Tag Archives: Arts

A Year in Review: 2015

A review of 2015 in pictures

I’ve been feeling exhausted, all told. I’ve been ignoring my own advice, part through necessity, part through illness and injury, part through late capitalism’s construction of freelance work and it’s propensity for self-exploitation (shut up Hannah). Anyway, I was talking to a friend the other day and they said ‘how are you’ and I said ‘exhausted and I’m not proud of that’ because I was barely hanging on with my fingertips, after a year of almost no time off (and rarely a weekend day off too), and I think it’s bad to say that like it’s anything to proud of, and then they said ‘but you are aware you did a lot of super cool stuff, aren’t you’ and I paused all of the worker’s guilt for a second and then said ‘thank you’ and ‘I should probably spend a bit of time in the 12 days I have off just having a bit of a think about that’. So that’s this. My 2015. I’m writing it with a glass of wine, surrounded by my mum, brother, animals, and while Muppets Christmas Carol plays on the TV. That seems ok.

So, in no strict order, here’s some things I did

Winter/Spring:

  • Worked with The Space as a producer, both helping them to asses the applications to their Open Call and WIRED fellowship programs, as well as trying very hard to make the case for games, and other forms of digital art that Big Art are less likely to have come across.
  • I wrote some articles for The Space on the rise of the DIY/contemporary art end of games, and of a list of cool games for art folk who are non-gamers to play. As well as, later in the year, something I’m glad I got to say about DIY music and touring theatre for Fuel.
  • Wrote this poem, which I’m proud of.
  • Made a brand new 90 minutes of theatre called Equations for a Moving Body which ended up being about the people you carry with you who help you do extraordinary things. Solidarity, really. As part of this I collaborated with Third Angel, a filmmaker, 5 theatres, and won the Title Pending award. I also funded this through successful applications to both the Arts Council and the Wellcome Trust
  • Made a brand new piece of community-based sound work called Your Home From Here in collaboration with Daniel J Harvey (music) and Parkin (illustration), and ran free workshops, as part of a Ridges+Furrows commission for my home county! For the town I went to sixth form in: North Hykeham.
  • Spoke on an Almeida panel on computing/networked technology and how it’s re-shaping the way we live
  • Guested as part of Pony Boy Curtis’ new work at the Yard, writing and delivering a short piece of writing
  • Continued to support Third Angel as a board member, and also joined Something Other’s advisors, to support the super cool things Mary Paterson and Maddy Costa are doing around criticism online.
  • Ran a workshop on Storytelling With Science in Stockton-on-Tees for ARC, and did a bit of mentoring.

Summer/Autumn:

  • Trained for and completed a fucking full-length triathlon in 14 hours and 7 minutes
  • Published a zine of my collected writing called ‘Selfie’ – named after one of the poems inside.
  • Rode 210km – a new furthest ever, a month later
  • Performed/Spoke at the V&A and Now Play This on games/politics/poetry.
  • Wrote 5 Game Poems for a Wellcome Late on Play
  • Wrote 3 Game Poems alongside a scientist researching new antibiotics to help promote his ‘swab+send’ project that crowd sources the search for new bacteria to help develop new antibiotics.
  • Chapters on interactive performance for two books, DIY Too, and another forthcoming book edited by Ananda Breed
  • I was the resident speaker at Videobrains for 6 months, introducing (what I am proud to say I think were) high quality writing and performances proposing interesting and different reactions to the way we talk and think about games. This involved going on 6 walks across the country/ROI, and a substantial amount of work to support the process.
  • I started a Patreon and got some amazing support from ace backers, to produce a series on space and place and their effect on game designers
  • Got those picked up as a series of RPS articles! RPS! How cool!
  • Did a skills exchange with a friend of mine to teach them more about writing/presenting.

Winter:

  • Produced a Zine of that, which I’m SUPER excited about and which will be for sale as soon as I can afford to print it (free to Patreon backers).
  • Co-written and delivered a module for Goldsmiths, and 2 community storytelling projects for UEL. UEL students said the words to me “this has literally changed my life, I’m literally going to live my life differently”. Also mentored a game jam at UAL, which was much fun. And produced a small commission for Chichester University.
  • Performed a brand new 20 minute piece called Oh Breeze at Beta Public, as well as earlier in the year, performing an extract of Equations for a Moving Body in the Spring edition of Beta Public
  • Wrote a series of 3 critical responses to the super cool If You Go Away by Invisible Flock
  • Started road racing on my bike!
  • Moved house
  • Had a medium-serious accident on my bike, but got back on and started racing again.
  • Started the first half of a Social Housing Arts Network residency on an estate in Poplar; story collecting, running game design and poetry workshops, and making some kind of game-thing out of what I gather.

So…. That’s probably all quite good isn’t it? I learned lots of things, made headway in games – which was my big aim of the year, I made a lot of brand new things in ways I feel are important, and/or about things I think are important. I supported others doing so where I could, and did some big milestone-type things which were important to me.

