Duration Based Conceptual Performance Artist
Over the past year like everyone else, we have had to find ways to keep motivated especially with all the negative news that COVID brings. We are living with the unknown, in these unpredictable times, as humans we are trying to keep some kind of normality in our lives, some kinds of structure that allows us to fulfil our destiny, to develop and grow and human beings, but constantly being tested by the restrictions, all our countries infringe upon us, for our own good, who knows what good it brings, or where it will end, if it ever ends. Maybe this is something we may have to just find a way to live with.
Over the past eight months I have been looking into creating a new hybrid creature, inspired by mythology, especially the mythology of the rabbit.
The Hybrid creature has become a new focus, linked to my research.
Above image as work in progress. I took a latex mask and built it up using fur from old vintage coats.
The new mask.
Still wearing the commercial costume of white rabbit.
As part of the hybrid creature, I made a shrine to all rabbits and hares, which was part of a short film I made in Norfolk at the Warreners Lodge in Thetford.
The Warreners Lodge.
Another hybrid creature, new performance performed in Novi Sad in Serbia September 2021.
I came across a Blacksmith in Novi Sad, we were shown around his workshop.
As part of a local project in partnership with the Old Sorting Office "OSO" Art centre, based on Barnes Green. I had designed A4 sheets of how to make fairy furniture, so decided from there, that my next garden installation should be a fairy garden. I found a company called the Willow Farm in Yorkshire that grows Willow, so ordered two hundred rods, which at the time seemed a lot, but when you are weaving with it, it doesn't.
I made my order on line, and five days later it arrived on my doorstep. If I am honest, I am not good with maths, so could not visualise what I had ordered. The Willow came in a wrapped pack, it was smaller than I thought, but for the project in mind, it was the perfect size.
I had been impatient and tried to weave with it straight away, but it was a bit brittle. I soaked in the bath for two days, which made the willow soft and easy to use.
The first object I made was the fairy bed, but because I was initially impatient, the will snapped, it was difficult to work with, but as I waited, once it soaked, it became easier to work with.
The next stage was making the fairy chair, which I found it far much easier to work with soaked willow. Now chair and bed was completed, now to make a fairy table.
It was a pleasure to work on the table, though it took quite a while, being in the front garden, lots of people stopped to chat, and I explained that was willow, and it should grow. Lots of families asking lots of questions, which I was happy to answer.
Next step was the fairy dome, which brought back memories of making dome structures in Pennant Valley in Wales, but this was on a smaller scale.
A week later the garden had taken shape and had come alive. People were visiting it every day to watch the process. It me realize that it isn't often the public get to see the process of an installation and what is involved, the hours of work and the patience, even in the rain. I did have a shell with fruit on the fairies table, but it got stolen. It is sad really, but I can't do anything and refuse to police it, as it changes the concept of it, anyway I just need to keep it organic. In time by Spring if all goes well the Willow should start sprouting and grow leaves, which I hope they as this will really change the experience of the garden. I think this is the last installation for a while, as I cant deal with things being stolen. It is sad who ever is stealing from the garden is really stealing from themselves.
In 2020 I exhibited at Cafe Godard gallery, which has a small gallery, where I also performed in collaboration with Kosaka Mayu the owner. I have been performing with Kosaka for about seven years, where we have done many collaborations in Tokyo. Kosaka has been putting on mail art exhibitions for many years, which I think they started back in the seventies. I took part in my first mail art exhibition in 2014 in Tokyo and also in 2018 in Sweden.
The Mail art, is open to whatever the artist wants to create and then its sent to the destination, in this case, the art was sent to Japan. For my cards I used paper card, then cut small A6 cardboard and glued them on. The art itself is is a splash of colour, but also it is the act of stamping and posting, the action of sending art through a postal system, leaving it to go on its own journey, they could get lost or damaged. I always love taking part in these exhibitions as it gives me a lot of freedom to have a lot of fun. I received the instruction to create ten card and then post them. I will be exhibiting with another artist, who is Japanese, but because of Covid she is for the time being stuck in the UK.
See below the invitation:
I’m planning an exhibition with Daijo ,at the Cafe GODARD gallery.
Mr.Spike,please join the exihibition.
I’m in England いまイギリスにいます。
‥‥British post card Exhibithon‥‥ ‥‥英国のポストカード展‥‥
Paintings:Daijo ,Spike Mclarity
Send a picture of the size of the postcard.
Please send about 10 cards by mail.
Cafe GODARD gallery
Each piece is filled with colour and is unique
Using acrylic and then varnished the final dried piece
The next step once the mail art is dried and varnished is a trip to the post off and the iconic red post box
Make a fairy table, like the one in the photograph above.
All you need along with masses of imagination, cardboard and masking tape, scissors and acrylic paint. I have tried to show you how to make something so fab, cool and easy to make.
1) measure out the size of your table top. Cut out your basic shape.
2) cut out the base of the table, two long strips and two short strips.
3) start taping the corners of the table base together demonstrated in the photographs above.
4) Tape the base and the the table top together, as demonstrated in photographs above.
5) Paint your table with acrylic, again please do not add water as you are using masking tape. I have kept my colours simple grey and black, but you can be really creative with colours.
6) Cut six long strips and six short strips of cardboard. Don't worry about the size of your seat as this will be cut into shape later. Tape the base of the seat to the back as shown in the photograph.
7) Use as much tape as you need to make the base secure. Now cut the top of the seat into whatever shape you want, you can repeat this with the other five chairs.
