Experience the ‘Art of Six’ at Plymouth Art Weekender

It’s bold, it’s blatant and Covid-adjacent… and the show will go on 

While scores of major exhibitions and festivals across the land have cancelled, postponed or transferred online under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, one brave South West artistic celebration is storming ahead this month.

Plymouth Art Weekender, which runs from September 25 to 27, has taken the virus and lockdown – and people’s experiences of and reactions to both – as an inspiration and a catalyst for cutting-edge exploration. Organisers remain determined to share these responses, alongside a feast of the city’s grass roots artistic innovation, in a bold and timely way in a region where covid-19 rates have so far been lower than elsewhere in the UK.

Even with the challenge of the new ‘Rule of Six’ government guidelines, they are adamant that the ambitious show will go on… with appropriate care, of course. With 65 separate events taking place across more than 30 venues in the ocean city – some viewed at a distance – it’s more feasible to comply with social distancing, hygiene and protection measures than in a single, large-scale enclosed venue.

This makes the Weekender a fantastic opportunity to safely and comfortably tour a unique and outspoken variety of exhibitions, live and interactive creativity, workshops, conversations, community involvement and artworks by a diverse roster of artists at all stages of their careers, across five chief city districts.

Organisers suggest people plan their visit in advance – the festival listings went live on Saturday, September 12 – so take advantage of available bookings and watch out for last minute updates on the PAW 2020 website forum.

Visitors are being asked to come along with no more than five other people, and not to gather in groups of more than six during the festival. Individual venues, participating artists and festival volunteers will be following strict guidelines and implementing these rules too.

“Although this year has had a unique set of challenges, the festival team has ensured that we can go ahead by putting extensive amounts of time and care into ensuring the safety of PAW is carefully worked through,” said Lucy Stella Rollins on behalf of Plymouth Art Weekender Coordinators, Flock South West.

“We are putting extensive safety information together on our website to ensure visitors feel safe to attend, and if there are any worries, our team is on hand to respond. We have purposely put significant flexibility in place in how we list and advertise PAW events, to ensure we are not circulating information about projects which may lead people to turn up to events which have not been properly planned and risk assessed for Covid-19 secure measures.”

John Walter’s Lockdown Tarot readings. Credit: Dom Moore

Two of the festival’s key commissioned works are direct, topical responses to the pandemic:

London artist John Walter’s Lockdown Tarot is an engaging fortune-telling performance using the exclusive deck of tarot cards that he drew during lockdown using virtual reality software. The pack features images that allude to art history, popular culture and politics and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic using the artist’s trademark colour, humour and sheer absurdity. At individual readings, booked online, people can ask John (in drag costume that is jestered rather than gendered) – and the tarot – anything they like, opening up memorable and transformative conversations.

Harriet Rose Morley’s How did we, How do we and How will we care? will see large-scale posters displayed on the windows of Theatre Royal Plymouth and Plymouth College of Art, voicing the feelings of people in the city about their experience of caring. In light of the current situation, the project has evolved to encompass the urgency and effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as to understand how we can work within its limitations. Posters inspired by public contributions will also be featured in locations all around the city and on a dedicated online site.

For their exhibition, Plymouth College of Art students took the theme ‘distanced’ to draw on their experiences of the recent lockdown and social distancing measures to explore the meaning of “community” in the new normal. And artist Jane Athron is presenting her visual allegorical journey of the personal experience of surviving Covid-19.

The Weekender also embraces two key cultural events in the city – the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth to the “New World” and the opening of The Box, Plymouth’s major new museum, gallery and archive.

Book ahead for a preview of some of the city’s historic works of art alongside major exhibitions, including Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy includes over 300 objects from the UK, USA and Holland. Making It is an international contemporary art exhibition featuring works by Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes, Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha and American artist Christopher Baker. Kehinde Wiley: Ship of Fools is in Levinsky Gallery at the University of Plymouth; the Nigerian-American artist challenges the conventional view of power, taste and privilege by portraying people of colour of disparate origins and social status as celebrated figures.

Still/Moving’s sculpture, Speedwell, on the Mount Batten Breakwater also marks the Mayflower anniversary from the position of its sister ship that didn’t make the journey across the Atlantic. It uses the poetry of light to point to the dual nature of the collective trauma of both our colonial past, and the environmental crisis on the horizon. Viewers are invited to add their voice to the sculpture and to make their own journey.

Coordinated by Flock South West, The Weekender has fostered co-commissioning partnerships with Nudge Community Builders, Theatre Royal Plymouth and KARST for the festival.

