Something lovely came to Bristol.. Mayfest’s ‘Fortnight’, creativity and new beginnings.

Brought to Bristol by Proto-Type Theatre, from the outset the Fortnight project required something of a personal leap of faith:

Something poetic, beautiful and strange is coming to Bristol.
It will encourage you to peel back the layers of where you live.
To look for secrets
To meet someone new.
Or hide in a crowd.
On 2 May, Fortnight comes to Bristol.
And you are invited…

For someone who had never attended or been involved with a production incorporating direct participatory audience engagement or ‘live’ art, I was a little apprehensive yet excited at the prospect of my first Mayfest experience. Having been fascinated if a little overwhelmed by the Arnolfini workshop ‘writing on the body earlier in the year, I was ready to once again dip my toe into the unknown in spite of the fact I originally felt like something of an inadvertent artistic philistine.  Whilst the concept of an interaction which was ‘beautiful, poetic and strange’ was appealing, for me, the Fortnights project’s main attraction was the promise of the exploration of place and the opportunity to find greater meaning.  On a few weeks break from my PhD research on doctors orders I figured that I really didn’t have much to lose in taking part (apart from the £15.00 ticket fee) but also admittedly didn’t really have great expectations as to what was to come.

Mysterious beginnings

Fortnight began with a mysterious personalised handwritten letter delivered at midnight, containing a felt badge and instructions as to the next day’s events. The following two weeks unfolded almost moment by moment. Everyday a new location to explore coupled with interactive media based tasks that required us to think, imagine, remember, see, appreciate and reflect on both Bristol as a place and on our on our own reactions to the activity and the resulting thoughts and feelings. Philosophical prose was emailed daily, along with beautiful poetry. A visit to the fountains revealed hundreds of yellow rubber ducks bobbing happily (ours for the taking).  We were encouraged to participate as much or as little as we wished, to play, to create and contribute through film, sound, and visual art, and tweet our comments anonymously on the shared fortnight twitter page, as well as receiving and conversing daily through text messages and emails with the mysterious ‘Fortnight’ who after such regular, personal and often individual contact the absence of which left something of a void after the project came to an end. Taking themes such as space vs. place, nostalgia, the daily commute, spirituality, time,  and meaning , participants were encourage to explore the city both physically and temporally discovering new secrets, hidden places, ourselves and quite often each other. Cumulating in a final group goodbye on the 17th story floor of Castlmead the participants were treated to a spectacular 360 degree view of the city, a party buffet and media presentations of the individual and co-produced contributions that had been made – all of this without  any assistance from the secret Fortnight hosts.  Who continued in the typical fortnight guise of being virtually present, yet corporeally absent.

Writing this now a few weeks after the fortnight project finished I am still a little lost for words in actually defining what Fortnight was and adequately describing its impact and value.  On reflection I came to few key areas of significance that either stood out and I took away with me the following thoughts and contemplations from my experience.

It’s performance Jim, but not as we know it…

As the days went by, there was a continual ongoing debate amongst participants as to what the Fortnight experience actually was and how it could be defined.  The project was in fact so many things.  It was ‘live art’ although I would argue that this was co-creation of performance rather straight audience participation (in my head there is a difference between these two concepts but I’ve no idea if it really exists or if my explanation communicates that well..) but the experience also simultaneously contributed to social, economic and community development as well as having an environmental agenda.  For example the *trail* led us to mostly free, important and perhaps under used resources – a church, a local independent cafe, public spaces and parks, museums and collections, and on the way we passed  local exhibitions and information for local creative support networks, casting offices, records offices, and other various places that may help us on our individual artistic journey.  Additionally some of the tasks may have also passed comfortably as public consultation techniques on the notion of place and the city, and the ‘council planner’ in me would have been interested to see the full list of  opinions on ’non-places’ and the reasons for living in Bristol that were identified by some of the participants.

So on a practical note it seemed to be contributing a wider benefit other than just on an individual psycho-geographic level.  Whilst it was very much an individual experience on one hand, the interaction amongst participants strengthened knowledge of local resources, senses of local and personal  identity  and community ties (having completed the project 30 people signed up to a facebook group in a bid to keep the communitas and creativity going). It also was a great incentive to walk and got participants exercising, as people explored the city from location to location each day. My feet were sore on more than one occasion.