8) Now all your chairs are ready, for the seat base, cut a small piece of carboard and tape it to the seat base. then use your tape to secure it.
9) Now the chairs are ready to paint with any colour. As you can see from the above photographs I have had a lot of fun creating different shapes and using bright colours.
10) Now the fun bit to dress the table. I have a button box I can rake around in and find buttons to make into plates, and other bits and pieces I can set the table with, even a small thimble as a cup.
11) As you can see from the photographs you can be as creative as possible, keep in mind, which fairies are coming to tea?
12) A wizard and a rabbit popped in to test the table for the fairies. What do you think?
And now you are ready to invite your special guests. Remember I have created this out of cardboard, using masking tape and acrylic paint. What will you make next?
In this blog we will look at what you can make with very little material or skill but lots of imagination!
In every house there is normally a box, bag, drawer or cupboard that is full of interesting objects, bits and pieces that no one uses any more. It is in these places that you might find things to make something from. I have a bag of old wooden cutlery, straws , old material, acrylic paints and masking tape. My aim today is to make a bed, a chair and a fairy!
1) I have decided to make a fairy, so I am using an old wooden spoon and fork. As you can see with the above photographs I have split the fork in half just using my fingers, the marked out how to use them for hands and arms.
2) Using masking tape I have joined both ends of the fork together. Take a an old piece of material cut it to size.
3) Tape the arms to the body, use as much tape so it feels strong. Then take your material and fold, cut a small hole so you can slip the head through. Fold in material and tie with some string.
4) take felt pen and draw your fairies face and hair.
5) let make your fairy a bed to sleep in. I have taken some of the broken wooden forks and taped them together, then I cut the ends to make them straight.
6) if you have an old straw, cut into four small pieces, then use your masking tape to start taping the legs to the bed.
7) Once you have all your masking tape on, take your nail and score it, as this will help it to stick to the wood. Take your scissors and cut along the bed ends to prepare them for the head board.
8) Though I am using discarded wooden cutlery, you can use old lolly pop sticks! Take three pieces to create your headboard. Then tape them together, Repeat this again for the foot board.
9) I am gong to paint my bed red, remember do not dilute with water, as this will loosen up the gum on the tape, keep the acrylic as dry as possible. You will find that you won't need a lot.
10) You can paint your pillow and also paint some patterns on the bed cover, also you can paint the legs.
11) Lets now make a chair! Cut up your bits of wood or lollipop sticks, then tape them together as demonstrated in the photographs. Like the bed you can make legs out of straws, which you tape them to the base.
12) You will find masking tape is very easy to work with as you can tear bits off, to stick to the straw and the base until you feel happy with the strength of the chair. Now it is ready for you paint the chair of any colour that appeals to you.
Now you have your fairy bed and chair, and yes the fairy herself. As you can see I have played around with the colours. Remember there is no glue, just masking tape and little bits and pieces. Have fun..What will you make next?
Bunnies are like cats, they like to get into everything
From Rita Robin to making fairy furniture! As part of the OSO story and treasure hunt, this involves also making some furniture for the fairies to move into their new home. The question I was asked "How do you make fairy furniture?" I did come up with some ideas. For the OSO I have tried to keep it simple.
Here is a visual guide to making a fairy bed and chair.
1) Select your material. "I chose to recycle an old Christmas tree"
2) Strip the excess green off to reveal the wood and clip each end.
(if you are a family making this, do make sure you have an adult to assist with the secateurs)
3) You may need a pair of scissors, some string or thread. (If you are family make sure young children have adult support with using scissors)
4) To make the bed, you need to cut four long pieces of wood and two short pieces of wood as demonstrated in the photograph above.
5) Make the letter H with you six pieces of wood. Remember two long pieces on either side and the short piece goes across as demonstrated. You will need some string or thread.
6) Take your string or thread and tie the pieces of wood together, do not worry at this stage if it feels wobbly, we will sort that out later.
7) At this stage of your bed, get two longer pieces of wood, they can be as long or as short, depending how tall or how small the fairy people are? Tie the longer pieces on to your H at one end and on to the H at the other end.
8) Now that you have the frame of your bed, it is time to add smaller pieces of wood. I have used a glue gun, (if you are a family with small children, please be aware that the glue gun can be quite hot and can burn delicate fingers, so adults only!) You can also go back over the parts of the bed you have tied to add extra strength.
9) Keep gluing all the small pieces of wood until you are happy with the base. I also made a fancy head board, just have fun and add any other features you feel that you want to add.
10) Now its ready. "O' dear here comes that pesky bunny wanting to try out the bed."
11) You may have some off cuts left, why don't you try making a chair! It is exactly the same process as making the bed, as you can see, start with the letter H and then cut the wood to size. Use your glue gun to glue the pieces together, and cut the sizes that you want.
12) Start piecing all the bits of wood together in whatever design you want to make, cut the wood to size. Remember when using the glue gun it can be very HOT!
There is that bunny again! Now you have created both a bed and a chair...What else can you make?
No Its not Rita Robin but hoppy the bunny, checking out Rita's new holiday home.
During the pandemic I have managed to somehow keep active one way or the other, and every so often I get calls from churches, art centres and people who need something made. So I was delighted when I received an email from Jonny at the OSOS art centre. https://www.osoarts.org.uk/
Here is the call out from Jonny:
" We've now developed the story and route for our treasure hunt, so are in a good position to start chatting about how the artworks (and your garden installation) can integrate. The overarching narrative is that the fairy queen has just moved into the OSO, and leads the children on a tour around Barnes Common to meet some of her magical friends, learning about nature on the way. The treasure hunt passes through various checkpoints, each with their own associated character, and ends up back at the OSO, where we will be setting up a 'fairy village' in our outdoor gazebo. The children can make their own furniture for the village at home, and then hang it in the gazebo to contribute to the fairies' home.