Now I look forward. To some exciting things in 2016 (and many other things I haven’t invented yet), such as:

  • A revised Patreon offer – which I’m going to write ASAP, expanding on my games writing work, with some really exciting/cool stuff.
  • A curated game jam between theatre makers and game designers which I’m going to run in January in association with Winchester Theatre Royal. Which involves actually paying the designers and makers involved (line in the sand)
  • Speaking at The Story conference
  • Taking part in an ongoing network around artist activists working in housing/housing activism
  • The culmination of my community game design project, in March 2016
  • A professional development project – hopefully funded, I’m going to try learning to code well enough to use things like Unity well.
  • More game writing – critical and creative, for various outlets!
  • A game design project — in late 2016 I’m going to hopefully start something with my new skills!
  • A UK tour of Equations for a Moving Body, including a week’s run in London, and hopefully and Edinburgh festival outing
  • A book! I may have an exciting announcement in Spring about a book of my very own, from an exciting and notable publisher.
  • More teaching – I’m co-writing another module at the moment, plus also am guest lecturing at UEL, Chichester, and with a possibility of some work at Warwick.
  • More bike racing! Better bike racing! Less falling off!

And also, this year, this is the first year past I’ve earned enough to truly get by in London. Next year, I am going to get a handle on my finances enough to build up some reserves. It sounds boring (it is boring) but it will allow me to do things like take some time off if I’m ill or injured, or just need some time. So it’s a pragmatic way of dealing with the problems of now. Rather than a big-picture late capitalism solve (quiet, Hannah).

I hope I will continue to make kind good inventive and engaging arguments about the place of art/games in society.
I hope I will continue to make socially engaged work that can listen and respond to its contexts
I hope I will continue to teach others with integrity and attention and care about the things I believe are important
I hope I find time to act politically and socially in ways that aren’t about my practice
I hope I continue to progress in my sports!
I hope I can be a kind and good friend, sister, cousin and daughter.
I hope I can be a careful and good person.
I hope I laugh lots.
I hope I learn lots.

To 2015. Towards 2016. Let’s go.

It’s hard to be human, isn’t it?

It’s a bitterly cold, drizzly grey day in Stockton-on-Tees, and I’m walking as I talk to Naz (with a zed) about the place she’s from. It’s colder than I expected, somehow I never believe the UK to be large enough to have a substantial temperature difference (maybe its a midlander thing). As we walk, she talks, and I listen while adjusting the grey bobble hat I’ve bought from a Heart Foundation shop, absent-mindedly planning to cut the small tartan bow off the tassels as soon as possible.

Naz is short, she comes up to about my shoulder, and a minute or so ago I stood in the market square and asked if she has the time to tell me a story. I’ve explained that I’m collecting stories for a show I’m making at ARC theatre – most people have heard of the place, and if I get a chance to get past “I’m not selling anything and I’m not collecting for a charity” most people seem to acknowledge the theatre as an ok thing to be associated with and agree to chat. I explain to Naz I have some questions, just simple ones, to start from. Naz says that she has to be somewhere soon, but if I’m happy to walk and talk then she’s fine to help out. Happy to be recorded. We set out, pausing awkwardly at corners like you do when one person of two walking doesn’t know where you’re heading.

Naz has a light blue headscarf, pencil drawn black eyeliner, and is wearing a chunky black coat that almost buries her. I ask her some of the questions on my piece of paper. “Where would you say you’re from”? “Stockton, here” “What does that mean to you?” “It’s hard to say, it’s hard to say isn’t it? Stockton is… it’s multicultural, I’m proud to be from here, well, it’s difficult isn’t it, proud is a complicated word – this is my home, I don’t know anywhere else.” She weighs her words again and again, it’s her home, but sometimes she doesn’t feel welcome “around the time of the 7/7 bombings, it was difficult. My children suffered, things people said. People would see you in the street and only see one thing.”

Then earlier that day, shivering and pondering the charity shop I’ll buy 2 hats from in a moment (Keir, the 3rd member of the team and from Cornwall originally, brought his own), I stop two lads. I make an effort to stop people that I would feel a little threatened by as well as the ones I don’t mind asking, though invariably they turn out to be just as scary-not-scary as everyone else. These two are two I would probably cross the road from. If I saw them walk up the steps to the top of the bus when it was just me, I’d probably not get my iPhone out. And I’d think about security cameras, and whether or not the bus driver actually watches them. They look like the kind of people I’m scared would hurt me because I’m a woman.

They stop, and talk. There’s bravado, but they’re friendly and jokey. In the beginning mainly one of them answers me, but by the end both are joining in. Nicky tells me he’s just out of the army, both he and his mate are unemployed. There’s a long thin scar on the right side of his face. They’re from a local estate and when I ask them about Stockton they tell me “everyone is on the brown, all bagheads mate”. I ask them what the biggest injustice is in Britain to them, and they say it’s the NHS failing, “it’s the immigrants, isn’t it? That’s why we vote UKIP”, they explain how Stockton didn’t used to be like this, there used to open shops, jobs, “but then they came, and now everything is worse.” I ask Nicky about his regiment, he was 2 Yorks, most of his family are in the armed services. He says “the army changed my perspective, they teach you about all sorts of things, like how lucky we are, I can understand why people would want to come here, they have it a lot tougher.” Nicky’s friend, it turns out, wants to study, he wants to emigrate to Australia. Nicky wants to be a business man “not for the money though, money’s not the thing, I want to find something I enjoy, something rewarding”.

