Monkfish Annual Report 2020/21
“From a Gourd, Comes a Horse.”
A response to Jayne Dent’s Augmented Reality (part two is around you)
(part of Monkfish’s Producing Place programme)
By Claire Murphy-Morgan (Artistic Director)
For a while now Monkfish has been working with artists to make new work in response to places and spaces. This usually involves a specific physical environment and working with the community connected to it such as a workplace, a village hall, a community centre or a nature reserve.
So when I received an audio commissioning opportunity as a birthday gift, I jumped at the chance to pass this onto Monkfish so we were able to work with another exciting artist and them if they would like to identify a place or space for a change: somewhere that struck accord, real or imagined.
Jayne Dent is an interdisciplinary artist, musician and composer based in Newcastle upon Tyne, working across sound, performance, print and digital collage. She regularly performs and releases music as Me Lost Me, and delights in experimenting with genre; taking influence from folk, electronica, art pop, ambient and noise music to create a beguiling mix of soaring vocals, synth, field recordings and hypnotic rhythms* I had the pleasure of seeing Me Lost Me live at Cobalt Studios in Newcastle pre-pandemic, and an album features in our household vinyl collection.
Jayne and I met on Zoom a couple of times and chatted about place and, in light of what has come to pass in the last 12 months, the notion of liminality: places and states that exist in between. Jayne went away and developed some ideas, sending across a sound file and accompanying image with the idea of making a piece to experience whilst out walking.
Augmented Reality accompanies the listener through liminal spaces of their choosing, actively encouraging the interruption of sounds and impressions from the environment around the listener to ‘finish assembling’ the piece*
It embraces zoning out and distraction as much as it encourages us to notice things more vividly, the traffic, birds and other environmental sounds and sights that greet us at the bus stop or on our walks. It is constructed of almost entirely digital sounds, with synthesised orchestral instruments as well as artificial static and synthesisers. The only organic sound we hear is the voice, which comes with layers of digital distortion and texture embedded within it, acting as the bridge between the listeners environment and the digital augmented reality space*
The piece is in part inspired by the practice of building grottos and follies; superficial and decorative buildings and augmentations to the landscape by wealthy landowners which give the illusion of a history that is not present, sometimes already built in a romantic ‘ruined’ state. It is inspired too by tales of defiance of trespass laws, roaming and rambling and the importance of reclaiming common land for public use. The audio work is accompanied by a lino print which acts as both a graphic performance score and word-cloud, titled “Augmented reality part one (part two is around you)”*
Claire’s response: Augmented Reality (part 2 all around)
So on a sunny midweek afternoon, I don my headphones and head for the local park. Spring is all around us: the cutting March wind and the yellow burst of life. But having just lost our beloved dog a month ago and being surrounded by waggy tails welcoming the vernal equinox, I still feel the sting of winter.
My walk to the park is certainly augmented: bigger and louder than usual. The sound of children playing in the nearby school playground is pronounced between the peaks and fall of the sonic landscape, and the postman shouting at someone to stop looking at their phone as he was getting out of his van (I am not sure if it was me that he was shouting at) is stereophonic. A gorgeous Jack Russell dog looks me straight in the eye at the end of its lead as it trots round the corner with its human. It looks at me as if it can sense that I am a dog person without a dog. It is at this point that I realise that the instruction to get out and walk has augmented my sense of loss: that I have to find another purpose for walking.
In listening to the soundscape I find myself using my iPhone to take pictures that resonate with the experience of listening and to gather ideas in response. This makes me cross with myself that I didn’t do the proper thing and bring a notebook to jot things down instead. But true to the purpose of the sound piece, I notice things. I notice the tall CCTV camera bearing down over the courts but still don’t really notice what the courts are for: tennis I think, but it might be basketball. The audio piece is teaching me what I do notice and what it says about my priorities and values as an individual; swept along by the panic of mass surveillance and creeping authoritarianism whilst forgetting to play team games and have some fun.
Then I realise that this is evidence that the inspiration for Jayne’s piece is seeping through. I realise I am walking in a park gifted to Gateshead by rich Victorians. That my listening experience is private, separating me from the public space via a wall of sound, whilst ironically connecting me to natural space through a variation of drowning out people’s voices or mediating them within a soundtrack. The vocals on the piece are ghostlike, to give the illusion that the otherwise synthesised sound remaps a landscape that once was. Or an idea of the landscape that once was where no land was gifted as it already belonged to everyone: the days of common land for common purpose, with private property as alien a concept as the sounds in my headphones would be to the nearest passer-by.