The idea with the artwork is that each checkpoint has a piece by a local artist that enhances the imaginative world of the story and strengthens the children's connections between the characters and the physical environment that they are exploring. The treasure map is a physical map collected from the OSO, but the checkpoints and clues themselves are managed digitally - sort of like an audio guide controlled by the parents, but with images that can be viewed on their devices as well.
The artwork for each checkpoint would be viewed digitally via this online guide system, but then be hung physically in a larger print (or weather-proofed canvas) in the gazebo (the fairies' home), so when the children finish the treasure hunt they can see all the artworks in the flesh.
I was wondering if you'd be up for creating one or two of the pieces for the checkpoints? They don't by any means have to be fully fledged works - small sketches are perfect. Though you could take it as far as you wanted to.
Since so much of your artwork is textural/sculptural, there is one checkpoint in particular that would be well suited. By the willow tree on Beverley Brook, Rita the Robin makes the nest for her holiday home. It's next to the fallen willow tree (which perhaps they used to use). Could be a good opportunity for some multi-material nest building work." Jonny
The original idea I had was to make a large nest from various things, then Jonny reminded me it had to be hung in the cafe Gazebo, so I needed to think how it would hang and also easy to move about. Out comes the old wire coat hangers, that have been hanging around doing nothing. Step one make a frame work to work with, that would be strong enough to be handled.
Fortunately my garden has abundance of ivy that I could use. While it had stopped snowing and a little bit of sunshine, it was the right time to get out and get on with it.
I managed to shape the coat hangers (I used two, one for the centre, which is also the hanging piece, and one to support the ivy once I began weaving it.)
Using the wire structure it helps to hold the ivy, especially at the early stages, then just keep weaving to the shape you want it to become.
Since I had a good strong base structure, it made it easy to be quite firm when weaving the ivy, and also to work without any mishaps.
Once I had finished with it, though took some photographs of the rabbit inside the nest to see what it would look like. Having used a coat hanger as the centre core, it made it very easy to carry and also to hang on the trees at the Brook before dropping it off at the OSO art centre.
Do check out their site if you are interested in the many activities that the centre puts on, even through the pandemic, they have been amazing, creating online entertainment, as well as brining artists together through other online projects. I have had so much fun making Rita Robins holiday nest. You can have a go yourself, its a great winter decoration or a garden installation, I did put some coloured lights inside, just to add that magical quality.
Doves sitting on the white window at Bonnyrigg parish Church Scotland
Over the years I have been making art out of mdf, so had worked out how to cut, carve, shape, piece together the mdf, transforming it into various pieces. I have also often made things from my local church in London, like camels, St Michael with his sword and not forgetting the dragon. I have been able to make things for the local shelter window, creating various displays.
One Friday evening I had a call from my sister who asked if I would be able to make a Dove for a friend who was part of a team at Bonnyrigg Parish Church, as it was difficult to find a winged Dove. Fortunately earlier in the day I noticed a neighbour was throwing out some mdf, so I knocked on the door and asked if I can have it, which he said yes.
I have always found this is how it works, when I need something to make something it normally comes my way, I have been so fortunate, in this instance it meant I was able to cut a shape of the dove and send a photo that evening, which I got a thumbs up.
Once I worked out the initial shape I decided to make two as doves always comes in pairs. My next step was to then make them stand freely, which was fairly straight forward. I cut a base, then cut a small piece of doweling rod, and drilled a hole at the bottom of the dove and also the based, where I used some wood glue and joined them together. It was a frantic two days in the studio as I was aware they needed them asap.
It was a lot of fun making things again, as I had put making objects on hold during lockdown, as I can be a bit noisy with the drills/jigsaw and hammer, my studio is in the back garden. I am aware that most people are now at home and some neighbours are using their sheds for conference calls. But on this evening, it was fine so I was able to get all the noise out of the way and then spend time working out the size and also how to present them. The problem came when I thought I could spray them, but that never worked, so had to sand them down and start again, but this time using quick drying gloss, being cold it wasn't drying as quick as it would normally. My aim was to get them in the post by Monday.
It seemed I was on track with the doves. The last time I created a dove it was years ago, though I made it as a tapestry for a friend who was a retired nun. There is something beautiful about the dove, it has a spirit, and a magical quality about it no matter what medium you use as an artist to create an image of a dove, it always seem to look like a dove, even if it is just a simple line drawn.
I was obviously enjoying not just the making but also the challenge, as I was aware of a team of ladies in Scotland who have been creating different themed windows at their local church, unaware of the gift that was going to arrive within days of asking for help. That is the power of asking, we sometimes just need to say "I need help". This was an everyday event for me, but for the ladies at Bonnyrigg Parish Church, this would inspire them to continue with their plan for the white window. It becomes a team effort, I was part of the team, even if they didn't know me, this was my contribution to helping the window to become reality.
I was really pleased with the outcome and I know they would be too. This was such a wonderful effortless project to take on, because I was really enjoying the whole process and knowing the happiness that the doves were going to bring.
Now they were ready to fly their way to Scotland from London. I wasted no time so sent them straight off and they arrived the next day. One of the ladies arranged to pick the parcel up over flowing with excitement.