Two days later and I’m now staring at a transcription of these two conversations – we’ve had many others – extracts of all of them will make it into the Name Song which introduces every person who spoke to us. Things stand out – common themes, interesting outliers, but these two people… There’s something about Nicky and Naz which has encapsulated Stockton, for me. Sean and Keir have also relayed their conversations back to the room, we’ve talked about each person, described them, picked out certain things they’ve said, we’ve built a wall of post its of key images, sentences, reactions, and moved them around into collected headings.

We’ve done this in one city before – in South London, and we’ll do it in one more (Bradford) before trying to find a version of a show to in week four, in Leeds. London had a lot of themes. Londoners were more willing to stop and talk to us, and though there were homeless, jobless, people scratching a wage in the UK despite academic and professional acclaim in Pakistan or Greece; there was a greater variety of subject matter – people asked “what do you think the biggest injustice is today, in Britain?” answer mutlifold; poverty, bedroom tax, the way people treat me because I’m a drug addict, inequality, the way women are treated, that I had to leave everything behind because there were no jobs, post office privatisation, and the woman whose favourite person in the world was Tony Blair, because he was the only one to offer the Sierra Leone people asylum.

But back to Stockton, Wednesday. We look at our wall of post its. In London there were 12 or more themes, here, 5: Miscellaneous, hopelessness, unemployment, immigration, poverty. It’s tough to live here.

A picture of several post its bearing quotes from people we interviewed

I’ve had an idea for a song; ‘From Here’. I sketch out what might be a chorus, and 4 verses – made up of words from Nicky followed by words from Naz. Keir and Sean play around with riffs and rhythm while I’m writing, then we come together, they like the chorus and we spend some time getting them to fit in with a rhythm that would work to launch the song – a mix of screamy phrases and fast-spoken verbatim quotes. Then we fit together a song around the spoken word which filters into explosions of sound and driving, thoughtful spacious music.

We it run through. We have a long conversation about the final reflective verse where I want to say that Nicky is just as complicated as the next person, just because some of his views might sound racist or intolerant to your average middle class lefty, he’s so much more than we think – I want to say that to myself and others. One of the hardest things is where to situate ourselves – declare our presence in the work – that the stories are all in response to questions we set, where our observations and words verbatim end and begin, and about our responsibility to individual people, and a whole place. Keir thinks I shouldn’t assume what anyone thinks not even ‘us’, and I sort of agree, except I sort of know I do think these things about Nicky, somewhere, and that’s why I make theatre like this. To face it myself, and show it to others.

In the end we find a way to say it which is fairer. Run it through once more. The last chorus rings out “I’m proud, I’m proud I live here”. And we move onto a song about all the people who said ‘no’ to our invitation to talk to us.

That week in Stockton I also run a workshop for local artists on ‘contemporary community theatre – in an increasingly digital, distributed, and urban age, what could community theatre look like’. In it, I quote Graeme Miller – a sound artist whose work like Linked and Desire Paths I class as a kind of digital/distributed community theatre.

“a place does not exist until it is imagined and named and that all of the copses, knolls and paths that have been walked and named are the mark points of human experience and the markstones of lives lived. These real spaces have become ‘unnamed’ with the passing of time, becoming less plausible than the centralised reality of the media and the transitory, frantic nature of living today.”

Miller talks elsewhere about places of passing – how the less we pass (and digital technology can often disrupt this as it offers us a better place of passing – passing people with whom we agree, or feel like we have a greater connection than just space) people, the more we believe the “centralised reality of the media” – the one that tells us about Them. The Racists. The Immigrants. The Tories. The Northerners. The Scottish. The Feminists. The Russians. The Women. The Men. Through Hollywood, internet, newspaper or daytime TV. The media will never be as true as the reality of individual people, nor could it be. That’s why we need to tell and listen to our own stories.

And that, roughly, is why Sean, Keir and I are shivering in the British rain, asking people about what it means to be where they’re from. What their hopes are. What angers them. And why we’re making punk songs about them. Because punk, like the ballad forms of old, is for and about everyone who wants it. The show, when finished, will be called Songs For Breaking Britain. We mean it both ways.

As Naz leaves me to walk toward the low run down terraces that carry out from the back of ARC, she says the words “it’s hard to be human, isn’t it”.

It is hard. And it is complicated. And we need to own that. Carry it. Pass it on.

Here’s that song (lyrics also included) recorded incredibly roughly. We’ve got 2 more weeks working on it in Bradford, then Leeds. Hopefully we’ll have a video for you at the end of it. Thanks for reading.

This project has been supported by and developed at OvalHouse, Theatre in the Mill, ARC Stockton, and Slung Low’s HUB. With support from Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts, and Third Angel. And with additional collaborators Hannah Jane Walker and Alexander Kelly. Hannah Nicklin and Company is Hannah Nicklin, Keir Cooper, and Sean Arnold. The show is called Songs For Breaking Britain.