In The Book of Trespass, Nick Hayes writes:
“These are the stories of the commons, folk stories, the stories that come not from the castle, but from the plains, the collective voice of the people. They are the stories of insurrection and civil disobedience, the histories of the collective vision that won us our rights, the stories that are rarely told or taught in schools. They defy our division, they tell us that the people, as one, have power.”
But seeing the CCTV camera overlooking the commoners on their afternoon stroll, I am struck by the implications of not sharing stories and spaces, as Hayes points out:
“The fences and walls that are strangling our land are constricting our connection to the stories that can heal us, the magic that can link us once again to the land and to each other.”
It is then perhaps somewhat ironic that I end my listen at the entrance to a garden set within the park dedicated to the friendship between this town and a town of similar size in Japan. Young saplings and rocks symbolise mountains and rivers, a small stone lantern stands by a round of gravel to represent a tea ceremony by a lake. I am again struck by the idea of an imagined space, in this instance transcending the separated-ness of a rich man’s folly to arrive at a place of commonality.
The information board sets out a map of cordiality numbering the landmarks and ending with the Japanese proverb: “From a Gourd, comes a Horse.” This vivid image explains the idea that good things come from unexpected places. I am immediately reminded of the last 12 months, and the goodness and commonality of so many people that has found its way through: over the wall, under the fences and around the divisions that so often permeate our daily life. I think of the liminal nature of our current time: its problems and all of its possibilities.
*These are Jayne’s words that she has used to describe her work
Listen to Augmented Reality HERE
Hayes, Nick (2020): The Book of Trespass. Bloomsbury Publishing
On this cold February half-term, why not have a go at these 2 creative activities from our Going the Social Distance artist Josie Brookes: you could also brighten up someone else's day too with a bright, welcoming poster or a personalised gift!
It's #HeartUnions week, and we are delighted to share the news that we are registered to join Artist's Union England's Good Practice Charter. Our Artistic Director Claire tells us more in this short film:
and here are the 6 core principles of AUE Good Practice Charter:
“At such times the universe gets a little closer to us. They are strange times, times of beginnings and endings. Dangerous and powerful. And we feel it even if we don't know what it is. These times are not necessarily good, and not necessarily bad. In fact, what they are depends on what *we* are.” – Terry Pratchett
I think that this quote sums up so much about the current situation that we are all in, the challenges that we face, the choices we have and the hope and optimism we can choose to hold in our hearts for the strangest of starts to a new year.
Monkfish is ready to face the challenges, and to use our creativity and resilience in going forward in 2021.
Looking forward to the next couple of months, we continue to run sessions with young people as part of Going the Social Distance online workshops programme. We hope that these sessions will continue to provide much needed respite for participants with creative approaches to dealing with the current turbulent times that we are in. We have had great fun so far, from creating characters and a group poem, to bucket lists and origami cats! We have also had the opportunity to explore anxiety, pressure, things we do to cope and how to be a good friend. We are looking forward to more great sessions with artists Josie, Kema and Jennifer: WARNING: sessions may contain snacks ;). Many thanks to The National Lottery Community Fund for supporting this project: follow #CommunitiesCan on social media.
We are honoured to be part of Newcastle City Council’s Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 programme. The theme for HMD2021 is Be the Light in The Darkness. We are currently working with artists Andy Berriman and Sky Hawkins to make a film that celebrates Newcastle as a city of hope and light: it will be going live here and on social media on Holocaust Memorial Day which is 27th January. Find out more about HMD2021: https://www.hmd.org.uk/
Monkfish is currently developing Producing Place: our approach to working in place and space contexts with artists and communities. People may not be able to be in physical places that they know and love, but those places and spaces have not left them! We have been working with our Creative Associate Nick Malyan and Monkfish Associate Artists in creating a draft framework for how Monkfish works in physical environments, and how we support artists and communities to maximise the creative opportunities of us working together. This strand of our work, and how it shapes who we are as an organisation, will become ever more important in the year ahead.