During the pandemic it really has limited our freedom what we can and cannot do, things have changed, so to be able do something different really helps not only just doing something, contributing to an important project. I can imagine it would have made everyone's day when they received the doves, when just days previous they had lost hope on where to find winged flying doves.
The Minister Rev Louise Purden was delighted to see the creation of the window, not only that; I think the story behind it became part of the experience of the window. You can hear her sermon via this link, go to 21 minutes in where Louise talks about how it happened, and you really feel the joy that comes from her heart.
In part one I tried to capture the experience, this was a festival that had every intention of being present and wasn't going to be ignored, regardless of any local opposition that the organizers and the core team of people involved in making it a reality.
Here is quote from AIF19:
"Islamabad Art Festival a Project of Islamabad Art Festival (SMC – Private) Limited is built upon the foundation of cultural diversity that is so deeply embedded in the land that is now Pakistan, and in the people that are now Pakistani. Art has the unique capability of enabling people to engage intimately with their natural and cultural heritage in a creative and critical manner. The spirit of creativity and innovation brings people together and strengthens society as a whole."
For me the key focus here is "The spirit of creativity and innovation brings people together and strengthens society as a whole." This is what the festival managed to achieve and much more, which the effects are still being felt now in 2021. Unfortunately the festival was cancelled last year due to Covid, but this has not stopped the organizers as they have managed to keep entertainment alive and accessible by holding weekend live streamed jamming and music events.
You go on to the official Hunerkada face book page and like their page to see live stream of current/weekend live performances. https://www.facebook.com/Hunerkada
Above are the flags of the countries that took part, either through performing or contributions of photography/art/sculpture/Lectures and workshops. Turkey, America,France, UK, Canada, Egypt, Denmark, Austria, china, Cuba, Japan, Iran, Indonesia, Germany, Russia, Saudi, Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Algeria, Brazil, India, Italy, Nepal, Nigeria, Cote de Ivoire, Romania, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Vietnam, Thailand, Sudan, Syria, Palestine.
The hotel I was staying at had an exhibition of Christian religious photographic images from Italy, I came across them by chance while exploring the hotel and its many corridors and shops that are contained within the hotel. So lets focus on three of the diverse range of performances, exhibitions and lectures I came across, as there is just too much to talk about.
I met one of the journalists whom I have got to know more over the past year called Betnai Akhatar Munir (see photo above me with Betnai) Who was very keen for me to meet the Sufi Opera Singer Saira Peters, he went out of his way to get both of us to meet. I was introduced to Saira and her husband Stephen and Saira's father. They also have a house in London. I hadn't heard of Saira's music before, so was totally engaged with the blend of Sufi Opera, which was a new experience.
Photograph above: Me talking to Saira, Saira's father and her husband Stephen, no idea what I was saying, but obviously very engaging.
For information and background of Saira's career please look up her website on:
I was so fortunate to see Sarah and Stephen perform on stage at the Sir Syed Memorial Society, the sound was seductive, intoxicating and engaging I have never experienced Sufi Opera before. Saira is referred to as one of the worlds first ever Sufi opera singers from Pakistan and visits regularly to perform. I suppose if I hadn't had that chance encounter in my local cafe I wouldn't have ever come across Saira and Stephen, as well as all the other experiences.
At the PNCA exhibition of the work of Jamil Naqsh, I was given a copy of the book Najmi Sura it was an extraordinary gift. After much thought I felt it would be lost on my bookshelf and should be accessible to many other people. I contacted Saira as she is the director of NJ Arts which is a Pakistani Cultural art centre in London. I arranged a visit and met up with Saira and her family and was taken on a tour of the centre. Do check out their website: http://www.njarts.org.uk/ photograph bellow is me presenting the book to Saira at the NJ Arts Centre.
Whirling Darvesh from Turkey.
I had no idea what to expect, my first encounter of the Whirling Darvesh dance was again at the Sir Syed Memorial Society. At the beginning of the performance we were asked not to applaud, not to make any sound and to stay quiet. I was being judgemental in my thoughts, and thought to myself who are these people, I may have been tired but I felt impatient. When the dance started I became more focussed and throughout the performance I was in a trance.
For me it felt like a prayer in motion, I understood how important that we must not clap. It was a beautiful and spiritual experience, it was very emotional and deeply moving. I found the dance took me to another place in time, I lost track of where I was, I found myself rising into a different state of consciousness, it was extraordinary. The quality of the dance was sublime, its slowness invites you in, it takes you by the hand, it leads you to a new place, a new experience. This was Turkey in Islamabad.
I was very fortunate to see the dance a few more times throughout the festival at different locations and each time the experience became much deeper. On my return to London I spoke with a friend who lives locally and is from Turkey he explained to me about the sacredness of the dance and what it meant. Here is some bio about the dance taken from Wikipedia. Do look it up if you want to learn more, its fascination and if you ever get the opportunity to see a live performance do go.
A dervish practices multiple rituals, the primary of which is the dhikr, a remembering of Allah. The dhikr involves recitation of devotional Islamic prayer. This dhikr is coupled with physical exertions of movement, specifically dancing and whirling, in order to reach a state assumed by outsiders to be one of "ecstatic trances".
"In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen's camel's hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt (tennure) represents the ego's shroud. By removing his black cloak (hırka), he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to god's unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive god's beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth.
The semazen conveys god's spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love.
Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says:
"All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!"
Ballet Beyond Borders from America.
