating fiercely while evoking Argentine mountainscapes, doing bad ventriloquism with a hilariously mean frog and finding rituals of home resonating in a Japanese tea ceremony. And wait till you see the epic FREEDOM megamix dance routine.

    The sumptuous soundscores are vivid responses to the diverse landscapes in the show, drawing on crazy Japanese cities, Brazilian carnivals and burning temples. We've also probably made the most bonkers cover of a Dolly Parton song of all time, if it's not I'll be surprised- think Soft Cell meets Marlene Dietrich in a Berlin electro nightclub. I also perform live with my harp, some gorgeous reworkings of pop classics.

    The show captures the romance, risks and trials of travel, the delights and frustrations of creating a home and then smashes the two together to ask where freedom lies.

    'a beautifully unfolding tale of travel and wanderlust...real laugh out loud moments of absurdity' Broadway Baby.

    Adventure/Misadventure is now on at Ovalhouse until 22nd of June.

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Nick Field

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