Rhizime Artists’ Collective sets up ‘All At Sea’ at Tinside Lido, Plymouth. Credit: Dom Moore

Among the rich feast of spectacles and happenings are:

Moths to a Flame: An interactive project by The Art and Energy Collective exploring the world of moths to encourage conversation about the future of our planet. Decorate and add your moth to the digital and UV installations, record your audio whisper of climate hope, and take away one of 500 free Moth Activity Packs. Moths to a Flame will take the voice of the South West to Glasgow for the UN Climate Conference COP26.

Pollenize: Pollenize is a conservation project utilising the power of community beekeeping, product design, citizen science, IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, big data and environmental DNA techniques to combat pollinator decline. Visit the beautifully painted beehives at The Plot on Union Street, learn about the group’s projects and pick up some bee-related goodies.

Hold Me: Directly responding to the experience of Covid-19, this Still/Moving work looks at how the pandemic forces us to be intensely aware of our proximity to one another, how it magnifies our state of isolation and our dependence, revealing a shared vulnerability in the face of the unknown workings of the virus.

Ocean Studios open event: Meet a cohort of incredible Real Ideas Members, creatives making and developing their practices across specialist workshops and studios at the Royal William Yard. There will be hourly ticketed session to explore the building.

All at Sea, Rhizome Artists’ Collective:  An outdoor installation and evolving collaborative drawing performance at Tinside Lido, reflecting on the environment and our relationship to it. Ever-lasting domestic plastic and packaging are transformed into Fossils of the Anthropocene.

Ham Woods in Lockdown by Michael Battley: Paintings created during the COVID-19 lockdown capture a close-up and intimate view of the area not seen from the footpaths. “This beautiful space is part of the lungs of our city and needs everyone’s support.”

Rationed by Jo Pond: The artist works with misplaced memories to create jewellery and objects to pass on something implied, as the women before her passed on genes, mannerisms and traits. Wartime diaries inform design, while period materials are reworked to share the essence of stories of the wartime domestic.

Genius Treasure Collection: View approximately 300 weird and wonderful artworks by unknown “geniuses”, collected from car boots and markets.

Cox Side Carnival: Capturing the colourful community spirit of the former carnival with banners and flags, this post-lockdown celebration of the city’s Coxside district is devised by Ellie Shipman, with Coxside Arts Action Group and Take a Part.

Hotline Coldcall: Engage with an intriguing telephone project devised by Alex Robins, using a series of 0800 numbers.

Adam Coley’s Statue of a Big Fat Seagull awaits visitors in Plymouth City Centre. Credit: Dom Moore

For people who are shielding, can’t get to Plymouth, or simply want to stay in their pyjamas there are additional events, talks and workshops airing online. These include:

Lyneham Collection: restoring the works of Plymouth sonic pioneer Joan Lyneham: A collection of sound pieces, film, visual art and animation will be hosted at www.lynehamcollection.com. An accompanying booklet will be available around the city, at PAW venues. Twenty sound artists have created unique sonic responses to unearthed archival material. Sound artist Kerry Priest is inviting response to the podcast she has made: “I’m keen for the listeners’ personal listening experience to be part of the archive itself, so encourage them to document and feedback their responses, via email, which will then be uploaded to the site.”

Jodie Saunders adds: “The artwork is a chance to bring to light forgotten histories, as well as celebrate a rich and diverse set of sound pieces. Twenty sound artists have created unique sonic responses to the unearthed archival material. The content is indicative of the vast skillset and collective ingenuity of local sound enthusiasts. This is a work which will challenge the listener and that they can ultimately become a part of, their personal listening experience becoming part of the archive itself.

WonderZoo Garden Party: Six poets, artists, and performers from the unique collective meet in a Stonehouse garden for a live-streamed performance from unique collective WonderZoo at 7.30pm on September 26th via Facebook Live. This event, featuring Gabi Marcellus-Temple, Peter Davey, Matt Thomas, William Telford and compere Chi Bennett, will be in conjunction with an exhibition of visual and sound art and a new mural by Chi Bennett, also available to view online and at WonderZoo Facebook page

What I Did During My Covid-19 Lockdown by Chris Drake. Collages of digitally manipulated photographs and jpegs document the artist’s view of the changing world under government edicts, inspired by the explosion of open calls for online exhibitions and Grayson Perry’s Art Club TV series.

For a full schedule of events at the Plymouth Art Weekender visit www.plymouthartweekender.com.