I met this group in the first week as we all headed up to the restaurant in the mountains where they were performing along with some of the other artists attending the festival. This was quite an amazing group of people, who danced, sang and who performed what seemed like at almost every venue throughout the festival, there was no stopping this hard working group.
I found an article written about them during their time in Islamabad: (https://www.rmbt.org/bbb-press/2020/1/28/usa-artists-group-ballet-beyond-borders-mesmerized-audience-at-islamabad-art-fest )
"ISLAMABAD, Nov 24 (APP):The international artists of Ballet Beyond Borders (BBB) of Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre USA on Sunday mesmerized audience here at on-going Pakistan first ever mega Islamabad Art Festival 2019 in federal capital Islamabad.
President Ballet Beyond Borders Charlene Campbell Carey said that BBB embraces the changing landscapes of our global dance art form, adding that she is very happy to be here and the opportunity to enjoy with these wonderful people. “It was so amazing as large number of people were came together from different countries” she said.
“While excellence is our goal, we also seek to preserve the heritage we passionately share. We strive to protect, inspire, and connect the next generation of young artists with professionals of the highest caliber and with mentors that align with these ideals” she said. She said that dance is a cultural phenomenon and dancers are natural diplomats.
Charlene Campbell Carey said that Ballet Beyond Borders is a Ballet Nation that serves as a catalyst for promoting cooperation and easing conflict by creating mutual understanding and using dance to advocate for human rights, justice, and global peace. She said that Ballet Beyond Borders is an open land, with an open heart and an open dialogue.
Charlene created the highly regarded Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre (RMBT) School and established the renowned international danced festival, Ballet Beyond Borders (BBB) that is held annually in Western Montana. The artists of Ballet Beyond Borders performed various forms of dances from native America and modern forms and got big applause from the audience at jam packed PNCA auditorium.
Earlier, Presient Islamabad Art Festival 2019 Jamal Shah welcomed the international Ballet Beyond Borders artists. He said that that the idea of international festival was produced with aim to bring all the artists together. e said that more than 230 artists was being participating in Islamabad Art Festival. He said that we are lucky to have them here to establish links with them so we can continue a dialogue for years to come. He said that dialogue will be productive which encourages us to come closer and together.
He said the festival was being organized by the consortium of public and private educational institutions, art galleries and artist associations from across the country in collaboration with foreign embassies, with generous support from the corporate sector. He thanked all the international artists on the occasion."
This was just a small taste of three performances out of countless of many that was on offer to experience throughout the festival.
Islamabad Art Festival blog
Its now 2021 and I realized I hadn't written anything about my experience in Islamabad, though I mention it on my welcome page. I am aware that this is one of those life experiences that takes time to filter the experience itself as it was so full on, the creativity stimulation was endless. Where do I begin?
It all began one sunny morning sitting in the cafe near my home in London, I had just finished having breakfast when I heard a voice from across the room asking if they could interrupt. It was a relative of a neighbor who was visiting from Pakistan, so I joined them at their table. We had a long conversation about art, I was told about a new festival happening just under three weeks time in Islamabad, I had never been, never had the intention of travelling anywhere other than Japan, and here was an invitation. I have mentioned in my blog about Serbia and a how we Brits tend to shy away from invitations or anything that would involved in making a commitment, especially if its to attend an arts festival in a unfamiliar country. I said the classic British response "That's very kind of you, if I can I will try to come" where actually in reality, what we mean is "No, I cant".
On this occasion I had one of my gut instinct reaction, it felt like this was destiny, a chance meeting was too incredible, the offer was extraordinary, like most festivals if you can raise the flight costs, then you will be looked after once you arrive at the event, accommodation, food and local travel. After returning back home I was checking my emails and there was a flight sale from British Airways, it was too good to be true, but there it was. Two weeks previous I worked for a week decorating a friends flat which I got paid for, and I was holding on to it to travel to Japan in following year. I had the money, I had the time, so what is stopping me? Nothing, I pressed that button and booked my flight, then text my new contact that I have booked the flight and I am coming. This all happened within half hour of our meeting, over the next few days there was a flurry of activity via the internet, lots of communication with the festival organizers and a letter from the founder Jamal Sha, which I took it across London to apply for my visa and within twenty four hours it was accepted. When I went to collect the visa the man who was dealing with me said "you know Jamal Sha?" I replied I didn't, I had no idea who he is, his response with a big smile "He is a famous actor in Pakistan" I just shook my head and thanked him for my visa.
Two weeks or so later I was on a plane to Islamabad! In the world of live art, opportunities do not come that often to perform, a lot of it is about networking, connections, people pointing you in the right direction, sometimes if your lucky you will actually get paid for it, but a lot of it depends on the artist making their way to the country it is being held in. For the first week I began telling people that I was travelling to Islamabad and the negative response I got was awful, it was so bad I decided not to tell people, which is a shame as I wanted to share my excitement, but all I heard was "Terrorists" "Tali ban" "Kidnap" "Shot". I made the decision not to look it up or enquire anymore and hold on to the gut instinct of trust that I am so familiar with and not to give into fear.