So times not all good, but not all bad. Throughout 2021, I suspect that Monkfish will feel the celestial pull of the universe getting ever closer.
Claire Murphy-Morgan (Artistic Director)
17 December 2020
Einstein said: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
We would be hard pressed to find a better quote to round off 2020 for Monkfish.
This year we have been able to pull off some of our best work yet: not bad for a new small arts charity in the North East of England in the middle of a global pandemic.
Our thanks to so many people who we have worked hard this year in helping us to continue to do what we do. There are a few people who deserve special mention:
Melanie Kyles and Josie Brookes: Our two artists in residence for A Little Bit of Good in the World. Both artists have been amazing leading on the development of this project. We have loved seeing the work that you have done with young people and online. We can’t wait to keep on working with you.
Kelly Coates and all of the team at Projects 4 Change: you are all amazing to work in partnership with and we can’t wait for the next adventure. Thanks so much to Paula Blair at Audiovisual Cultures for the podcast that set out this project so well: it helped us to shape our ideas going forward.
Josie alongside Jennifer Ironside and Kema Sikazwe: our artistic team for Going the Social Distance. Thanks to you all for delivering fun, engaging and supportive sessions for young people online, and for adapting to the virtual world of workshop delivery with all of its challenges.
Thanks alongside Kema to Rachel Brook, Mariae Smiarowska for facilitating A Little Bit of Good workshop as part of Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 – special thanks also to the folks at Good Space for helping us to make the 75 Memorial Flame as part of the HMD2020 national exhibition – you folks know who you are
Thanks to Tom Schofield and all of the students at MA Creative Practice at Newcastle University for adapting our would-have-been Late Shows project with such flexibility under such difficult circumstances. It was wonderful working with you all and we loved immersing ourselves in your creations
Amy Lord, our talented and efficient Social Media Associate who has helped us to reach so many more audiences and to think about how we do it. Thanks so much for your clarity: we can’t wait for more of it in 2020
Nick Malyan, our Creative Associate who has helped us to put the work we do in places and spaces on a much more strategic footing which will help us to improve our offer to artists and spaces/places for some time to come.
Thanks to Alison Flannagan-Wood at Newcastle City Arts Team for all your help and advice throughout, and thanks to Laura Cresser at Arts Council North East for advice and support.
Thanks of course to our funders Arts Council England, National Lottery Community Fund and Newcastle City Council. Thanks to Talbot Risk Solutions for your kind donation, which helped us to deliver our work and came at just the right moment.
Special thanks to Annie Rigby at Unfolding Theatre for the invaluable advice about fundraising: it came at just the right time and made all the difference. Thanks to Northern Stage’s Creative Team support for making this conversation possible.
Thanks to all of our friends at Orbis and Commercial Union House. You are absolute legends keeping it going! Special thanks also to our friends at Skimstone Arts for your generosity in sharing ideas and going forward.
Speaking of which….
We will be back on Monday 4th January 2021.
We have things in the pipeline, and we can’t wait to share them with you.
In the meantime, we want to wish everyone a happy and peaceful end to a very challenging year, and here’s to the next one.
With our best wishes
Claire, Susan, John, Mark and Simon (Monkfish Productions) x
This week we are getting into the festive mood, so here’s another one our art artist Josie Brookes' activities to get crafty!
In this post we’re making Christmas Baubles – easy to make with stuff you might well already have at home
To make the Christmas Bauble:
- Cut out one side of a cereal box (roughly A4 size) and make patterns all over the ‘cardboard’ side.
- Uses multiple colours to build up layers of colourful patterns
- Using the inside of a cellotape roll or the base of a mug, draw 4 circles in the patterned cardboard.
- Add extra bump to each circle edge
- cut out the 4 shapes
- place 2 back to back and cut out, make sure the bumps match in size when cutting.
- glue both sides together
- using a hole punch, punch out a hole in the protruding bump
- thread through some string or ribbon and tie together
- Repeat the process with your other 2 shapes to make a second bauble
And there you have it:
A wonderful homemade decoration to get you into the festive season!
Compliments of the season from all of us at Monkfish x
19 November 2020
As it’s November and the nights are longer, our very own #ALittleBitOfGood artist in residence Josie Brookes shares some fun and simple ideas for all to get us all creative using things we can find at home.
