Can you tell us about the InTRANSIT Festival?
The InTRANSIT Festival is a festival of arts in unexpected places. It commissions work from both emerging and established artists and companies. It’s in its tenth season and was founded by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to encourage active participation in the arts.
The Portobello Pavilion is seen as a community-focused version of the Serpentine Pavilion; how essential was it to your curatorial vision that a local artist, Arabella Dorman, design the pavilion?
That’s an interesting question – working with local artists and arts organisations is an important part of what InTRANSIT does as a festival, but it’s not at all a condition of commission; Arabella was the right artist for the job because of her background and current practice, not because of her postcode. An important part of the Portobello Pavilion project is that we are working with the residents of the local area, directly engaging with them in selecting both a theme and choosing an artist. The whole project has almost been co-designed by a large number of enthusiastic, knowledgeable and inspiring local people. It is a community-focused pavilion in that local people are involved in its commissioning, its very public build process and in that its central purpose is to facilitate active participation and dialogue.
The InTRANSIT Festival is now in its tenth year, and this is your third year as co-curator; how has the festival evolved to respond to the changing interests and needs of the People of Portobello?
I’d like to think that with every year that we curate this, the residents of Kensington and Chelsea feel more ownership of the work, more included in the work, and can begin to look forward to it as an annual highlight. One thing that we’re trying to do is to create as much local value out of the art we curate and produce here, as possible. I don’t want to bore you with business models too much, but in last year’s festival, 94 per cent of its core funding (i.e., its grant from the council) was invested directly into the local economy through using local suppliers and working with local artists. On top of this operational model, the artistic practice of the festival is to commission work that is site-responsive, ensuring that the work changes with the environment and times in which we live.
What was your inspiration for this year’s theme, ‘Strange Bedfellows: The Attraction of Opposites’?
We like to choose themes each year that are open to many different interpretations but somehow rooted in the local area, or which allude to current events that are happening within society at large, as a whole.
The festival coincides with UK Refugee Week (20th to 26th June); how will the workshops and events resonate with the refugee crisis?
A core value of the festival is to celebrate communities and encourage exchange of ideas. Everybody is welcome, and everybody is encouraged to participate. I think refugee week has a poignancy, considering the fact that Kensington and Chelsea has, I believe, the highest number of non-British passport holding residents in the UK. Adrift, a 50-strong cast of singers in a tunnel, explores loneliness and isolation; In Memory of Leaves, an intimate, site-specific work by Natasha Langridge, deals with first-hand experience of refugee camps, and The Portobello Pavilion this year will host a variety of discussions and workshops.
What are the greatest challenges in making the festival exciting and relevant for visitors of all ages?
The most difficult thing about the project is getting enough sleep!!
If a visitor could only attend one workshop or event, which would you recommend as encompassing the key themes of the festival?
Can I cheat? I think if you’re going to one event, you may as well make a day of it, especially if you’ve come from elsewhere, so I’d propose the following itinerary for Saturday 25th June:
Start at this year’s Portobello Pavilion, the Arc, and take part in a workshop at around 2pm.
4.30pm: Proceed to Coleville Gardens and watch Carnival Journeys – an outdoor performance inspired by Commedia dell’Arte and devised by local theatre creators and directors from Complicité with the V&A.
5.30pm: Pass by this year’s Portobello Wall Commission by Albert Kueh as you proceed to visit the Edenenham Clubroom by Trellick Tower to visit at an immersive exhibition of art inspired by Trellick Tower from artists Andy Aderinto, Charlie Warde and James Torrance.
7.30pm: Pop into Acklam Village Market to experience Pinhead, a bizarre party experience where bureaucrats and ‘members of the establishment’ hold a festival of Punk.
Site-responsive artwork has been a recurring aspect of your career, from the Secret Cinema to the Surrealist Taxi; what drives your passion for this mode of artistic communication?
We started off making an expensive product that was pricey but worthwhile to attend, but realised that the power of site-responsive art is that it is visceral and engaging. With our work in Kensington and Chelsea, we are able to make site-responsive work that is accessible to everyone, since almost all of our events are free.
In addition to your curatorial work, you’re a renowned librettist and poet; what are you currently working on?
I’m writing the text for a choral work by Dai Fujikura that has been co-commissioned by the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus and Philadelphia chamber choir, The Crossing. It’s loosely based on Winterreise by Wilhelm Müller and Japanese onomatopoeia.
Do you think the future of art is interdisciplinary in nature?
The InTRANSIT Festival will run from Friday 17th to Sunday 26th June 2016.