Some people were trying to persuade me not to go its dangerous. I am actually a well travelled artist, and I like to think that the choices I make are good ones, so far that has been the case and the doubt that was creeping in was "Have I made a mistake?" but that didn't last with encouragement from my partner that was enough, here was an extraordinary opportunity to attend one of the first open international art festivals that is being held in Islamabad. I wondered also what oppositions the organizers were facing if I was getting this kind of reaction in Britain. The other amazing thing happened my local vicar mentioned that the outgoing high commissioner of Pakistan was a member of our church, and just before I left to travel to Islamabad I was introduced to him. This gave me some reassurance, what are the chances of that happening, as he also use to live a couple of streets away from me. It was good to have a conversation about his experience in an official manner, so I had nothing to worry about, I suppose its all about taking precaution and since I was under the umbrella of IAF19 (Islamabad Art Festival) I should be ok, and the commissioner knew Jamal and felt I would be ok under his care, and so there it was, that was the encouragement I needed, here was someone who had been living in Islamabad and had just retired from his position and was qualified enough to advise me about my travel to Pakistan.
It was a long trip, I had to change flights but managed to arrive in the early hours of the morning in Islamabad, I wasn't sure who or if anyone was going to meet me, so I hung around the airport getting a bit anxious then a group of volunteers turned up to welcome me and then drove me to my hotel, once I checked in I went straight to bed.
The roller coaster of experiences begin!
the hotel was amazing that I was put in, it had a sauna, gym and a swimming pool, I kept my feet on the ground as I had a busy few days and was prepared and had written a schedule, also I was running free workshops that I had offered so had done a lot of preparation.
Spikes schedule for Islamabad Arts Festival 2019
Friday 22 November
Fly to Islamabad Qatar Airlines
Terminal 4.BA7006 8am Arrive in Doha 17.45pm
QR0632 - Time leave 20.20pm
Saturday 23rd November:
Arrive in Islamabad 01.40am
To be met at airport and taken to hotel.
To be confirmed who is meeting me and where I will be staying. Buy art materials for art workshop. Prepare for tomorrow.
Sunday 24th November
Running all day workshop
“Freeing your inner creativity”
There is a full workshop text explaining process and lunch breaks.
Participants to exhibit their art work.
Expecting 12 participants. Sir Syed Memorial Complex.
Monday 25th November
The search for identity through performance art.
Venue: Sir Syed Memorial Complex
From 5pm onwards. Sir Syed Memorial Complex.
Tuesday 26th November
Running all day workshop “Performing live”
There is a full workshop text explain process and lunch breaks
also participants performances.
Expecting 12 participants. Sir Syed Memorial Complex.
Wednesday 27th November
Enjoy the rest of the festival.
Thursday 28th November
Enjoy the rest of the festival.
Friday 29th November
Enjoy the festival.
Saturday 30th November
Last day and closing ceremony.
Serena Hotel and performances.
Sunday 1st December
First of the month
White Rabbit / Rest and explore
Monday 2nd December
Return to UK
Fly from Islamabad Airport Qatar Airlines. QR0632
Arrive at Doha 11.20am
Connecting flight to UK:
BA7015 Qatar Airlines Departs 15.50pm
Arrive at Heathrow 20.25pm NB to meet me. Terminal 4
Freeing your inner creativity workshop:
I had no idea who was turning up or where I would be or what would happen throughout the day. I was still a bit tired from arriving the day before. There is nothing like arriving running, there was no time to recover or rest but just to get straight into it. One of the volunteers came and met me at the entrance of the hotel, that had quite a few armed guards, this was one of the hotels that was blown up in 2012 with terrorist, so people are still quite cautious about who is arriving and leaving. They then took me to Sir Syed Memorial Complex, which was actually walking distance from the hotel, but I only realised how close it was once the festival had ended.
I was taken to an art shop as I was providing the art material for the workshop, and then we returned to the room that I was going to be in. No one really knew who was turning up, but thankfully to my relief people did turn up, some members of the Sha family, during the course of the festival it really became a little performance of mine greeting each Sha.... "Good morning Mr Sha," I would bow, then to the next "Good morning Mr Sha," then bow and the next "Good morning Mr Sha. " There was something nice about the ritualistic greeting. Anyway I digress back to the workshop.
I have ran this workshop in various countries including different parts of the UK, the whole process is about motivation, it is not about teaching how to make art, but to give people an experience of breaking through any limitations they may have that they feel holds them back, its quite intense and you do need a lot of concentration. One of the exhausting aspect of the workshop was to stop other artists coming in and trying to take the group away to see their work, which is all fine, but this was my workshop, also because of the intensity and sometime intimate aspects of the workshop where people are sharing personal information, the last thing I wanted was to have someone walk in and make the space unsafe to share, so this added an extra layer of anxiety. As the workshop leader is was my responsibility to look after those who have chosen to take part and trust me to lead them throughout the day and part of that was to keep the public out.
In all I felt the first day went well, one of the musicians who was present supported me by playing music that I needed as part of the workshop, the rest of volunteer team were fantastic, we also with permission of those attending had the festival film crew present. I managed to create a good bond amongst the attendees, lunch had been provided and in the afternoon we spent the rest of the time making art, then at the end we hung it in the gallery space. I was really moved by the trust that people gave, and they also gave themselves. I rounded up the day with giving people an opportunity to talk about the artwork they had made and what kind of experience they had from the day.
This was actually my first day in Islamabad as I arrived the previous morning. For me I felt humble by the emotional sharing of peoples life experiences, this was a mixed group and people from a wide range of ages. We talked a lot about loss, about families, about personal struggles. I spent thirty years working in the social care environment so have plenty of training that enables me to work with peoples emotions and guide them through it. The sharing was organic, I hadn't really thought what would come out of the day or how much involved the participants wanted to be in. It was a surreal experience, arriving at Islamabad airport, taken to a hotel and now in a room full of people sharing personal experiences from life. Wow!
