Just Start Here Festival: Friday
by Anita Markoff and Daniel Mohr
courtesy of Michal Wachucik
Brought to Aberdeen by the National Theatre of Scotland, Just Start Here was a weekend long festival of talks and performances focused on celebrating the growing art scene in Aberdeen. It provided an opportunity for local artists to showcase their talents and ask for support. It also gave audience and performers alike a chance to meet artists working on similar projects in Glasgow, mingle in a relaxed atmosphere and realise how interconnected we are.
The Friday afternoon session kicked off with two discussions groups which were both concerned with helping to kickstart awareness of the art scene in Aberdeen. The first was a panel of artists featuring Kathryn Joseph talking about a variety of musical projects they were working on, interspersed with video clips. Phase two was the more interactive Chow and Chat. We all sat down in a circle with vegan chilli kindly provided by Food Story, and began an informal discussion about the art scene in Aberdeen with eclectic duo Karl Taylor and Daisy Douglas, arts producers who curate the Buzzcut contemporary performance festival in Glasgow. A lot of people in the group were dissatisfied artists; some who had moved away from Aberdeen because of lack of funding from larger institutions, or who felt restricted in what they are able to accomplish with their art forms here. There were also some positive voices, such as two women from City Moves who described how they work within Aberdeen to assist artists with funding and collaboration. We agreed that we need to raise the profiles of already existing institutions in this city, which is growing more vibrant by the day, but with a majority of artistic groups performing in an underground scene. One participant encouraged Aberdeen artists not to think of themselves as somehow lesser than those from Glasgow, giving some perspective with the comment ‘the centre isn’t always the centre, the periphery isn’t always the periphery’. We wrapped up by discussing ways in which we could build relationships and create venues free of funding restrictions, working together as a group of artists all trying to achieve a common cause: putting this city on the map.
Meanwhile Ashanti Harris, an international artist from Guyana and Leeds currently creating and performing in Glasgow, was enacting the piece 5 Minutes to Move Me in a series of five-minute slots. A video in the background instructed you to place headphones on once you entered the makeshift booth she was sitting in. You then listened to poetry about identity, geography, ethnicity, and the way all these things intersect, as Ashanti slowly and carefully moulded a piece of mesh into the shape of her face. Watching her press the flexible sheet of metal down her nose, eyes and lips made me wonder: is this a demonstration of her leaving her imprint on the world around her, or the ways it marks out its constraints on the territory of her body? It was the first of many thought-provoking performances that night.
The evening session opened with a collaboration piece by Aberdeen based group Speakin’ Weird and local dance agency Citymoves titled One Day to Play. This consisted of three short performances that represented a creative mix of a spoken word and various art forms, which resulted in a bold and innovative showcase under the direction of Jenny Lindsay. Split into couples, six different artists delivered humorous, light hearted and even audience involving presentation of their art, which was a promising beginning to the rest of the night.
Next up, everyone’s breath was taken away by The Shelter, a truly original performance that was easily the night’s highlight. A collaborative undertaking of artist Kate Steenhauer, writer Shane Strachan and musician Ross Whyte, The Shelter is quite an unforgettable art performance, as each showing, given its nature, represents a unique experience. Inspired by overheard conversations on bus stops around Aberdeen, the production comes across as a brilliant example of a site-specific artwork.
In an interview with The Gaudie, the artists said: ‘We like to think of the show as Aberdeen unfiltered: everything you see and hear is taken directly from the streets with a creative twist, and we don’t shy away from including problematic voices in amongst the colourful array of accents, dialects and languages to be overheard.” Steenhauer’s evocative live drawing performance is accompanied by Strachan’s verbatim narration of everyday, seemingly dull conversations in impeccable local dialects and even foreign languages. Underlined by Whyte’s atmospheric music, The Shelter makes up for quite a ride.
Friday’s performance bloc culminated with Sketches, a rather modest, but full-hearted performance by up-and-coming young female artists from Rambert school of ballet and contemporary dance, who performed a series of very physical movement works. With its creative choreography, the performance introduced the audience to a group full of great potential and definitely one to look out for in the future.
The very end of the evening was dedicated to an informal alternative music session by the amazingly talented Kathryn Joseph, who simply stole the show and the remaining audience’s hearts with it. Like a cherry on top, this charismatic singer’s performance ended the evening session on a very light and positive note and made everyone look forward to the next day.
With its main goal to introduce the audience to fresh artistic ideas, Just Start Here’s first day was a major success. It sparked relevant debates, acquainted its visitors to rising talents and created a welcoming atmosphere with high hopes for Aberdeen’s art future.