The project has been an excellent demonstration of the opportunities of art in a community setting and how it can be applied to the benefit of others. My previous knowledge of art was not extensive and to be honest I may have secretly thought that at time it could be a little elitist and a bit self indulgent so the power of it and its possibilities I didn’t really appreciate before.  So perhaps rather than trying to define what in fact Fortnight was I was left with a broader question:  What is art? and who is it for?

Whilst I have few criticisms of the project, we should allow for context to a certain extent. Mayfest was an ideal platform from which to launch the project and Bristol of course already has a strong cultural identity and arts scene.  If the aim of the project was to continue to try and reap some of these broader community benefits, It would be interesting to see if the success of Fortnight could be repeated in other less ‘desirable’ or overtly ‘arty’ cities.


How does technology change the way we relate to self and other?  

A key point to the experience was the projects reliance and use of pervasive media.  This made the experience more ‘magical’ in one sense but also highly personal in another. The *challenge* or key thinking point for me was the role that technology plays in human communications and its impact on relationships. It was surprising how quickly I became used to, and looked forward to the daily communication via email and text and how despite trying not to, my ‘Fortnight’ represented  a person I had connected to. Perhaps my connection with Fortnight was that of a literary lover who wrote beautiful heartbreaking poetry, or a friend or parent who encouraged my creative endeavour. Either way it got me thinking about the role of technology and the distortion, interpretation or enhancement of human connection – virtual, imagined, temporal or not.

The consequence of these communications was also something that I thought about. What happens once the text/email/tweet/blog is out there, broadcast or published and you are unable to take it back? Do es the potency and meaning of the message change over time or is captured and kept for as long as the message exists in its virtual domain?

Creativity and play in artistic recovery, innovation and everyday life

So on to the most significant aspect of the project for me.  The role of play and outright silliness in the development and production of creative ideas.  Here I think it’s important to define the difference between ‘art’ and ‘creativity’.  Or is it? Oops have I come back to the ‘What is art question again?’  Artists of course, need to be creative and to create, but engineers also need to be creative to design, social scientists need to be creative to solve problems, to an extent creativity is necessary for everyday life, whether for problems solving, self expression or sharing with others.  So perhaps another lens to look on Fortnight, the *art* of fortnight is its facilitation of creativity amongst participants regardless of background. The emphasis on art that does not/should not take itself to seriously was in my opinion one of its strengths.. especially (can I say it?) at a festival like Mayfest. Brilliant productions. But how accessible are they to a wider audience? Is a wider audience welcome at such a festival?  Should it be encouraged? (Just asking the question)

Fortnight was both empowering and grounding, and a reminder that even the most highbrow/contemporary artistic ideas or productions often started off with a rubber duck in a bath (and nobody should ever be too *arty* or educated or experienced for a duck bath. No. No. No)

A further question that struck me was:  Who is the artist? Is the four year old child drawing on the wall with crayon an artist? Is the student an artist? or is an artist made when her peers agree her work is significant or when she secures her first commercial commission/role?  Perhaps there are different debates depending on how you look at it. For me. I decided that creativity realised in any sense no matter what scale, equals art in whatever form – and that is all.

Conclusion – I’ve been wearing my pyjamas for the past 100 years…

Oh okay, so 100 years is a bit of an exaggeration, and they are metaphorical pyjamas of course… but my key conclusion is thus..  On reflection, prior to the project I did feel like I had been sleep walking through life.. Fortnight promised to peel back the layers of where we live revealing new meanings and hidden secrets, and it did just that. In addition it gave me new confidence to create, embrace the potential of technology, removed my block, got me out of the house, renewed my appreciation of where I live and my sense of identity and place. It created new lasting social networks in my local community.  Fortnight reminded me that Bristol represents a city of possibility if only I can retain my sense of being present long enough to notice it. It was a potent reminder that when your expectation is to create rather than to achieve, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And so to the future.

After such an experience what next? I decided to set up this blog. To tweet with other artists and pester them nicely in the hope that I will learn things.  To see my new friends regularly. To consolidate my creative endeavours and remember possibilities I had long since buried. To apply the principles I had been reminded of to my everyday life and improve my efficiency at work. To make a plan for the future.

So that’s it. My first blog entry , dedicated to the Fortnight project…


Oh and one last thing… As long as you do understand of course… that I do realise, that, at the end of the day – it was just a project, right?

You know – an arts project?

Because magic….Magic doesn’t really exist.

Does it?

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