Talk and performance:
There wasn't much time to recover as the next day I had to give a talk, which I wasn't prepared for but managed to pull it off, then followed by a live performance. I had spent some time learning about the Sir Syed Memorial Museum as it was a large building that only recently after a fifteen year court battle the custodians finally took control of it, where before it was used by the military as an engineer training centre.
I did have a look on the internet and couldn't believe the difference of the building, as when those who occupied it sadly destroyed it, smashing toilets so they couldn't be used, and instead of leaving as a functional space a lot of hatred was poured into the building, so when the current custodians finally re-entered they were quite shocked at the state of the building. The previous residents also left a number of financial debts that now the custodians had inherited. It was only two weeks before the festival that they managed to get it returned to the rightful owners, and somehow made it fit for use.
I spent a lot of time exploring the building and had worked out a durational piece that would be performed over a course of four hours that people could dip in and out off. Sadly that didn't happen, as I was told my time had changed and I only had twenty minutes! So I had to change the whole performance and work out within minutes what to do, so out came the rabbit costume. "Behind the mask of white rabbit is a Shaman" This was also inspired an installation of a performance that local artists had created across the road from the centre.
I was the festivals first international conceptual live art performance artist that had taken part, so the organizers and festival volunteers and audience didn't know what to expect, it was daring of me, or dam right crazy, but the opportunity came to me and I embraced it. I did manage to weave in some of my previous preparation about the story of the building and its journey back into the hands of the current custodians, creating a cleansing ritual from bad energies, carrying burnt charcoal from Qammar's performance, symbolically connecting the two. I had no idea what would happen, it was all done live and thankfully there was some paint I could pour over my body.
I managed to run another workshop using communication exercises, again it was intense, a reasonable number of people turned up. I kept having to adjust the time and actually shortened it as some people had to leave in the early afternoon. But for those who did stay on I carried on the workshop outside over the park. It was nice just working with two people in the end and I felt the work became quite deep, touching upon some raw emotions.
The festival was rich in diversity of performances, theatre, music as well as another live art pieces that I witnessed. The exhibitions were engaging, the whole atmosphere of the festival was intoxicating with life, everyone who came to perform or to be performed to, embraced it with the experience with an open heart. I was one of the few people that wasn't with an Embassy or belonged to a group, so people I think didn't really know what to do with me, it seemed I spent a lot of time at the Memorial centre as people disappeared to various venues. I had no idea how to get to places and was very dependant on the volunteers who were working non stop like everyone else in the festival. But I enjoyed spending hours exploring the building and taking my time to look at art. I could have just gone off but I wanted to respect the organizers as I don't think they would want me to go missing. I certainly stood out with my Mohawk and attracted a little crowd.
The magnitude of the amount of visual information to absorb was immense, which I relished in. I decided one day I had enough of hanging around in the hotel to organize a car and head off to explore some of the city as all I had seen was hotel rooms and the performance venues, I hadn't actually got to visit any of the sites of Islamabad, apart at the beginning where we were all taken to a restaurant up in the mountains. Sadly on the way back one of the passengers threw up in the mini bus, it did add a bit of excitement!
I was touched by the kindness of many of the workers, the organizers, though overwhelmed by people wanting my whats app number, which I said didn't work as I didn't know who was who, so I did tread with some caution while being polite. I watched the performance of my new friend Qammar who actually teaches fashion, but here he was doing his first live art performance, being a trans shaman and using hand made voodoo dolls. I have to say this to me seemed quite challenging and risk taking in dominantly Muslim country.
Here is some information from the The Express Tribune about Shamanism:
The description wasn't far off what I had witnessed in the performance.
GILGIT:The very mention of Gilgit-Baltistan conjures up images of majestic mountains, amazing glaciers and diverse wildlife. But this remote scenic region is also home to small community of high-mountain people who practice Shamanism, locally called Danyalism. Little is known about this ancient spiritual practice to the outside world. The practitioners, called Danyals, inhale the smoke of burning juniper branches, dance to a special music, enter into ecstatic trances, drink blood from a freshly severed goat’s head and converse with ‘spirits’ to find solution to the problems of the people
Potograph above is the performer Qammar Abbas during his trance state ritual, and no he did not drink goats blood. (You have to imagine the audio sound of the city in the background, this was being performed by a busy main road, also with prayers being sung, while Qammer not only pierced the air with his voice but the dolls with needles.
This was a group effort, a lot of people were involved in the making of the dolls but also a team around Qammar realised the performance. For me this is what I do full time, but really respected someone who has never identified themselves as a live art performance artist and also to take on such a challenging topic, which had a political background to it about the women of Kashmir .
I found an article in the https://pakobserver.net/plight-of-women-of-kashmir/ (Pakistan Observer) Worth a full read, here is two paragraphs from the article written by Raja Muhammad Sajjad Khan The writer is a PhD (Law) Scholar at IIU, Islamabad
"Plight of woman of Kashmir"
"IN every armed conflict women are soft target. Women are directly or indirectly victim of occupation and human rights violations. Women in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir have been facing human rights violations since 1947 but from 1989 they are suffering a lot. From January 1989 to 29 February 2020 in IOJK 95,506 civilians have been killed and 22,911 women were widowed. Occupational forces are systematically targeting women and enjoying impunity. Indian occupational forces are using rape and molestation of women in IOJK as weapon of war. Mostly rape cases passed unnoticed or unreported. From January 1989 to 31 January 2020 in IOJK 11,178 cases of rape and molestation were reported."