Why not give them a try!
1 Find a Smiley Face - Make a #Facie
Find a smiley face somewhere in your day.
It could be in the house:
Even in your lunch….
Or you might find it on a stroll outside…!
Why not take a snap of a 'scene' of objects or nature etc that looks like a smiley face and share your own #Facie with us when you find some of your own :-)
2 Send someone a Cereal box Postcard
Step 1: Grab any cardboard cereal box you might have at home:
Draw out a postcard size shape onto the box
Step 3: Cut out a postcard sized shape from a cardboard box
Step 4: Using another section of the box (or other junkmail) spell out HELLO - Hi, Hiya, Howdy!
And here it is! A lovely postcard!
So why not send it to someone ? :-)
3. Make a Toothbrush Painting - Instead of using a paintbrush, get creative and make use of that old toothbrush to make a colourful painting
Find some paint at home – any paint will do – and, of course, the toothbrush too !
Grab yourself some paper – any size will do
Put some paint on your toothbrush and start to see where your imagination might take you…
Here’s one we made earlier
You could even find your toothbrush a friend and mix colours
You could paint a garden of your own:
Or something a little more abstract:
We would love to see your creations! Simply take a picture of them and email them us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Luther King Jr said: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
It feels like the perfect quote to reflect on. Dark nights, lockdowns, the darkness of uncertainty around what lies ahead.
Speaking of stars, over the last few months Monkfish has had the privilege of working with some wonderful young people from Projects 4 Change: charity in the Outer West of Newcastle. They have been collaborating with our artist in residence Melanie Kyles on #ALittleBitOfGood: our project that asks each of us to think about how creativity can help us to do a little bit of good where we are and with what we’ve got.
Image: Melanie Kyles
Together with Blakelaw Young Mums Group, they have spent some time thinking about what’s good about their neighbourhood and their lives: friendship, nature reclaiming spaces and local heroes being 3 positive things that the young people reflected on. One such legend is Betty Playford: a lady who did so much for her local community, including organising trips and activities for children and young people who otherwise would have gone without. Betty is no longer with us, but her generosity of spirit shines on, and Bettys Hut, a new space for young people named in honour of her, is opening on Cowgate soon.
The young people co-made a banner with Melanie, sharing hope and inspiration with their local community and it will have pride of place in Bettys Hut when is opens. It was unveiled at the (socially distanced) Family Halloween Treasure Hunt from Blakelaw Centre, a lovely event hosted by Mrs. T’s Café and Newcastle Community Asset Trust. We were also delighted to have Cllr Linda Hobson there to help us with the unveiling.
In these difficult times I am reminded that young people and their communities are like stars fallen to earth, beacons of hope that light up our lives. Here is a close up of the lovely banner that they made, each hexagon connected and sharing what’s good and positive and hopeful for the days ahead.
Can you spot Betty….?
Artistic Director November 2020
Maya Angelou said: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
With the world in disarray right now, and arts and culture as a sector balancing precariously on a cliff edge, it would seem strange that as an arts organisation Monkfish has experienced the busiest 6 months that we have seen in a long time.
We started lockdown March 2020 as largely cancelled; cancelled projects, cancelled workshops and events. But within just a few short months we have managed to turn our fortunes around. So how did we manage it?
Our dedicated Board of Trustees and Artistic Director adapted to the current situation, seizing the moment as the potential for change and opportunity.
Our amazing community partners stayed with us on the journey and came up with some wonderfully creative – and safe - ideas about how we could all keep working together.
Arts Council England helped us to navigate unprecedented uncertainty. Thanks to their support we have been able to recruit a superb creative team who are helping us to develop and deliver our projects, and envision our future as an organisation, in ways we could have not even have imagined 6 months ago!
We have kept our eye on the future; future ideas for working with artists in places and spaces, for working with young people as active citizens, and for using arts and creativity as forces to effect positive change.
In times of deepest, darkest despair, where do many of us find solace? In that song, that piece of music, that poem, that comedy show, that film: and never more so than now. The adversities we are all facing today are asking of us that we come up with ever more inventive ways to create, connect, think and play our part as citizens in this uncertain world.
As Maya Angelou points out, creativity is the gift that keeps on giving.
Artistic Director October 2020