"Women of Kashmir are facing rape, killing, torture, inhuman treatment and violation of their every right. Rape is war crime and also crime against humanity but countries claiming themselves as champions of human rights are busy in their financial interests and politics. International community should take notice of these human rights violations and should change its double standards."
This is certainly something totally unexpected to have come across such a powerful performance, I totally had an infinity with Qammar being the only other performance artist around, good to have a companion in the arts. We are hoping to team up in 2021 IAF to collaborate on a joint cultural performance and are regular contact via the internet.
Along with many other artists and organisers from the festival we received personal invitations to attend an afternoon tea at the president resident by Dr Arif Alvi the president of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Begum Samina Alvi. This was an amazing experience I was overwhelmed, also unfortunately I was not feeling well, but still attended, every artist stood up and spoke on behalf of their country and I was almost forgotten about not intentionally, but when I did speak I ended up in tears, I was overwhelmed with emotion and being ill made me more hypersensitive.
Being in a lot of smoking environments didn't help with my Asthma, but I never complained, I was grateful to be in Islamabad. We weren't allowed to photograph but I only have one image that someone sent me waiting to meet the president, mohawk well spiked up!
Even now I am still discovering the many other things that happened at the festival, there was so much it was impossible to try to attend everything. All the countries that took part and local artists really engaged with the local culture. I met some new friends whom I am still in contact with today. Because of COVID the festival was cancelled last year, I did try and suggest a digital version. IAF put on live performance most weekends, jamming sessions as well as invited guests from all over Pakistan, so they are still able to keep up with some form of presence.
I met so many artists from all over the world one of them was Peter Bussain a photographer/film maker who was exhibiting his photographs of Trans in New York, which has now been published. Amongst the local art being exhibited unexpectedly you stumbled across amazing images of woman, until that is you read the biography about the images and what they embody, incredibly strong stuff, being shown in a Muslim country.
The organizers obviously felt it was worth taking risks with a diverse range of subjects normally taboo in Pakistan. While the glitz and the glamour of some of the theatrical performances getting a lot of coverage it is performances like Qammars and Photographs of Trans in New York certainly were throwing some political punches. But quietly present among the art of Jamal Sha with his figures that are based on a physical punishment in Pakistan. I know little of it, but did try to attempt to hold my ankles in the position that people had to endure for hours, and I couldn't even achieve it for two minutes.
About Peters book:
'Trans New York' Seeks to Immortalize Transgender People through Portraiture
In the new book Trans New York, published by Apollo Publishers on June 2, photographer Peter Bussian spotlights, through portraits, the transgender community living throughout New York City’s five boroughs. Bussian photographed approximately 60 different trans New Yorkers across the gender spectrum, from trans women and men to non-binary people, across the 50 photos included in Trans New York. The trans people photographed for the book are of different ages, come from different backgrounds, and express themselves in unique ways—quite literally showing a different picture of transgender people and the transgender community as a whole than many people have in their heads.
Above Peter during a talk on the left hand side in Islamabad.
In slide show bellow you will see images of Jamal's figures.
Here is a transcription of my speech at the PNCA "Pakistan National Council of the Arts"
Transcript of talk by the British artist Spike Mclarrity at the IAF19 (Islamabad Art Festival)
at the PNCA with the First Lady Samina Alvi Friday of Pakistan 2019
Thank you for the invitation to attend the IAF (Islamabad International Art Festival) Jamal Sha has been a fantastic host. I am grateful for the opportunities he has given me and also the opportunity to meet people from all over the world as well as other artists from Islamabad and also from all over Pakistan.
The art festival has been produced with such a high standard that I have never come across, as a British artist I have travelled all over the world, but mainly perform in Asia, from China, Philippines and Japan, as well as all over Europe attending many different art festivals.
Jamal Sha the standard you have created is extraordinary and you have certainly shown dedication to make this festival happen.
When I attended one of the music performances I sat there realising how extraordinary this event was, and that Jamal and his dedicated team had managed to bring together a high standard of performances from many different practices from all over the world.
I can only describe it like having a meal that has many spices, some hot, some bland but somehow the organisers have managed to create a taste that everyone can experience, some for the first time.
I am touched by the dedicated team of volunteers that have been looking after myself and artists attending the festival has been faultless.
I have been educated from many artists including the artwork currently shown at the PNCA . I am humbled by the immense organisation that has been involved in getting people to Islamabad, not just the artists but also the artwork that is on show throughout the festival.
For myself I pray that I leave Pakistan transformed and changed by the Islamabad art festival. I want to return to the UK and say to the British council that now there is a door open to the art festival, we have had British artists attending, so now let’s getting moving and lets us embrace the Islamabad Art Festival in Pakistan.
(Translated from film in my own archive, though tided up some words as I was ad-libbing. as I was asked to talk ten minutes beforehand!)
The whole experience was just incredible, I am still filtering it, even writing this blog I realised there is so much more to say, so many more stories to tell it will be impossible. I will try and do some very short version, as there were so many performances I want to share and discuss, but I feel I have jammed a lot into this blog, though its taken over a year to write, at last and finally I am pleased to get it together.
Jamal and his close team of co-organizers were just amazing, the dedication was faultless, after all this was an historic moment for Islamabad holding such a festival of the arts. The closing ceremony blew my mind as I was given an unexpected award to acknowledge my performance "Behind the mask of white rabbit is a Shaman" After ten years of performing on the International festival scenes, this was a first.
"THANK YOU AIF19"
I will leave you with the image bellow, such a happy bunny!
Spike Mclarrity is a duration based conceptual performance artist.